Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A New Interpretation of Kumbaya

Perhaps the song Kumbaya is not really an African-American spiritual dating from the 1930s, but rather a vestige of an ancient Greek skolion, a drinking song. Could kumbaya be a corruption of the plural of Greek κυμβίον (kumbíon = small cup)? By this interpretation, "my Lord" in the song is an address to the symposiarch, the master of the revels. "Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya" is therefore a call for the symposiarch to supply more cups of wine. In Latin, "Pocula, magister bibendi, pocula!" :-)


Repentance and Remorse Again

The generalization that Greeks of the classical period regarded repentance and remorse as "evidence of inconstancy and moral weakness and a sign of the unsuccessful individual" is too sweeping, as numerous passages from classical Greek literature can be adduced which suggest the opposite, viz. that repentance and remorse can be desirable and admirable, depending on circumstances.

See, e.g., Democritus, fragment B 43 (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
Repentance for shameful deeds is salvation in life.

μεταμέλεια ἐπ᾿ αἰσχροῖσιν ἔργμασι βίου σωτηρίη.
There are more examples and discussion in Hat tip: Professor David Whitehead.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Skinned Alive

Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), pp. 32-33:
Someone once asked Motoori Norinaga, the great eighteenth-century Shinto thinker, to define the word kami, a Shinto god. True to Shinto's ancient animist tradition, he answered, "Kami can be the Sun Goddess, the spirit of a great man, a tree, a cat, a fallen leaf." Yet in modern Japan, fallen leaves are anything but divine; it would be hard to exaggerate the extent to which the public now dislikes them. Most cities, including my own town of Kameoka, near Kyoto, lop off the branches of roadside trees at the end of summer, before the leaves begin to change color and fall onto the streets. This accounts for the shadeless rows of stunted trunks lining the streets in most places. I once asked an official in Kameoka why the city continued this practice, and he replied, "We have sister-city relationships with towns in Austria and China, and when we saw the beautiful shady trees on their streets, we considered stopping. But the shopkeepers and homeowners in Kameoka objected. For them, fallen leaves are dirty and messy. After receiving a number of angry telephone calls, we had no choice but to continue."

In 1996, NHK television produced a documentary reporting on the difficulties of growing trees in residential neighborhoods in Tokyo. One neighborhood had a stand of keaki (zelkova), which grow tall, with graceful soaring branches resembling the stately elm trees that once marked the towns of New England. Residents complained that the trees blocked the sunlight, shed too many leaves in autumn, and obscured road signs. Many wanted the trees chopped down altogether, but after discussion the city of Tokyo reached a compromise in which it cut down some of them and pruned the tall, arching branches off the rest, reducing them to the usual pollarded stumps found along streets in other parts of the city.
Id., pp.201-202:
"New Japan does not like trees," Donald Richie wrote in The Inland Sea back in 1971. In Richie's day, this truth was expressed in the tendency to bulldoze parks and plazas; in the 1980s it developed into an aversion to falling leaves, which was discussed in an earlier chapter; in the 1990s, it became an attack on branches. Until very recently, in Tokyo, shady tree-lined avenues surrounded the zoo side of Ueno Park and Tokyo University, but not anymore. A desire on the part of civic administrators to widen the streets and do away with shade has led to new rules that require the pruning of all branches that extend over a roadway; this policy has been carried out all over the country.

Keats wrote, "the trees/ That whisper round a temple become soon/ Dear as the temple's self"—a sentiment clearly not in the mind of the Cultural Ministry when it restored Zuiryuji Temple in the town of Takaoka in 1996. In the true spirit of Nakahara Kiiko, it cut down and uprooted a grove of ancient keaki and pine trees that had stood for hundreds of years in the temple courtyard and replaced them with a wide expanse of raked gravel. Although the temple's founder had expressly designed the courtyard to conjure up the cypress groves of Zen temples in China, the ministry decided that the flat gravel was more Zen to their liking —and certainly more beautiful than those messy old trees that interfered with the view.

The new war on urban trees is baffling. I cannot fathom its causes, but I can proffer a guess. The inconvenience posed by trees hardly compares with the telephone poles that take up space on both sides of narrow roads, but perhaps the trees, with their unruly branches going this way and that, offend the authorities' sense of order. Perhaps the long decades sacrificing everything to industrial growth have had their effect: sterility has become part of modern Japanese style. Certainly, if you travel in Asia you can immediately recognize the Japanese touch in hotels and office buildings by the lack of trees and, instead, the rows of low-clipped azalea bushes round them.

A curious aspect of the tree war is the primitive level of skill with which it waged. Japan is the land of bonsai and is famous worldwide for its great gardening traditions. Many and varied are the techniques for pruning and shortening each twig and bough—gradual clipping over years or even decades to shape a branch as it grows, props to support old tree limbs as they droop, canvas wrappings to protect bark from cold and insects, and much more—sensitive techniques developed over centuries, of which until recently the West knew little. Yet tree pruning in Japan today is truly a hack job. No gradual, delicate work here—just limbs roughly chainsawed off at the base, with no treatment to protect against insects and rot. "What bothers me the most" says Mason Florence, "is the brutality of it. The trees look like animals mutilated or skinned alive in medical experiments."
The Nakahara Kiiko mentioned refers to a heiress who "starting around 1990 ... purchased eight châteaus in France. She and her husband then proceeded to strip them of their interior decorations, after which they carted away statues and marble basins from the gardens and cut down the trees, leaving the properties in ruins." (pp.163-164)

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Sunday, May 29, 2011


What Can You Do with a Classics Degree?

Catherine Rampell, "Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling," New York Times (May 18, 2011):
The individual stories are familiar. The chemistry major tending bar. The classics major answering phones. The Italian studies major sweeping aisles at Wal-Mart.



I have a few minor quibbles about the translation of Aristophanes' Acharnians by Jeffery Henderson in the Loeb Classical Library series (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Henderson didn't translate ὁ βασιλέως Ὀφθαλμός at the beginning of line 94 (spoken by the herald announcing Pseudo-Artabas), so on p. 69 add:
The King's Eye.
801 (p. 157, second speech of First Girl on this page):
Oink. Oink.
Add another oink, to match the number of Greek pig sounds in the line (κοῒ κοῒ κοΐ).

1151 (p. 207, on Antimachus):
the composer of bad songs
Antimachus' songs may well have been bad, but the Greek as printed (τὸν μελέων ποιητήν) means simply "the composer of songs," so remove "bad."

At line 575 in Henderson's text (p. 126), the Greek should be punctuated
ὦ Λάμαχ᾽ ἥρως,
ὦ Λάμαχ᾽, ἥρως
Henderson punctuates correctly a few lines down, where the phrase is repeated.

There is also a misprint in the discussion of this play by Douglas M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 57:
Therefore dressing in rags makes Dikaiopolis look like a Euripidean hero, and a Mysian cup and other accessories make him look like Telephos specifically.
For "Mysian cup" read "Mysian cap" (line 439: τὸ πιλίδιον περὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν τὸ Μύσιον).

Examples of nominative participle with verb of perception in Acharnians (all with imperative ἴσθι, tr. Henderson):

Count on being an instant goner.

ὡς τεθνήξων ἴσθι νυνί
Know that you are irksome.

λυπηρὸς ἴσθ᾽ ὢν ...
You must realize
that you are a shameless and steely man.

εὖ ἴσθι νυν
ἀναίσχυντος ὢν σιδηροῦς τ᾽ ἀνήρ
Guy L. Cooper, III (after K.W. Krüger), Attic Greek Prose Syntax, Vol. I (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), pp. 825-826, has a long list of examples of this construction, including several from Greek drama, but not the passages just cited. See further:585-586 (tr. Henderson):
Now take hold of my head, so I can puke.

τῆς κεφαλῆς νύν μου λαβοῦ,
ἵν᾽ ἐξεμέσω
S. Douglas Olson, commentary on Acharnians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), ad loc. (p. 225), mentions a vase painting by the Brygos painter:

See further:Line 1199 is an appreciative exclamation in praise of a feature of the female anatomy. If you memorize the Greek, perhaps you will find a suitable occasion on which to quote it:
What bubbies, how firm and quince-like!

τῶν τιτθίων, ὡς σκληρὰ καὶ κυδώνια.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Something to Read

P.G. Wodehouse, The Manoeuvres of Charteris, from Tales of St. Austin's (1903):
'I want something to read.'

'I'll bring you a Sidgwick's Greek Prose Composition, if you like. Full of racy stories.'

'I've read 'em, thanks.'

'How about Jebb's Homer? You'd like that. Awfully interesting. Proves that there never was such a man as Homer, you know, and that the Iliad and the Odyssey were produced by evolution. General style, quietly funny. Make you roar.'
[Restored after removal by Blogger: original date was May 12, 2011.]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Voice and Shadow

Euripides, fragment 25 (from Aeolus, tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Oh, alas, how true the ancient saying is: we old men are nothing but noise and mere shapes, and we move as imitations of dreams; there is no intelligence in us, yet we think we have good sense.

φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·
γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος
καὶ σχῆμ᾽, ὀνείρων δ᾽ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·
νοῦς δ᾽ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ᾽ εὖ φρονεῖν.
Euripides, fragment 508 (from Melanippe, tr. Collard and Cropp):
What else? An old man is but voice and shadow.

τί δ᾽ ἄλλο; φωνὴ καὶ σκιὰ γέρων ἀνήρ.
The second fragment is one of the exercises for translation in the book I learned Greek from, many years ago—Chase and Phillips, A New Introduction to Greek, p. 39.

Worthington Whittredge, Retrospection

[Restored after removal by Blogger: original date was May 12, 2011.]



Required Reading

Simon Price, "The Road to Conversion: The Life and Work of A.D. Nock," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 105 (2010) 317-339 (at 321):
It was in his twenties, I believe, that he set himself the task of reading his way through all the Teubner texts—after all, if everything was relevant, everything had to be read.
Lynd Ward, The Boy Reading

[Restored after removal by Blogger: original date was May 12, 2011.]


Gravity and Levity

Charles Morris, The Contrast, in Lyra Urbanica; or, The Social Effusions of the Celebrated Captain Charles Morris of the Late Life-Guards, vol. II (London: Richard Bentley, 1840), pp. 148-151:
You're surprised I'm so gay when so old,
    And say, what indeed is most true,
I live faster than you, twenty-fold,
    And yet I've most life of the two.
"What's the reason?" you ask—hear my voice!
    'Tis th' effect of the shade and the shine:
While a life of grave sense is your choice,
    Cheerful nonsense has ever been mine.

You bury in study and thought
    The spirits I use for my mirth;
Yours lie as entomb'd in a vault,
    While mine ever frolic on earth.
To raise yours all fails you avow;
    All equally fails to sink mine:
The Gravity wrinkles your brow,
    The Levity ever smoothes mine.

On you better fame will await,
    Better health will be ever my lot:
'Tis thus Heaven's balanced our fate;
    And each should enjoy what he's got.
Let us not, discontented, be led
    To envy each other his part;
But you be well pleased with your head,
    While I am content with my heart.

You pore, my friend, sun after sun,
    But fathom no bottom of Fate;
You just are as wise when you've done,
    As you were ere it puzzled your pate;
But plenty of gloom you obtain,
    To help you to fret and repine,
Till all becomes shade round your brain,
    And your wisdom's worse nonsense than mine.

Indeed, what is wisdom, what not,
    Has never much troubled my head;
For nothing but doubt have I got
    For all that I've thought or have read.
Ready mirth should repay Heaven's grace;
    And to me it's as clear as the sun,
Cheerful hearts alone keep the right pace
    When they gaily and merrily run.

Then suppose, for one moment, you try
    To leave the blue devils and Spleen,
And for once let your gloom-searching eye
    Take a peep into Life's gayer scene.
Come on!—I 'll unvapour your brains,
    And stir the low pulse in your breast,
Whisk the current of blood through your veins,
    And spur you to Joy and to Jest.

This night I've a revel sublime,
    A party that Jove would approve,
A sweet golden moment of time,
    High tinctured with Friendship and Love.
Come along, and you'll say, in a trice,
    "Adieu to the drones on the shelves!
I leave them to rats and to mice,
    Or to moulder and rot by themselves.

"Here I've found, what my ill-judging head
    Thought study alone could convey,
True wisdom, in cheerfulness bred,
    And Mirth ever gratefully gay.
In joy and devotion it springs,
    At once is both pleasant and wise;
And takes, for the blessing it brings,
    Man's homage of heart to the skies.

"Here my book-bury'd course I abjure;
    With my thanks for your cheering advice,
You have work'd a miraculous cure,
    And have melted full forty years' ice.
So, Plato and Zeno, good b'ye!
    B'ye Solon, and Socrates too!—
No longer with Heathens I'll die;
But live, like a Christian, with you!"

I'm taking a vacation for a couple of weeks, so there will be few or no blog posts during that time. May 10, 2011, marked the seventh year since I started this blog, so there are thousands of old posts to look at.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Repentance and Remorse

David Kovacs, The Heroic Muse: Studies in the Hippolytus and Hecuba of Euripides (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 7 (footnote omitted):
[R]epentance has a different moral valuation for Christians, who regard it as the first step toward amendment of life, from what it has for a classical Greek, for whom metameleia, regret or change of heart, is a sign of instability and the mark of an unsuccessful individual.
Id., p. 17:
[W]e, as heirs to Judaism and Christianity, have a favorable view of remorse and repentance that is entirely foreign to pagan sentiment, which regarded repentance and regret as evidence of inconstancy and moral weakness and a sign of the unsuccessful individual.


The Rose

Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), Cherubischer Wandersmann, I.289:
The rose is without "why"; it blooms because it blooms;
It pays no attention to itself, asks not whether anyone sees it.

Die Ros' ist ohn' Warum, sie blühet, weil sie blühet,
Sie acht't nicht ihrer selbst, fragt nicht, ob man sie siehet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


An Opsimath

From an email sent to me by Eric Thomson:
Joan Coromines, the Catalan Romance linguist, was in the habit of working twelve hours a day right up until his death in 1997 at the age of ninety-two. On his bedside table during the final week of his life were 'els Evangelis en grec, dos volums de les Confessions de Sant Agustí en llatí, les obres completes de Dante en italià, els Anys d'aprenentatge de Wilhelm Meister, de Goethe, en alemany i en caràcters gòtics, un volum de les tragèdies d'Euripides en grec, el seu estimat exemplar de La vida austera, de Pere Coromines, i dos volums de la correspondència de Josep Carner'. Sergi Sol, Joan Coromines: Una Vita de Llegenda (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2005) p. 350.
I don't know Catalan (or Spanish, for that matter), but I think that on Coromines' bedside table were "the Gospels in Greek; two volumes of St. Augustine's Confessions in Latin; Dante's complete works in Italian; Goethe's Wilhelm Meister: The Years of Apprenticeship, in German and in Fraktur script; a volume of Euripides' tragedies in Greek; his beloved copy of The Austere Life, by Pere Coromines; and two volumes of Josep Carner's letters."

Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, Old Man with a Book



Dead Languages

Goethe and Schiller, from Tabulae Votivae:
"Dead languages" you call the tongue of Horace and Pindar,
    And yet from both of these come whatever is alive in ours.

Tote Sprachen nennt ihr die Sprache des Flaccus und Pindar,
    Und von beiden nur kommt, was in der unsrigen lebt.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


The Green Land

In my personal pantheon of 20th century nature writers, Hal Borland (1900-1978) is a minor deity (inferior to Edwin Way Teale, Joseph Wood Krutch, Donald Culross Peattie, and Berndt Heinrich). He's still worth reading, however, and I often take one of his books down from the shelf. Today is his birthday, and here is what he wrote in his entry for this day in Sundial of the Seasons, under the heading The Green Land:
We think of this as the time of Spring flowers, fruit blossoms, lilacs. Actually, it is the time of leaves, the time of the countless greens which have not yet settled and matured into the standard green of Summer. This is the time when there is a whole spectrum of green across the land, when the whole world is dappled and misted as with a gently drifting haze whose color ranges from greenish yellow to greenish blue.

See the hills. On the ridges stand the pines and hemlocks and spruces, the dark masses of shadowy needles that not long ago, against the gray sky and the white snow, looked almost black. Now they are a deep, vivid green, warming with the lighter green of new needle tufts fresh from the bud scales. Just below them stand the birches, feathery with new leaves still so small you can see the white boles through their haze of lemony green. Then the poplars, a faint shade darker and twinkling in the breeze, already showing the silvery undersides of their young leaves. And the elms, darkest of all, and the maples, a fresher green than the elms.

See the valleys, with their emerald of urgent grasses, their pink and white of apple blossoms, white of wild plum, vivid yellow-green of willow. And the deep green of violet leaves, the light green of day lilies, the insubstantial-looking mist of varied greens on the osier bushes, the viburnums, the briars of all kinds. Even the river is green, reflecting its own green banks.

Green, the color of growth, of surgent life, enwraps the land. New green, still as individual as the plants themselves. Cool green, which will merge as the weeks pass, the Summer comes, into a canopy of shade of busy chlorophyll.
Isaak Levitan, Birch Grove


A Wild Animal

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), A Memorial containing Travels through Life or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush...Written by Himself (Lanorie: Louis Alexander Biddle, 1905), p. 46:
It would seem from this fact, that man is naturally a wild animal, and that when taken from the woods, he is never happy in his natural state, 'till he returns to them again.



Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962), chapter 8 (And No Birds Sing):
The feeding habits of all these birds not only make them especially vulnerable to insect sprays but also make their loss a deplorable one for economic as well as less tangible reasons. The summer food of the white-breasted nuthatch and the brown creeper, for example, includes the eggs, larvae, and adults of a very large number of insects injurious to trees. About three quarters of the food of the chickadee is animal, including all stages of the life cycle of many insects. The chickadee's method of feeding is described in Bent's monumental Life Histories of North American birds: "As the flock moves along each bird examines minutely bark, twigs, and branches, searching for tiny bits of food (spiders' eggs, cocoons, or other dormant insect life)."

Various scientific studies have established the critical role of birds in insect control in various situations. Thus, woodpeckers are the primary control of the Engelmann spruce beetle, reducing its populations from 45 to 98 percent and are important in the control of the codling moth in apple orchards. Chickadees and other winter-resident birds can protect orchards against the cankerworm.
Aristophanes, Birds 1058-1071 (sung by the birds, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
To me, the omniscient
and omnipotent, shall all mortals
now sacrifice with pious prayers.
For I keep watch over all the earth,
and keep safe the blooming crops
by slaying the brood of all species
of critters, who with omnivorous jaws
devour all that in soil sprouts from the pod
and the fruit of the trees where they perch;
and I slay those who spoil fragrant gardens
with defilements most offensive;
and upon creepers and biters every one
from the force of my wing
comes murderous destruction.
The same, tr. Benjamin Bickley Rogers:
Unto me, the All-controlling,
Now will men, at every altar,
Prayers be praying;
Me who watch the land, protecting
Fruit and flower,
Slay the myriad-swarming insects
Who the tender buds devour
In the earth and on the branches with a never-satiate malice,
Nipping off the blossom as it widens from the chalice.
And I slay the noisome creatures
Which consume
And pollute the garden's freshly scented bloom;
And every little biter, and every creeping thing
Perish in destruction at the onset of my wing.
The Greek:
ἤδη ᾽μοὶ τῷ παντόπτᾳ
  καὶ παντάρχᾳ θνητοὶ πάντες
  θύσουσ᾽ εὐκταίαις εὐχαῖς.
πᾶσαν μὲν γὰρ γᾶν ὀπτεύω,
  σῴζω δ᾽ εὐθαλεῖς καρποὺς
κτείνων παμφύλων γένναν
  θηρῶν, ἃ πάν τ᾽ ἐν γαίᾳ
ἐκ κάλυκος αὐξανόμενον γένυσι παμφάγοις
  δένδρεσί τ᾽ ἐφημένα καρπὸν ἀποβόσκεται.
κτείνω δ᾽ οἳ κήπους εὐώδεις
  φθείρουσιν λύμαις ἐχθίσταις·
ἑρπετά τε καὶ δάκετα <πάνθ᾽> ὅσαπερ
  ἔστιν, ὑπ᾽ ἐμᾶς πτέρυγος
  ἐν φοναῖς ὄλλυται.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Woodman, Spare That Tree

Edgar Allen Poe, Southern Literary Messenger 15 (April 1849) 219, discussing the poet George P. Morris (1802-1864):
"Woodman Spare that Tree" and "By the Lake where droops the Willow" are compositions of which any poet, living or dead, might justly be proud. By these, if by nothing else, Morris is immortal. It is quite impossible to put down such things by sneers. The affectation of contemning them is of no avail, unless to render manifest the envy of those who affect the contempt. As mere poems, there are several of Morris' compositions equal, if not superior, to either of those just mentioned, but as songs I much doubt whether these latter have ever been surpassed.
Poe is supposed to be a critic of acumen, but it is hard not to sneer at Morris' poem Woodman, Spare That Tree, which strikes me as a sorry piece of sentimental doggerel. Here is the text, from his collection The Deserted Bride; and Other Poems (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1838), pp. 39-40:
Woodman, spare that tree!
  Touch not a single bough!
In youth it shelter'd me,
  And I’ll protect it now.
’Twas my forefather’s hand
  That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
  Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
  Whose glory and renown
Are spread o’er land and sea,
  And wouldst thou hack it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
  Cut not its earth-bound ties;
Oh, spare that aged oak,
  Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
  I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
  Here too my sisters play'd.
My mother kissed me here;
  My father pressed my hand—
Forgive this foolish tear,
  But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
  Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
  And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
  And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I’ve a hand to save,
  Thy axe shall harm it not.
On the supposed circumstances surrounding the poem's composition, see Morris' letter to Henry Russell (February 1, 1837), id., pp. 169-170 (in one long paragraph, which I split up):
Riding out of town a few days since, in company with a friend, who was once the expectant heir of the largest estate in America, but over whose worldly prospects a blight has recently come, he invited me to turn down a little romantic woodland pass, not far from Bloomingdale.

"Your object?" inquired I.

"Merely to look once more at an old tree planted by my grandfather, near a cottage that was once my father's."

"The place is yours then?" said I.

"No, my poor mother sold it," and I observed a slight quiver of the lip, at the recollection of that circumstance.

"Dear mother!" resumed my companion, "we passed many happy, happy days, in that old cottage; but it is nothing to me now — father, mother, sisters, cottage — all are gone;" and a paleness overspread his fine countenance, and a moisture came to his eyes as he spoke.

After a moment's pause, he added, "Don't think me foolish. I don't know how it is, I never ride out but I turn down this lane to look at that old tree. I have a thousand recollections about it, and I always greet it as a familiar and well-remembered friend. In the by-gone summer-time it was a friend indeed. Under its branches I often listened to the good counsel of my parents and had such gambols with my sisters! Its leaves are all off now, so you won't see it to advantage, for it is a glorious old fellow in summer; but I like it full as well in winter time."

These words were scarcely uttered, when my companion cried out, "There it is!"

Near the tree stood an old man with his coat off, sharpening an axe. He was the occupant of the cottage. "What are you going to do?" asked my friend with great anxiety.

"What's that to you?" was the reply.

"You're not going to cut that tree down surely?"

"Yes, but I am though," said the woodman.

"What for," inquired my companion, almost choked with emotion.

"What for? Why, because I think proper to do so. What for? I like that! Well, I'll tell you what for. This tree makes my dwelling unhealthy; it stands too near the house; prevents the moisture from exhaling, and renders us liable to fever-and-ague."

"Who told you that!"

"Dr. Smith."

"Have you any other reason for wishing to cut it down?"

"Yes, I am getting old; the woods are a great way off, and this tree is of some value to me to burn."

He was soon convinced, however, that the story about the fever-and-ague was a mere fiction, for there never had been a case of that disease in the neighbourhood; and then was asked what the tree was worth for firewood?

"Why, when it is down, about ten dollars."

"Suppose I should give you that sum, would you let it stand?"


"You are sure of that?"


"Then give me a bond to that effect."

I drew it up; it was witnessed by his daughter; the money was paid, and we left the place with an assurance from the young girl, who looked as smiling and beautiful as a Hebe, that the tree should stand as long as she lived.

We returned to the road, and pursued our ride. These circumstances made a strong impression upon my mind, and furnished me with the materials for the song I send you.
Henry Russell set the poem to music. A performance by Derek B. Scott can be heard here.

Woodman, Spare That Tree has been much imitated and parodied. For a small selection, see Walter Hamilton, ed., Parodies of the Works of English and American Authors, vol. IV (London: Reeves & Turner, 1887), pp. 7-9. One of the more interesting imitations is by C[harles] T[imothy] B[rooks] (1813-1883), with the title Sir George Beaumont's Pine, in his Roman Rhymes: Being Winter Work for a Summer Fair (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1869), pp. 40-42:
[All day long, from my eyrie on the Corso, that lone pine on Mount Mario was the object to which I turned with the greatest interest. One day, I heard it had a history, besides its natural history. Years ago, there had stood a group of them on that hill — special favorites of Sir George. Once, on returning to Rome from an absence in England, he found that the proprietor had cut down all but one, and that the workmen were preparing to fell that. He jumped into his carriage, drove over, bought and saved that one. I have imagined his feelings, in the following parody of our "Woodman, spare that tree!"]

Vandal, spare that Pine!
  Touch not a single bough!
This gold shall make it mine:
  No steel shall harm it now.
By Nature's hand 'twas set,
  To top this beauteous hill;
That hand preserves it yet,
And shall preserve it still!

That Pine hath been to me
  For years a steadfast friend;
And shall I tamely see
  Thy axe its glories end?
Bright Day would spend his gold
  To save that brave old tree!
Its price cannot be told:
  Rash leveller, let it be.

That old familiar tree,
  What rapture of delight
The vision woke in me,
  At morning and at night!
Reflecting morn's fresh beam,
  With mingled love and awe,
And tinged with evening's gleam,
  Its dusky form I saw.

In majesty and grace
  How long that tree hath stood,
With trees of noble race,
  Old monarchs of the wood!
Its brethren all are low,
  Felled by thy cruel hand!
Spare, madman, this last blow,
  And let the old Pine stand!

That glorious old stone-pine,
  Last gem in Mario's crown,
A king by right divine,
  And wouldst thou hack it down?
Dearer than Peter's dome
  To evening's golden sky,
Plume on the brow of Rome,
  It must not, shall not die!
Wordsworth wrote a sonnet on Beaumont's rescue of The Pine of Monte Mario at Rome. See my discussion here.

Robert Crumb (1943-), front page illustration
for the Mendocino Grapevine, no. 2 (Feb. 1973)


Monday, May 09, 2011


Aeschylus, Suppliant Women

My collection of asyndetic privative adjectives has only one example from Aeschylus' Suppliant Women, at line 853: without honor, without a city (ἀτίετον ἄπολιν). But I found two more examples on re-reading the play:Examples of epipompē from the same play (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):

CHORUS. Beware pollution!
KING. Pollution rest upon mine enemies!

Χο. ἄγος φυλάσσου.
Βα. ἄγος μὲν εἴη τοῖς ἐμοῖς παλιγκότοις.
524-530 (not really a good example, on second thought):
Lord of lords, most blessed among the blessed, power most perfect among the perfect, O Zeus, all-happy, hearken to us and from thy offspring ward off in utter abhorrence the lust of men, and in the purple sea whelm their black-benched pest!

ἄναξ ἀνάκτων, μακάρων
μακάρτατε καὶ τελέων
τελειότατον κράτος, ὄλβιε Ζεῦ,
πιθοῦ τε καὶ γενέσθω.
ἄλευσον ἀνδρῶν ὕβριν εὖ στυγήσας·
λίμνᾳ δ' ἔμβαλε πορφυροειδεῖ
τὰν μελανόζυγ' ἄταν.
May pure Artemis look upon this band in compassion, and may wedlock never come through constraint of Cytherea. That prize be mine enemies'!

ἐπίδοι δ' Ἄρτεμις ἁγνὰ
στόλον οἰκτιζομένα, μηδ' ὑπ' ἀνάγκας
γάμος ἔλθοι Κυθερείας·
στυγίων πέλοι τόδ' ἆθλον.
An example of apopompē at 684-685 (tr. Smyth):
And may the joyless swarm of diseases settle far from the heads of the burghers.

νούσων δ' ἑσμὸς ἀπ' ἀστῶν
ἵζοι κρατὸς ἀτερπής.
Other miscellaneous quotations from the play (tr. Smyth):

I cull the flowers of grief.

γοεδνὰ δ' ἀνθεμίζομαι.
Thou didst honour aliens and hast wrought the ruin of thine own land.

ἐπήλυδας τιμῶν ἀπώλεσας πόλιν.
595-599 (of Zeus):
He doth not sit upon his throne by authority of another and hold his dominion beneath a mightier. None there is who sitteth above him whose power he holdeth in awe. He speaketh and it is done—he hasteneth to execute whatsoever his counselling mind conceiveth.

ὑπ' ἀρχᾶς δ' οὔτινος θοάζων
τὸ μεῖον κρεισσόνων κρατύνει,
οὔτινος ἄνωθεν ἡμένου σέβων κράτος.
πάρεστι δ' ἔργον ὡς ἔπος
σπεῦσαί τι τῶν βούλιος φέρει φρήν.
Never may pestilence empty this city of its men nor strife stain the soil of the land with the blood of native slain. But may the flower of its youth be unculled, and may Ares, the partner of Aphrodite's bed, he who maketh havoc of men, not shear off their bloom.

μήποτε λοιμὸς ἀνδρῶν
τάνδε πόλιν κενώσαι·
μηδ' ἐπιχωρίοις <ἔρις>
πτώμασιν αἱματίσαι πέδον γᾶς.
  ἥβας δ' ἄνθος ἄδρεπτον
ἔστω, μηδ' Ἀφροδίτας
εὐνάτωρ βροτολοιγὸς Ἄ-
ρης κέρσειεν ἄωτον.
And may Zeus cause the earth to render its tribute of fruit by the produce of every season; may their grazing cattle in the fields have abundant increase, and may they obtain all things from the heavenly powers.

καρποτελῆ δέ τοι
Ζεὺς ἐπικραινέτω
φέρματι γᾶν πανώρῳ·
πρόνομα δὲ βότ' ἀγροῖς
πολύγονα τελέθοι·
τὸ πᾶν τ' ἐκ δαιμόνων λάχοιεν.
For to be dead is to be freed from sorrow and sighing.

τὸ γὰρ θανεῖν ἐλευθεροῦ-
ται φιλαιάκτων κακῶν.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Most Sweet

In the past week some have questioned whether it is permissible or seemly for Americans to rejoice at the news of Osama bin Laden's death, e.g.Weeks quotes Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo: "As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently."

This attitude, I think, would have been incomprehensible to many, if not most, ancient Greeks. A speaker in Thucydides 7.68.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett) said:
We should remember in the first place that men are doing a most lawful act when they take vengeance upon an enemy and an aggressor, and that they have a right to satiate their heart's animosity; secondly, that this vengeance, which is proverbially the sweetest of all things, will soon be within our grasp.

καὶ νομίσωμεν ἅμα μὲν νομιμώτατον εἶναι πρὸς τοὺς ἐναντίους οἳ ἂν ὡς ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ τοῦ προσπεσόντος δικαιώσωσιν ἀποπλῆσαι τῆς γνώμης τὸ θυμούμενον, ἅμα δὲ ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνασθαι ἐκγενησόμενον ἡμῖν καὶ τὸ λεγόμενόν που ἥδιστον εἶναι.
Sophocles, Ajax 79 (spoken by Athena):
Is not laughter at one's enemies the sweetest laughter?

οὔκουν γέλως ἥδιστος εἰς ἐχθροὺς γελᾶν;
Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.11.13:
To exact vengeance is sweet.

τὸ τιμωρεῖσθαι ἡδύ.
See K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974; rpt. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), pp. 182-183, and W.V. Harris, "Lysias III and Athenian Beliefs about Revenge," Classical Quarterly 47 (1997) 363-366.

Saturday, May 07, 2011



W.H. Auden, City Without Walls:
..."Those fantastic forms, fang-sharp,
bone-bare, that in Byzantine painting
were a shorthand for the Unbounded
beyond the Pale, unpoliced spaces
where dragons dwelt and demons roamed,

"colonized only by ex-worldlings,
penitent sophists and sodomites,
are visual facts in the foreground now,
real structures of steel and glass:
hermits, perforce, are all to-day,

"with numbered caves in enormous jails,
hotels designed to deteriorate
their glum already-corrupted guests,
factories in which the functional
Hobbesian Man is mass-produced.

"A key to the street each convict has,
but the Asphalt Lands are lawless marches
where gangs clash and cops turn
robber-barons: reckless he
who walks after dark in that wilderness.

"But electric lamps allow nightly
cell-meetings where sub-cultures
may hold palaver, like-minded,
their tongues tattooed by the tribal jargon
of the vice or business that brothers them;

"and mean cafés to remain open,
where in bad air belly-talkers,
weedy-looking, work-shy,
may spout unreason, some ruthless creed
to a dozen dupes till dawn break.

"Every work-day Eve fares
forth to the stores her foods to pluck,
while Adam hunts an easy dollar:
unperspiring at eventide
both eat their bread in boredom of spirit.

"The week-end comes that once was holy,
free still, but a feast no longer,
just time out, idiorhythmic,
when no one cares what his neighbor does:
now newsprint and network are needed most.

"What they view may be vulgar rubbish,
what they listen to witless noise,
but it gives shelter, shields them from
Sunday’s Bane, the basilisking
glare of Nothing, our pernicious foe.

"For what to Nothing shall nobodies answer?
Still super-physiques are socially there,
frequently photographed, feel at home,
but ordinary flesh is unwanted:
engines do better what biceps did.

"Quite soon computers may expel from the world
all but the top intelligent few,
the egos they leisure be left to dig
value and virtue from an invisible realm
of hobbies, sex, consumption, vague

"tussles with ghosts. Against Whom
shall the Sons band to rebel there,
where Troll-Father, Tusked-Mother,
are dream-monsters like dinosaurs
with a built-in obsolescence?

"A Gadgeted Age, but as unworldly
as when the faint light filtered down
on the first men in Mirkwood,
waiting their turn at the water-hole
with the magic beasts who made the paths.

Small marvel, then, if many adopt
cancer as the only offered career
worth while, if wards are full of
gents who believe they are Jesus Christ
or guilty of the Unforgiveable Sin:

"if arcadian lawns where classic shoulders,
baroque bottoms, make beaux gestes,
is too tame a dream for the dislocated,
if their lewd fancies are of flesh debased
by damage, indignities, dirty words:

"if few now applaud a play that ends
with warmth and pardon the word to all,
as, blessed, unbamboozled, the bridal pairs,
rustic and oppidan, in a ring-dance,
image the stars at their stately bransles:

"if all has gone phut in the future we paint,
where, vast and vacant, venomous areas
surround the small sporadic patches
of fen or forest that give food and shelter,
such home as they have, to a human remnant,

"stunted in stature, strangely deformed,
numbering by fives, with no zero,
worshipping a ju-ju General Mo,
in groups ruled by grandmothers,
hirsute witches who on winter nights

"fable them stories of fair-haired Elves
whose magic made the mountain dam,
of Dwarves, cunning in craft, who smithied
the treasure-hoards of tin-cans
they flatten out for their hut roofs,

"nor choice they have nor change know,
their fate ordained by fore-elders,
the Oldest Ones, the wise spirits
who through the mouths of masked wizards
blessing give or blood demand.

"Still monied, immune, stands Megalopolis:
happy he who hopes for better,
what awaits Her may well be worse...."

Thus I was thinking at three A.M.
in Mid-Manhattan till interrupted,
cut short by a sharp voice.

"What fun and games you find it to play
Shame on you for your Schadenfreude."

"My!", I blustered, "How moral we’re getting.
A pococurante? Suppose I were,
so what, if my words are true."

Thereupon, bored, a third voice:
"Go to sleep now for God’s sake!
You both will feel better by breakfast-time."


That Odious Crime

Dear Michael,

Here are two passages that perhaps you might like to add to your pithy collection on that odious crime, Arboricide. Both consider it from the point of view of the animals. (In each case I copy a few lines from before and after to show the context; translations mine):

Vergil, Geo. 2.203-217 (from a passage describing the different kinds of soil):
Earth black and fat beneath the piercing share,
the crumbly soil our ploughing tries to rival,
is best for grains. From no plain can you see    205
more heavy wains with slow bulls moving homeward.
        Or whence an angry farmer has ripped forest
and toppled groves for years asleep, uprooting
by its deep roots an ancient house of birds.
Lost, nests and nestlings gone, they seek deep sky
and where a share pressed rude, young fields are shining.
        But steeper country’s hungry gravel scarcely
supplies bees with ground-hugging spurge and rosemary.
There flaky tufas, black-snake-hollowed chalks,
tell you that no fields better serve the serpents    215
with such sweet food, such crooked hiding-places.

        nigra fere et presso pinguis sub uomere terra
et cui putre solum (namque hoc imitamur arando),
optima frumentis: non ullo ex aequore cernes
plura domum tardis decedere plaustra iuuencis;
        aut unde iratus siluam deuexit arator
et nemora euertit multos ignaua per annos,
antiquasque domos auium cum stirpibus imis
eruit; illae altum nidis petiere relictis,
at rudis enituit impulso uomere campus.
        nam ieiuna quidem cliuosi glarea ruris
uix humilis apibus casias roremque ministrat;
et tofus scaber et nigris exesa chelydris
creta negant alios aeque serpentibus agros
dulcem ferre cibum et curuas praebere latebras.
Jacob Balde, Silvae, 9.25.41 ff. (Balde wants to burn the accoutrements of war):
If you would have your names become an heirloom
for grandsons and great-grandsons, if a real
        hunger for praise consumes you
        and eagerness for fame,
bring torches hither: here outside the walls
and the uneven plains of mother Münster,
        where a space is, rebuild
        the Trojans’ funeral pyre.
There is no need now of Neronian cities
for kindling: nor of ancient pine and ash
        and beech: no need to plunder
        the undeserving forest.
Leave the delight of Fauns and Dryads whole.
Why rummage in the houses of the birds,
        unwarlike nests, the caves
        of the four-footed beasts?
Here bring your flames. Materials for the pyre
are vast; just heap them. Pile in heaps the weapons:
        shields, spears, the chariot wheels,
        the helmets, the long swords,
the coverings of a lofty head, the crests,
pikes, shafts, reins, the horse-trappings (etc.)

Mandare quod si vestra nepotibus
Haesura vultis nomina Posteris:
        Magnasque mentei verus urit
                Laudis amor, studiumque famae:
Huc ferte taedas; et Mimigardiae
Parentis extra, qua spatium iacet,
        Muros, inaequalesque campos,
                Dardanidum renovate bustum.
Neronianis non opus urbibus
Iam nunc cremandis non opus abiete
        Ornisque, fagisque et senecta
                Immeritam spoliare silvam.
Stet tuta Fauni, stet Dryadum suo
Loco voluptas. Cur avium casas
        Scrutemur, imbellesque nidos,
        Antraque quadrupedum ferarum?
Huc ferte flammas: materies rogo
Non deerit ingens. In cumulum struis
        Congesta surgant arma: peltae,
        Tela, rotae, galeaeque, et enses,
Cristaeque et alti tegmina verticis,
Et pila , et hastae, et frena, et ephippia (etc.)
Karl Maurer


Friday, May 06, 2011


The Big O

This is the story of the big o (o mega, or omega), with its sidekicks smooth breathing and circumflex accent (), as told by Jacob Wackernagel (1853-1938), Lectures on Syntax, ed. and tr. David Langslow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) pp. 390-391 (original Vorlesungen über Syntax, II 311):
In Attic, the use of is almost obligatory. For instance, it was observed by the Zurich philologist Arnold HUG (HUG & SCHÖNE 1909: 4 [on Symposium 172a]) that in the Protagoras, in the hundred-odd places where he has a personal name in the vocative, Plato always uses with it, and in the Symposium on 70 out of 78 occasions. In Attic, omission of is always striking, and often an expression of dislike or disdain. In On the Crown, Demosthenes always addresses his opponent Aeschines as Αἰσχίνη, never ὦ Αἰσχίνη (cf. LOBECK (1866) on Soph. Ajax 1154).

What is true of Attic, however, may not be regarded as true of Greek in general. The American philologist SCOTT has traced (1903; 1904; 1905) the use of from Homer down to the fourth century BC, and established inter alia that is not used in Homer in addresses of human to god, of wife to husband, or of servant to master; either expresses an emotion, or is familiar, and it is not seemly to make such an utterance to a superior—although, admittedly, KIECKERS (1908/9: 358–62) has shown that metrical factors also play a part here. Gradually thereafter becomes a standard ingredient in appeals and addresses generally. It may be by chance that the Odyssey has twice as many instances of as the Iliad, but it is certainly not by chance that in Sophocles it is proportionally six times more frequent than in Homer and Hesiod (three times in every five addresses, compared with one in every ten). For a detailed account of in Ionic and Attic prose, see now LOEWE (1925), and cf. LOEWE (1923: 82, 175–9).—On the other hand, is unpopular in lower stylistic registers of Hellenistic Greek, e.g. in the whole of the New Testament, amid hundreds of vocatives, it occurs only twenty-seven times (never, in keeping with the usage mentioned above, in appeals to God). The Gospels in particular (according to WELLHAUSEN 1904: 80) know the particle only in threats and laments (save Matt. 15: 28 ὦ γύναι, in amazement), and never with a bare vocative. Epictetus, another exponent of plain speech, reduces the use of even further (see JOHANNESSOHN 1910: 8 ff.; cf. 1925).—Obviously, then, the almost obligatory use of is a peculiarly Attic feature based on a development in which the other dialects did not share.23

23 On the use of in Greek, see now Dickey (1996: 199-206), who provides an excellent survey of research on the subject before and since W., and numerous new statistics from her own corpus. Broadly, her findings agree with W.'s observations, her own summary of herself (Dickey 2002: 225) being that 'it is likely that in the classical period most addresses in conversational Attic were preceded by this particle'. On the other hand, she amplifies W.'s allusion to metrical factors with the important consideration of avoidance of hiatus—that is, suppression of before words beginning with a vowel—which casts doubt on the interpretation reported by W. of Demosthenes' -less addresses to Aeschines, and hence on the whole notion that the use or omission of reflects the tone or stylistic meaning of the address, which Dickey reviews and rejects (1996: 203-6).
References:Scott (1904) finds that Aeschylus and Sophocles generally observe the following rules when using :
I. The interjection must be used when the participle is used in the vocative without the noun.
II. The interjection must be used in addresses, or apostrophe to inanimate objects, or abstract qualities.
III. The interjection must be used with an adjective in the vocative, when the adjective is used without a substantive, unless the substantive idea is given by the context.
IV. The interjection must be used in trimeter, when the arsis of the third foot is a monosyllabic vocative.
Scott (1905) 34, discussing Herodotus, says:
"Sir Walter" is the English equivalent for the vocative without the interjection, "Walter" for the vocative with it.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Absalom and Achitophel

From John Dryden (1631-1700), Absalom and Achitophel:

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin...
What faults he had, — for who from faults is free?
His father could not, or he would not see.
They led their wild desires to woods and caves,
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
Impoverished and deprived of all command,
Their taxes doubled as they lost their land.
Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies,
To please the fools, and puzzle all the wise.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
But wild ambition loves to slide, not stand,
And fortune's ice prefers to virtue's land.
Pretending public good, to serve their own.
Nothing to build, and all things to destroy.
But far more numerous was the herd of such,
Who think too little, and who talk too much.
A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome;
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long.
Railing and praising were his usual themes;
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes;
So over violent, or over civil,
That every man with him was God or devil.
And never broke the Sabbath but for gain.
Nor ever was he known an oath to vent,
Or curse, unless against the government.
Nor is the people's judgment always true:
The most may err as grossly as the few.
Never was patriot yet, but was a fool.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


The Prime Minister

Excerpts from Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister:

Chapter I:
He suffered, no doubt;—but with Spartan consistency he so hid his trouble from the world that no one knew that he suffered.
Chapter II:
'Somebody must make laws for the country.'

'I don't see the necessity. I think the country would do uncommonly well if it were to know that no old law would be altered or new law made for the next twenty years.'
He certainly was no fool. He had read much, and, though he generally forgot what he read, there were left with him from his readings certain nebulous lights, begotten by other men's thinking, which enabled him to talk on most subjects. It cannot be said of him that he did much thinking for himself;—but he thought that he thought.
Chapter IV:
'I believe him to be a thorough linguist, sir.'

'I dare say. I remember a waiter at an hotel in Holborn who could speak seven languages. It's an accomplishment very necessary for a Courier or a Queen's Messenger.'
Chapter VIII:
[A] man doesn't lie when he exaggerates an emphasis, or even when he gives by a tone a meaning to a man's words exactly opposite to that which another tone would convey. Or, if he does lie in doing so, he does not know that he lies.
Chapter XVI:
'I'm not much of a philosopher, but as far as I can see there are two philosophies in the world. The one is to make one's self happy, and the other is to make other people happy. The latter answers the best.'
Chapter XVII:
[H]e had resolved that however deep the wound might be, he would so live before the world, that the world should not see his wound.
Chapter XIX:
Indifference he knew he could bear. Harsh criticism he thought he could endure. But to ridicule he was aware that he was pervious.
Chapter XXV:
It is easy for a man to say that he will banish care, so that he may enjoy to the full the delights of the moment. But this is a power which none but a savage possesses,—or perhaps an Irishman. We have learned the lesson from the divines, the philosophers, and the poets. Post equitem sedet atra cura.
Chapter XXXVII:
'People seen by the mind are exactly different to things seen by the eye. They grow smaller and smaller as you come nearer down to them, whereas things become bigger.'
Chapter XLVII:
'But them men, when they get on at money-making,—or money-losing, which makes 'em worse,—are like tigers clawing one another. They don't care how many they kills, so that they has the least bit for themselves. There ain't no fear of God in it, nor yet no mercy, nor ere a morsel of heart. It ain't what I call manly,—not that longing after other folks' money.'
Chapter LI:
'The Duke is very sensitive.'

'I hate people to be sensitive. It makes them cowards. A man when he is afraid of being blamed, dares not at last even show himself, and has to be wrapped up in lamb's wool.'

'Of course men are differently organised.'

'Yes;—but the worst of it is, that when they suffer from this weakness, which you call sensitiveness, they think that they are made of finer material than other people. Men shouldn't be made of Sèvres china, but of good stone earthenware.'
Id. (said of the journalist Quintus Slide):
To his thinking, public virtue consisted in carping at men high placed, in abusing ministers and judges and bishops—and especially in finding out something for which they might be abused.
Chapter LIX:
'Tears are vain, foolish things. It has to be borne, and there is an end of it. When one makes up one's mind to that, one does not cry.'
Chapter LXVIII:
'A man seldom inquires very deeply at twenty-one.'

'And if he does it is ten to one but he comes to a wrong conclusion.'
'The idea that political virtue is all on one side is both mischievous and absurd. We allow ourselves to talk in that way because indignation, scorn, and sometimes, I fear, vituperation, are the fuel with which the necessary heat of debate is maintained.'
'How can you look at the bowed back and bent legs and abject face of that poor ploughman, who winter and summer has to drag his rheumatic limbs to his work, while you go a-hunting or sit in pride of place among the foremost few of your country, and say that it all is as it ought to be?'
Chapter LXX:
'No one has a right to go about the world as a Niobe, damping all joys with selfish tears.'
Chapter LXXII:
Who was he that he should class himself among the big ones of the world? A man may indeed measure small things by great, but the measurer should be careful to declare his own littleness when he illustrates his position by that of the topping ones of the earth.
Chapter LXXVII:
'I suppose it's wrong, but a state of pugnacity seems to me the greatest bliss which we can reach here on earth.'
Chapter LXXIX:
The fire and water of repentance, adequate as they may be for eternity, cannot burn out or wash away the remorse of this life.
Chapter LXXX:
'[M]en who have been brought up with opinions altogether different, even with different instincts as to politics, who from their mother's milk have been nourished on codes of thought altogether opposed to each other, cannot work together with confidence even though they may desire the same thing. The very ideas which are sweet as honey to the one are bitter as gall to the other.'

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Troubling Man

John Clare, May, lines 73-104 (from The Shepherd's Calendar):
But woodmen still on Spring intrude,
And thin the shadow's solitude;
With sharpen'd axes felling down    75
The oak-trees budding into brown,
Which, as they crash upon the ground,
A crowd of labourers gather round.
These, mixing 'mong the shadows dark,
Rip off the crackling, staining bark;    80
Depriving yearly, when they come,
The green woodpecker of his home,
Who early in the Spring began,
Far from the sight of troubling man,
To bore his round holes in each tree    85
In fancy's sweet security;
Now, startled by the woodman's noise,
He wakes from all his dreary joys.
The blue-bells too, that thickly bloom
Where man was never known to come;    90
And stooping lilies of the valley,
That love with shades and dews to dally,
And bending droop on slender threads,
With broad hood-leaves above their heads,
Like white-robed maids, in summer hours,    95
Beneath umbrellas shunning showers;—
These, from the bark-men's crushing treads,
Oft perish in their blooming beds.
Stripp'd of its boughs and bark, in white
The trunk shines in the mellow light    100
Beneath the green surviving trees,
That wave above it in the breeze,
And, waking whispers, slowly bend,
As if they mourn'd their fallen friend.
Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986; rpt. London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 92:
Throughout history the bark of oak — other trees will not do — has been used for tanning leather. Medieval accounts record sales of bark as a by-product of felling timber; an unimportant by-product, since the timbers of many pre-1600 buildings still have some of their bark left on. The trade went on quietly until 1780, when there was a sudden boom in leather which followed the same course as the contemporary boom in shipping. From 1780 to 1850 the tanyards were no mere users-up of by-products but a gigantic industry, a much bigger consumer of oak-trees than the naval dockyards and almost certainly a bigger consumer than the merchant shipyards.
The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't seem to recognize the compound "bark-man" (line 97), meaning a laborer who removes bark from trees.

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Henry David Thoreau, letter to Harrison Blake (August 8, 1854):
I find it, as ever, very unprofitable to have much to do with men.


What Are You Industrious About?

Henry David Thoreau, letter to Harrison Blake (November 16, 1857):
If thousands are thrown out of employment, it suggests that they were not well employed. Why don't they take the hint? It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

The merchants and company have long laughed at transcendentalism, higher laws, etc., crying, "None of your moonshine," as if they were anchored to something not only definite, but sure and permanent. If there was any institution which was presumed to rest on a solid and secure basis, and more than any other represented this boasted common sense, prudence, and practical talent, it was the bank; and now those very banks are found to be mere reeds shaken by the wind.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Bless You

W. Kendrick Pritchett (1909-2007), The Greek State at War. Part III: Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), chapter IV (Miscellaneous Portents), pp. 91-153 (at p. 127, n. 117):
It was customary to salute a sneezer with such words as Ζεῦ σῶσον: Pease, CP 6 (1911) 436. This custom has come down to modern times. Boccaccio in Il Sabbatino says that if you marry, you will at all events have somebody to say "Dio te aiuti!" when you sneeze.
One of the strangest reasons for getting married that I've ever heard.

Pease is a reference to Arthur Stanley Pease, "The Omen of Sneezing," Classical Philology 6 (1911) 429-443. The Greek means "Zeus, save!" and the Italian means "God help you!" As Pease notes, the Greek phrase occurs in the Greek Anthology 11.268 (on a man with a big nose, tr. W.R. Paton):
Proclus cannot wipe his nose with his hand, for his arm is shorter than his nose; nor does he say "God preserve us" when he sneezes, for he can't hear his nose, it is so far away from his ears.
The Romans apparently said "Salve" when someone sneezed (references in Pease).

I noted the following misprints in the chapter just cited from Pritchett's book:


Sunday, May 01, 2011


The First of May

A.E. Housman, The First of May:
The orchards half the way
        From home to Ludlow fair
Flowered on the first of May
        In Mays when I was there;
And seen from stile or turning
        The plume of smoke would show
Where fires were burning
        That went out long ago.

The plum broke forth in green,
        The pear stood high and snowed,
My friends and I between
        Would take the Ludlow road;
Dressed to the nines and drinking
        And light in heart and limb,
And each chap thinking
        The fair was held for him.

Between the trees in flower
        New friends at fairtime tread
The way where Ludlow tower
        Stands planted on the dead.
Our thoughts, a long while after,
        They think, our words they say;
Theirs now’s the laughter,
        The fair, the first of May.

Ay, yonder lads are yet
        The fools that we were then;
For oh, the sons we get
        Are still the sons of men.
The sumless tale of sorrow
        Is all unrolled in vain:
May comes to-morrow
        And Ludlow fair again.


Kidnapped and Catriona

Excerpts from Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped (1886):

Chapter VII:
No class of man is altogether bad, but each has its own faults and virtues...
Chapter IX:
'So?' said the gentleman in the fine coat: 'are ye of the honest party?' (meaning, Was he a Jacobite? for each side, in these sort of civil broils, takes the name of honesty for its own).
Chapter XIV:
I have seen wicked men and fools, a great many of both; and I believe they both get paid in the end; but the fools first.
Chapter XXI:
'To be feared of a thing and yet to do it, is what makes the prettiest kind of a man.'
Chapter XXIV:
'Do you think it either very wise or very witty to cast my politics in my teeth? I thought, where folk differed, it was the part of gentlemen to differ civilly; and if I did not, I may tell you I could find a better taunt than some of yours.'
Chapter XXVIII:
'Now, Mr. David, they talk a great deal of charity and generosity; but in this disputable state of life, I often think the happiest consequences seem to flow when a gentleman consults his lawyer, and takes all the law allows him.'

Excerpts from Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892):

Chapter II:
'I'm a lawyer, ye see: fond of my books and my bottle, a good plea, a well-drawn deed, a crack in the Parliament House with other lawyer bodies, and perhaps a turn at the golf on a Saturday at e'en.'
Chapter VII:
Young folk in a company are like to savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both.
Chapter XI:
'But that's the strange thing about you folk of the college learning: ye're ignorant, and ye cannae see 't. Wae's me for my Greek and Hebrew; but, man, I ken that I dinnae ken them—there's the differ of it.'
Chapter XII:
'A man should aye put his best foot forrit with the womankind; he should aye give them a bit of a story to divert them, the poor lambs! It's what ye should learn to attend to, David; ye should get the principles, it's like a trade.'
Chapter XIV:
'But ye see, in this warld, the way God made it, we cannae just get a'thing that we want.'
Chapter XX:
But I had had my view of that detestable business they call politics—I had seen it from behind, when it is all bones and blackness; and I was cured for life of any temptations to take part in it again.
For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on...

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