Tuesday, November 30, 2010



Horace, Odes 3.29.29-48 (tr. W.S. Marris):
Yet prescient God hath drawn a veil
  Of blackness o'er the future: men
May fret against their mortal pale;
  And He but laughs. Be tranquil then

Just in the present: all besides
  Is onward like a river borne;
Now smooth unto the sea it glides,
  Now swirls a wreck of trees uptorn,

And hollowed stones and homes and pens,
  'Mid thunder that the woods and hills
Re-echo, till the flood immense
  Arouses e'en the quiet rills.

Lord of his soul and glad is he
  Who can with every sunset say,
'To-morrow, and let Jove decree
  Or sun or storm. I've lived To-day.

'Yet even Jove shall not undo
  What once is past, nor nullify
Nor shape again to fashion new
  What flying Time has carried by.

prudens futuri temporis exitum
caliginosa nocte premit deus
  ridetque si mortalis ultra
    fas trepidat. quod adest memento

componere aequus; cetera fluminis
ritu feruntur, nunc medio alveo
  cum pace delabentis Etruscum
    in mare, nunc lapides adesos

stirpisque raptas et pecus et domos
volentis una, non sine montium
  clamore vicinaeque silvae,
    cum fera diluvies quietos

irritat amnis. ille potens sui
laetusque deget cui licet in diem
  dixisse: "vixi": cras vel atra
    nube polum Pater occupato

vel sole puro; non tamen irritum,
quodcumque retro est, efficiet neque
  diffinget infectumque reddet,
    quod fugiens semel hora vexit.


Pious Woodcutters

J. Theodore Bent, The Cyclades, or Life among the Insular Greeks (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1885), p.27:
The genii loci, too, haunt certain well-known trees and cliffs, and are like our old friends the Hamadryads. Woodcutters fear to lie or sleep under a big old olive tree called Megdanos; and when they have to cut down a tree that they suppose to be possessed they are exceedingly careful when it falls to prostrate themselves humbly and in silence lest the spirit should chastise them as it escapes; and sometimes they put a stone on the trunk of the tree so as to prevent its egress.
Rennell Rodd, The Customs and Lore of Modern Greece (London: David Stott, 1892), p. 171:
Trees of great age and size are also supposed to be inhabited by a guardian genius, a reminiscence perhaps of the Dryad. The woodsmen avoid lying under them; and if they are obliged to cut down such a haunted tree, they will watch carefully for the moment when it is about to fall, and lie down flat on the ground keeping religious silence, in order to avoid the wrath of the stoicheion, which will issue from the trunk at the moment of severance.
Walter Woodburn Hyde, Greek Religion and Its Survivals (New York: Cooper Square, 1963) pp.140-141:
Now the name Nereid has become generalized and includes all that has survived of the various nymphs,—whether those benevolent spirits who used to dwell on hill-tops (Oreads), in groves and trees (Dryads), in fresh water springs and fountains (Naiads), or in Ocean stream (Oceanids and Nereids). But all are nowadays indiscriminately called Nereids, and the old word "nymph" has completely disappeared in the mythological sense, and now is used only of a bride. Just as in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite lofty pines and oaks were the homes of the "deep-breasted mountain nymphs," and "men hew them not with the axe," so to-day no peasant will knowingly cut down a tree supposed to be haunted by a Nereid; if compelled to do so, he will take all needful precautions, such as praying to the Panaghia and making the sign of the cross, or lying prone on the ground in order not to see the spirit as it emerges. Otherwise he may be smitten dumb.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson (fautor studiorum meorum).


Monday, November 29, 2010


When Will Rain Come?

Rolfe Humphries, Dafydd ap Gwilym Resents the Winter (Freely Arranged from the Prose Translation by Nigel Heseltine):
Across North Wales
The snowflakes wander,
A swarm of white bees.
Over the woods
A cold veil lies.
A load of chalk
Bows down the trees.

No undergrowth
Without its wool,
No field unsheeted;
No path is left
Through any field;
On every stump
White flour is milled.

Will someone tell me
What angels lift
Planks in the flour-loft
Floor of heaven,
Shaking down dust?
An angel's cloak is
Cold quicksilver.

And here below
The big drifts blow,
Blow and billow
Across the heather
Like swollen bellies.
The frozen foam
Falls in fleeces.

Out of my house
I will not stir
For any girl,
To have my coat
Look like a miller's,
Or stuck with feathers
Of eider down.

What a great fall
Lies on my country!
A wide wall, stretching
One sea to the other
Greater and grayer
Than the sea's graveyard
When will rain come?
I'm not sure, but I think this may be Nigel Heseltine's prose translation:
I do not sleep at night nor go out by day, I am sad because the world has disappeared, nor is there food nor bank left, nor open grounds nor fields. Nor will I be enticed out of my house by any girl's invitation while this plague continues, this cloak of white feathers sticking close to dragon's scales, but tell her that I do not want my coat made white like a miller's garment. After New Year one must go wrapped in fur, and during January God makes us start the year as hermits. Now God has whitewashed the dark earth all around till there is no undergrowth without its white garment, no coppice that's not covered with a sheet: fine flour has been milled on every stump, heavenly flour like April blossoms. A cold veil lies over the woods and the young trees, a load of chalk bows down the trees; ghostly wheaten flour which falls till a white coat of mail covers all the fields of the plain. The soil of the ploughed fields is covered with a cold grit, lying like a thick coat of tallow on the earth's skin, and a shower of frozen foam falls in fleeces big as a man's fist. Across North Wales the snow-flakes wander like a swarm of white bees. Why does God throw down this mass of feathers like the down of his own geese, till here below the drifts sway and billow over the heather like swollen bellies big as heaps of chaff and covered with ermine? The dust piles in a drift where we sang along the pleasant paths. This garment of snow holds us in grip while it remains cementing together the hills, valleys and ditches under a steel coat fit to break the earth, fixing all into a vast monument greater than the graveyard of the sea. What a great fall lies on my country, a white wall stretching from one sea to another! Who dares fight its rude power? A leaden cloak lies on us. When will the rain come?
Here is another prose translation by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson:
I cannot sleep, I cannot leave the house, I am distressed because of it. There is no world, no ford, no hillside, no open space, no ground today. I won't be tempted out of my house into the fine snow, at the word of a girl. What a plague the thing is, feathers on one's gown that cling like the spume of fighting dragons! My excuse is that my clothes would be all as white as the clothes of a miller. After New Year's Day, it is no lie, everyone dresses in white fur; in the month of January, the first of the series, God makes us into hermits. God has whitewashed the black earth all around; there is no underwood without its white dress, there is no copse without its coverlet. Fine flour is the fur on every bough, flour of the sky like the flowers of April; a bitter cold sheet over the greenwood grove, a load of chalk flattening the wood, a mirage of wheaten flour, a mail coat vesting the level ground. The soil of the plough-land is a cold grit, a thick tallow on the face of the earth, a very thick shower of foam, fleeces bigger than a man's fist; throughout North Wales they made their way, they are white bees from Heaven. Whence can God raise up so great a plague? Where is there room for so many goose-feathers of the saints? Own brother to a heap of chaff, in its ermine shirt, the snow is skilled to heap the heather. The dust has changed to snowdrifts now, where once was bird-song and the narrow lanes. Does anyone know what sort of folk are spitting on the ground in the month of January? White angels it must be, no less, who are sawing wood up in Heaven; see, from the floor of the flour-loft they have raised the plank trapdoor. An ephemeral silver dress of ice, quicksilver, coldest in the world, a cold mantle (too sad that it stays), the cement of hill and dale and dyke, a thick steel coat, heavy as a landslide, a pavement greater than the sea's graveyard; a great fall it is upon my land, a pale wall reaching from sea to sea. Who dares cry shame upon it? It is like lead on the cloak! Where is the rain?
I think that the Welsh starts as follows:
Ni chysgaf, nid af o dŷ,
Ym mhoen ydd wyf am hynny.
Nid oes fyd na rhyd na rhiw,
Na lle rhydd na llawr heddiw.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells

In response to Le Patriotisme de Clocher and In the Belfry, Eric Thomson (who lives within earshot of church bells) sent the following excerpt from James Anthony Froude, History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth, 3rd ed., Vol. I (London Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1862), p. 62:
And now it is all gone—like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf of mystery which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge. They cannot come to us, and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them. Only among the aisles of the cathedral, only as we gaze upon their silent figures sleeping on their tombs, some faint conceptions float before us of what these men were when they were alive; and perhaps in the sound of church bells, that peculiar creation of the mediaeval age, which falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished world.
Jean-François Millet, The Angelus

Julia Cartwright, Jean-François Millet: His Life and Letters (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1902), p. 179:
The ringing of the Angelus bell at evenfall, when the peasants were still at work in the fields, had been one of Millet's earliest impressions. Even so he had seen his father standing with bared head and cap in his hand, even so had his pious mother bowed herself and folded her hands at the sound of the evening bell, and repeated the words of the angelic salutation: "Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae: Ave Maria, gratia plena."

It was the painter's aim to record that impression, to give the quiet peace of the evening hour, the glow of the sunset steeping the fields, the sound of the church bell borne upon the air, and the silent devotion of the peasants.


The Word Suicide

Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Cato, and Roman Suicide: I," Greece & Rome 33 (1986) 64-77 (at 68-69, footnotes omitted):
The word 'suicide' is derived from Latin but is not an actual Latin compound (suus not being used in compounds). In Latin, it would mean 'the killing of a pig'. The first use recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1651, but in fact the word stands in the text of Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (Part I, chap. 44) as published by the author in 1643. The Romans themselves resorted mostly to verbal phrases, the nearest to a technical term being voluntaria mors, 'a voluntary death'.
Latin sus, suis means pig. Here is the passage from Browne's Religio Medici (on Lucan):
There be many excellent straines in that Poet, wherewith his Stoicall Genius hath liberally supplyed him; and truely there are singular pieces in the Philosophy of Zeno, and doctrine of the Stoickes, which I perceive, delivered in a Pulpit, pass for current Divinity: yet herein are they in extreames, that can allow a man to be his own Assassine, and so highly extol the end and suicide of Cato; this is indeed not to feare death, but yet to bee afraid of life.
Anton J.L. van Hooff, "A Longer Life for 'Suicide': When Was the Latin Word for Self-Murderer Invented?", Romanische Forschungen 102.2-3 (1990) 255-259, tracks down the first occurrence of Latin suicida, in an attack on Seneca in a treatise by Gauthier de Saint-Victor (Walter of Saint Victor) entitled Contra quattuor labyrinthos Franciae and dated 1177-1178. Here is van Hooff's translation (p. 259, italics omitted) of the relevant passage (Book 4, Chapter 2), followed by the Latin:
Thus with great ingenuity he converted death itself and the pain of death in a great pleasure to himself. That man is not a brother-slayer (fratricida), but worse: a self-slayer (suicida); a Stoic by profession, he was an Epicurean in death; do you think that he has been given a place in heaven together with Nero, Socrates and Cato, all self-slayers (suicidis)?

Miro scilicet ingenio ipsam mortem mortisque dolorem vertit sibi in magnam voluptatem. Iste igitur non quidem fratricida sed peior suicida; Stoicus professione, Epicurus morte; putasne cum Nerone et Socrate et Catone suicidis receptus in celo?

Update: On suicidium as "the killing of a pig," see Christopher Wordsworth, Scholae Academicae: Some Account of the Studies at the English Universities in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1877), pp. 41-42 (footnote omitted):
The following anecdote will give a notion of a certain class of arguments which were occasionally brought forward in this century, when the disputations were on their last legs, and the establishment of the Classical Tripos had given courage to clever men who had no special capacity for mathematics. I have heard it from Mr Shilleto, of Peterhouse, who (I had hoped) would have revised this account. He was then a scholar of Trinity keeping a second opponency under Francis Martin, who was then moderator (late bursar of Trinity, seventh wrangler in 1824).

The question to be disputed was a trite and favourite subject, Recte statuit Paleius de Suicidiis. This last word is no doubt a barbarism, though to most English ears unequivocal, and sanctioned by time-honoured use in the Philosophical Schools. The Opponent aforesaid being called upon for an argument began thus: Non recte judicat Dominus Respondens de suicidio, ut ego quidem censeo, ergo cadit quaestio: si sues enim omnino non caedemus, unde quaeso pernam, hillas, sumen, unde inquam petasonem sumus habituri? Est profecto judaicum et, ut ita dicam'—'Erras, Domine Opponens!'' interrupts the Moderator, 'non enim de suibus caesis loquitur Respondens, sed de aliquo qui ultro sibi necem consciverit.' (All this while the Respondent, good mathematician and Johnian though he was, being unacquainted with the terms of Latin pork-butchery, was puzzling his brain to think how he could 'take off' an argument which he could not well understand.) 'Quid est ergo suicidium' (continues the Opponent) 'ut latinè nos loquamur, nisi suum caesio?'

Mr Martin, who had won Bell's and Craven Scholarships, and might (it was thought) have been senior classic, if he had been a candidate for honours in that new Tripos, enjoyed the joke, which would have been thrown away on Professor Farish had he been the moderator.


Saturday, November 27, 2010


Verses on Chaeremon the Stoic

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.7.13 (1116 a 12, tr. H. Rackham):
But to seek death in order to escape from poverty, or the pangs of love, or from pain or sorrow, is not the act of a courageous man, but rather of a coward...
The ancient Stoics, on the other hand, did allow poverty as an acceptable reason for suicide. See Miriam Griffin, "Philosophy, Cato, and Roman Suicide: I," Greece & Rome 33 (1986) 64-77 (at 73):
Another passage likens the proper reasons for leaving life to those for leaving a banquet (SVF 3.768):
(1) because the oracle tells one to kill oneself to save one's country, that is, in the simile, because one's services are suddenly required, as in the case of the appearance of a friend after a long time;
(2) because tyrants are forcing us to do or say disgraceful things; that is, because of the arrival of rowdy revellers;
(3) protracted disease preventing the soul from using its tool, the body = spoilage of provisions at the banquet;
(4) poverty = scarcity of provisions at the banquet;
(5) madness = drunkenness at the banquet.
Martial 11.56 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey) criticizes Chaeremon, a Stoic, for his readiness to depart from life by reason of poverty:
Stoic Chaeremon, because you laud death overmuch, do you wish me to admire and look up to your courage? A jug with a broken handle makes this valor of yours, and a dismal hearth unwarmed by any fire, and a mat, and a gnat, and the frame of a bare truckle bed, and a short gown worn night and day alike. What a hero you are, who can do without dregs of red vinegar and straw and black bread! Come, let your pillow swell with Leuconian wool, and silky purple drape your couches, and a boy sleep with you who lately tormented the guests with his rosy face as he mixed the Caecuban: oh, how eager you will be to live three time the years of Nestor, how you will want to lose no instant of any day! It is easy to hold life cheap with straightened means: he who can be wretched plays the man.
The same, tr. Peter Whigham:
Your Stoic commendations of the grave
  rouse neither wonder nor esteem.
'Tis virtue caused by mere cracked crockery,
  by a cheerless, chilled, fireless hearth,
By flea-ridden mattressing, bare bedframe,
  one all-purpose, skimpy toga.
A rare asceticism to renounce
  lees of cheap red wine, straw, black bread!
What with a mattress of Leucanian wool?
  What with thick-napped sofa draperies?
A cup-boy for your couch, whose Caecuban, whose
  pink mouth, makes havoc with your guests?
You'd settle then for three times Nestor's years,
  and not mislay one day of them.
Straitened means invite to scorn of living:
  fortitude meets penury head on.
The same, tr. James Michie:
Because you hysterically glorify death, old Stoic,
Don't expect me to admire you as heroic.
What does your high-mindedness amount to but a few broken-handled jugs,
A cheerless, fireless hearth, some moth-eaten rugs,
A bare bed-frame, a cut-down toga (worn day and night)—and bugs?
What a spiritual achievement—to be able to do without straw for your bed,
Sour red wine and cheap black bread!
Come off it! Imagine yourself tucked up asleep
Under thick purple quilts, on pillows bulging with wool of Leuconian sheep,
In the arms of a red-lipped boy who's just filled your guests' cups to the brim
And made them long for a taste of him.
Ah, be honest, then you'd pray
To live three times as long as Nestor, to savour every minute of every day.
It's easy to despise life when things go wrong:
The true hero endures much, and long.
The same, tr. Paul Nixon:
As a Stoic, Chaeremon, you eulogize death:
  Don't think you do aught to admire there.
    You're bold since you've got
    Only one broken pot
  And a woebegone grate with no fire there,
And a mat and a bug and the frame of a bed,
  And a toga whose duty is double.
    Ah, brave to resign
    All those lees of sour wine,
  To forego eating black bread and stubble!
But look here! Gallic wool swells your mattresses now;
  You've a purple draped couch, one supposes:
    Fair slaves when you dine
    Serve you Caecuban wine;
  You've a mistress whose lips are like roses.
Were it thus you would wish to live thrice Nestor's years;
  Every moment you'd cherish and treasure.
    When a man's down at heels
    Death's a pleasure, he feels.
  He's brave who refuses the pleasure.
The same, tr. James Elphinston:
The stoic soul, that daily death desires,
Can e'er Cheremon think my soul admires?
On what a base does such high virtue stand?
On a poor pitcher, who has lost her hand:
On a desponding hearth, that never glows;
Yet sometimes smoke, for satisfaction, shows:
On the fell moths, that have consum'd a rug;
On a bare bedsted, odor'd by a bug:
On once a gown, tho' now curtail'd a cloke:
Ah! night and day, one undiminisht joke.
What fortitude is his, who can forgo
All he allows felicity below!
The blackest crustlings e'er becruncht by grub;
The dreg of vinegar, and couch of stub!
But, bolder still, my sage, invert thy plan:
Tempt other walks, no less indulg'd to man.
With wool Leuconic, let thy pillow swell;
And, o'er thy down, let woven purple dwell.
Hail ev'ry sweet, nor banish ev'ry sour;
Of food, of raiment, of the social hour.
Nay, let the fair sublime the joys of night,
Whom thy delighted guests confest so bright.
How shalt thou hug a thrice-told Nestor's age,
Nor of the three vast volumes lose a page!
Then were it great, thy glories to resign;
And, to forsake the earth, were half-divine.
But, should'st thou prove the meanest of mankind;
Thou may'st create the bliss, thou dost not find.
The storms of life who greatly would despise,
Must sink with spirit, and by patience rise.
Conflicting scenes 'tis easy to detest:
Brave is the man, who brooks to be distrest.
The same, tr. R. Fletcher:
  Stoick Cheraemon cause that thou
  Canst cry up death I know not how
Thou wouldst have me this thy fortitude admire:
  Some broken Pitcher bred in thee
  This seeming piece of gallantrie,
Or else some frozen Chimney without Fire;
  A noysom Worm, or Coverlid,
  Or Side-Piece of thy naked Bed,
Or a short Coat worn by thee day and night,
  O what a mighty Man thou'lt seem
  That canst the Dregs of sower red Wine,
And thatch, and poor course black bread dare to slight!
  But yet suppose thy Couch should bee
  Stuft with Leuconick wooll for thee,
And Purple Vallions should thy Bed attire,
  And that thy Boy with thee should sleep,
  Which fill'd rich Wine with rosy lip
And set thy love-inflamed guests on fire?
  O how wouldst thou then wish to see
  Thrice Nestor's years fullfill'd in thee?
And not a minute of a day loss'd have?
  To slight a life in miserie
  Is nothing: But he that can bee
Contentedly distress'd is truly brave.
The same, tr. Thomas May:
That thou, Cheraemon, death dost oft desire
Thou would'st have us thy stoic mind admire.
This high resolve comes from an earelesse pot,
A chimney without fire to keep it hot,
A bedsted eat with wormes, rugs coarse and light,
One short bare gown to weare both day and night.
How brave a man art thou canst leave such geere
As straw, coarse bread, and lees of vinegar!
But if a woven purple coverled,
And fine french lawne adorn'd thy downy bed,
Hadst thou a girl, whose rosie lips would fire,
As wine she fills the lustfull guests desire:
Then thou to live thrice Nestor's years would'st pray,
And would'st not lose an houre of any day.
In poore estate 'tis easie scorning death;
Valiant is he dares draw a wretched breath.
The Latin:
Quod nimium mortem, Chaeremon Stoice, laudas,
  vis animum mirer suspiciamque tuum?
hanc tibi virtutem fracta facit urceus ansa,
  et tristis nullo qui tepet igne focus,
et teges et cimex et nudi sponda grabati,
  et brevis atque eadem nocte dieque toga.
O quam magnus homo es, qui faece rubentis aceti
  et stipula et nigro pane carere potes!
Leuconicis agedum tumeat tibi culcita lanis
  constringatque tuos purpura pexa toros,
dormiat et tecum modo qui, dum Caecuba miscet,
  convivas roseo torserat ore puer:
o quam tu cupies ter vivere Nestoris annos
  et nihil ex ulla perdere luce voles!
rebus in angustis facile est contemnere vitam:
  fortiter ille facit qui miser esse potest.

Friday, November 26, 2010


In the Belfry

Austin Dobson (1840-1921), In the Belfry:

Toll! Is it night, or daylight yet?
Somewhere the birds seem singing still,
Though surely now the sun has set.

Toll! But who tolls the Bell once more?
He must have climbed the parapet.
Did I not bar the belfry door?

Who can it be?—the Bernardine,
That wont to pray with me of yore?
No,—for the monk was not so lean.

This must be He who, legend saith,
Comes sometimes with a kindlier mien
And tolls a knell.—This shape is Death!

Good-bye, old Bell! So let it be.
How strangely now I draw my breath!
What is this haze of light I see? ...

Alfred Rethel (1816-1859), Der Tod als Freund

William Morris, "'Death the Avenger' and 'Death the Friend'," Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (August 1856), rpt. in his Prose and Poetry (1856-1870) (London: Oxford University Press, 1913), pp. 631-633 (at 632-633):
In an old tower just below the belfry, in the place where they ring the bells: there is Death again in his pilgrim's dress, tolling for one who is just dead, the Sacristan of that Church; this Death is draped tenderly down to the feet; there is no maddening horror about him, awe only; he is not grinning as in the other picture, but gazes downward, thoughtfully, almost sadly, thinking of the old man's life that has been. And he, with his hands laid together and his eyes closed, is leaning back in his chair: many a time these latter years has he leant back so; then needs must that he rise stiffly and wearily to go about his duties; but now he need never rise again; his lips, parted a little now, need never again be drawn together close, at sight of weary injustice and wrong; he will soon understand why all these things were. The dragons on the spire eaves lean forward open-mouthed, disappointed because he has got quit of all that now; near the head of him against the wall is a figure of Christ on the Cross, a Bible is open by the side of him; near the stairs is a horn hanging, a huntsman's horn, and through the window, on the sill of which a bird is singing, you can see the fair sunset-country stretching away for leagues and leagues (for we are high up here, just under the spire).

They say he was a hunter in the old time, this man; that he heard the north wind sing about his ears, as he dashed over the open spaces; that the young beech-leaves in the early summer quivered at the blasts of his horn; that many a time he rode into that village you can see down there, wherein he was born, where his father and his father's father lived, weary with riding; that some one used to look out for him when he rode in, in the evenings. But that too is all gone by—only in memories perhaps—yet he had other hopes then perhaps than this, a mere old sacristan dying lonely in the old belfry.

What matter? for the setting sun is bright over all that country, and the bird sings still in the window sill—not afraid of death.
Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, Volume I: 1833-1867 (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1904), p. 254 (quoting Edward Burne-Jones):
By absolutely perfect wood-engraving, I mean such work as all the sixteenth-century engravings and such as those quite perfect examples in Rethel's Dance of Death and the Friend and Avenger. I don't believe that any attempt to express more than they do could possibly be successful.


It Doesn't Sound Very Practical

W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge, chapter 4:
'What's that great big book on the table?' she asked.
'That? Oh, that's my Greek dictionary.'
'Your what?' she cried.
'It's all right. It won't bite you.'
'Are you learning Greek?'
'I thought I'd like to.'
He was looking at her with a smile in his eyes and she smiled back at him.
'Don't you think you might tell me what you've been up to all the time you've been in Paris?'
'I've been reading a good deal. Eight or ten hours a day. I've attended lectures at the Sorbonne. I think I've read everything that's important in French literature and I can read Latin, at least Latin prose, almost as easily as I can read French. Of course Greek's morе difficult. But I have a very good teacher. Until you came here I used to go to him three evenings a week.'
'And what is that going to lead to?'
'The acquisition of knowledge,' he smiled.
'It doesn't sound very practical.'
'Perhaps it isn't and on the other hand perhaps it is. But it's enormous fun. You can't imagine what a thrill it is to read the Odyssey in the original. It makes you feel as if you had only to get on tiptoe and stretch out your hands to touch the stars.'

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Not a Bad Sort of Life

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Phineas Finn, Volume I, Chapter XVII:
"And where is Chiltern now?" said Phineas.

"Down in Northamptonshire, staying at some inn from whence he hunts. He tells me that he is quite alone,—that he never dines out, never has any one to dine with him, that he hunts five or six days a week,—and reads at night."

"That is not a bad sort of life."


Ad Usum Puerorum et Puellarum

Byron, Don Juan, Canto I, Stanzas XLII-XLV:
Ovid's a rake, as half his verses show him,
Anacreon's morals are a still worse sample,
Catullus scarcely has a decent poem,
I don't think Sappho's Ode a good example,
Although Longinus tells us there is no hymn
Where the sublime soars forth on wings more ample;
But Virgil's songs are pure, except that horrid one
Beginning with "Formosum Pastor Corydon."

Lucretius' irreligion is too strong
For early stomachs, to prove wholesome food;
I can't help thinking Juvenal was wrong,
Although no doubt his real intent was good,
For speaking out so plainly in his song,
So much indeed as to be downright rude;
And then what proper person can be partial
To all those nauseous epigrams of Martial?

Juan was taught from out the best edition,
Expurgated by learned men, who place,
Judiciously, from out the schoolboy's vision,
The grosser parts; but, fearful to deface
Too much their modest bard by this omission,
And pitying sore this mutilated case,
They only add them all in an appendix,
Which saves, in fact, the trouble of an index;

For there we have them all "at one fell swoop,"
Instead of being scatter'd through the pages;
They stand forth marshall'd in a handsome troop,
To meet the ingenuous youth of future ages,
Till some less rigid editor shall stoop
To call them back into their separate cages,
Instead of standing staring altogether,
Like garden gods—and not so decent either.
The "garden gods" are statues of Priapus.

Alexander Mark Rossi, Forbidden Books

Related post: Naughty Bits.


Maxims for Philologists

Friedrich Ritschl (1806-1876), quoted by Basil L. Gildersleeve, "Friedrich Ritschl," American Journal of Philology 5 (1884) 339-355 (at 349-351, arranged as a list by me, with German to be added as I find it):Note to myself: search for more of the German in "Zur Methode des philologischen Studiums (Bruchstücke und Aphorismen)," in Ritschl's Kleine Philologische Schriften Bd. V (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1879), pp. 19-32, and in Otto Ribbeck, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philologie (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1879).

Monday, November 22, 2010


Machiavelli and His Books

Niccolò Machiavelli, letter to Francesco Vettori (December 10, 1513, tr. John Addington Symonds):
When I leave the wood, I proceed to a well, and thence to the place which I use for snaring birds, with a book under my arm—Dante, or Petrarch, or one of the minor poets, like Tibullus or Ovid. I read the story of their passions, and let their loves remind me of my own, which is a pleasant pastime for a while....But when evening falls I go home and enter my writing-room. On the threshold I put off my country habit, filthy with mud and mire, and array myself in royal courtly garments; thus worthily attired, I make my entrance into the ancient courts of the men of old, where they receive me with love, and where I feed upon that food which only is my own and for which I was born. I feel no shame in conversing with them and asking them the reason of their actions. They, moved by their humanity, make answer; for four hours' space I feel no annoyance, forget all care; poverty cannot frighten, nor death appal me. I am carried away to their society.

Partitomi dal bosco, io me ne vo ad una fonte, e di quivi a un mio uccellare. Ho un libro sotto, o Dante o Petrarca, o uno di questi poeti minori, come dire Tibullo, Ovidio e simili: leggo quelle loro amorose passioni e quelli loro amori, ricordomi de' mia, godomi un pezzo in questo pensiero....Venuta la sera, mi ne ritorno a casa, et entro nel mio scrittoio; et in sull'uscio mi spoglio quella veste contadina, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni civili e curiali, e rivestito condecentemente entro nelle antique corti degli antiqui uomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo, che solum è mio, e per il quale io nacqui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro, e domandarli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro umanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro ore di tempo alcuna noia, sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte: tutto mi trasferisco in loro.
Dressing in one's best clothes to read the best books—that's the mark of a true book lover.

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Chimiste dans son laboratoire


A Participial Construction in Greek

In a series of posts at Gypsy Scholar, Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges has been discussing Milton, Paradise Lost 9.791-794:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death: Satiate at length,
And hight'nd as with Wine, jocond and boon,
Thus to her self she pleasingly began.
In one of his posts on this subject, entitled Milton's 'Awkward' Grecism: "know" with nominative participle?, Dr. Hodges quotes Kenneth Haynes, English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 79, on line 792:
Greek may use a participle after verbs of knowledge or perception, and the line, modeled after Greek, means "and knew not that she ate Death."
Haynes cites (but does not quote) a famous Latin example, viz. Vergil, Aeneid 2.377: "sensit medios delapsus in hostis" (he realized that he had fallen into the midst of enemies), on which see R.G. Austin in his commentary on Vergil, Aeneid Book 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 159.

But Haynes gives no Greek examples. Perhaps it is worthwhile to examine a few Greek examples in which a verb of perception takes a participle in the nominative case. In most of the English translations below you'll find a clause starting with the word "that" and containing a finite verb—in the corresponding Greek there is a participle in the nominative case.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1670 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
Know that thou shalt make me atonement for thy insolent folly.

ἴσθι μοι δώσων ἄποινα τῆσδε μωρίας χάριν.
Euripides, Alcestis 150-151 (tr. David Kovacs):
Let her know then that she will die glorious and the noblest woman by far under the sun.

ἴστω νυν εὐκλεής γε κατθανουμένη
γυνή τ᾽ ἀρίστη τῶν ὑφ᾽ ἡλίῳ μακρῷ.
Euripides, Hecuba 397 (tr. David Kovacs):
I am not aware that I have a master.

οὐ γὰρ οἶδα δεσπότας κεκτημένος.
Herodotus 4.76.6 (tr. A.D. Godley):
Now if Anacharsis was truly of this family, then let him know [that] he was slain by his own brother; for Idanthyrsus was the son of Saulius, and it was Saulius who killed Anacharsis.

εἰ ὦν ταύτης ἦν τῆς οἰκίης ὁ Ἀνάχαρσις, ἴστω ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀδελφεοῦ ἀποθανών: Ἰδάνθυρσος γὰρ ἦν παῖς Σαυλίου, Σαύλιος δὲ ἦν ὁ ἀποκτείνας Ἀνάχαρσιν.
Herodotus 5.42.1 (tr. A.D. Godley):
...and fully believed that he would be made king for his manly worth...

εὖ τε ἐπίστατο κατ᾽ ἀνδραγαθίην αὐτὸς σχήσων τὴν βασιληίην.
[Plato], Theages 122 C (tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
...we may perceive how ridiculous we are...

...αἰσθώμεθα γελοῖοι ὄντες...
Sophocles, Ajax 1399:
Know that to us you are a noble man.

ἀνὴρ καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς ἐσθλὸς ὢν ἐπίστασο.
Thucydides 2.51.4 (tr. Charles Forster Smith):
...when they once became aware that they were sick...

...ὁπότε τις αἴσθοιτο κάμνων...
Xenophon, Anabasis 2.1.13 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
Be sure, however, that you are a fool if you imagine that your valour could prove superior to the King's might.

ἴσθι μέντοι ἀνόητος ὤν, εἰ οἴει τὴν ὑμετέραν ἀρετὴν περιγενέσθαι ἂν τῆς βασιλέως δυνάμεως.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Emerson and a Verse from the Poet Martial

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. I: Nature: Addresses and Lectures, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1903), pp. 236-237 (from the lecture Man the Reformer):
When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands. But not only health, but education is in the work.1
Editor's note on p. 439:
Page 237, note 1. Mr. Emerson had neither the aptitude nor the training for carrying on a farm, or even a large garden, but, especially in his early years as a Concord householder, he took some care of his garden, and preferably of his orchard. But in household matters he disliked to be served by others, especially to call upon servants. He liked the verse from Horace:
At mihi succurrit pro Ganymede manus
(My own right hand my cup-bearer shall be),
and a proverb, perhaps from the Persian, —
The king's servant is the king himself.
Edward Waldo Emerson, Emerson in Concord: A Memoir (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1889), p. 151:
"The king's servant is the king himself," quoted, I think, from the Persian, and the verse, —
"At mihi succurrit pro Ganymede manus"
(My own right hand my cup-bearer shall be), —
were favorite mottoes, and from boyhood to age he was as independent as might be of service from others. He built his own fires, going to the woodpile in the yard in all weather for armfuls as he needed fuel; he almost always walked to and from trains, carried his own valise, and when going to lecture in a neighboring town, drove himself. He always kept one or two ears of Indian corn in his cabinet to catch the horse with, if it got out of the pasture.
Emerson deserves praise for his determination to do things for himself, instead of being waited on. But he and his son seem to have misinterpreted the Latin verse "At mihi succurrit pro Ganymede manus," which is not from Horace but from Martial 2.43.14, translated as follows by D.R. Shackleton Bailey: "But my hand comes to my assistance in lieu of Ganymede."

Ganymede served Jupiter in other capacities besides that of cup-bearer (recall that catamite is derived from Ganymede), and what Martial meant by the line is best explained by a parallel passage (Martial 11.73.4-5, addressed to Lygdus, tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
But when I have lain taut with protracted excitement in vain, often my left hand comes to my rescue in your stead.

cum frustra iacui longa prurigine tentus,
succurrit pro te saepe sinistra mihi.
Similarly Martial 9.41.1-2 (numquam futuis, sed paelice laeva / uteris et Veneri servit amica manus), which you'll have to translate for yourself, dear readers. It appears, from these passages, that the Romans customarily used the left hand when engaged in this practice. For a discussion of Martial's views on masturbation see J.P. Sullivan, Martial, the Unexpected Classic: a Literary and Historical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 190-191.

Emerson's misunderstanding amused Basil L. Gildersleeve, "Paulus Silentarius," American Journal of Philology 38 (1917) 42-72 (at 49, footnote omitted):
...the pure-minded Emerson and his innocent editor read to their edification the 'odes' of Martial in praise of self-help, little suspecting what was meant by Martial's handy substitute for Ganymede...

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Anno 1829 or Anno 2010?

Heinrich Heine, Anno 1829 (tr. Charles Stuart Calverley):
I crave an ampler, worthier sphere:
  I'd liefer bleed at every vein
Than stifle 'mid these hucksters here,
  These lying slaves of paltry gain.

They eat, they drink; they're every whit
  As happy as their type, the mole;
Large are their bounties—as the slit
  Through which they drop the poor man's dole.

With pipe in mouth they go their way,
  With hands in pockets; they are blest
With grand digestions: only they
  Are such hard morsels to digest!

The hand that's red with some dark deed,
  Some giant crime, were white as wool
Compared with these sleek saints, whose creed
  Is paying all their debts in full.

Ye clouds that sail to far-off lands,
  O waft me to what clime ye will;
To Lapland's snows, to Libya's sands,
  To the world's end—but onward still!

Take me, O clouds! They ne'er look down;
  But (proof of a discerning mind)
One moment hang o'er Hamburg town,
  The next they leave it leagues behind.
The same, tr. Hal Draper:
If I'm to bleed to death in peace,
Give me a noble, wide terrain!
Oh, do not let me smother here
In this cramped huckster world of gain!

They gorge and swill, they drink their fill
Contentedly like happy moles,
And their big hearts are just as big
In bounty as the poorbox holes.

A fat cigar stuck in the face,
They go their way with stolid phlegm;
No doubt they have good stomachs too—
If only one could stomach them!

They deal in spices of all kinds
And spices scent the breeze in shoals;
But still upon the air one smells
The stench of rotten-herring souls.

I'd rather see some dreadful vice,
Some bloody crime that's big and brash—
But not this well-fed virtue, this
Morality that pays in cash!

O clouds above, take me along
To Lapland or to Zanzibar,
Or even Pomerania—
To any land, but far, oh far!

Take me along!—They hear me not.
The clouds above are wise indeed!
When they go by above this town
They fearfully increase their speed.
The German original:
Daß ich bequem verbluten kann,
Gebt mir ein edles, weites Feld!
O, laßt mich nicht ersticken hier
In dieser engen Krämerwelt!

Sie essen gut, sie trinken gut,
Erfreun sich ihres Maulwurfglücks,
Und ihre Großmut ist so groß
Als wie das Loch der Armenbüchs.

Zigarren tragen sie im Maul
Und in der Hosentasch' die Händ';
Auch die Verdauungskraft ist gut—
Wer sie nur selbst verdauen könnt!

Sie handeln mit den Spezerei'n
Der ganzen Welt, doch in der Luft,
Trotz allen Würzen, riecht man stets
Den faulen Schellfischseelenduft.

O, daß ich große Laster säh,
Verbrechen, blutig, kolossal—
Nur diese satte Tugend nicht,
Und zahlungsfähige Moral!

Ihr Wolken droben, nehmt mich mit,
Gleichviel nach welchem fernen Ort!
Nach Lappland oder Afrika,
Und sei's nach Pommern—fort! nur fort!

O, nehmt mich mit—sie hören nicht—
Die Wolken droben sind so klug!
Vorüberreisend dieser Stadt,
Ängstlich beschleun'gen sie den Flug.
Cartoon by William Gropper


Stand Up

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.5.4 (tr. George Long):
A man then must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.

ὀρθὸν οὖν εἶναι χρή, οὐχὶ ὀρθούμενον.


Prison Break

Epicurus, Vatican Collection 58, text from Hermann Usener, "Epikurische Spruchsammlung," in his Kleine Schriften I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1912), pp. 297-325 (at 318), tr. Cyril Bailey in Whitney J. Oates, ed., The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (New York: Random House, 1940), p. 43:
We must release ourselves from the prison of affairs and politics.

Ἐκλυτέον ἑαυτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ περὶ τὰ ἐγκύκλια καὶ πολιτικὰ δεσμωτηρίου.
Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901), Bagno Penale a Portoferraio

Friday, November 19, 2010


Dapes Inemptae

Aristophanes, Acharnians 28-36 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I am always the very first to come to Assembly and take my seat. Then, in my solitude, I sigh, I yawn, I stretch myself, I fart, I fiddle, scribble, pluck my beard, do sums, while I gaze off to the countryside and pine for peace, loathing the city and yearning for my own deme, that never cried "buy coal," "buy vinegar," "buy oil"; it didn't know the word "buy"; no, it produced everything itself, and the Buy Man was out of sight.
These words spoken by the farmer Dicaeopolis, forced off his farm and into the city by war, came to mind when I read Michael Pollan's account of supper at Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, in The Omnivore's Dilemma (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), p. 203:
Everything we ate had been grown on the farm, with the exception of the cream of mushroom soup that tied together Teresa's tasty casserole of Polyface chicken and broccoli from the garden. Rachel passed a big platter of delicious deviled eggs, eggs that in this form or some other would appear at every meal that week. Though it wasn't even the end of June, we tasted the first sweet corn of the season, which had been grown in the hoop house where the laying hens spend the winter....At dinner I mentioned that this was probably the all-time most local meal I'd ever eaten. Teresa joked that if Joel and Daniel could just figure out how to mill paper towels and toilet paper from the trees on the farm, she'd never have to go to the supermarket. It was true: We were eating almost completely off the grid. I realized that the sort of agriculture practiced at Polyface was very much of a piece with the sort of life the Salatins led. They had largely detached their household from industrial civilization, and not just by eating from land that had virtually no economic or ecological ties to what Joel variously called "the empire," "the establishment," and "Wall Street."
Of course even corn cobs will do in a pinch if toilet paper is absent. The phrase dapes inemptae (unbought meals) occurs in Vergil (Georgics 4.133) and Horace (Epodes 2.48).

Related posts:


Le Patriotisme de Clocher

On my daily walk I sometimes pass by a building called The Institute for Global Citizenship. I can't imagine anything more dispiriting than being a global citizen, a cosmopolitan.

Basil L. Gildersleeve, The Creed of the Old South (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915), pp. 34-35, described the antithesis of global citizenship:
Take away this local patriotism and you take out all the color that is left in American life. That the local patriotism may not only consist with a wider patriotism, but may serve as a most important element in wider patriotism, is true. Witness the strong local life in the old provinces of France. No student of history, no painter of manners, can neglect it. In Gerfaut, a novel written before the Franco-Prussian war, Charles de Bernard represents an Alsatian shepherd as saying, "I am not French; I am Alsatian,"—"trait de patriotisme de clocher assez commun dans la belle province du Rhin," adds the author, little dreaming of the national significance of that "patriotisme de clocher." The Breton's love of his home is familiar to every one who has read his Renan, and Blanche Willis Howard, in Guenn, makes her priest exclaim, "Monsieur, I would fight with France against any other nation, but I would fight with Brittany against France. I love France. I am a Frenchman. But first of all I am a Breton." The Provençal speaks of France as if she were a foreign country, and fights for her as if she were his alone. What is true of France is true in a measure of England. Devonshire men are notoriously Devonshire men first and last.
"Le patriotisme de clocher" is "the patriotism of the bell tower," an anachronism in these days, I suppose, when towers either don't have bells, or, if they do, the bells are silent because ringing them would violate anti-noise ordinances.

Related post: Home Sweet Home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Revenge of the Hamadryads

John Aubrey (1626-1697), The Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, Vol. II (London: E. Curll, 1718), pp. 33-34:
In this Parish lies the great Wood, call'd Norwood, belonging to the See of Canterbury, wherein was an antient, remarkable Tree, call'd Vicar's Oak, where four Parishes meet in a Point. This Wood wholly consists of Oaks. There was one Oak that had Misselto, a Timber Tree, which was felled about 1657. Some Persons cut this Misselto, for some Apothecaries in London, and sold them a Quantity for Ten Shillings, each time, and left only one Branch remaining for more to sprout out; One fell lame shortly after: Soon after, each of the others lost an Eye, and he that fell'd the Tree, about 1678 (tho' warned of these Misfortunes of the other Men) would, notwithstanding, adventure to do it, and shortly after broke his Leg; as if the Hamadryades had resolved to take an ample Revenge for the injury done to that sacred and venerable Oak.

I cannot here omit taking Notice of the great Misfortunes in the Family of the Earl of Winchelsea, who at Eastwell in Kent, felled down a most curious Grove of Oaks, near his own noble Seat, and gave the first Blow with his own Hands. Shortly after, his Countess died in her Bed suddenly, and his eldest Son, the Lord Maidstone, was killed at Sea by a Cannon Bullet. It is a common Notion, that a strange Noise proceeds from a falling Oak, so loud, as to be heard at half a Mile distant, as if it were the Genius of the Oak lamenting.
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea (1661-1720), Upon My Lord Winchelsea's Converting the Mount in his Garden to a Terras (1702), in The Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, ed. Myra Reynolds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1903), pp. 33-36:
If we those Gen'rous Sons deserv'dly Praise
Who o're their Predecessours Marble raise,
And by Inscriptions, on their Deeds, and Name,
To late Posterity, convey their Fame,
What with more Admiration, shall we write, 5
On Him, who takes their Errours from our sight?
And least their Judgments be in question brought,
Removes a Mountain, to remove a fault?
Which long had stood (though threatnd oft in vain),
Concealing all the beautys of the Plaine. 10
Heedlesse when Yong, cautious in their decline,
None gone before persu'd the vast dessign,
Till ripen'd Judgment, joyn'd with Youthfull Flame,
At last but Came, and Saw, and Overcame.
And as old Rome refin'd what ere was rude, 15
And Civiliz'd, as fast as she subdu'd,
So lies this Hill, hew'n from itts rugged height,
Now levell'd to a Scene of smooth delight,
Where on a Terras of itts spoyles we walk,
And of the Task, and the performer talk; 20
From whose unwearied Genius Men expect
All that can farther Pollish or Protect;
To see a sheltring grove the Prospect bound,
Just rising from the same proliffick ground,
Where late itt stood, the Glory of the Seat, 25
Repell'd the Winter blasts, and skreen'd the Sommer's heat;
So prais'd, so lov'd, that when untimely Fate,
Sadly prescrib'd itt a too early Date,
The heavy tidings cause a gen'ral Grief,
And all combine to bring a swift relief. 30
Some Plead, some Pray, some Councel, some Dispute,
Alas in vain, where Pow'r is Absolute.
Those whom Paternal Awe, forbid to speak,
Their sorrows, in their secret whispers break,
Sigh as they passe beneath the sentenc'd Trees, 35
Which seem to answer in a mournfull Breeze.
The very Clowns (hir'd by his dayly Pay),
Refuse to strike, nor will their Lord obey,
Till to his speech he adds a leading stroke,
And by Example does their Rage provoke. 40
Then in a moment, ev'ry arm is rear'd,
And the robb'd Palace sees, what most she fear'd,
Her lofty Grove, her ornamental shield,
Turn'd to a Desert, and forsaken Field.
So fell Persepolis, bewail'd of all 45
But Him, whose rash Resolve procur'd her Fall
No longer now, we such Destructions fear,
No longer the resounding Axe we hear,
But in Exchange, behold the Fabrick stand,
Built, and Adorn'd by a supporting hand; 50
Compleat, in all itts late unequall Frame,
No Loame, and Lath, does now the Building shame,
But gracefull simetry, without is seen,
And Use, with Beauty are improv'd within.
And though our Ancestors did gravely Plott, 55
As if one Element they vallu'd nott,
Nor yet the pleasure of the noblest sence,
Gainst Light and Air to raise a strong defense;
Their wiser Offspring does those gifts renew,
And now we Breath[e] and now the eager View 60
Through the enlarged Windows take[s] her way,
Does beauteous Fields, and scatter'd Woods survey,
Flyes or'e th' extended Land, and sinks but in the Sea.
Or when contented with an easyer flight,
The new wrought Gardens, give a new delight, 65
Where ev'ry fault, that in the Old was found,
Is mended, in the well disposed Ground.
Such are th' Effects, when Wine, nor loose delights,
Devour the Day, nor waste the thoughtlesse Nights,
But gen'rous Arts, the studious Hours engage, 70
To blesse the present, and succeeding Age.
Oh! may Eastwell, still with their aid encrease,
Plenty surround her, and within be peace.
Still may her temp'rate Air his Health maintain,
From whom she does such Strength and Beauty gain. 75
Florish her Trees, and may the Verdant Grasse
Again prevail, where late the plough did passe,
Still may she boast a kind and fruitfull soyle,
And still new pleasures give to crown his Toyle,
And may some one, with Admiration fill'd, 80
In just Applauses, and in Numbers skill'd,
Not with more Zeal, but more poetick heat,
Throughly Adorn, what barely we Relate.
Then, shou'd th' Elysian Groves no more be Nam'd,
Nor Tempe's Vale, be any longer Fam'd, 85
She shou'd the Theame, to ev'ry Verse affoard,
Until the Muse, when to advantage soar'd,
Shou'd take a nobler Aim, and dare describe her Lord.
Reynolds (note on p. 419) cites Aubrey and comments:
The destruction of the oak-grove took place, then, about 1669 or 1670. The earl referred to would be Heneage Finch, the second Earl of Winchilsea. In the MS. after l. 77 the following lines have been crossed out:
When by a Consort's too prevailing Art,
The Park was rifl'd of so fair a part,
Which now restor'd like itt's new Master's Mind
Is with the whole, but in just bounds confln'd.
The "consort" here referred to would be the second of the Earl's four wives, Mary Seymour, daughter of William, Duke of Somerset.



Dinner Party

Austin Dobson, Laissez Faire:
'Prophete rechts, Prophete links,
Das Weltkind in der Mitten.'

Goethe's Diné zu Coblenz.

To left, here's B., half-Communist,
  Who talks a chastened treason,
And C., a something-else in ist,
  Harangues, to right, on Reason.

B., from his 'tribune,' fulminates
  At Throne and Constitution,
Nay, with the walnuts, advocates
  Reform by revolution

While C.'s peculiar coterie
  Have now in full rehearsal
Some patent new Philosophy
  To make doubt universal.

And yet—why not? If zealots burn,
  Their zeal has not affected
My taste for salmon and Sauterne,
  Or I might have objected:—

Friend B., the argument you choose
  Has been by France refuted;
And C., mon cher, your novel views
  Are just Tom Paine, diluted;

There's but one creed,—that's Laissez faire;
  Behold its mild apostle!
My dear, declamatory pair,
  Although you shout and jostle,

Not your ephemeral hands, nor mine,
  Times' Gordian knots shall sunder,—
Will. laid three casks of this old wine:
  Who'll drink the last, I wonder?
Here is Goethe's poem, Dinner at Coblenz, translated by David Luke:
Between Lavater and Basedow I sat at table, enjoying life. Mr Curate, with unflagging zeal, mounted a black nag, seated a parson beside him, and ran a tilt at Revelation, a book well sealed with riddles for us by the prophet John; he undid the seals in no time, like someone opening jars of venom-cure, and with a holy wand he measured the Cubic City and the Pearly Gates before the amazed eyes of his disciple. I, meanwhile, had made little headway, and had devoured a chunk of salmon.

In the meantime old man Basedow got hold of a dancing-master who was sitting beside him, and was demonstrating to him the plain meaning of baptism for Christ and his disciples, and proving that it is now quite incorrect for children to have their heads wetted. The other was much riled by this, and refused to go on listening. 'Any child' (he declared) 'will tell you that that is not what the Bible says.' And I, during all this, had comfortably tucked away a chicken.

And onward thus we paced, as at Emmaus, our spirit burning within us; a prophet to the right, a prophet to the left, and the child of this world in the middle.

Zwischen Lavater und Basedow
Saß ich bei Tisch des Lebens froh.
Herr Helfer, der war gar nicht faul,
Setzt' sich auf einen schwarzen Gaul,
Nahm einen Pfarrer hinter sich
Und auf die Offenbarung strich,
Die uns Johannes, der Prophet,
Mit Rätseln wohl versiegeln tät;
Eröffnet' die Siegel kurz und gut,
Wie man Theriaksbüchsen öffnen tut,
Und maß mit einem heiligen Rohr
Die Kubusstadt und das Perlentor
Dem hocherstaunten Jünger vor.
Ich war indes nicht weit gereist,
Hatte ein Stück Salmen aufgespeist.

Vater Basedow, unter dieser Zeit,
Packt' einen Tanzmeister an seiner Seit
Und zeigt' ihm, was die Taufe klar
Bei Christ und seinen Jüngern war
Und daß sich's gar nicht ziemet jetzt,
Daß man den Kindern die Köpfe netzt.
Drob ärgert' sich der andre sehr
Und wollte gar nichts hören mehr
Und sagt': es wüßte ein jedes Kind,
Daß es in der Bibel anders stünd.
Und ich behaglich unterdessen
Hätt einen Hahnen aufgefressen.

Und, wie nach Emmaus, weiter ging's
Mit Geist- und Feuerschritten,
Prophete rechts, Prophete links,
Das Weltkind in der Mitten.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A Rich Common

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones, Book XII, Chapter I:
The ancients may be considered as a rich common, where every person, who hath the smallest tenement in Parnassus, hath a free right to fatten his muse.


An Unholy Trinity

Basil L. Gildersleeve, "A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War," Atlantic Monthly 80 (1897) 330-342 (at 332):
To frighten, to wound, to kill,—these three abide under all forms of military doctrine, and the greatest of these is frightening. Ares, the god of war, has two satellites, Terror and Affright. Fear is the Gorgon's head. The serpents are very real, very effective, in their way, but logically they are unessential tresses. The Gorgon stares you out of countenance, and that suffices. The object is the removal of an obstacle. Killing and wounding are but means to an end. Hand-to-hand fighting is rare, and it would be easy to count the instances in which cavalry meets the shock of cavalry. Crossing sabres is not a common pastime in the red game of war. It makes a fine picture, to be sure, the finer for the rarity of the thing itself.

To frighten, to wound, to kill, being the essential processes, war amounts to the same thing the world over, world of time and world of space. Whether death or disability comes by Belgian ball or Spencer bullet, by the stone of a Balearic slinger, by a bolt from a crossbow, is a matter of detail which need not trouble the philosophic mind, and the ancients showed their sense in ascribing fear to divine inspiration.
Gildersleeve's language in the first sentence ("these three abide" and "the greatest of these") recalls 1 Corinthians 13.13: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Gildersleeve's own disability came by a Spencer bullet in the thigh.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Understanding Plato

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924), quoted by John A. Scott, "Gildersleeve the Teacher," Proceedings of the American Philological Association 56 (1925) xxii—xxviii (at xxiii):
Platonic scholars, with rare exceptions, are roughly to be divided into two classes, those who can understand the thought but not the Greek and those who can read the Greek but cannot understand the thought...
Cf. John Burnet (1863-1928), Humanism in Education, in Essays and Addresses (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 109:
I would not, however, give two straws for any one's opinion on the criticism or interpretation of Plato's text unless he can write tolerable Greek prose...

Update: see Michael Hendry's Gildersleeve and Palladas.


A Prayer

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2001), p. 363 (tr. by Stephen at Don Colacho's Aphorisms, ellipses in orginal):
...and lead us not into the foolishness of wondering each day at the daily wonder.

...y no dejes caer en la tontería de admirar cada día la admiración cotidiana.
This recalls and conflates two petitions from the Lord's Prayer: "da nobis hodie panem nostrum cotidianum" (give us this day our daily bread) and "ne nos inducas in tentationem" (lead us not into temptation).

The primary source for the "daily wonder" or the "ephemeral marvel" used to be the daily newspaper, about which Flaubert said, in a letter to Louise Colet (August 26, 1846, tr. F. Steegmuller):
What would I learn from those wonderful newspapers you so want me to take each morning, with my bread and butter and cup of coffee? Why should I care what they have to say? I have very little curiosity about the news, politics bores me to death, and the literary articles stink. To me it's all stupid-making and irritating...Yes, newspapers disgust me profoundly — I mean the ephemeral, things of the moment, what is important today and won't be tomorrow.
In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the primary source for the "daily wonder" is the Internet.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Merits of Scholars

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, tr. Walter Kaufmann), Book 5, § 366:
No, my scholarly friends, I bless you even for your hunched backs. And for despising, as I do, the "men of letters" and culture parasites. And for not knowing how to make a business of the spirit. And for having opinions that cannot be translated into financial values. And for not representing anything that you are not. And because your sole aim is to become masters of your craft, with reverence for every kind of mastery and competence, and with uncompromising opposition to everything that is semblance, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, or histrionic in litteris et artibus—to everything that cannot prove to you its unconditional probity in discipline and prior training.

Nein, meine gelehrten Freunde! Ich segne euch auch noch um eures Buckels willen! Und dafür, dass ihr gleich mir die Litteraten und Bildungs-Schmarotzer verachtet! Und dass ihr nicht mit dem Geiste Handel zu treiben wisst! Und lauter Meinungen habt, die nicht in Geldeswerth auszudrücken sind! Und dass ihr Nichts vertretet, was ihr nicht seid! Dass euer einziger Wille ist, Meister eures Handwerks zu werden, in Ehrfurcht vor jeder Art Meisterschaft und Tüchtigkeit und mit rücksichtslosester Ablehnung alles Scheinbaren, Halbächten, Aufgeputzten, Virtuosenhaften, Demagogischen, Schauspielerischen in litteris et artibus—alles Dessen, was in Hinsicht auf unbedingte Probität von Zucht und Vorschulung sich nicht vor euch ausweisen kann!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Buffer Zone

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, tr. Walter Kaufmann), Book 4, § 338:
Live in seclusion so that you can live for yourself. Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries.

Lebe im Verborgenen, damit du dir leben kannst! Lebe unwissend über das, was deinem Zeitalter das Wichtigste dünkt! Lege zwischen dich und heute wenigstens die Haut von drei Jahrhunderten!


What Is the Meaning of It?

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, from Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:
"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever."

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I Mourn for Diotimus

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924), Hellas and Hesperia (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909), pp. 13-14:
"Grammar," says an eminent academic authority, himself a Hellenist, "is to the average healthy human being the driest and deathliest of all the disciplines;" and grammarians have not been looked on with much favor in either ancient or modern times, at best as a higher type of hedge schoolmaster. Such a hedge schoolmaster figures in the Greek Anthology. His name has an aristocratic ring and recalls the great Arcadian seeress who taught Socrates the secret of true love. But Diotimus had come down in the world, and the mocking anthologist sings:
Αἰάζω Διότιμον, ὃς ἐν πέτραισι κάθηται
  Γαργαρέων παισὶν βῆτα καὶ ἄλφα λέγων
or, if he had lived to-day, and been utterly desperate, would perhaps have sung:
Diotimus, poor grammarian!
If my heart hath pitied e'er a one,
  It is he,
Who, an almost centenarian,
Perched upon a "peak in Darien,"
Teaches little Jack and Mary Ann
The epigram is by Aratus (Greek Anthology 11.437). Here is a literal translation:
I mourn for Diotimus, who sits amidst rocks, saying Alpha and Beta to the children of the Gargarians.
The "eminent academic authority" quoted by Gildersleeve is his friend Benjamin Ide Wheeler (1854-1927), in "Language as Interpreter of Life," Atlantic Monthly 84 (1899) 459-466 (at 463). "A peak in Darien" is of course a quotation from Keats' sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer:
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft on one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Winslow Homer, Country School

Friday, November 12, 2010


All Are Stoicks in the Grave

Abraham Cowley, Anacreontiques, IX (The Epicure):
Underneath this Myrtle shade,
On flowry beds supinely laid,
With od'rous Oyls my Head oreflowing,
And around it Roses growing,
What should I do but drink away
The Heat, and troubles of the Day?

In this more than Kingly state
Love himself on me shall waite.
Fill to me, Love, nay fill it up;
And mingled cast into the Cup,
Wit, and Mirth, and noble Fires,
Vigorous Health and gay Desires.

The Wheel of Life no less will stay
In a smooth than rugged way.
Since it equally doth flee,
Let the Motion pleasant bee.

Why do we precious Ointments shower,
Nobler wines why do we pour,
Beauteous Flowers why do we spread,
Upon the Mon'ments of the Dead?
Nothing they but Dust can show,
Or Bones that hasten to be so.

Crown me with Roses whilst I live,
Now your Wines and oyntments give.
After Death I nothing crave,
Let me Alive my pleasures have:
All are Stoicks in the Grave.
This is a very free version of Anacreontea 32. Richard Aldington's translation is close to the original:
I would drink, stretched upon delicate myrtle boughs and lotus grass. And Love, with his robe fastened about his throat with papyrus, should serve me wine.

For like the wheel of a chariot rolling life hurries past and soon we lie, a little dust of loosened bones.

Why should one perfume a stone? Why shed foolishness upon earth?

While I live I will perfume my head and bind it with roses and speak the name of my mistress.

0 Love, before I leave the dance to go under the earth I will scatter sorrow afar!
The original:
Ἐπὶ μυρσίναις τερείναις
ἐπὶ λωτίναις τε ποίαις
στορέσας θέλω προπίνειν·
ὁ δ’ Ἔρως χιτῶνα δήσας
ὑπὲρ αὐχένος παπύρωι
μέθυ μοι διακονείτω.

τροχὸς ἅρματος γὰρ οἷα
βίοτος τρέχει κυλισθείς,
ὀλίγη δὲ κεισόμεσθα
κόνις ὀστέων λυθέντων.

τί σε δεῖ λίθον μυρίζειν;
τί δὲ γῆι χέειν μάταια;

ἐμὲ μᾶλλον, ὡς ἔτι ζῶ,
μύρισον, ῥόδοις δὲ κρᾶτα
πύκασον, κάλει δ’ ἑταίρην·

πρίν, Ἔρως, ἐκεῖ μ’ ἀπελθεῖν
ὑπὸ νερτέρων χορείας,
σκεδάσαι θέλω μερίμνας.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Thank God!

T.E. Brown (1830-1897), Clifton:
I'm here at Clifton, grinding at the mill
  My feet for thrice nine barren years have trod;
But there are rocks and waves at Scarlett still,
  And gorse runs riot in Glen Chass—thank God!

Alert, I seek exactitude of rule,
  I step, and square my shoulders with the squad;
But there are blaeberries on old Barrule,
  And Langness has its heather still—thank God!

There is no silence here: the truculent quack
  Insists with acrid shriek my ears to prod,
And, if I stop them, fumes; but there's no lack
  Of silence still on Carraghyn—thank God!

Pragmatic fibs surround my soul, and bate it
  With measured phrase, that asks the assenting nod;
I rise, and say the bitter thing, and hate it—
  But Wordsworth's castle's still at Peel—thank God!

O broken life! O wretched bits of being,
  Unrhythmic, patched, the even and the odd!
But Bradda still has lichens worth the seeing,
  And thunder in her caves—thank God! thank God!
Brown started teaching at Clifton College (Bristol) in 1863, so the date of this poem is approximately 1890 ("thrice nine barren years"). The other places mentioned are on the Isle of Man, where Brown was born.


Pathetic and Futile

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman , from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes:
"Did you see him?" he asked.

"You mean the old fellow who has just gone out?"


"Yes, I met him at the door."

"What did you think of him?"

"A pathetic, futile, broken creature."

"Exactly, Watson. Pathetic and futile. But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow. Or worse than a shadow—misery."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Prayer to Rhea

Matthew Prior, Written at Paris, 1700, In the Beginning of Robe's Geography:
Of all that William Rules, or Robe
Described, Great Rhea, of Thy Globe;
When or on Post-Horse, or in Chaise,
With much Expence, and little Ease,
My destin'd Miles I shall have gone,
By Thames or Maese, by Po or Rhone,
And found no Foot of Earth my own;
Great Mother, let Me Once be able
To have a Garden, House, and Stable;
That I may Read, and Ride, and Plant,
Superior to Desire, or Want;
And as Health fails, and Years increase,
Sit down, and think, and die in Peace.
Oblige Thy Fav'rite Undertakers
To throw Me in but Twenty Acres:
This Number sure They may allow;
For Pasture Ten, and Ten for Plow:
'Tis all that I wou'd Wish, or Hope,
For Me, and John, and Nell, and Crop.

Then, as Thou wil't, dispose the rest
(And let not Fortune spoil the Jest)
To Those, who at the Market-Rate
Can barter Honour for Estate.

Now if Thou grant'st Me my Request,
To make Thy Vot'ry truly blest,
Let curst Revenge, and sawcy Pride
To some bleak Rock far off be ty'd;
Nor e'er approach my Rural Seat,
To tempt Me to be Base, and Great.

And, Goddess, This kind Office done,
Charge Venus to command her Son,
(Where-ever else She lets Him rove)
To shun my House, and Field, and Grove:
Peace cannot dwell with Hate or Love.

Hear, gracious Rhea, what I say:
And Thy Petitioner shall Pray.
George Hetzel, Farm

Related posts:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


The Ditch High Priest

Yoshida Kenkō (1283-1352), Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) 45:
Kin'yo, an officer of the second rank, had a brother called the High Priest Ryōgaku, an extremely bad-tempered man. Next to his monastery grew a large nettle-tree which occasioned the nickname people gave him, the Nettle-tree High Priest. "That name is outrageous," said the high priest, and cut down the tree. The stump still being left, people referred to him now as the Stump High Priest. More furious than ever, Ryōgaku had the stump dug up and thrown away, but this left a big ditch. People now called him the Ditch High Priest.
Translated by Donald Keene in Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967; rpt. 1998), p. 40.



On Living for Oneself

Montaigne, Essais 1.39 (On Solitude, tr. Donald M. Frame):
We have lived enough for others; let us live at least this remaining bit of life for ourselves. Let us bring back our thoughts and plans to ourselves and our well-being. It is no small matter to arrange our retirement securely; it keeps us busy enough without mixing other undertakings with it. Since God gives us leisure to make arrangements for moving out, let us make them; let us pack our bags; let us take an early leave of the company; let us break free from the violent clutches that engage us elsewhere and draw us away from ourselves. We must untie these bonds that are so powerful, and henceforth love this and that, but be wedded only to ourselves. That is to say, let the other things be ours, but not joined and glued to us so strongly that they cannot be detached without tearing off our skin and some part of our flesh as well. The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.

C'est assez vescu pour autruy, vivons pour nous au moins ce bout de vie: ramenons à nous, et à nostre aise nos pensées et nos intentions. Ce n'est pas une legere partie que de faire seurement sa retraicte; elle nous empesche assez sans y mesler d'autres entreprinses. Puis que Dieu nous donne loisir de disposer de nostre deslogement; preparons nous y; plions bagage; prenons de bon'heure congé de la compagnie; despétrons nous de ces violentes prinses, qui nous engagent ailleurs, et esloignent de nous. Il faut desnoüer ces obligations si fortes: et meshuy aymer cecy et cela, mais n'espouser rien que soy: C'est à dire, le reste soit à nous: mais non pas joint et colé en façon, qu'on ne le puisse desprendre sans nous escorcher, et arracher ensemble quelque piece du nostre. La plus grande chose du monde c'est de sçavoir estre à soy.



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 103.2 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
You are wrong to trust the countenances of those you meet. They have the aspect of men, but the souls of brutes; the difference is that only beasts damage you at the first encounter; those whom they have passed by they do not pursue. For nothing ever goads them to do harm except when need compels them: it is hunger or fear that forces them into a fight. But man delights to ruin man.

Erras si istorum tibi qui occurrunt vultibus credis; hominum effigies habent, animos ferarum, nisi quod illarum perniciosus est primus incursus: quos transiere non quaerunt. Numquam enim illas ad nocendum nisi necessitas incitat; aut fame aut timore coguntur ad pugnam: homini perdere hominem libet.
Related post: Homo Homini Daemon.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Tichborne's Elegy

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586), Elegy:
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain.
The day is gone and I yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,
The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,
My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,
My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,
I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I am but made.
The glass is full, and now the glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
Kenneth Haynes, English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 71-72, points out that every word in Tichborne's Elegy is a monosyllable.


No Escape from Oneself

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 104.7-8 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Socrates is reported to have replied, when a certain person complained of having received no benefit from his travels: "It serves you right! You travelled in your own company!" O what a blessing it would be for some men to wander away from themselves! As it is, they cause themselves vexation, worry, demoralization, and fear! What profit is there in crossing the sea and in going from one city to another? If you would escape your troubles, you need not another place but another personality. Perhaps you have reached Athens, or perhaps Rhodes; choose any state you fancy, how does it matter what its character may be? You will be bringing to it your own.

Nam Socraten querenti cuidam quod nihil sibi peregrinationes profuissent respondisse ferunt, "non inmerito hoc tibi evenit; tecum enim peregrinabaris." O quam bene cum quibusdam ageretur, si a se aberrarent! Nunc premunt se ipsi, sollicitant, corrumpunt, territant. Quid prodest mare traicere et urbes mutare? si vis ista quibus urgueris effugere, non aliubi sis oportet sed alius. Puta venisse te Athenas, puta Rhodon; elige arbitrio tuo civitatem: quid ad rem pertinet quos illa mores habeat? tuos adferes.
Related posts:

Sunday, November 07, 2010



Phil F. writes anent yesterday's post on Carlyle:
By the way, if I remember my Orwell, isn't a quackocracy a ducktatorship of the most foul?
Or "the most fowl". I can't find this pun (an excellent one) in Orwell. A 1942 film was entitled The Ducktators, and the word "ducktator" supposedly occurred in the 1938 cartoon What Price Porky.

More from Thomas Carlyle on quackery, from The French Revolution: A History, Part II, Book III, Chapter II:
Men that go mincing, grimacing, with plausible speech and brushed raiment; hollow within: Quacks political; Quacks scientific, academical: all with a fellow-feeling for each other, and kind of Quack public-spirit!
The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. quack, n.2, has some compounds of quack (meaning charlatan), but not quackocracy.



Ear Worm

On December 20, 1989, United States troops invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause. A few days later, on Christmas Eve, Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega sought asylum in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. He was finally forced out on January 4, after being bombarded by blaring rock and roll music around the clock for several days.

This type of musical torture would easily reduce me to submission. Noriega resisted for days, but I would probably surrender within minutes. My personal vision of hell is to spend all eternity in a smoky bar, forced to listen to rock and roll or hip hop or rap or whatever it's called these days.

A somewhat milder, self-induced form of musical torment is the silly song which you hum continually and just can't get out of your head. The Germans have a special word for this phenomenon — Ohrwurm (earwig, literally ear worm). An academic at the University of Cincinnati, James Kellaris, wrote a scholarly paper on the subject: "Identifying Properties of Tunes That Get 'Stuck in Your Head': Toward a Theory of Cognitive Itch,” in Susan E. Heckler and Stewart Shapiro, edd., Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology Winter 2001 Conference (Scottsdale, Arizona: American Psychological Society).

Seneca (Letters to Lucilius 123.9, tr. Richard M. Gummere) long ago described the ear worm phenomenon:
Just as those who have attended a concert carry about in their heads the melodies and the charm of the songs they have heard — a proceeding which interferes with their thinking and does not allow them to concentrate upon serious subjects, — even so the speech of flatterers and enthusiasts over that which is depraved sticks in our minds long after we have heard them talk. It is not easy to rid the memory of a catching tune; it stays with us, lasts on, and comes back from time to time. Accordingly, you should close your ears against evil talk, and right at the outset, too; for when such talk has gained an entrance and the words are admitted and are in our minds, they become more shameless.

Quemadmodum qui audierunt symphoniam, ferunt secum in auribus modulationem illam ac dulcedinem cantuum, quae cogitationes impedit nec ad seria patitur intendi, sic adulatorum et prava laudantium sermo diutius haeret quam auditur. Nec facile est animo dulcem sonum excutere: prosequitur et durat et ex intervallo recurrit. Ideo cludendae sunt aures malis vocibus et quidem primis; quom initium fecerunt admissaeque sunt plus audent.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


An Unread Book

Jorge Luis Borges, The Theologians (tr. Andrew Hurley):
Like all those who possess libraries, Aurelian felt a nagging sense of guilt at not being acquainted with every volume in his...
One book that has been sitting unread on my shelves for many years is Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History, 2 vols. (London: The Colonial Press, 1900). Even the pages were uncut for a long time. I bought these volumes at MacEwens Used Books in Bangor, Maine. I must have bought them before 1968, when MacEwens moved to Stockton Springs, Maine.

The book has accompanied me in my wanderings, from Maine to Virginia, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Minnesota. I started to read it many times, but never got beyond the first half dozen pages—the little I knew about the French Revolution came instead from Dickens' Tale of Two Cities and Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.

But I recently started to read Carlyle's history, and have so far completed Part I (The Bastille), about 250 pages of the first volume, with great enjoyment. Here are some excerpts.

Part I, Book I, Chapter II:
For ours is a most fictile world ; and man is the most fingent plastic of creatures. A world not fixable; not fathomable!


How such Ideals do realise themselves; and grow, wondrously, from amid the incongruous ever-fluctuating chaos of the Actual, this is what World-History, if it teach anything, has to teach us. How they grow; and, after long stormy growth, bloom out mature, supreme; then quickly (for the blossom is brief) fall into decay; sorrowfully dwindle; and crumble down, or rush down, noisily or noiselessly disappearing. The blossom is so brief; as of some centennial Cactus-flower, which after a century of waiting shines out for hours!
Part I, Book I, Chapter IV:
He would not suffer Death to be spoken of; avoided the sight of churchyards, funereal monuments, and whatsoever could bring it to mind. It is the resource of the Ostrich; who, hard hunted, sticks his foolish head in the ground, and would fain forget that his foolish unseeing body is not unseen too.
Part I, Book II, Chapter I:
Man awakens from his long somnambulism; chases the Phantasms that beleaguered and bewitched him. Behold the new morning glittering down the eastern steeps; fly, false Phantasms, from its shafts of light; let the Absurd fly utterly, forsaking this lower Earth forever. It is Truth and Astraea Redux that (in the shape of Philosophism) henceforth reign. For what imaginable purpose was man made, if not to be "happy"? By victorious Analysis, and Progress of the Species, happiness enough now awaits him. Kings can become philosophers; or else philosophers Kings. Let but Society be once rightly constituted,—by victorious Analysis. The stomach that is empty shall be filled; the throat that is dry shall be wetted with wine. Labour itself shall be all one as rest; not grievous, but joyous Wheat-fields, one would think, cannot come to grow untilled; no man made clayey, or made weary thereby;—unless indeed machinery will do it? Gratuitous Tailors and Restaurateurs may start up, at fit intervals, one as yet sees not how. But if each will, according to rule of Benevolence, have a care for all, then surely—no one will be uncared for. Nay, who knows but by sufficiently victorious Analysis, "human life may be indefinitely lengthened," and men get rid of Death, as they have already done of the Devil? We shall then be happy in spite of Death and the Devil.—So preaches magniloquent Philosophism her Redeunt Saturnia regna.
Part I, Book II, Chapter VII:
Blessed also is Hope; and always from the beginning there was some Millennium prophesied; Millennium of Holiness; but (what is notable) never till this new Era, any Millennium of mere Ease and plentiful Supply. In such prophesied Lubberland, of Happiness, Benevolence, and Vice cured of its deformity, trust not, my friends!


Is not Sentimentalism twin-sister to Cant, if not one and the same with it? Is not Cant the materia prima of the Devil; from which all falsehoods, imbecilities, abominations body themselves; from which no true thing can come? For Cant is itself properly a double-distilled Lie; the second-power of a Lie.
Part I, Book III, Chapter III:
A Deficit so enormous! Mismanagement, profusion is too clear.
Part I, Book IV, Chapter II:
Meanwhile such things, cheering as they are, tend little to cheer the national creditor, or indeed the creditor of any kind. In the midst of universal portentous doubt, what certainty can seem so certain as money in the purse, and the wisdom of keeping it there? Trading Speculation, Commerce of all kinds, has as far as possible come to a dead pause and the hand of the industrious lies idle in his bosom.
Part I, Book IV, Chapter IV:


...discerning in such admired forensic eloquence nothing but two clattering jaw-bones, and a head vacant, sonorous, of the drum species.


What further or better belief can be said to exist in these Twelve Hundred? Belief in high-plumed hats of a feudal cut; in heraldic scutcheons; in the divine right of Kings, in the divine right of Game-destroyers. Belief, or what is still worse, canting half-belief; or worst of all, mere Macchiavellic pretence of-belief,—in consecrated dough-wafers, and the godhood of a poor old Italian Man!


...the Deputies assisted at High Mass, and heard sermon, and applauded the preacher, church as it was, when he preached politics.
Part I, Book V, Chapter VI:
Down with it, man; down with it to Orcus: let the whole accursed Edifice sink thither, and Tyranny be swallowed up forever!


Blood flows; the aliment of new madness.
Part I, Book VI, Chapter I:
Occupied in that way, an august National Assembly becomes for us little other than a Sanhedrim of Pedants, not of the gerund-grinding, yet of no fruitfuller sort; and its loud debatings and recriminations about Rights of Man, Right of Peace and War, Veto suspensif, Veto absolu, what are they but so many Pedant's curses, "May God confound you for your Theory of Irregular Verbs!"
Part I, Book VI, Chapter II:
Do nothing, only keep agitating, debating; and things will destroy themselves.
Part I, Book VI, Chapter III:
For if there be a Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever. The very Truth has to change its vesture, from time to time ; and be born again. But all Lies have sentence of death written down against them, in Heaven's Chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour.


...beshouted, becymballed by the world...
Part I, Book VII, Chapter I:
To the Parisian common man, meanwhile, one thing remains inconceivable: that now when the Bastille is down, and French Liberty restored, grain should continue so dear. Our Rights of Man are voted, Feudalism and all Tyranny abolished; yet behold we stand in queue! Is it Aristocrat forestallers; a Court still bent on intrigues? Something is rotten somewhere.
Part I, Book VII, Chapter VIII:
Misery which, through long ages, had no spokesman, no helper, will now be its own helper and speak for itself.
The style sometimes reminds me of Tacitus, e.g. "Blood flows; the aliment of new madness."

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