Tuesday, March 30, 2010

 

Loners

David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 73 (footnotes omitted):
The provinces of Connecticut and Plymouth also forbade any single person to "live of himself."

These laws were enforced. In 1668 the court of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, systematically searched its towns for single persons and placed them in families. In 1672 the Essex County Court noted:
Being informed that John Littleale of Haverill lay in a house by himself contrary to the law of the country, whereby he is subject to much sin and iniquity, which ordinarily are the companions and consequences of a solitary life, it was ordered...he remove and settle himself in some orderly family in the town, and be subject to the orderly rules of family government.
One stubborn loner, John Littleale, was given six weeks to comply, on pain of being sent to "settle himself" in the House of Correction.

This custom was not invented in New England. It had long been practiced in East Anglia. From as early as 1562 to the mid-seventeenth century, The High Constables' Sessions and Quarter Courts of Essex County in England had taken similar action against "single men," "bachelors," and "masterless men."
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Mammary Toponymy

Mark Monmonier, From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 61-62 (footnotes and figure references omitted):
[T]he male anatomy is commerorated far less frequently than the female form because phallic landforms are comparatively rare in nature and most of the namers were men. While I found nothing else evocative of the male member in GNIS—please don't ask what I tried—the database yielded twenty-eight feature names based on tit, an even hundred with nipple, and a handful based on teat or breast. Not surprisingly, almost all of the features are summits, and few are east of the Mississippi, where the early wave of white settlers generally had stronger religious ties. The Maine coast boasts two prominent exceptions: a small island with the one-word name Nipple lies less than a quarter mile from a tiny rocky island named Virgins Breasts.
Most of these place names, alas, are doomed, victims of political correctness. As Gilleland's Law states, everything offends someone.

The title of this post comes from a phrase in Monmonier, p. 64.

Related posts:

Monday, March 29, 2010

 

A Heretic and an Ignoramus

Some interesting quotations from Jakob Burckhardt in G.W. Bowersock, "Burckhardt on Late Antiquity from the Constantin to the Griechische Kulturgeschichte," in A. Cesana and L. Gossman, edd., Begegnungen mit Jakob Burckhardt (Basel: Schwabe/Beck, 2004), pp. 215-228, rpt. in Bowersock's From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 109-122:

p. 110 (on his reluctance to publish Griechische Kulturgeschichte):
No sir, such a poor outsider, who doesn't belong to the professional guild, may not venture anything of the sort; I'm a heretic and an ignoramus and, with my questionable opinions, would be viciously torn apart by the Viri eruditissimi [learned men]. Ah yes, believe me, I know these people.
The source of this quotation seems to be Heinrich Gelzer, "Jakob Burckhardt," in Ausgewählte kleine Schriften (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1907), p. 197 (without indication of date):
Nein, mein Herr, solch ein armer Fremdling, der ausserhalb des Zunftkreises steht, darf so etwas nicht wagen; ich bin ein Ketzer und ein Ignorant und würde mit einem Ansichten von den Viri eruditissimi arg zerzaust werden. Ja! ja! glauben Sie mir. Je connais ces gens.
Bowersock, p. 112 (from Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen):
Huge activity—collecting and constructing—in the study of classical antiquity. A beginner discovers, on every imaginable topic, large learned works already available—handbooks, or at least dissertations and monographs—thesauruses, collections of this and that. Doubts if one can do anything new. In fact independent works seem largely pointless in comparison with the handbooks (on the state, law, religion, morality, law, art, etc.). Everything has long since been excerpted from every side.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

 

Abraham, Cyriac, Barhadbshabba, and Sergius

John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 43 (The History of Abraham and Cyriac and Barhadbshabba and Sergius the Deacons), tr. E.W. Brooks in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 18, p. 659:
And the four of them with all the rest gained a blessed ending, since amid the same spiritual employment and the tiring nature of the countries and the high rugged mountains of Asia each one of them ran zealously and mightily in his time, and was strengthened to abolish paganism, and overthrow idolatry, and uproot altars and destroy shrines and cut down trees in ardent religious zeal...
Frank R. Trombley, "Paganism in the Greek World at the End of Antiquity: The Case of Rural Anatolia and Greece," Harvard Theological Review 78 (1985) 327-352 (at 333-334), cites the above quotation from John of Ephesus. Trombley also provides other examples of Christians felling trees sacred to pagans, e.g. on p. 333, citing F. Nau, "Analyse de la seconde partie inédite de l'Histoire Ecclésiastique de Jean d'Asie, patriarche jacobite de Constantinople (d. 585)," Revue de l'Orient Chrétien 2 (1897) 455-493 (at 482):
In the year 542 the kindness of God visited Asia, Caria, Lydia, and Phrygia, thanks to the zeal of the victorious Justinian and by the activity of his humble servant [John of Asia]...When God opened the minds of [the pagans] and made them know the truth, he aided us in destroying their temples, in overthrowing their idols, in eradicating the sacrifices which were offered everywhere, in smashing their altars defiled by the blood of sacrifices offered to pagan gods (aux de/mons), and in cutting down the numerous trees which they worshipped, and so they became estranged from all the errors of their forefathers.
Here is Nau's French translation of John of Asia's Syriac:
En 853 (542), la bonté de Dieu visita l'Asie, la Carie, la Lydie et la Phrygie, grâce au zèle du victorieux Justinien et par l'opération de son hmble serviteur (c'est-à-dire Jean d'Asie)....Quand Dieu eut ouvert leurs esprits et leur eut fait connaître la vérité, ils nous aidaient de leurs mains à détruire leurs temples, à renverser leurs idoles, à extirper les sacrifices que l'om offrait partout, à abbatre leurs autels souillés par le sang des sacrifices offerts aux démons et à couper les innombrables arbres qu'ils adoraient, car ils s'éloignaient de toutes les erreurs de leurs ancêtres.
Trombley (at 334) also translates a passage from Callinicus of Rufinianae, De Vita S. Hypatii Liber, edd. Seminarii Philologorum Bonnensis Sodales (Leipzig: Teubner, 1895). Trombley refers to page 8, but I find the Greek on p. 64 of the Teubner edition:
[Hypatius] had zeal for God and converted many places in Bithynia from the error of idol-worship. If he heard that there was a tree or some other such [cult object] which persons worshipped, he went there at once taking his disciples the monks, cut it down, and burned it.

ζῆλον δὲ εἶχε θεοῦ καὶ πολλοὺς τόπους ἐν τῇ Βιθυνῶν χώρᾳ ἀπὸ πλάνης εἰδωλικῆς ἡμέρωσεν· εἴ που γὰρ ἤκουσεν ἢ δένδρον ἢ ἄλλό τι τοιοῦτον ὅτι προσκυνοῦσί τινες, ἤρχετο ἐκεῖ εὐθέως παραλαβὼν τοὺς μονάζοντας τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ μαθητὰς καὶ κατακόψας αὐτὸ κατέκαιεν πυρί.
Finally, on p. 334 Trombley mentions a passage from a life of St. Nicholas of Sion, in the edition of G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1913), pp. 13-15. Anrich's book is unavailable to me. This life has been translated into English as The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion. Text and Translation by Ihor Ševčenko and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko (Brookline: Hellenic College Press, 1984), also unavailable to me. However, the relevant passage from the Ševčenko translation is available on the Centro Studi Nicolaiani web site:
[15] One day there came men from the village of Plakoma, who fell down before holy Nicholas and said: "O servant of God, on our land there is a sacred tree in which dwells the spirit of an unclean idol, that destroys both men and fields. It is also ... to the district and we are unable to go unhindered about our business [?] on account of it. May Your Holiness yield to our entreaties and deign to come with us and fell it, so that God, Lover of mankind, may through your prayers drive out the unclean spirit dwelling in that tree, and the fields and the district may be at peace and find respite.

[16] Being so strongly urged by the inhabitants of the village of Plakoma, Nicholas, the servant of God, offered prayers, and came to the spot where the tree stood. Seeing the tree, holy Nicholas said: "Is this the sacred tree?" In response, the men of the aforementioned fields said to him: "Yes, Lord." And Nicholas, the servant of God said: "What are those gashes in the tree?" They said to him: "Some man of old came to fell the tree with two hatchets, and an axe. And as he began to fell it, the unclean spirit snatched away the blades, and slaughtered the man, so that his grave was found at the roots of the tree." Offering prayers, the servant of God Nicholas—there being a crowd of nearly three hundred men, women and children to watch the workings of God, for none believed that such a tree, being sacred, was about to be felled—then the servant of God Nicholas knelt and prayed for two hours. And rising, he enjoined the men around saying: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of Holy Sion, come here, try and cut it down."

[17] A shiver ran through all those who were standing around holy Nicholas, and no one dared so much as to look at the tree. Then the servant of God Nicholas said: "Give me the blade and I will cut it down myself in the name of my Lord." Taking the blade, the servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over it and struck the sacred tree seven times. The unclean spirit saw that the servant of God Nicholas had power from God, and when the tree was struck by Nicholas' holy hands, the unclean spirit cried out, saying: "Woe be unto me: I made for myself an ever-expanding dwelling in this cypress tree and have never been overcome by anyone; and now the servant of Nicholas is putting me to flight, and no longer will I be seen in this place. For not only has he expelled me from my dwelling in the tree, but he is driving me from the confines of Lycia, with the help of Holy Sion."

[18] When he was about to fell this sacred tree, the servant of God said: "Assemble with one accord up the slope on the North side." For it was expected that the tree would fall to the West. The unclean spirit thought at that moment to frighten the crowd. And he made the tree lean toward the North, up the slope where the crowd stood watching, so that they all screamed with fear in one voice, saying: "Servant of God, the tree is coming down on top of us, and we will perish." The servant of God Nicholas made the sign of the cross over the tree, pushed it back with his two hands, and said to the sacred tree: "In the name of my Lord Jesus Christ I command you: turn back [in the other direction] and go down where God has ordained you." Forthwith, the tree swayed back by the will of God and moved toward the West, where it crashed. From that time on, the unclean spirit was no longer seen within those parts. And they all glorified God, saying: "One is God, who gave power to his servant against the unclean spirits."

[19] The sacred tree having been felled, the servant of God gave instructions in the metropolis of Myra that workmen be found to saw up the tree. When the workmen heard of the size of the tree, that not only was its stump the thickness of three and a half cubits but that its height was forty cubits, they were afraid, saying: "We will not be able to cope with such a tree." So the servant of God Nicholas made it known that he was seeking workmen from any city. And finding none, he was forced to make his announcement in the village of Karkabo. And workmen were found, five in number, and by the power of God and the prayers of holy Nicholas, they sawed up the tree. When the whole surrounding district of Arneai and Myra saw that the tree had been sawed up by the prayers of holy Nicholas, they obtained his permission [?] and came to drag it away. It was dragged to the holy and glorious shrine of Holy Sion, and all glorified God, who had given such power unto His servant Nicholas.
According to Trombley, p. 334 and n. 45, Louis Robert, "Villes et monnaies de Lycie," Hellenica 10 (1955) 188-222 (at 197-199, non vidi), considered this passage from the Life of St. Nicholas of Sion to be evidence of the survival of the cult of Artemis Eleuthera into the 6th century. On the following 3rd century A.D. coin from Myra in Lycia, snakes defend Artemis Eleuthera, in a tree, against woodcutters:


Related posts: Ronsard and the Forest of Gâtine; The Heavenly Beauty of Earthly Things; Apollo Karneios and the Cornel-Trees; Pitiful Destruction; Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; 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.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

 

The Study of Greek

Matthew Arnold, Literature and Science:
Even if literature is to retain a large place in our education, yet Latin and Greek, say the friends of progress, will certainly have to go. Greek is the grand offender in the eyes of these gentlemen. The attackers of the established course of study think that against Greek, at any rate, they have irresistible arguments. Literature may perhaps be needed in education, they say; but why on earth should it be Greek literature? Why not French or German? Nay, "has not an Englishman models in his own literature of every kind of excellence?" As before, it is not on any weak pleadings of my own that I rely for convincing the gainsayers; it is on the constitution of human nature itself, and on the instinct of self-preservation in humanity. The instinct for beauty is set in human nature, as surely as the instinct for knowledge is set there, or the instinct for conduct. If the instinct for beauty is served by Greek literature and art as it is served by no other literature and art, we may trust to the instinct of self-preservation in humanity for keeping Greek as part of our culture. We may trust to it for even making the study of Greek more prevalent than it is now. Greek will come, I hope, some day to be studied more rationally than at present; but it will be increasingly studied as men increasingly feel the need in them for beauty, and how powerfully Greek art and Greek literature can serve this need.

 

Conversational French

Max Beerbohm, On Speaking French:
To listen and from time to time murmur 'C'est vrai' may seem safe enough; yet there is danger even here. I wish I could forget a certain luncheon in the course of which Mme. Chose (that brilliant woman) leaned suddenly across the table to me, and, with great animation, amidst a general hush, launched at me a particularly swift flight of winged words. With pensively narrowed eyes, I uttered my formula when she ceased. This formula she repeated, in a tone even more pensive than mine. 'Mais je ne le connais pas,' she then loudly exclaimed. 'Je ne connais pas même le nom. Dites-moi de ce jeune homme.' She had, as it presently turned out, been asking me which of the younger French novelists was most highly thought of by English critics; so that her surprise at never having heard of the gifted young Sévré was natural enough.

Friday, March 26, 2010

 

Fortes Creantur Fortibus

Horace, Odes 4.4.29-32 (tr. Niall Rudd):
The brave are born from the brave and good. Their sire's valour comes out in young bulls and horses; ferocious eagles do not father timid doves.

Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis;
est in iuvencis, est in equis patrum
  virtus, neque inbellem feroces
  progenerant aquilae columbam.
Theognis 535-538 (tr. Dorothea Wender):
Slave heads don't ever stand up straight, they grow
Tipped down in servitude, their backs bent low;
No rose or hyacinth comes from the wild
Squill, not does a slave bear a free child.

οὔποτε δουλείη κεφαλὴ ἰθεῖα πέφυκεν,
  ἀλλ' αἰεὶ σκολιὴ, καὐχένα λοξὸν ἔχει.
οὔτε γὰρ ἐκ σκίλλης ῥόδα φύεται οὐδ' ὑάκινθος,
  οὔτε ποτ' ἐκ δούλης τέκνον ἐλευθέριον.
Lucretius 3.741-752 (tr. Martin Ferguson Smith):
Furthermore, why does bitter fury go with the sullen breed of lions, why craft with foxes, why is the instinct of flight transmitted to deer from their fathers, the father's timidity impelling their limbs, why are all other qualities of this sort generated in the body and the character from the beginnings of life, if not because in each seed and breed its own fixed power of mind grows along with each body? But if it were immortal, and accustomed to pass from body to body, living creatures would show confused habits: the dog of Hyrcanian breed would often flee before the horned stag's onset; the hawk would tremble, flying through the air from the advancing dove; men would lack reason, the wild generations of wild beasts would have it.

Denique cur acris violentia triste leonum
seminium sequitur, volpes dolus, et fuga cervis
a patribus datur et patrius pavor incitat artus?
et iam cetera de genere hoc cur omnia membris
ex ineunte aevo generascunt ingenioque,
si non, certa suo quia semine seminioque
vis animi pariter crescit cum corpore quoque?
quod si inmortalis foret et mutare soleret
corpora, permixtis animantes moribus essent:
effugeret canis Hyrcano de semine saepe
cornigeri incursum cervi tremeretque per auras
aeris accipiter fugiens veniente columba;
desiperent homines, saperent fera saecla ferarum.
In all three passages, the rhetorical trope known as adynaton (impossibility) is joined to the theme of the hereditary nature of qualities.

 

I Hear America Singing

Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
2010 version:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of investment bankers, each one singing his as it should be subprime and unregulated,
The data entry clerk singing his as he taps on his computer keyboard,
The portfolio manager singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The credit counselor singing what belongs to him in his cubicle, the system administrator singing in the server room,
The chief financial officer singing as he sits on his ergonomic chair, the administrative assistant singing as she stands in front of the copy machine,
The financial planner's song, the mortgage broker's on his morning commute, or at noon intermission or at close of business,
The monotonous singing of the customer service representative, or of the telemarketer at work, or of the girl standing at the point of sale terminal or waitressing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of karaoke contestants, uninhibited, out-of-tune,
Singing with quavering voices their insipid pop songs.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

 

Sightseeing

Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 231 (discussing Livy 45.27-28, Aemilius Paulus' tour of Greece in 167 B.C.):
Among the sights Paulus included in his itinerary only one had to do with nature—the channel of the Euripus. And he went there not for aesthetic or emotional reasons but to see a curiosity. We today take long trips for the pleasure of viewing a varied terrain, or make laborious ascents to enjoy a superb panorama, and we particularly like wild and savage prospects untouched by man's hand. The ancients went to the trouble of climbing a mountain for a specific reason, to investigate the possibility of a route across it, or in quest of some natural marvel on the summit. They were not at all interested in beholding serrated files of snow-capped peaks, they were untouched by the austere beauty of boundless wasteland.
Id., note on p. 356: "Cool to nature, Friedländer 459-65." This is a reference to Ludwig Friedlaender, Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, vol. 1 (Leipzig 1922). I don't have access to that exact edition, but in the 1919 edition I see section VII (Die Reisen der Touristen, pp. 389-488), 6 (Die Interessen der römischen Reisenden, pp. 444-488), c (Die Interesse für Natur und das Naturgefühl überhaupt, pp. 459-488). Also note Friedlaender's appendix XII in volume 4 (Leipzig 1921), pp. 142-178 = Die Entwicklung des Gefühls für das Romantische im Gegensatz zum antiken Naturgefühl.

See also Casson, pp. 296-297:
As a matter of fact, when Pausanias includes a feature of the countryside, it is almost always to point out some religious or mythological association, hardly ever its natural beauty. He will mention a mountain only to tell us which god is worshipped on the top, a cavern to explain that it is the haunt of Pan, a river to relate the mythological stories in which it figures, a lake because through its waters one descends to the underworld, a great cedar tree because it has an image of Artemis hanging amid its branches. It is on the rarest of occasions that he will refer to nature for its own sake, and then in but a casual phrase.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

 

Classical Enthusiasm

Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey, chapter XIV, note:
I must exceedingly regret, that such an authority as the Quarterly Review, and so strenuous an advocate for "keeping our pure well of English undefiled," as this Quarterly Reviewer, should interlard his sentences with the tritest Latin quotations, with a classical enthusiasm worthy of a very young schoolboy, or a very ancient schoolmaster.
Disraeli refers to "Novels of Fashionable Life (Tremaine, Matilda, Granby)," Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. LXVI (March 1826) 474-490. According to Myron F. Brightfield, "Lockhart's Quarterly Contributors," PMLA 59.2 (June 1944) 491-512 (at 492), the Quarterly Reviewer was William Stewart Rose.

I owe the quotation from Vivian Grey to Henry Hitchings, The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), p. 281.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

 

Health Care Reform

It's probably too late, but I want to offer my own modest proposals for health care reform in the United States. Perhaps they could be amendments to some future health care bill.

First, I propose that we revive the ancient practice of incubation in sanctuaries of the healer god Asclepius. In this ritual, sufferers from various ailments spend a night sleeping on the grounds of a sanctuary. Asclepius appears to them in their dreams and performs or suggests a cure. Abundant votive offerings and inscriptions testify to the efficacy of this type of medical treatment, e.g. these tablets from Epidaurus quoted by Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 83-84:
  1. A man who suffered much from an ulcer on the toe was brought forth by the attendants and placed on a seat. While he slept, a serpent came forth from the dormitory and healed the ulcer with his tongue. It then glided back into the dormitory. When the man awoke he was cured, and declared that he had seen a vision; he thought a young man of goodly aspect had smeared a salve upon his toe.
  2. Lyson, a blind boy of Hermione, had his eyes licked by one of the dogs about the temple and went away whole.
  3. Gorgias of Heraclea had been wounded with an arrow in one of his lungs at a battle. Within eighteen months the wound generated so much pus that sixty-seven cups were filled with it. He slept in the temple, and in a dream it seemed to him that the god removed the barb of the arrow from this lung. In the morning he went forth whole, with the barb of the arrow in his hands.
The "Asclepius Amendment" could be implemented on the cheap. No need for high-priced hospital beds, just a few mattresses on the ground. No need for expensive, state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging machines, just some dogs and snakes. This cheese-paring, faith-based "Asclepius Amendment" should easily win the support of all types of conservatives—Republicans, baggers, birthers, chicken-hawks, fascists, neo-con-artists, Palin-ites, and other right-wing nut-jobs.

Second, I propose a pilot program based on Herodotus' description of medical care in Babylon (1.197, tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt):
They have no doctors, but bring their invalids out into the street, where anyone who comes along offers the sufferer advice on his complaint, either from personal experience or observation of a similar complaint in others. Anyone will stop by the sick man's side and suggest remedies which he has himself proved successful in whatever the trouble may be, or which he has known to succeed with other people. Nobody is allowed to pass a sick person in silence; but everyone must ask him what is the matter.
A prominent politician once claimed that it takes an entire village to raise a child. I offer this suggestion in the same spirit—it takes an entire village to heal the sick. This is a proposal more likely to gain public support than the baby-killing death panels included in the latest health care bill. Liberals of every stripe—Democrats, bleeding-hearts, commies, femi-nazis, girlie-men, Pelosi-ites, pinkos, socialists, and other left-wing moonbats—should rally behind the "Babylon Amendment".

From a public policy standpoint, these ideas would be as effective in improving health care as some measures about to be signed into law. From a scientific standpoint, they are supported by as much evidence as some treatments commonly used in the United States.



Update: Anent the "Asclepius Amendment", David Norton told me an anecdote which I hadn't heard before, but found in Anatole France, Le jardin d'Épicure (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1900), pp. 203-204: "Étant à Lourdes, au mois d'août, je visitai la grotte où d'innombrables béquilles étaient suspendues, en signe de guérison. Mon compagnon me montra du doigt ces trophées d'infirmerie et murmura à mon oreille: — Une seule jambe de bois en dirait bien davantage." That is, "Being at Lourdes in the month of August, I visited the grotto where countless crutches were hanging as evidence of healing. My companion pointed out these trophies of the infirmary and whispered in my ear: — A single wooden leg would be much more convincing."

Monday, March 22, 2010

 

Ronsard and the Forest of Gâtine

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), To the Woodsman of Gastine, tr. Curtis Hidden Page in Songs and Sonnets of Pierre de Ronsard (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Company, 1903), pp. 97-99:
Stay, woodsman, stay thy hand awhile, and hark—
It is not trees that thou art laying low!
Dost thou not see the dripping life-blood flow
From Nymphs that lived beneath the rigid bark?
Unholy murderer of our Goddesses,
If for some petty theft a varlet hangs,
What deaths hast thou deserved, what bitter pangs,
What brandings, burnings, tortures, dire distress!

O lofty wood, grove-dwelling birds' retreat,
No more shall stag and doe, with light-foot tread,
Feed in thy shadow, for thy leafy head
No more shall break the sun's midsummer heat.
The loving shepherd on his four-holed flute
Piping the praises of his fair Janette,
His mastiff near, his crook beside him set,
No more shall sing of love, but all be mute.
Silence shall fall where Echo spoke of yore,
And where soft-waving lay uncertain shade,
Coulter and plough shall pass with cutting blade
And frighted Pans and Satyrs come no more.

Farewell, thou ancient forest, Zephyr's toy!
Where first I taught my seven-tongued lyre to sing,
Where first I heard Apollo's arrows ring
Against my heart, and strike it through with joy;
Where first I worshipped fair Calliope
And loved her noble company of nine
Who showered their roses on this brow of mine;
Where with her milk Euterpe nurtured me.

Farewell, ye ancient oaks, ye sacred heads,
With images and flower-gifts worshipped erst,
But now the scorn of passers-by athirst,
Who, parched with heat the gleaming ether sheds,
And robbed of your cool verdure at their need,
Accuse your murderers, and speak them scathe....
Farewell, ye oaks, the valiant patriot's wreath,
Ye trees Jove himself, Dodona's seed.

'T was you, great oaks, that gave their earliest food
To men, ungrateful and degenerate race,
Forgetful of your favors, recreant, base,
And quick to shed their foster-fathers' blood!
Wretched is he who sets his trust upon
The world!—how truly speaks philosophy,
Saying that each thing in the end must die,
Must change its form and take another on.

Fair Tempé's vale shall be in hills uptossed,
And Athos' peak become a level plain;
Old Neptune's fields shall some day wave with grain.
Matter abides forever, form is lost.
Page didn't translate the first 18 lines of the elegy, which are mostly a description of the mythological punishment of Erysichthon. Here is the entire elegy (numbered XXXII), from Ronsard's Oeuvres, tome IV (1592), pp. 145-147:
Quiconque aura premier la main embesongnée
A te couper Forest, d'une dure congnée,
Qu'il puisse s'enferrer de son propre baston,
Et sente en l'estomac la faim d'Erisichthon,
Qui coupa de Cerés le Chesne venerable 5
Et qui gourmand de tout, de tout insatiable,
Les boeufs & les moutons de sa mere esgorgea,
Puis pressé de la faim soy-mesme se mangea:
Ainsi puisse engloutir ses rentes & sa terre,
Et se devore apres par les dents de la guerre. 10

Qu'il puisse pour vanger le sang de nos forests,
Tousjours nouveaux emprunts sur nouveaux interests
Devoir à l'usurier, & qu'en fin il consomme
Tout son bien à payer la principale somme.

Que tousjours sans repos ne face en son cerveau 15
Que tramer pour-neant quelque dessein nouveau,
Porté d'impatience & de fureur diverse,
Et de mauvais conseil que les hommes renverse.

Escoute, Bucheron (arreste un peu le bras)
Ce ne sont pas des bois que tu jettes à bas, 20
Ne vois-tu pas le sang lequel degoute à force
Des Nymphes qui vivoient dessous la dure escorce?
Sacrilege meurdrier, si on pend un voleur
Pour piller un butin de bien peu de valeur,
Combien de feux, de fers, de morts, & de destresses 25
Merites-tu meschant, pour tuer nos Déesses?

Forest haute maison des oiseaux bocagers,
Plus le cerf solitaire et les Chevreuls legers
Ne paistront sous ton ombre, & ta verte criniere
Plus du Soleil d'Esté rompra la lumiere. 30

Plus l'amoureux Pasteur sur un tronq adossé,
Enflant son flageolet à quatre trous persé,
Son mastin à ses pieds, à son flanc la houlette,
Ne dira plus l'ardeur de sa belle Janette:
Tout deviendra muet, Echon sera sans vois: 35
Tu deviendras campagne, & en lieu de tes bois,
Dont l'ombrage incertain lentement se remue,
Tu sentiras le soc, le coutre, & la charrue:
Tu perdras ton silence, & Satyres & Pans,
Et plus le Cerf chez toy ne cachera ses Fans. 40

Adieu vieille Forest, le jouët de Zephyre,
Où premier j'accorday les langues de ma Lyre,
Où premier j'entendi les fleches resonner
D'Apollon, qui me vint tout le coeur estonner:
Où premier admirant la belle Calliope, 45
Je devins amoureux de sa neuvaine trope,
Quand sa main sur le front cent Roses me jetta,
Et de son propre laict Euterpe m'allaita.

Adieu vielle forest, adieu testes sacrées,
De tableaux & de fleurs en tout temps reverées, 50
Maintenant le desdain des passans alterez,
Qui bruslez en l'Esté des rayons etherez,
Sans plus trouver le frais de tes douces verdures,
Accusent vos meurtriers, & leur disent injures.

Adieu Chesnes, couronne aux vaillans citoyens, 55
Arbres de Jupiter, germes Dodonéens,
Qui premiers aux humains donnastes à repaistre,
Peuples vrayment ingrats, qui n'ont sceu recognoistre
Les biens receus de vous, peuples vrayment grossiers,
De massacrer ainsi nos peres nourriciers. 60

Que l'homme est malheureux qui au monde se fie!
O Dieux, que veritable est la Philosophie!
Qui dit que toute chose à la fin perira,
Et qu'en changeant de forme une autre vestira.

De Tempé la vallée un jour sera montagne, 65
Et la cyme d'Athos une large campagne,
Neptune quelquefois de blé sera couvert.
La matière demeure & la forme se perd.
The historical background is this—in 1573 Henri, King of Navarre (later Henri IV of France), to pay his debts, sold some forests, including that part of the forest of Gâtine that surrounded the Ronsard family estate. See Isidore Silver, Three Ronsard Studies (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1978), pp. 137-141, and Susan K. Silver, "'Adieu vieille forest...': Myth, Melancholia, and Ronsard's Family Trees," Neophilologus 86.1 (January 2002) 33-43 (at 33). I haven't seen the following:Of this forest 23 hectares survive today, in two separate tracts, under the designation Etangs de la Gâtine, located in Loir-et-Cher, near the border with Indre-et-Loire.



I.D. McFarlane, "Neo-Latin Verse: Some New Discoveries," Modern Language Review 54.1 (January 1959) 22-28 (at 24-28), suggested that a Latin ode by Gervaise Sepin, "In eum quem salices scindentem reperit" ("Against one whom he found cutting down willow trees"), printed in 1553, inspired Ronsard's elegy. So far as I can tell, Sepin's ode hasn't been translated into English, so I've provided the following rough, but I hope accurate and intelligible, prose version:
O enemy of the goddesses whom Old Mother Earth nourishes in her bosom, o cruel tyrant, what is your bloody right hand doing?

[5] Why do you cut, with unceasing blow of your biting axe, not the trunks of trees, but perhaps the tender metamorphosed bodies of Hamadryads?

[9] Alas, perhaps it is a troop of Oreades, or those who have charge of frail flowers. Perhaps a fickle crowd of Diana's Nymphs, fleeing lustful Satyrs, [13] is turned into these trees and bears neither fruit nor seed as it bends over the water to pay the penalty for abandoning its mistress. [17] For I know that Fauns, in company with Satyrs, frequent these cool shades and, next to the slow flow of the stream, make music with pipes and castanets.

[21] Indeed, it may be that Nisa, traveling this way as she sought her nearby country-house, was by a similar unforeseen accident changed into a willow tree by Diana. [25] Are you splitting her body with your axe? You hear the loud crash of the tree: if you're unaware, these are the lethal pangs and groans of a goddess.

[29] Aren't you afraid that a punishment for such a heinous crime is on the verge of befalling you? O do you not fear Dictynna, often raging against her enemies?

[33] So it was that Dryope, unaware, paid the penalty for plucking a leaf, with the gods taking vengeance, as branched and tender bark covered her white limbs. [37] So it was that the Mother of the Gods once upon a time punished Erysichthon with unending hunger, because he had carried his accursed axe into an ancient grove.

[41] O stop this at once and, if you have any sense, withdraw to your house. For I see that deserved vengeance is coming down from Olympus on your head.
Here is the Latin text of Sepin's ode, from McFarlane (p. 25), although I made a few changes: I emended Orcadum in line 9 to Oreadum, felix in line 24 to salix, and rimoso in line 35 to ramoso; I put a colon at the end of line 26; and I numbered every fifth line:
  Quid tu dearum, quas genitrix alit
Antiqua tellus visceribus suis,
O hostis, o atrox tyranne,
Quid tua dextra facit cruenta?

  Cur tu securis continuo secas 5
Mordacis ictu? non equidem arborum,
Si reris, at forsan reuersa
Corpora Hamadryadum tenella?

  Eheu caterva est forsan Oreadum
Aut quæ caducis floribus imperant: 10
Fortasse Nympharum Dianæ
Turba leuis Satyros procaces

  Vitans in istas vertetur arbores,
Nullosque fructus semina nec parit
Undis recumbens ad relictæ 15
Supplicium dominæ luendum.

  Nam sæpe Faunos cum Satyris scio
Istas per umbras degere frigidas,
Lentumque iuxta cursum aquarum
Cum calamis resonare sistris. 20

  Quid? Nisa fulgens hac faciens iter
Fortasse, villam dum petit hic sitam,
Talique, fortuna impetita
Facta felix fuit a Diana.

  Illique ferro corpora dissecas? 25
Audis fragores arboris æditos:
Si nescias, sunt hi dolores
Mortiferae gemitusque Diuæ.

  Nullumque tanti flagitij times
Iamiam affuturum supplicium tibi? 30
O nonne Dictymnam verere
Sæpe suos furiosam in hostis?

  Ignara pœnas sic Dryope luit
Frondis recisæ, vindicibus diis:
Surgente ramoso per artus 35
Candidulos tenuique libro.

  Mater Deorum sic Erisichthona
Confecit olim perpetua fame,
Quod ipse sacratam bipennim
Intulerat nemori vetusto. 40

  Isthæc relinque o protinus, & tuam
Concede iamiam, si sapias, domum:
Nam cerno delabentem Olympo
Promeritum in caput ultionem.
McFarlane (p. 26) saw three similarities between the two poems: "(i) The failure of the woodcutter to realize that the trees are really divinities...(ii) The thought that the wood is a place of solace and peace, more particularly for Fauns and Satyrs ... (iii) The threat that the woodcutter will incur the wrath and the vengeance of the gods and that he may suffer the fate of Erisichthon."

Thanks very much to my friend Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to Ronsard's elegy.

Related posts: The Heavenly Beauty of Earthly Things; Apollo Karneios and the Cornel-Trees; Pitiful Destruction; Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; 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.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

 

Spring

Christopher Morley, The Unnatural Naturalist:
There are other troubles that spring brings us. We are pitifully ashamed of our ignorance of nature, and though we try to hide it we keep getting tripped up. About this time of year inquisitive persons are always asking us: "Have you heard any song sparrows yet?" or "Are there any robins out your way?" or "When do the laburnums begin to nest out in Marathon?" Now we really can't tell these people our true feeling, which is that we do not believe in peeking in on the privacy of the laburnums or any other songsters. It seems to us really immodest to keep on spying on the birds in that way. And as for the bushes and trees, what we want to know is, How does one ever get to know them? How do you find out which is an alder and what is an elm? Or a narcissus and a hyacinth, does any one really know them apart? We think it's all a bluff. And jonquils. There was a nest of them on our porch, we are told, but we didn't think it any business of ours to bother them. Let nature alone and she'll let you alone.

But there is a pettifogging cult about that says you ought to know these things; moreover, children keep on asking one. We always answer at random and say it's a wagtail or a flowering shrike or a female magnolia. We were brought up in the country and learned that first principle of good manners, which is to let birds and flowers and animals go on about their own affairs without pestering them by asking them their names and addresses. Surely that's what Shakespeare meant by saying a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. We can enjoy a rose just as much as any one, even if we may think it's a hydrangea.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

 

The Punishment of Neoptolemus

Pausanias 4.17.4 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
However in course of time the punishment of Neoptolemus, as it is called, came upon the Lacedaemonians themselves in their turn. Now it was the fate of Neoptolemus the son of Achilles, after killing Priam on the altar of Zeus Herkeios (Of the Courtyard), himself to be slain by the altar of Apollo in Delphi. Thenceforward to suffer what a man has himself done to another is called the Punishment of Neoptolemus.

περιῆλθε μέντοι καὶ αὐτοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους ἀνὰ χρόνον ἡ Νεοπτολέμειος καλουμένη τίσις. Νεοπτολέμῳ γὰρ τῷ Ἀχιλλέως, ἀποκτείναντι Πρίαμον ἐπὶ τῇ ἐσχάρᾳ τοῦ Ἑρκείου, συνέπεσε καὶ αὐτὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς πρὸς τῷ βωμῷ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος ἀποσφαγῆναι· καὶ ἀπὸ τούτου τὸ παθεῖν ὁποῖόν τις καὶ ἔδρασε Νεοπτολέμειον τίσιν ὀνομάζουσι.
Frazer in his commentary on Pausanias has no note on this passage, and no classical parallels come immediately to my mind.

We find in Psalms the idea that it is fitting for a man to suffer the same pain he intends to inflict on others:

7.15-16:
He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
9.15:
The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.
35.7-8:
For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.

 

Scatology and Science

Edith Hall, "Classics, Class, and Cloaca: Harrison's Humane Coprology," Arion 15.2 (April 2007) 111-136 (at 118, with note on p. 134):
...the Indo-European etymological root from which "scatology" derives is ultimately the same as the root of scire, "to know"20...

20Ralph A. Lewin, Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural and Sociohistorical Coprology (London 1999), 5.
In my copy of Lewin's book (New York: Random House, 1999), this is on p. 3 (not 5):
The word "science," meaning knowledge, and the word "shit," from the Old English scitan, both apparently derive from the same ancient Indo-European root, as does the Greek word from which scatology is derived.
Lewin cites no authority or evidence, but he is correct, according to Calvert Watkins, "Indo-European Roots," in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979), pp. 1505-1550.

Watkins s.v. sker-4 (at 1540):
Excrement, dung. Extended root of sek-, "to cut, separate," hence "to void excrement." 1. Lengthened o-grade form *skōr- in Greek skōr (genitive skatos < *sk-ṇt-), dung: SCATO-, SCORIA, SKATOLE. 2. Extended form *skert- in taboo metathesis *sterk- in: a. Latin stercus, dung: STERCORACEOUS; b. variant forms *(s)terg-, *(s)treg- in Germanic *threkka- in Middle High German drëc, dung: DRECK. [Pok. sker-d- 947; 8. (s)ter- 1031.]
Watkins s.v. skei- (at 1539):
To cut, split. Extended root of sek-. 1. Latin scire, to know (< "to separate one thing from another," "discern"): SCIENCE, SCILICET, SCIOLISM, SCIRE FACIAS; ADSCITITIOUS, CONSCIENCE, CONSCIOUS, NESCIENT, NICE, OMNISCIENT, PLEBISCITE, PRESCIENT. 2. Germanic suffixed form *ski-nōn- in: a. Old English scinu, shin, shinbone (< "piece cut off"): SHIN1; b. Old French eschine, backbone, piece of meat with part of the backbone: CHINE1. 3. Suffixed zero-grade form skiy-enā in Old Irish scīan, knife: SKEAN. 4. Extended root *skeid- in a. Germanic *skītan, to separate, defecate, in (i) Old English *scītan, to defecate: SHIT (ii) Old Norse *skīta, to defecate: SKATE3; b. suffixed zero-grade form *sk(h)id-yo in Greek skhizein, to split: SCHEDULE, SCHISM, SCHIST, SCHIZO-; c. nasalized zero-grade form: *ski-n-d- in Latin scindere, to split: SCISSION; EXSCIND, PRESCIND, RESCIND. 5. Extended root *skeit- in: a. Germanic *skaith- in (i) Old English scēadan, to separate: SHED1 (ii) perhaps Old English scēath, sheath (< "split stick"): SHEATH; b. Germanic *skīth- in Old Norse skīdh, log, stick, snowshoe: SKI; c. o-grade form *skoit- in Latin scūtum, shield (< "board"): ÉCU, ESCUDO, ESCUTCHEON, ESQUIRE, SCUDO, SCUTUM, SQUIRE. 6. Extended root *skeip- in Germanic *skif- in a. Old English *scife, pulley (< "piece of wood with grooves"): SHEAVE2; b. Middle Dutch and Middle Low German schīve, a slice: SHIVE1; c. Old Norse skīfa, to slice, split: SKIVE; d. Middle Low German schever, splinter, akin to the Low German source of Middle English scivre, splinter: SHIVER2. [Pok. skei 919.]
To summarize:

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Friday, March 19, 2010

 

Encounters with Snakes

Linnie Marsh Wolfe, ed., John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), p. 28 (March 4, 1869):
Killed a rattlesnake that was tranquilly sunning himself in coiled ease about a bunch of grass. After dislodging him by throwing dirt, I killed him by jumping upon him, because no stones or sticks were near. He defended himself bravely, and I ought to have been bitten. He was innocent and deserved life.
Donald Culross Peattie, The Road of a Naturalist (1941; rpt. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986), pp. 34-36:
In this, the first pleasant moment for a walk after long blazing hours, I thought I was the only thing abroad. Abruptly I stopped short.

The other lay rigid, as suddenly arrested, his body undulant; the head was not drawn back to strike, but was merely turned a little to watch what I would do. It was a rattlesnake—and knew it. I mean that where a six-foot blacksnake thick as my wrist, capable of long-range attack and armed with powerful fangs, will flee at the sight of a man, the rattler felt no necessity of getting out of anybody's path. He held his ground in calm watchfulness; he was not even rattling yet, much less was he coiled; he was waiting for me to show my intention.

My first instinct was to let him go his way and I would go mine, and with this he would have been well content. I have never killed an animal I was not obliged to kill; the sport in taking life is a satisfaction I can't feel. But I reflected that there were children, dogs, horses at the ranch, as well as men and women lightly shod; my duty, plainly, was to kill the snake. I went back to the ranch house, got a hoe, and returned.

The rattler had not moved; he lay there like a live wire. But he saw the hoe. Now indeed his tail twitched, the little tocsin sounded; he drew back his head and I raised my weapon. Quicker than I could strike he shot into a dense bush and set up his rattling. He shook and shook his fair but furious signal, quite sportingly warning me that I had made an unprovoked attack, attempted to take his life, and that if I persisted he would have no choice but to take mine if he could. I listened for a minute to this little song of death. It was not ugly, though it was ominous. It said that life was dear, and would be dearly sold. And I reached into the paper-bag bush with my hoe and, hacking about, soon dragged him out of it with his back broken.

He struck passionately once more at the hoe; but a moment later his neck was broken, and he was soon dead. Technically, that is; he was still twitching, and when I picked him up by the tail, some consequent jar, some mechanical reflex made his jaws gape and snap once more—proving that a dead snake may still bite. There was blood in his mouth and poison dripping from his fangs; it was all a nasty sight, pitiful now that it was done.

I did not cut the rattles off for trophy; I let him drop into the close green companionship of the paper-bag bush. Then for a momnt I could see him as I might lave let him go, sinuous and self-respecting in departure over the twilit sands.
Bill Dunn, quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 260 (ellipses in original):
We saw a dirty great adder, an enormous thing, and Eric quickly planted his boot right on top of its neck and anchored it to the ground and I fully expected that with the other foot he would grind its head into the ground too...but he got out his penknife and quite deliberately opened and proceeded more or less to fillet this wretched creature, he just ripped it right open...I must say, it surprised me terribly because he always really struck me as being very gentle to animals.
D.H. Lawrence, Snake:
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered further,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.
Hat tip: An English Physician.

Related post: A Necessary Act?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

 

How Peaceable

John Clare, The Crow:
How peaceable it seems for lonely men
To see a crow fly in the thin blue sky
Over the woods and fealds, o'er level fen
It speaks of villages, or cottage nigh
Behind the neighbouring woods—when march winds high
Tear off the branches of the hugh old oak
I love to see these chimney sweeps sail by
And hear them o'er the knarled forest croak
Then sosh askew from the hid woodmans stroke
That in the woods their daily labours ply
I love the sooty crow nor would provoke
Its march day exercises of croaking joy
I love to see it sailing to and fro
While feelds, and woods and waters spread below

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

 

Uses of Furze

Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986; rpt. London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 295:
Furze is an important and widely-used fuel; it produces a quick hot blaze suitable for heating ovens, getting up a fire in the morning, or burning heretics.

 

The Heavenly Beauty of Earthly Things

Dear Mike,

More havoc for your collection, from Edward Thomas's 'The South Country' (1909), a chapter ironically entitled 'An Adventurer', which describes the beleaguered life of an old man of Surrey as he sees the land his father farmed being steadily engulfed by the suburbs of London in the first decade of the last century.
"The scaffold-poles, the harsh blocks of stone, the rasping piles of bricks, the scores of cold earthenware and iron articles belonging to the rows of villas about to replace the old houses, looked more like ruin than preparation as they lay stark and hideous among the misty grass and still blue elms. There were days when the thrushes still sang well among the rioting undisturbed shrubberies. But soon men felled the elms and drove away their shadows for ever, and all that dwelled or could be imagined therein. No more would the trees be enchanted by the drunken early songs of blackbirds. The heavenly beauty of earthly things went away upon the timber carriages and was stamped with mud. The butts of the trees were used to decorate the gardens of the new houses. Two, indeed, were spared by some one's folly, and a main bough fell in the night and crushed through a whole fortnight's brickwork.

Those elms had come unconsciously to be part of the real religion of men in that neighbourhood, and certainly of that old man. Their cool green voices as they swayed, their masses motionless against the evening or the summer storms, created a sense of pomp and awe. They gave mystic invitations that stirred his blood if not his slowly working humble brain, and helped to build and to keep firm that sanctuary of beauty to which we must be able to retire if we are to be more than eaters and drinkers and newspaper readers. When they were gone he wondered, still humbly, what would do their work in the minds of the newcomers. Looking at the features of the younger people, held in a vice of reserve or pallidly leering, and hearing the snarl of their voices, he was not surprised. They had not been given a chance. How could they have the ease, the state, the kindliness of the old inhabitants? They had no gods, only a brand-new Gothic church. Often they supported this or that new movement, or bought a brave new book, but they continued to sneer timidly or brutally at everything else. They were satisfied with a little safe departure from the common way, some mental or spiritual equivalent to the door-knocker of imitation hammered copper. They did not care very much for trees though they planted them in every street, where the grammar-school boys and errand-boys mutilated them one by one in the dark; they cut off the heads of a score of tall poplars, lest perchance the west wind should one day do the same thing when one of the million was passing below."
The South Country (1909) London: J. M. Dent pp. 64-5

Regards,

Eric Thomson

Frontispiece of Edward Thomas, The South Country

Related posts: Apollo Karneios and the Cornel-Trees; Pitiful Destruction; Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; 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.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

 

Semonides, Fragment 1

Semonides, Fragment 1 (tr. M.L. West):
Loud-thundering Zeus controls the outcome, lad,
in everything, and makes it how he wants.

ὦ παῖ, τέλος μὲν Ζεὺς ἔχει βαρύκτυπος
πάντων ὅσ' ἐστὶ καὶ τίθησ' ὅκῃ θέλει,


Men have no foresight, but from day to day
they live like cattle, knowing not at all
how God will bring each matter to its end;

νοῦς δ' οὐκ ἐπ' ἀνθρώποισιν, ἀλλ' ἐπήμεροι
ἃ δὴ βοτὰ ζόουσιν, οὐδὲν εἰδότες
ὅκως ἕκαστον ἐκτελευτήσει θεός.


yet everybody feeds on hope and trust
throughout his vain endeavours. Some await
tomorrow, some the turning of the seasons;

ἐλπὶς δὲ πάντας κἀπιπειθείη τρέφει
ἄπρηκτον ὁρμαίνοντας· οἳ μὲν ἡμέρην
μένουσιν ἐλθεῖν, οἳ δ' ἐτέων περιτροπάς·


there's no man does not think he'll reach next year
the Wealth-god's darling, and society's.

νέωτα δ' οὐδεὶς ὅστις οὐ δοκεῖ βροτῶν
Πλούτῳ τε κἀγαθοῖσιν ἵξεσθαι φίλος.


But one is overtaken by old age
before he makes his goal, others succumb
to grim diseases, others slain in war
Hades escorts below dark earth, while some
die out at sea, by tempests buffeted
and the salt purple deep's unending waves,
when they can make no living on the land;

φθάνει δὲ τὸν μὲν γῆρας ἄζηλον λαβὸν
πρὶν τέρμ' ἵκηται, τοὺς δὲ δύστηνοι βροτῶν
φθείρουσ' νοῦσοι, τοὺς δ' Ἄρει δεδμημένους
πέμπει μελαίνης Ἀΐδης ὑπὸ χθονός·
οἳ δ' ἐν θαλάσσῃ λαίλαπι κλονεόμενοι
καὶ κύμασιν πολλοῖσι πορφυρῆς ἁλὸς
θνήσκουσιν, εὖτ' ἂν μὴ δυνήσωνται ζόειν.


others again fasten themselves a noose
and leave the sunlight by their own grim choice.

οἳ δ' ἀγχόνην ἅψαντο δυστήνῳ μόρῳ
καὐτάγρετοι λείπουσιν ἡλίου φάος.


So we are spared no ill, but numberless
dangers and hurts for which we cannot plan
exist for mortals. If I had my way,
we would not cling to sorrow, or so long
torment ourselves by dwelling on our woes.

οὕτω κακῶν ἄπ' οὐδέν, ἀλλὰ μυρίαι
βροτοῖσι κῆρες κἀνεπίφραστοι δύαι
καὶ πήματ' ἐστίν. εἰ δ' ἐμοὶ πιθοίατο,
οὐκ ἂν κακῶν ἐρῷμεν, οὐδ' ἐπ' ἄλγεσι
κακοῖv ἔχοντες θυμὸν αἰκιζοίμεθα.

Monday, March 15, 2010

 

Blizzard

Oxford English Dictionary (OED), s.v. blizzard, definition 2:
A furious blast of frost-wind and blinding snow, in which man and beast frequently perish; a 'snow-squall'. Also attrib. and Comb. orig. U.S.
The earliest citations in the OED are:
1859 L.B. WOLF Diary 1 Dec. in Kansas Hist. Q. (1932) I. 205 A blizzard had come upon us about midnight... Shot 7 horses that were so chilled could not get up. 1876 Monthly Weather Rev. Dec. 424 The very severe storms known in local parlance as 'blizzards' were reported on the 8th as prevailing in Iowa and Wisconsin. 1880 Let. 29 Dec., fr. Chicago in Manch. Even. News, 24 Jan. 1881 The thermometer was 17 degrees below zero last night, and it was blowing a blizzard all the time. 1881 Standard 22 Jan. 5/1 The region [Manitoba] is swept by those fearful blasts known as 'blizzards' which send the 'poudre', or dry snow, whirling in icy clouds. 1881 N.Y. Nation 184 The hard weather has called into use a word which promises to become a national Americanism, namely 'blizzard'. It designates a storm (of snow and wind) which men cannot resist away from shelter. 1882 Contemp. Rev. Sept. 350 Those bitter 'blizzards' so justly dreaded by all who have to do with live stock. 1888 T. WATTS in Athenæum 18 Aug. 224/2 By Ferrol Bay those galleys stoop To blasts more dire than breath of Orkney blizzard.
The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories (Springfield: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1991), s.v. blizzard, pp. 50-51 (at 51):
The earliest printed citation for the use that is so far known appeared in the Estherville, Iowa, Northern Vindicator on 23 April 1870. It was spelled blizards, and was cautiously enclosed in quotation marks. One week later, in the 30 April edition, it appeared again, with the now familiar double -z spelling, but still in quotation marks....The Dictionary of Americanisms has citations dated 1859 and 1861 from a diary published in the Kansas Historical Quarterly in 1932. The diary was kept by an army captain at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It turns out, however, that the diarist revised or enlarged or rewrote the diary about 1905, when blizzard was a common word, and we do not know whether he unconsciously used it in his revision, or if he had used it in the original, which was unfortunately thrown away. No printed evidence, however, has yet been found that antedates the Northern Vindicator.
An example of blizzard meaning snow storm, earlier than any of those cited above, is C.A. Wean, A Winter in the Pine Woods (Chicago: Wean & Shover, 1839), pp. 214-215:
The fire crackled and roared even louder than the storm outdoors, but it was a cheery, agreeable roar, which robbed the other of its terrors. A Northern Michigan blizzard, without a fire, would / have some very real terrors too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

 

Angles of Perspective

Dylan Thomas, Christmas Letter (1933):
Walking, as we do, at right angles with the earth, we are prevented from looking, as much as we should, at the legendary sky above us and the only-a-little-blt-more-possible ground under us. We can only (without effort) look in front of us and around us; we can look only at things that are between the earth and sky, and are much in the position of a reader of books who can look only at the middles of pages and never (without effort) at the tops and bottoms. We see what we imagine to be a tree, but we see only a part of the tree; what the insects under the earth see when they look upwards at the tree, what the stars see when they look downwards at the tree, is left to our imagination. And perhaps the materialist can be called the man who believes in the part of the trees he sees, & the spiritualist a man who believes in a lot more of the tree than is within his sight. Think how much wiser we would be if it were possible for us to change our angles of perspective as regularly as we change our vests.

 

The Hippocratic Oath

Few if any doctors today could, in good conscience, recite the Hippocratic Oath in its complete original form. Like many other ancient oaths, the Hippocratic Oath consists of [1] an invocation of certain gods as witnesses to [2] the oath-taker's promise to perform (or refrain from performing) certain actions, and [3] a wish that certain things will happen if the oath-taker keeps (or breaks) his promise.

Here is Ludwig Edelstein's translation of the Hippocratic Oath, with the ancient Greek interspersed, and the three parts marked:
[1] I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses,

Ὄμνυμι Ἀπόλλωνα ἰητρὸν, καὶ Ἀσκληπιὸν, καὶ Ὑγείαν, καὶ Πανάκειαν, καὶ θεοὺς πάντας τε καὶ πάσας, ἵστορας ποιεύμενος,

[2] that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:

ἐπιτελέα ποιήσειν κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν ὅρκον τόνδε καὶ ξυγγραφὴν τήνδε·

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant;

ἡγήσασθαι μὲν τὸν διδάξαντά με τὴν τέχνην ταύτην ἴσα γενέτῃσιν ἐμοῖσι, καὶ βίου κοινώσασθαι, καὶ χρεῶν χρηΐζοντι μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι, καὶ γένος τὸ ἐξ ωὐτέου ἀδελφοῖς ἴσον ἐπικρινέειν ἄῤῥεσι, καὶ διδάξειν τὴν τέχνην ταύτην, ἢν χρηΐζωσι μανθάνειν, ἄνευ μισθοῦ καὶ ξυγγραφῆς,

to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

παραγγελίης τε καὶ ἀκροήσιος καὶ τῆς λοιπῆς ἁπάσης μαθήσιος μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι υἱοῖσί τε ἐμοῖσι, καὶ τοῖσι τοῦ ἐμὲ διδάξαντος, καὶ μαθηταῖσι συγγεγραμμένοισί τε καὶ ὡρκισμένοις νόμῳ ἰητρικῷ, ἄλλῳ δὲ οὐδενί.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

διαιτήμασί τε χρήσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν, ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.

οὐ δώσω δὲ οὐδὲ φάρμακον οὐδενὶ αἰτηθεὶς θανάσιμον, οὐδὲ ὑφηγήσομαι ξυμβουλίην τοιήνδε·

Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.

ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω.

In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

ἁγνῶς δὲ καὶ ὁσίως διατηρήσω βίον τὸν ἐμὸν καὶ τέχνην τὴν ἐμήν.

I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.

οὐ τεμέω δὲ οὐδὲ μὴν λιθιῶντας, ἐκχωρήσω δὲ ἐργάτῃσιν ἀνδράσι πρήξιος τῆσδε.

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

ἐς οἰκίας δὲ ὁκόσας ἂν ἐσίω, ἐσελεύσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων, ἐκτὸς ἐὼν πάσης ἀδικίης ἑκουσίης καὶ φθορίης, τῆς τε ἄλλης καὶ ἀφροδισίων ἔργων ἐπί τε γυναικείων σωμάτων καὶ ἀνδρῴων, ἐλευθέρων τε καὶ δούλων.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

ἃ δ' ἂν ἐν θεραπείῃ ἢ ἴδω, ἢ ἀκούσω, ἢ καὶ ἄνευ θεραπηΐης κατὰ βίον ἀνθρώπων, ἃ μὴ χρή ποτε ἐκλαλέεσθαι ἔξω, σιγήσομαι, ἄῤῥητα ἡγεύμενος εἶναι τὰ τοιαῦτα.

[3] If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come;

ὅρκον μὲν οὖν μοι τόνδε ἐπιτελέα ποιέοντι, καὶ μὴ ξυγχέοντι, εἴη ἐπαύρασθαι καὶ βίου καὶ τέχνης δοξαζομένῳ παρὰ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐς τὸν αἰεὶ χρόνον·

if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.

παραβαίνοντι δὲ καὶ ἐπιορκοῦντι, τἀναντία τουτέων.
I haven't yet seen Alan H. Sommerstein and Judith Fletcher, edd., Horkos: The Oath in Greek Society (Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2007). Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid: Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1902), is available in full view at Google Books.

Related posts:

Friday, March 12, 2010

 

Portraits of Readers

In Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 5, there is a reproduction of "a forest scene by Hans Toma" showing a boy seated in the woods reading a book. The plate credits on p. 357 give the location of the painting as Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe.

The painting is actually by Hans Thoma, not Hans Toma. It struck my fancy, and I searched on the World Wide Web for an electronic copy. I couldn't find one, but I did find two other paintings of readers by Hans Thoma that I liked equally as much:

A Peaceful Sunday

The Artist's Mother in the Little Room

 

K.J. Dover

Greek scholar K.J. Dover died on March 7. Obituaries appeared in The Times, The Guardian (by Stephen Halliwell), The Telegraph, and The Scotsman (by Chris Mair).

I own the following books by Dover:He wrote many more books, and everything he wrote on the subject of the ancient Greeks is of course illuminating. I confess that his controversial autobiography, Marginal Comment (London: Duckworth, 1994), left me cold—too much about academic politics, too little about the study of Greek. On the day when he died, by coincidence, I borrowed his school edition of Thucydides, Book VII (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), from the library. Here are a couple of quotations from the Preface, a bit out of context, but still characteristic:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

 

The Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is on the blacklist at the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. In general, I'm a hard-core adherent of the native plant movement, but there is still a soft spot in my heart for Ginkgo biloba, and I don't regard it as an illegal alien. Here's my reasoning: fossils of relatives of Ginkgo biloba have been found in what is now the United States of America, and so whoever plants one of these trees here is just repatriating an exile.

I used to work in an office building in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota. Bloomington, along with some other benighted American cities, has declared war on the ginkgo. See Nigel Duara, "Smell has some cities ripping out gingko trees" (Associated Press, October 5, 2009):
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The ginkgo tree is renowned for its hardiness, surviving everything from road salt to an atomic bomb, but it may be undone by another trait — it reeks.

"It's pretty disgusting," said Jan Schneider, an office manager in downtown Iowa City whose business has a ginkgo out front.

Iowa City was one of many communities that planted ginkgoes in the 1970s only to discover that after years without problems, some of the trees can begin dropping large seed shells, creating a sticky, slimy, smelly mess. The smell makes some think of rotten eggs, while others are reminded of vomit.

Some cities have started cutting down ginkgoes, while others are standing by their trees and even planting more of them. In Iowa City, deciding to cut down another one of its few remaining ginkgoes was a no-brainer.

"We have no recourse at this point," said Terry Robinson, superintendent of the city's forestry division. "It creates a sanitation problem for us because we have to be down there cleaning it up as often as possible."

"No matter what we do, two seconds after we leave, there are more on the ground and somebody can step in it."

Officials reached a similar conclusion in Easton, Pa., where ginkgo trees were removed last year after complaints about seed shells raining on cars and pedestrians.

Easton planning director Becky Bradley said the slippery pulp was dangerous for passers-by. And of course, there was the smell.

"Stinky. I know, that's highly sophisticated, but I don't know how else to phrase it," Bradley said. "It's not a very friendly odor."

Ginkgo's defenders point out that not all the trees cause problems and the species has a lot going for it.

The tree, native to Asia, is incredibly resilient, with several surviving an atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima. Ginkgoes also stand up well to smog, road salt and pests.

But unlike most tree species common in the U.S., the ginkgo is dioecious, meaning trees are male or female. Female ginkgoes produce the troublesome seeds, which are covered in a fleshy coating that contains butyric acid, also found in rancid butter.

That has prompted cities such as Bloomington, Minn., and Lexington, Ky., to ban female ginkgoes. And Easton left the male trees while removing the females.

The problem, though, is occasionally male trees undergo a metamorphosis and begin dropping smelly seeds. That's what Robinson suspects happened to an Iowa City tree after decades without problems.

A study in Virginia found that such changes are rare, happening in about one in 100 male trees. With that in mind, some cities are planting ginkgo trees, including Boston, Lansing, Mich., Santa Monica, Calif., and Washington, D.C.

In Washington, the city's Urban Forestry Administration allows property owners on each block to decide whether they want female trees replaced by males.

"Most people are very happy with them," said John Thomas, associate director of the forestry agency. "Some people say they moved into a neighborhood specifically because of the female ginkgoes."

Santa Monica has planted between 250 and 300 ginkgoes citywide since 2003, urban forester Walt Warriner said. He makes sure only males are planted and has returned six trees to the nursery that were sold as male but revealed to be female.

Robinson, the Iowa City superintendent, laughed when told of cities planting ginkgoes.

"I'd proceed with caution," he said.

To some, however, city officials are missing the point. What, they ask, is wrong with a smelly tree?

All the Iowa City ginkgoes were planted near the University of Iowa campus. At other universities where they've been planted, students don't seem bothered.

At Reed College in Portland, spokesman Kevin Myers acknowledged periodic reports that "something died over here" in the area of a female ginkgo tree. But there's been no thought of cutting it down.

"It's a fact of life," Myers said. "But we're happy with it. The leaves are really beautiful."

It's the same at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where botanist Laura Jull said people notice but don't dwell on the smell of the campus ginkgoes.

Still, she enjoys watching new arrivals amble by the trees.

"I find it kind of comical watching people pass by and they're looking around like, 'Who smells?'" Jull said. "That's a little plant humor."
My daily walk in St. Paul, Minnesota, takes me past about half a dozen ginkgo trees. I would be sorry to see St. Paul follow the lead of the mis-named Bloomington and try to exterminate them. If we are to be persecuted for the occasional foul smell, who among us is safe?

Here is a poem by Howard Nemerov about ginkgo trees, with the title The Consent:
Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.
From Engelbert Kaempfer, Amoenitates Exoticae

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