Saturday, March 31, 2012


At Marathon

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), At Marathon, in Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations 1950-1980 (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), p. 25 (line numbers added):
Marianne Moore saluted the battlefield.
Her frail hand at the brim of her hat
round as a platter, she stood at attention
in her best Brooklyn Navy Yard manner,
or as years before she and Jim Thorpe        5
raised the school flag at Carlisle.
Here in long scarlet cloaks the ranks
advanced with ashlared shields, singing
to the thrashed drums and squealing fife
the pitiless hymn of Apollo the Wolf,        10
spears forward, horsetails streaming
from the masked helmets with unearthly eyes.
The swordline next and the javelineers,
More red cloaks, Ares wild in their blades.
The javelins whistled up like partridges        15
flushed in a brake and fell like sleet.
The Persians bored in, an auger of hornets.
The Greeks flowed around their thrust
as fire eats a stick. Wise to the ruse,
the Persians pulled back to the sea        20
and made hard in their ships for Athens,
which, the Greek army there on the plain,
lay naked to their will, tomorrow’s victory.
But the Greeks were there on the morrow
to cut them back. They had run all the way        25
from Marathon, twenty miles, in bronze.
Two thousand, four hundred and fifty-five
years ago. There are things one must not
leave undone, such as coming from Brooklyn
in one’s old age to salute the army        30
at Marathon. What are years?
Marianne Moore (1887-1972) toured Greece in 1962 with Frances and Norvelle Browne. This poem apparently commemorates a visit by Moore to Marathon during this trip. Davenport's arithmetic (lines 27-28) would thus be approximate, as the Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC.

Moore taught athlete Jim Thorpe (1888-1953) at the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (lines 5-6). I haven't seen Lesley Wheeler and Chris Gavaler, "Impostors and Chameleons: Marianne Moore and the Carlisle Indian School," Paideuma 33 (2004) 53-82.

At first line 8 ("ashlared shields") struck me as a bit odd, as ashlar is cut stone, and shields aren't made of stone, but on the other hand a phalanx of soldiers carrying shields might resemble ashlar masonry.

Line 10 ("the pitiless hymn of Apollo the Wolf") presumably refers to the paean, although if one can trust W. Kendrick Pritchett, "The Marching Paian," in The Greek State at War, Part I (1971; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 105-108, there is no evidence that the paean was sung before the Battle of Marathon.

Friday, March 30, 2012


A Good Laugh

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale (1851), chapter 5 (Breakfast):
However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and to be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.


No Cause So Vile

Norman Douglas, Old Calabria (1915), chapter IX (Moving Southwards):
No cause so vile, that some human being will not be found to defend it.



Norman Douglas, Old Calabria (1915), chapter XI (By the Inland Sea):
Visible even from Giadrezze, on the other side of the inland sea and beyond the arsenal, there stands a tall, solitary palm. It is the last, the very last, or almost the very last, of a race of giants that adorned the gardens which have now been converted into the 'New Quarter.' I imagine it is the highest existing palm in Italy, and am glad to have taken a likeness of it, ere it shall have been cut down like the rest of its fellows. Taranto was once celebrated for these queenly growths, which the Saracens brought over from their flaming Africa.

The same fate has overtaken the trees of the Villa Beaumont, which used to be a shady retreat, but was bought by the municipality and forthwith 'pulizzato'—i.e. cleaned. This is in accordance with that mutilomania of the south: that love of torturing trees which causes them to prune pines till they look like paint-brushes that had been out all night, and which explains their infatuation for the much-enduring robinia that allows itself to be teased into any pattern suggested by their unhealthy phantasy. It is really as if there were something offensive to the Latin mind in the sight of a well-grown tree, as if man alone had the right of expanding normally.


Thursday, March 29, 2012


Quotations in Dictionaries

To the passages quoted and cited in Starved and Well-Fed Lexicons, I should have added these comments by Samuel Johnson, from the Preface to his Dictionary (1755):
There is more danger of censure from the multiplicity than paucity of examples; authorities will sometimes seem to have been accumulated without necessity or use, and perhaps some will be found, which might, without loss, have been omitted. But a work of this kind is not hastily to be charged with superfluities: those quotations which to careless or unskilful perusers appear only to repeat the same sense, will often exhibit, to a more accurate examiner, diversities of signification, or, at least, afford different shades of the same meaning: one will shew the word applied to persons, another to things; one will express an ill, another a good, and a third a neutral sense; one will prove the expression genuine from an ancient authour; another will shew it elegant from a modern: a doubtful authority is corroborated by another of more credit; an ambiguous sentence is ascertained by a passage clear and determinate; the word, how often soever repeated, appears with new associates and in different combinations, and every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.
For a devastating criticism of the omission of a quotation from a dictionary, see A.E. Housman, The Confines of Criticism: Cambridge Inaugural 1911, ed. John Carter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), pp. 41-43:
Who was the first and chief Latin writer to use the Greek word for a cat, αἴλουρος? The answer to this question can be found in many Latin dictionaries, but not in the latest and most elaborate. The five greatest universities of Germany have combined their resources to produce a thesaurus linguae Latinae, whose instalments, published during the last twelve years, run to 6,000 pages, and have brought it down to the letter D. The part containing aelurus appeared in 1902; it cites the word from Gellius, from Pelagius, and from the so-called Hyginus; but it does not cite it from the fifteenth satire of Juvenal. Here we find illustrated a theme on which historians and economists have often dwelt, the disadvantage of employing slave-labour.

In Germany in 1902 the inspired text of Juvenal was the text of Buecheler's second edition. That edition was published in the last decade of the nineteenth century, when the tide of obscurantism, now much abated, was at its height, and when the cheapest way to win applause was to reject emendations which everyone had hitherto accepted and to adopt lections from the MSS which no one had yet been able to endure. Buecheler, riding on the crest of the wave, had expelled from the text the conjecture, as it then was, aeluros, and restored the caeruleos of the MSS. That was enough for the chain-gangs working at the dictionary in the ergastulum at Munich: theirs not to reason why. That every other editor for the last three centuries, and that Buecheler himself in his former edition, had printed aeluros, they consigned to oblivion; they provided this vast and expensive lexicon with an article on aelurus in which Juvenal's name did not occur.

Nine years, only nine, have elapsed. aeluros in Juvenal's fifteenth satire is now no longer a conjecture but the reading of an important MS. Buecheler is dead, his Juvenal has been re-edited by his most eminent pupil, who happens to be an independent thinker, and aeluros is back again in the text. The thesaurus linguae Latinae, not yet arrived at the letter E, is thus already antiquated. Now it is the common lot of such works of reference that they begin to be obsolete the day after they are published; but that damage, inflicted by the mere progress of knowledge, is inevitable: what is not inevitable is this additional and superabundant damage, inflicted by the mental habits of the slave.

Everyone can figure to himself the mild inward glow of pleasure and pride which the author of this unlucky article felt while he was writing it; and the peace of mind with which he said to himself, when he went to bed that night, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.' This is the felicity of the house of bondage, and of the soul which is so fast in prison that it cannot get forth; which commands no outlook upon the past or the future, but believes that the fashion of the present, unlike all fashions heretofore, will endure perpetually, and that its own flimsy tabernacle of second-hand opinions is a habitation for everlasting. And not content with believing these improbable things it despises those who do not believe them, and displays to the world that stiff and self-righteous arrogance of the unthinking man which ages ago provoked this sentence from Solomon: 'the sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.'
See also Tom Keeline, "Vir in uoluendis lexicis satis diligens: A.E. Housman and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae," Housman Society Journal 36 (December 2010) 64-76.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Freedom from Ten Thousand Matters

Wang Wei (699-759), To Subprefect Chang (tr. Irving Y. Lo):
In late years, I love only the stillness,
The world's affairs no longer trouble my heart.
Looking at myself: no far-reaching plans;
All I know: to return to familiar woods—
The pine winds blow and loosen my sash;
The mountain moon shines upon me playing the lute.
You ask for reasons for failure or success—
Fisherman's song enters the riverbanks deep.
The same, tr. Witter Bynner and Kiang Kang-hu:
As the years go by, give me but peace,
Freedom from ten thousand matters.
I ask myself and always answer,
What can be better than coming home?
A wind from the pine-trees blows my sash,
And my lute is bright with the mountain-moon.
You ask me about good and evil? ...
Hark, on the lake there's a fisherman singing!
The same, tr. Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, and Xu Haixin:
In old age I ask for peace
and don't care about things of this world.
I've found no good way to live
and brood about getting lost in my old forests.
The wind blowing in the pines loosens my belt,
the mountain moon is my lamp while I tinkle my lute. You ask,
how do you succeed or fail in life?
A fisherman's song is deep in the river.
The same, tr. Cyril Birch:
In evening years given to quietude,
The world's worries no concern of mine,
For my own needs making no other plan
Than to unlearn, return to long-loved woods:
I loosen my robe before the breezes from pines,
My lute celebrates moonlight on mountain pass.
You ask what laws rule "failure" or "success"—
Songs of fishermen float to the still shore.
The same, tr. David Hinton:
In these twilight years, I love tranquillity
alone. Mind free of all ten thousand affairs,

self-regard free of all those grand schemes.
I return to my old forest, knowing empty.

Soon mountain moonlight plays my ch'in,
and pine winds loosen my robe. Explain this

inner pattern behind failure and success?
Fishing song carries into shoreline depths.


The Beginning of Philosophy

Plato, Theaetetus 155 d (tr. Harold N. Fowler):
For this feeling of wonder shows that you are a philosopher, since wonder is the only beginning of philosophy.

μάλα γὰρ φιλοσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, τὸ θαυμάζειν: οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας ἢ αὕτη.
Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 2.11.13 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
Behold the beginning of philosophy!—a recognition of the conflict between the opinions of men, and a search for the origin of that conflict, and a condemnation of mere opinion, coupled with scepticism regarding it, and a kind of investigation to determine whether the opinion is rightly held, together with the invention of a kind of standard of judgement, as we have invented the balance for the determination of weights, or the carpenter's rule for the determination of things straight and crooked.

Ἴδ᾽ ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας· αἴσθησις μάχης τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ζήτησις τοῦ παρ᾽ ὃ γίνεται ἡ μάχη καὶ κατάγνωσις καὶ ἀπιστία πρὸς τὸ ψιλῶς δοκοῦν, ἔρευνα δέ τις περὶ τὸ δοκοῦν εἰ ὀρθῶς δοκεῖ καὶ εὕρεσις κανόνος τινός, οἷον ἐπὶ βαρῶν τὸν ζυγὸν εὕρομεν, οἷον ἐπὶ εὐθέων καὶ στρεβλῶν τὴν στάθμην.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Letters from an American Farmer

Excerpts from J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813), Letters from an American Farmer (1981; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 1986).

Letter III (p. 69):
Ubi panis ibi patria is the motto of all emigrants.
Id. (p. 70):
The American ought therefore to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers were born.
Letter V (p. 127):
The easiest way of becoming acquainted with the modes of thinking, the rules of conduct, and the prevailing manners of any people is to examine what sort of education they give their children, how they treat them at home, and what they are taught in their places of public worship.
Letter VII (pp. 151-152):
Lawyers are so numerous in all our populous towns that I am surprised they never thought before of establishing themselves here; they are plants that will grow in any soil that is cultivated by the hands of others; and when once they have taken root, they will extinguish every other vegetable that grows around them. The fortunes they daily acquire in every province from the misfortunes of their fellow-citizens are surprising! The most ignorant, the most bungling member of that profession will, if placed in the most obscure part of the country, promote litigiousness and amass more wealth without labour than the most opulent farmer with all his toils. They have so dexterously interwoven their doctrines and quirks with the laws of the land, or rather they are become so necessary an evil in our present constitutions, that it seems unavoidable and past all remedy. What a pity that our forefathers, who happily extinguished so many fatal customs, and expunged from their new government so many errors and abuses, both religious and civil, did not also prevent the introduction of a set of men so dangerous! In some provinces, where every inhabitant is constantly employed in tilling and cultivating the earth, they are the only members of society who have any knowledge; let these provinces attest what iniquitous use they have made of that knowledge. They are here what the clergy were in past centuries with you; the reformation which clipped the clerical wings is the boast of that age, and the happiest event that could possibly happen; a reformation equally useful is now wanted to relieve us from the shameful shackles and the oppressive burthen under which we groan; this perhaps is impossible; but if mankind would not become too happy, it were an event most devoutly to be wished.
Letter VIII (p. 165):
Learned travellers, returned from seeing the paintings and antiquities of Rome and Italy, still filled with the admiration and reverence they inspire, would hardly be persuaded that so contemptible a spot, which contains nothing remarkable but the genius and the industry of its inhabitants, could ever be an object worthy attention. But I, having never seen the beauties which Europe contains, cheerfully satisfy myself with attentively examining what my native country exhibits: if we have neither ancient amphitheatres, gilded palaces, nor elevated spires, we enjoy in our woods a substantial happiness which the wonders of art cannot communicate.
Letter IX (pp. 173-174):
The history of the earth! Doth it present any thing but crimes of the most heinous nature, committed from one end of the world to the other? We observe avarice, rapine, and murder, equally prevailing in all parts. History perpetually tells us of millions of people abandoned to the caprice of the maddest princes, and of whole nations devoted to the blind fury of tyrants. Countries destroyed, nations alternately buried in ruins by other nations, some parts of the world beautifully cultivated, returned again to the pristine state, the fruits of ages of industry, the toil of thousands in a short time destroyed by a few! If one corner breathes in peace for a few years, it is, in turn, subjected, torn, and levelled; one would almost believe the principles of action in man, considered as the first agent of this planet, to be poisoned in their most essential parts. We certainly are not that class of beings which we vainly think ourselves to be; man, an animal of prey, seems to have rapine and the love of bloodshed implanted in his heart; nay, to hold it the most honourable occupation in society; we never speak of a hero of mathematics, a hero of knowledge of humanity, no, this illustrious appellation is reserved for the most successful butchers of the world.
Id. (p. 175):
Yet if we attentively view this globe, will it not appear rather a place of punishment than of delight? And what misfortune that those punishments should fall on the innocent, and its few delights be enjoyed by the most unworthy! Famine, diseases, elementary convulsions, human feuds, dissensions, etc., are the produce of every climate; each climate produces besides, vices, and miseries peculiar to its latitude.
Id. (pp. 176-177):
Everywhere one part of the human species are taught the art of shedding the blood of the other, of setting fire to their dwellings, of levelling the works of their industry: half of the existence of nations regularly employed in destroying other nations. What little political felicity is to be met with here and there, has cost oceans of blood to purchase, as if good was never to be the portion of unhappy man. Republics, kingdoms, monarchies, founded either on fraud or successful violence, increase by pursuing the steps of the same policy until they are destroyed in their turn, either by the influence of their own crimes or by more successful but equally criminal enemies.
Letter XI (p. 189):
Who knows what revolutions Russia and America may one day bring about; we are perhaps nearer neighbours than we imagine.
Letter XII (p. 203):
As a citizen of a smaller society, I find that any kind of opposition to its now prevailing sentiments immediately begets hatred; how easily do men pass from loving, to hating and cursing one another!
Id. (p. 204):
As to the argument on which the dispute is founded, I know little about it. Much has been said and written on both sides, but who has a judgement capacious and clear enough to decide? The great moving principles which actuate both parties are much hid from vulgar eyes, like mine; nothing but the plausible and the probable are offered to our contemplation. The innocent class are always the victim of the few; they are in all countries and at all times the inferior agents, on which the popular phantom is erected; they clamour and must toil and bleed, and are always sure of meeting with oppression and rebuke. It is for the sake of the great leaders on both sides that so much blood must be spilt; that of the people is counted as nothing. Great events are not achieved for us, though it is by us that they are principally accomplished, by the arms, the sweat, the lives of the people.
Id. (p. 205):
What one party calls meritorious, the other denominates flagitious. These opinions vary, contract, or expand, like the events of the war on which they are founded. What can an insignificant man do in the midst of these jarring contradictory parties, equally hostile to persons situated as I am?
Id. (pp. 205-206):
What is it to the gazing world whether we breathe or whether we die? Whatever virtue, whatever merit and disinterestedness we may exhibit in our secluded retreats, of what avail? We are like the pismires destroyed by the plough, whose destruction prevents not the future crop.
Thanks to R.E. Mason, who gave me a copy of this book.



Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (1959; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970 = Bollingen Series, LXIV), p. 23:
Wabi really means "poverty," or, negatively, "not to be in the fashionable society of the time." To be poor, that is not to be dependent on things worldly—wealth, power, and reputation—and yet to feel inwardly the presence of something of the highest value, above time and social position: this is what essentially constitutes wabi. Stated in terms of practical everyday life, wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami (mats), like the log cabin of Thoreau, and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall. While later I will say something more about wabi, let me state here that the cult of wabi has entered deeply into the cultural life of the Japanese people. It is in truth the worshiping of poverty—probably a most appropriate cult in a poor country like ours. Despite the modern Western luxuries and comforts of life which have invaded us, there is still an ineradicable longing in us for the cult of wabi. Even in the intellectual life, not richness of ideas, not brilliancy or solemnity in marshaling thoughts and building up a philosophical system, is sought; but just to stay quietly content with the mystical contemplation of Nature and to feel at home with the world is more inspiring to us, at least to some of us.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The Sweet o' the Year

Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale 4.3.1-12 (Autolycus sings):
When daffodils begin to peer,
  With heigh, the doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o' the year,
  For the red blood reigns in the winter's pale.

The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
  With heigh, the sweet birds, O how they sing!
Doth set my pugging tooth an edge,
  For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.

The lark, that tirralirra chants,
  With heigh, with heigh, the thrush and the jay,
Are summer songs for me and my aunts,
  While we lie tumbling in the hay.
OED, s.v. doxy, n.1: Originally the term in Vagabonds' Cant for the unmarried mistress of a beggar or rogue: a beggar's trull or wench: hence, slang, a mistress, paramour, prostitute; dial., a wench, sweetheart.

OED, s.v. pugging, adj.: Of uncertain meaning; perhaps: ‘that pulls or tugs, thieving’.

OED, s.v. aunt, n. (sense 3): A bawd or procuress; a prostitute.


Clamor: An Auto-Antonym?

An auto-antonym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself. Some have seen an auto-antonym in Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale 4.4.284:
Clamor your tongues, and not a word more.
See, e.g., the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of this play by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (1998; rpt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), p. 148:
Clamor: perhaps, silence (though the word usually means just the opposite)
The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. clamour | clamor, v.1, neither recognizes this sense nor cites this line. According to Horace Howard Furness, ed., A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, Volume 11: The Winter's Tale, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1898), pp. 216-217, Croft conjectured clam, Hanmer (and independently Gifford) charm.


Saturday, March 24, 2012


Devotion to Learning

J.R.R. Tolkien, letter to Michael Tolkien (November 1, 1963):
The devotion to 'learning', as such and without reference to one's own repute, is a high and even in a sense spiritual vocation; and since it is 'high' it is inevitably lowered by false brethren, by tired brethren, by the desire for money, and by pride: the folk who say 'my subject' & do not mean the one I am humbly engaged in, but the subject I adorn, or have 'made my own'. Certainly this devotion is generally degraded and smirched in universities. But it is still there. And if you shut them down in disgust, it would perish from the land — until they were re-established, again to fall into corruption in due course.


Parochialism of Time

J.R.R. Tolkien, draft of a letter to Hugh Brogan (September 1955):
I am sorry to find you affected by the extraordinary 20th. C. delusion that its usages per se and simply as 'contemporary' — irrespective of whether they are terser, more vivid (or even nobler!) — have some peculiar validity above those of all other times, so that not to use them (even when quite unsuitable in tone) is a solecism, a gaffe, a thing at which one's friends shudder or feel hot in the collar. Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time! Also (not to be too donnish about it) learn to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine antique — as you would if you hoped not to be cheated by a dealer!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Headache Remedy

Pliny, Natural History 28.22.76 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
I find that a woman's breast-band tied around the head relieves headache.

invenio et fascia mulieris alligato capite dolores minui.
Hmm. I've suffered from frequent, severe headaches for as long as I can remember.

On the other hand, perhaps this remedy would be a violation of Deuteronomy 22.5:
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Related posts:

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Words Can Never Hurt Me

John Andrews, To The Detracted, lines 1-8, from The Anatomy of Baseness (1615), as printed in Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics from the Original Texts (1949; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), p. 461:
Though wolves against the silver moon do bark,
  They blemish not her brightness; nor the spite
Of bawling curs, which she disdains to mark,
  Can any whit eclipse her of her light.
So may'st thou slight the railing of ill tongues
  If a clear shining conscience be thy guard,
Which, to defend thee from the worst of wrongs,
  Will, as a wall of brass, be found as hard.
Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 1.25.29 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
Why, what is this matter of being reviled? Take your stand by a stone and revile it; and what effect will you produce? If, then, a man listens like a stone, what profit is there to the reviler? But if the reviler has the weakness of the reviled as a point of vantage, then he does accomplish something.

ἐπεὶ τί ἐστιν αὐτὸ τὸ λοιδορεῖσθαι; παραστὰς λίθον λοιδόρει: καὶ τί ποιήσεις; ἂν οὖν τις ὡς λίθος ἀκούῃ, τί ὄφελος τῷ λοιδοροῦντι; ἂν δ᾽ ἔχῃ τὴν ἀσθένειαν τοῦ λοιδορουμένου ὁ λοιδορῶν ἐπιβάθραν, τότε ἀνύει τι.


The Year Lays Down His Mantle Cold

Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465), Rondeau, tr. Andrew Lang:
The year has changed his mantle cold
Of wind, of rain, of bitter air;
And he goes clad in cloth of gold,
Of laughing suns and season fair;

No bird or beast of wood or wold
But doth with cry or song declare
The year lays down his mantle cold.

All founts, all rivers, seaward rolled,
The pleasant summer livery wear,
With silver studs on broidered vair;
The world puts off its raiment old,
The year lays down his mantle cold.
The same, tr. Richard Wilbur:
The year has cast its cloak away
That was of driving rains and snows,
And now in flowered arras goes,
And wears the clear sun's glossy ray.

No bird or beast but seems to say
In cries or chipper tremolos:
The year has cast its cloak away
That was of driving rains and snows.

Stream, brook and silver fountain play,
And each upon itself bestows
A spangled livery as it flows.
All creatures are in fresh array.
The year has cast its cloak away.
The French:
Le temps a laissié son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluye,
Et s'est vestu de brouderie,
De soleil luyant, cler et beau.

Il n'y a beste, ne oyseau,
Qu'en son jargon ne chant ou crie;
Le temps a laissié son manteau
De vent de froidure et de pluye.

Riviere, fontaine et ruisseau
Portent, en livrée jolie,
Gouttes d'argent d'orfavrerie,
Chascun s'abille de nouveau.
Le temps a laissié son manteau.
More translations of this poem here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Beatus Ille

Anonymous, from Robert Jones, Ultimum Vale (1608), as printed in Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics from the Original Texts (1949; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), pp. 396-397:
            Happy he
    Who, to sweet home retired,
    Shuns glory so admired,
      And to himself lives free.
Whilst he who strives with pride to climb the skies
Falls down with foul disgrace before he rise.

            Let who will,
    The active life commend,
    And all his travels bend
      Earth with his fame to fill:
Such fame, so forced, at last dies with his death,
Which life maintained by others' idle breath.

            My delights,
    To dearest home confined,
    Shall there make good my mind,
      Not awed with Fortune's spites:
High trees heaven blasts, winds shake and honours fell,
When lowly plants long time in safety dwell.

            All I can
    My worldly strife shall be
    They one day say of me:
      'He died a good old man.'
On his sad soul a heavy burden lies
Who, known to all, unknown to himself dies.
As others have noted, this is loosely based on Seneca, Thyestes 391-403:
Stet quicumque volet potens
aulae culmine lubrico:
me dulcis saturet quies.
obscuro positus loco
leni perfruar otio,
nullis nota Quiritibus
aetas per tacitum fluat.
sic cum transierint mei
nullo cum strepitu dies,
plebeius moriar senex.
illi mors gravis incubat
qui, notus nimis omnibus,
ignotus moritur sibi.


Whistle While You Work

Gene Logsdon, "Solo In The Silo," The Contrary Farmer (March 7, 2012):
I like to think that farmers sing because for the most part, farming is a happy, satisfying life.
And bankers don't sing, because banking is not? At least, I've never heard a banker sing while on the job. I guess they aren't even called bankers any more. A Union Bank commercial on BBC World News calls them "relationship managers". Such is the world we live in. "What do you want to be when you grow up, Johnny?" "A relationship manager."

Logsdon's delightful story of a hired hand singing "Panis Angelicus" reminded me of St. Jerome, Letters 46.12 (from Paula and Eustochium to Marcella, tr. W.H. Fremantle):
Wherever one turns the laborer at his plough sings alleluia, the toiling mower cheers himself with psalms, and the vine-dresser while he prunes his vine sings one of the lays of David. These are the songs of the country; these, in popular phrase, its love ditties; these the shepherd whistles; these the tiller uses to aid his toil.

quocumque te verteris, arator stivam tenens alleluia decantat, sudans messor psalmis se avocat et curva adtondens vitem falce vinitor aliquid Davidicum canit. haec sunt in hac provincia carmina, hae, ut vulgo dicitur, amatoriae cantiones, hic pastorum sibilus, haec arma culturae.
These very different lines from G.K. Chesterton, The Secret People, also come to mind:
They have given us into the hands of the new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evenings; and they know no songs.
Hat tip: Jim K.

Related post: I Hear America Singing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Spring in Vergil's Georgics

Vergil, Georgics 2.323-342, tr. L.P. Wilkinson in The Georgics of Vergil: A Critical Survey, new ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), p. 192:
Spring it is that favours the woodland leaves, spring the forests; in spring the ground swells and calls for the fertile seeds. Then the almighty Father of heaven descends in fruitful showers into the lap of his joyful spouse and mingling with her great body greatly breeds all kinds of fruit. Then do the pathless copses resound to the singing of birds and the beasts of the herd know that their time to seek a mate is come again, and the bountiful earth bares its bosom to the warm west winds. Everywhere a mild moisture prevails, and the grasses can safely venture up to meet the young suns, nor do the vine-shoots fear gales rising from the south or storms driven down the sky by mighty north winds, but thrust their buds out and unfold all their leaves. Such days shone out, I believe, when the infant world began, and even so they ran. It was springtime then, the great world was keeping spring and the east winds forbore their wintry blasts, when the first cattle drank in the light, and the earthborn race of men raised its head in the hard fields, and the wild beasts were sent forth into the forests and the stars into the sky.
Wilkinson's excerpt omits the last three lines of Vergil's description of spring. Here is the entire passage in Latin (2.323-345):
ver adeo frondi nemorum, ver utile silvis,
vere tument terrae et genitalia semina poscunt.
tum pater omnipotens fecundis imbribus Aether
coniugis in gremium laetae descendit, et omnis
magnus alit magno commixtus corpore fetus.
avia tum resonant avibus virgulta canoris,
et Venerem certis repetunt armenta diebus;
parturit almus ager Zephyrique trementibus auris
laxant arva sinus; superat tener omnibus umor,
inque novos soles audent se gramina tuto
credere, nec metuit surgentis pampinus Austros
aut actum caelo magnis Aquilonibus imbrem,
sed trudit gemmas et frondes explicat omnis.
non alios prima crescentis origine mundi
inluxisse dies aliumve habuisse tenorem
crediderim: ver illud erat, ver magnus agebat
orbis, et hibernis parcebant flatibus Euri,
cum primae lucem pecudes hausere, virumque
terrea progenies duris caput extulit arvis,
immissaeque ferae silvis et sidera caelo.
nec res hunc tenerae possent perferre laborem,
si non tanta quies iret frigusque caloremque
inter, et exciperet caeli indulgentia terras.
I am indebted to Dr. Karl Maurer for sharing with me his verse translation of this passage:
But spring is kind to orchard leaves, to forest.
Spring earth swells, asking for life-giving seeds.
Almighty father, Aether, in long deep rains
falls to his wife's glad hug and, great and coupled
with her great body, quickens all that grows.
In spring each pathless thicket rings with bird-song.
In the sure days all herds find love again.
Earth labors, teeming. Warm breaths of a West Wind
loosen fields; in all things is tender moisture.
Safely a grass-blade dares to trust new suns.
The vine-spray does not fear a rising South Wind,
nor sky wiped clean of rain by deep North Wind,
but puts out buds; it dares unfold its leaves.
Such days (I could believe) lit up the world
when first it grew. Then each day had this freshness.
Then it was spring, the whole globe quick with Springtime.
No East Wind out-breathed winter, as the herds
first drank the light, and men, sprung from the earth,
in the rough fields were rearing up their heads,
as forests filled with beasts, the sky with stars.
And now, small things could not endure earth's roughness
unless, between cold-time and hot, this peace came,
and the fields felt this quietness in the sky.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Magic Spells

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 18.8.41-43 (tr. H. Rackham):
C. Furius Chresimus, a liberated slave, was extremely unpopular because he got much larger returns from a rather small farm than the neighbourhood obtained from very large estates, and he was supposed to be using magic spells to entice away other people's crops. He was consequently indicted by the curule aedile Spurius Albinus; and as he was afraid he would be found guilty, when the time came for the tribes to vote their verdict, he brought all his agricultural implements into court and produced his farm servants, sturdy people and also according to Piso's description well looked after and well clad, his iron tools of excellent make, heavy mattocks, ponderous ploughshares, and well-fed oxen. Then he said: 'These are my magic spells, citizens, and I am not able to exhibit to you or to produce in court my midnight labours and early risings and my sweat and toil.' This procured his acquittal by an unanimous verdict.

C. Furius Chresimus e servitute liberatus, cum in parvo admodum agello largiores multo fructus perciperet quam ex amplissimis vicinitas, in invidia erat magna, ceu fruges alienas perliceret veneficiis. quamobrem ab Spurio Albino curuli aedile die dicta metuens damnationem, cum in suffragium tribus oporteret ire, instrumentum rusticum omne in forum attulit et adduxit familiam suam validam atque, ut ait Piso, bene curatam ac vestitam, ferramenta egregie facta, graves ligones, vomeres ponderosos, boves saturos. postea dixit: 'Venefica mea, Quirites, haec sunt, nec possum vobis ostendere aut in forum adducere lucubrationes meas vigiliasque et sudores.' omnium sententiis absolutus itaque est.
C. Furius Chresimus was accused of violating the law (in the eighth of the Twelve Tables) against conjuring away a neighbor's crops. See Seneca, Natural Questions 4.7.2: et apud nos in XII tabulis: cavetur ne quis alienos fructus excantassit (also Tibullus 1.8.19; Pliny, Natural History 28.4.17-18; Servius on Vergil, Eclogues 8.99; Augustine, City of God 8.19).


Dedication of an Elm to the Goddess Diana

Almost a year ago I quoted some passages about dedications of trees to gods in Greek and Latin literature. All of the passages quoted came from R.G.M. Nisbet and Niall Rudd, A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 255-256 (introduction to Odes 3.22).

I recently came across another example, by Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), Carmina I.34, translated by Carol Maddison in Marcantonio Flaminio: Poet, Humanist and Reformer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 21 (Bocchi in line 5 is Achille Bocchi, 1488–1562):
Maiden, tamer of the wild beasts of the woods,
Who, in the company of the quiver-bearing nymphs,
Range Cynthius' hill and the forest
Of black Erymanthus,

Bocchi, the glory of the two tongues,
Skilled at starting the wandering deer,
Dedicates to you this elm
In the midst of his estate,

From which the lynxes will hang, brought down
By his swift shaft, and the timorous does,
And, consecrated to you, the antlers
Of the long-lived stag.
The Latin:
Virgo sylvestrum domitrix ferarum,
Quae pharetratis comitata Nymphis,
Cynthium collem peragras, nigrique
Silvam Erymanthi,

Bocchius, linguae decus utriusque,
Doctus errantes agitare cervos,
Hanc tibi villa media locatam
Dedicat ulmum.

Unde veloci domitae sagitta
Pendeant lynces, timidique damae,
Atque vivacis tibi consecrata
Cornua cervi.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Our Duty

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Baudelaire, in Do What You Will (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), pp. 171-202 (at 195):
For, like all realists, the Greeks were, at bottom, profoundly pessimistic. In spite of its beauty, its inexhaustible strangeness and rich diversity, the world, they perceived, is finally deplorable. Fate has no pity; old age and death lie in wait at the end of every vista. It is therefore our duty to make the best of the world and its loveliness while we can—at any rate during the years of youth and strength. Hedonism is the natural companion of pessimism. Where there is laughter, there also you may expect to find the 'tears of things.' But as for tears of repentance and remorse—who but a fool would want to make the world more deplorable than it already is? who but a life-hating criminal would want to increase the sum of misery at the expense of man's small portion of precarious joy?


A Happy Spectator

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Chaucer, in Essays New and Old (1927; rpt. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1968), pp. 249-272 (at 251-252):
Chaucer does not protest, he accepts. It is precisely this acceptance that makes him unique among English poets. He does not go to Nature as the symbol of some further spiritual reality; hills, flowers, sea, and clouds are not, for him, the transparencies through which the workings of a great soul are visible. No, they are opaque; he likes them for what they are, things pleasant and beautiful, and not the less delicious because they are definitely of the earth earthy. Human beings, in the same way, he takes as he finds, noble and beastish, but, on the whole, wonderfully decent. He has none of that strong ethical bias which is usually to be found in the English mind. He is not horrified by the behaviour of his fellow-beings, and he has no desire to reform them. Their characters, their motives interest him, and he stands looking on at them, a happy spectator.
Id., p. 258:
This manner of saying of things that they are joyous, or, very often, heavenly, is typical of Chaucer. He looks out on the world with a delight that never grows old or weary. The sights and sounds of daily life, all the lavish beauty of the earth fill him with a pleasure which he can only express by calling it a "joy" or a "heaven."

Friday, March 16, 2012


Back to the Farm

Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), Carmina I.15 (Ad Agellum Suum), my rough translation:
Cool shadows, whispers of trees, dewy grottoes, earth painted with grass of different colors, fountains' chattering waters, talkative birds, leisure hours dear to the Muses,

o if the kindly gods above would allow me to fly to your bosom, if I were permitted to enjoy your sweet retreat and now amuse myself with sportive verses, now seek sleep in the green shadows, now milk a goat with my own hands, and refresh my parched frame in the heat with the white liquid, and bid long farewell to tumultuous cares,

o what a life would then be mine, how blessed, how similar to the life of the gods!

But you, o maids of Helicon, who love fountains and pleasant country places, if you are dearer to me than the dear light, take pity now on me who make this prayer, rescue me from the noise of the bustling city, and transport me to my peaceful little farm.
The Latin:
Umbrae frigidulae, arborum susurri,
Antra roscida, discolore picta
Tellus gramine, fontium loquaces
Lymphae, garrulae aves, amica Musis
Otia, o mihi si volare vestrum       5
In sinum superi annuant benigni,
Si dulci liceat frui recessu,
Et nunc ludere versibus iocosis,
Nunc somnum virides sequi per umbras,
Nunc mulgere mea manu capellam,       10
Lacteoque liquore membra sicca
Irrigare per aestum, et aestuosis
Curis dicere plurimam salutem;
O quae tunc mihi vita, quam beata,
Quam vitae similis foret deorum!       15
At vos, o Heliconiae puellae,
Queis fontes et amoena rura cordi,
Si cara mihi luce cariores
Estis, iam miserescite obsecrantis,
Meque urbis strepitu tumultuosae       20
Ereptum in placido locate agello.
On lines 10-12 see George Saintsbury, The Earlier Renaissance (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1901), p. 37:
His phrase is sometimes awkward; for instance
"Nunc mulgere mea manu capellam
Lacteoque liquore membra sicca
Irrigare per aestum,"
doubtless means that he drank the milk. But it literally suggests the singular picture of a person watering his dry limbs with goat's milk as a shop-boy waters the pavement in front of his master's shop.


Unspeakable Barbarity

W.H. Hudson (1841-1922), Birds in London (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898) pp. 77-85:
The two largest London rookeries were those at Greenwich Park and Kensington Gardens. In the first-named the trees were all topped over twenty years ago, with the result that the birds left; and although the locality has much to attract them, and numbers of rooks constantly visit the park, they have never attempted to build nests since the trees were mutilated. This rookery I never saw; that of Kensington Gardens I knew very well.

Over twenty years ago, on arriving in London, I put up at a City hotel, and on the following day went out to explore, and walked at random, never inquiring my way of any person, and not knowing whether I was going east or west. After rambling about for some three or four hours, I came to a vast wooded place where few persons were about. It was a wet, cold morning in early May, after a night of incessant rain; but when I reached this unknown place the sun shone out and made the air warm and fragrant and the grass and trees sparkle with innumerable raindrops. Never grass and trees in their early spring foliage looked so vividly green, while above the sky was clear and blue as if I had left London leagues behind. As I advanced farther into this wooded space the dull sounds of traffic became fainter, while ahead the continuous noise of many cawing rooks grew louder and louder. I was soon under the rookery listening to and watching the birds as they wrangled with one another, and passed in and out among the trees or soared above their tops. How intensely black they looked amidst the fresh brilliant green of the sunlit foliage! What wonderfully tall trees were these where the rookery was placed! It was like a wood where the trees were self-planted, and grew close together in charming disorder, reaching a height of about one hundred feet or more. Of the fine sights of London so far known to me, including the turbid, rushing Thames, spanned by its vast stone bridges, the cathedral with its sombre cloud-like dome, and the endless hurrying procession of Cheapside, this impressed me the most. The existence of so noble a transcript of wild nature as this tall wood with its noisy black people, so near the heart of the metropolis, surrounded on all sides by miles of brick and mortar and innumerable smoking chimneys, filled me with astonishment; and I may say that I have seldom looked on a scene that stamped itself on my memory in more vivid and lasting colours. Recalling the sensations of delight I experienced then, I can now feel nothing but horror at the thought of the unspeakable barbarity the park authorities were guilty of in destroying this noble grove. Why was it destroyed? It was surely worth more to us than many of our possessions—many painted canvases, statues, and monuments, which have cost millions of the public money! Of brick and stone buildings, plain and ornamental, we have enough to afford shelter to our bodies, and for all other purposes, but trees of one or two centuries' growth, the great trees that give shelter and refreshment to the soul, are not many in London. There must, then, have been some urgent reason and necessity for the removal of this temple not builded by man. It could not surely have been for the sake of the paltry sum which the wood was worth— paltry, that is to say, if we compare the amount the timber-merchant would pay for seven hundred elm-trees with the sum of seventy-five thousand pounds the Government gave, a little later, for half a dozen dreary canvases from Blenheim—dust and ashes for the hungry and thirsty! Those who witnessed the felling of these seven hundred trees, the tallest in London, could but believe that the authorities had good cause for what they did, that they had been advised by experts in forestry; and it was vaguely thought that the trees, which looked outwardly in so flourishing a condition, were inwardly eaten up with canker, and would eventually (and very soon perhaps) have to come down. If the trees had in very truth been dying, the authorities would not have been justified in their action. In the condition in which trees are placed in London it is well nigh impossible that they should have perfect health; but trees take long to die, and during decay are still beautiful. Not far from London is a tree which Aubrey described as very old in his day, and which has been dying since the early years of this century, but it is not dead yet, and it may live to be admired by thousands of pilgrims down to the end of the twentieth century. In any case, trees are too precious in London to be removed because they are unsound. But the truth was, those in Kensington Gardens were not dying and not decayed. The very fact that they were chosen year after year by the rooks to build upon afforded the strongest evidence that they were the healthiest trees in the gardens. When they were felled a majority of them were found to be perfectly sound. I examined many of the finest boles, seventy and eighty feet long, and could detect no rotten spot in them, nor at the roots.

The only reasons I have been able to discover as having been given for the destruction were that grass could not be made to grow so as to form a turf in the deep shade of the grove; that in wet weather, particularly during the fall of the leaf, the ground was always sloppy and dirty under the trees, so that no person could walk in that part of the grounds without soiling his boots.

It will hardly be credited that the very men who did the work, before setting about it, respectfully informed the park authorities that they considered it would be a great mistake to cut the trees down, not only because they were sound and beautiful to the eye, but for other reasons. One was that the rooks would be driven away; another that this tall thick grove was a protection to the gardens, and secured the trees scattered over its northern side from the violence of the winds from the west. They were laughed at for their pains, and told that the 'screen' was not wanted, as every tree was made safe by its own roots; and as to the rooks, they would not abandon the gardens where they had bred for generations, but would build new nests on other trees. Finally, when it came to the cutting down, the men begged to be allowed to spare a few of the finest trees in the grove; and at last one tree, with no fewer than fourteen nests on it: they were sharply ordered to cut down the lot. And cut down they were, with disastrous consequences, as we know, as during the next few years many scores of the finest trees on the north side of the gardens were blown down by the winds, among them the noblest tree in London—the great beech on the east side of the wide vacant space where the grove had stood. The rooks, too, went away, as they had gone before from Greenwich Park, and as in a period of seventeen years they have not succeeded in establishing a new rookery, we may now regard them as lost for ever.

Seventeen years! Some may say that this is going too far back; that in these fast-moving times, crowded with historically important events, it is hardly worth while in 1898 to recall the fact that in 1880 a grove of seven hundred trees was cut down in Kensington Gardens for no reason whatever, or for a reason which would not be taken seriously by any person in any degree removed from the condition of imbecility!

To the nation at large the destruction of this grove may not have been an important event, but to the millions inhabiting the metropolis, who in a sense form a nation in themselves, it was exceedingly important, immeasurably more so than most of the events recorded each year in the 'Annual Register.'

It must be borne in mind that to a vast majority of this population of five millions London is a permanent home, their 'province covered with houses' where they spend their toiling lives far from the sights and sounds of nature; that the conditions being what they are, an open space is a possession of incalculable value, to be prized above all others, like an amulet or a thrice-precious gem containing mysterious health-giving properties. He, then, who takes from London one of these sacred possessions, or who deprives it of its value by destroying its rural character, by cutting down its old trees and driving out its bird life, inflicts the greatest conceivable injury on the community, and is really a worse enemy than the criminal who singles out an individual here and there for attack, and who for his misdeeds is sent to Dartmoor or to the gallows.

We give praise and glory to those who confer lasting benefits on the community; we love their memories when they are no more, and cherish their fame, and hand it on from generation to generation. By honouring them we honour ourselves. But praise and glory would be without significance; and love of our benefactors would lose its best virtue, its peculiar sweetness, if such a feeling did not have its bitter opposite and correlative.
David Hockney, Felled Totem

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Thursday, March 15, 2012


Differences of Opinion

Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Religio Medici, I.6:
I could never divide my selfe from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgement for not agreeing with mee in that, from which perhaps within a few dayes I should dissent my selfe.
Id., II.3:
I cannot fall out or contemne a man for an errour, or conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an affection: for controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in Philosophy, and in Divinity, if they meete with discreet and peaceable natures, doe not infringe the Lawes of Charity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


An Example of Epipompē

Richard Wünsch first used the terms apopompē and epipompē to describe two different ways of banishing evil, in "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13-14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else.

I recently came across a good example of epipompē in the last stanza of a hymn to Pan (Carmina I.2) by Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), translated by Carol Maddison in Marcantonio Flaminio: Poet, Humanist and Reformer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 65:
Hail, ruler of the Naiads,
Hail and drive away weeping
Disease and wretched famine
To the most distant homes of the Arabs
And the fierce Turks.

Salve, o Naïdum potens,
Salve et hinc lacrimabiles
Morbos, et miseram famem in
Extremas Arabum domos,
Et feros age Turcas.


A Rare Latin Word

Antonio Beccadelli (1394–1471), The Hermaphrodite. Edited and Translated by Holt Parker (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 229 (editor's note on II.x = The Punishment of Hell That Ursa Gives the Author While He Is Still Alive, line 5 "Nam sibi merdivomum stridit resonatque foramen"):
merdivomus: the nonce-word seems to be Beccadelli's creation; not in Du Cange or the standard dictionaries and corpora of medieval Latin.
The compound adjective means "vomiting excrement". M., "'Cinq Lettres', ou Six?" Revue du Moyen Age Latin 36 (1980) 51-52, lists derivatives and compounds of Latin merda, but merdivomus is not on the list.

The same word also occurs in an invective directed against Beccadelli by Pier Candido Decembrio (1399-1477), entitled In Anthonium Siculum Panormitanum et Guarinum eius preceptorem, dated sometime after June 1431:
Sic ego tabellarius, tu priaparius; ego litteras et calamos, tu pennes queris et mentulas, ego ceram et sigillum gestito, tu foramina merdivoma scrutaris et fetes...
See Ferdinando Gabotto, "L'attività Politica di Pier Candido Decembrio," Giornale Ligustico di Archeologia, Storia e Letteratura 20 (1893) 161-199, 241-270 (where the quotation appears in note 58, on page 194). Surely Decembrio here is alluding to Beccadelli's obscene epigram (in both passages the adjective modifies foramen = orifice).

A Greek equivalent, κοπριήμετος, occurs in Hippocrates, Epidemics 2.1.9, and some late Latin medical works translate this as merdivomus.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Our Poor Bodies

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), Advice to a Young Man in the Matter of Wine, in One Thing and Another. A Miscellany from his Uncollected Essays selected by Patrick Cahill (London: Hollis & Carter, 1955), pp. 157-165 (at 160):
They have but a short time to gambol in, have our poor bodies: while it lasts, for God's sake let them have their fling—our poor bodies.



Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Silence Is Golden, in Do What You Will: Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), pp. 52-61 (at 52-53):
There was a time when I should have felt terribly ashamed of not being up-to-date. I lived in a chronic apprehension lest I might, so to speak, miss the last bus, and so find myself stranded and benighted in a desert of demodedness, while others, more nimble than myself, had already climbed on board, taken their tickets and set out towards those bright but, alas, ever receding goals of Modernity and Sophistication. Now, however, I have grown shameless, I have lost my fears. I can watch unmoved the departure of the last social-cultural bus—the innumerable last buses, which are starting at every instant in all the world's capitals. I make no effort to board them, and when the noise of each departure has died down, 'Thank Goodness!' is what I say to myself in the solitude. I find nowadays that I simply don't want to be up-to-date. I have lost all desire to see and do the things, the seeing and doing of which entitle a man to regard himself as superiorly knowing, sophisticated, unprovincial; I have lost all desire to frequent the places and people that a man simply must frequent, if he is not to be regarded as a poor creature hopelessly out of the swim. 'Be up-to-date!' is the categorical imperative of those who scramble for the last bus. But it an imperative whose cogency I refuse to admit. When it is a question of doing something which I regard as a duty, I am as ready as any one else to put up with discomfort. But being up-to-date and in the swim has ceased, so far as I am concerned, to be a duty. Why should I have my feelings outraged, why should I submit to being bored and disgusted, for the sake of someone else's categorical imperative? Why? There is no reason. So I simply avoid most of the manifestations of that so-called 'life' which my contemporaries seem to be unaccountably anxious to 'see'; I keep out of the range of the 'art' they think it so vitally necessary to 'keep up with'; I flee from those 'good times', in the 'having' of which they are prepared to spend so lavishly of their energy and cash.


Popular Music

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Silence Is Golden, in Do What You Will: Essays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), pp. 52-61 (at 59):
My flesh crept as the loud-speaker poured out these sodden words, that greasy, sagging melody. I felt ashamed of myself for listening to such things, for even being a member of the species to which such things are addressed.
Related post: Pollution of the Airwaves.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


O Sweet Company!

Ronsard, Elegie (from Sonnets pour Hélène, Book II), lines 7-14, tr. Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock:
For, sole master of myself, I used to go at my leisure wherever my feet carried me, led by my wishes, always having in my hands, to serve as my guides, Aristotle, Plato or learned Euripides, my good, silent guests, who never displease; as freely as I pick them up, so freely do I put them down again. O sweet company, useful and honourable! Anyone else would numb my brain by prattling.

Car seul maistre de moy j'allois plein de loisir,
Où le pied me portoit, conduit de mon desir,
Ayant tousjours és mains pour me servir de guide
Aristote ou Platon, ou le docte Euripide
Mes bons hostes muets, qui ne faschent jamais:
Ô douce compagnie et utile et honneste!
Un autre en caquetant m'estourdiroit la teste.


Decline and Fall

Guess who wrote this:
It is a pity that true history is not taught in schools. If it were, people would understand much better the history of what is passing in their own time. For instance, the dangers which are now threatening European civilization are of the same sort in part with those which threatened and at last undermined the old pagan civilization of Rome.

That civilisation was not destroyed by invaders, it was never defeated in any decisive battle. What happened to it was that it was undermined from within, and it was undermined from within by very much the same forces which are destroying the supports of our own traditional culture. Those forces are the forces of contrast between well-being and indigence, coupled with the contrast between freedom and servitude and enforced by the contrast between human and inhuman relations. When a large number of men are compelled to labour by a small number of men, when their labour is passed under inhuman conditions and the sense of servitude inseparable from the enforcement of labour in any form, they end by driving the masses subject to such disabilities to rise against their wrongs. But in doing this, the rebels may well act blindly, for the very conditions of their subjection forbid them the culture that would enable them to act wisely. They are impelled not only by the desire for freedom, but by the hatred of those who exploit them and who enjoy a freedom of security and substance denied to themselves. They are filled also with a general hatred; a love of destruction for its own sake.
It wasn't a Marxist or an Occupy Movement protester. It was Catholic essayist, poet, and historian Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), in "The Barbarians," published in One Thing and Another. A Miscellany from his Uncollected Essays selected by Patrick Cahill (London: Hollis & Carter, 1955), pp. 203-205 (at 203). The essay originally appeared in G.K.'s Weekly, but I don't know when.

Friday, March 02, 2012


The Love of Pleasure and the Love of Action

Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chapter XV:
There are two very natural propensities which we may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions—the love of pleasure and the love of action. If the former be refined by art and learning, improved by the charms of social intercourse, and corrected by a just regard to economy, to health, and to reputation, it is productive of the greatest part of the happiness of private life. The love of action is a principle of a much stronger and more doubtful nature. It often leads to anger, to ambition, and to revenge; but when it is guided by the sense of propriety and benevolence, it becomes the parent of every virtue; and if those virtues are accompanied with equal abilities, a family, a state or an empire, may be indebted for their safety and prosperity to the undaunted courage of a single man. To the love of pleasure we may therefore ascribe most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may attribute most of the useful and respectable, qualifications. The character in which both the one and the other should be united and harmonised would seem to constitute the most perfect idea of human nature. The insensible and inactive disposition which should be supposed alike destitute of both, would be rejected, by the common consent of mankind, as utterly incapable of procuring any happiness to the individual, or any public benefit to the world.


All About

Paul Krugman, "Four Fiscal Phonies," New York Times (March 1, 2012, emphasis added):
To put it in Romneyesque terms, it’s all about finding an excuse to slash programs that help people who like to watch Nascar events, even while lavishing tax cuts on people who like to own Nascar teams.
This annoying expression is now ubiquitous. Just on Google News for March 2, 2012, I find 400 hits for "I'm all about" (e.g. "I'm all about the big picture"), 13,500 for "it's all about" (e.g. "It's all about what's inside you, what's driving you"), 200 for "he's all about" (e.g. "Chris Brown says he's all about positivity on his new album"), 42 for "you're all about" (e.g. "You're all about finding the next big challenge"), 790 for "we're all about" (e.g. "I want people to know that we're all about Jesus").



Dying Soldiers and Trees: Gautier, Horace, Simonides

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), Wanderings in Spain, anon. tr. (London: Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853), p. 11 (Chapter II):
On leaving Bordeaux, the Landes recommence, if possible more sad, more desolate, and more gloomy than before. Heather, broom, and pinadas (pine forests), with here and there a shepherd squatted down, tending his flocks of black sheep, or a miserable hut in the style of the Indian wigwams, offer a very lugubrious and by no means diverting spectacle. No tree is seen but the pine, with the gash in it from which the resin trickles down. This large salmon-coloured wound forming a strong contrast with the grey tones of the bark, gives the most miserable look in the world to these sickly trees, deprived of the greatest portion of their sap. They have the appearance of a forest unjustly assassinated, raising its arms to Heaven for justice.
French text, from Gautier, Tra Los Montes, Tome I (Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Compagnie, 1843), pp. 21-22:
Au sortir de Bordeaux, les landes recommencent plus tristes, plus décharnées et plus mornes, s'il est possible; des bruyères, des genêts et des pinadas (forêts de pins); de loin en loin, quelque fauve berger accroupi gardant des troupeaux de moutons noirs, quelque cahute dans le goût des wigwams des Indiens; c'est un spectacle fort lugubre et fort peu récréatif. On n'aperçoit d'autre arbre que le pin avec son entaille d'où coule la résine. Cette large blessure dont la couleur saumon tranche avec les tons gris de l'écorce, donne un air on ne peut plus lamentable à ces arbres souffreteux et privés de la plus grande partie de leur séve. On dirait une forêt injustement égorgée qui lève les bras au ciel pour lui demander justice.
Théophile Gautier, The Pine of the Landes Country, tr. Norman Shapiro, in Gautier, Selected Lyrics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 281:
In passing through the barren Landes, one sees—
Over the French Sahara's sand dust-white
Poking among the brackish pools, no trees
In the parches grass, save pine, with slashes right

And left, ripping their bark...For man, creation's
Villain, who lives on what he kills, will steal
Their resin tears, furrow his depredations
Along their flanks. And yet, the pine will feel

No loss of sap-blood, trickling drop by drop;
Yielding his bubbling balm, with held held high,
By the road, upright, proudly, toe to top,
Like wounded soldier who stands tall to die.

Landes-like, the poet with his poetry,
Unwounded, holds his treasure well controlled.
But he must bear a deep heart-gash if he
Would spread his verses' heavenly tears of gold!
French text (Le Pin des Landes, id., p. 280):
On ne voit en passant par les Landes désertes,
Vrai Sahara français, poudré de sable blanc,
Surgir de l'herbe sèche et des flaques d'eaux vertes
D'autre arbre que le pin avec sa plaie au flanc,

Car, pour lui dérober ses larmes de résine,
L'homme, avare bourreau de la création,
Qui ne vit qu'aux dépens de ceux qu'il assassine,
Dans son tronc douloureux ouvre un large sillon!

Sans regretter son sang qui coule goutte à goutte,
Le pin verse son baume et sa sève qui bout,
Et se tient toujours droit sur le bord de la route,
Comme un soldat blessé qui veut mourir debout.

Le poète est ainsi dans les Landes du monde;
Lorsqu'il est sans blessure, il garde son trésor.
Il faut qu'il ait au coeur une entaille profonde
Pour épancher ses vers, divines larmes d'or!
The final stanza is omitted in the following translation by Henry Carrington, Anthology of French Poetry, 10-19th Centuries (London: Henry Frowde, 1900), p. 262:
As the long desert downs you pass between,
  That French Sahara, bleached sands far and wide
'Mid the sere grass, and water ditches green,
  You see no tree, but pine with wounded side.

For, to deprive him of his resinous tears,
  Man, Nature's murderer, slave of avarice,
Who only lives by what he kills and tears,
  In his pained trunk cuts a large orifice.

Ne'er grudging that his life-blood flows away,
  The pine his balsam yields till all is lost,
And holds himself upright in full array,
  Like wounded soldier dying at his post.
I prefer Gautier's poem without the final stanza about the poet.

There is also a translation by Thomas J. Corr in Favilla: Tales, Essays and Poems (London : Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1887), pp. 458-459. Everything is supposed to be on the World Wide Web now, but Corr's book isn't, except in bits and pieces from a 21st century reprint. Only the first two stanzas of Corr's translation are visible in Google Books, not worth transcribing.

Homer sometimes compares fallen warriors with felled trees. The same comparison appears in Horace, Odes 4.6.9-12 (describing the death of Achilles):
Like a pine tree struck with the biting steel or a cypress blown over by the East Wind, he fell on his face, covering much ground, and he laid his neck in the dust of Troy.

ille, mordaci velut icta ferro
pinus aut impulsa cupressus Euro,
procidit late posuitque collum in
    pulvere Teucro.
We now know that Horace was influenced here by Simonides, fragment 11, lines 1-12, tr. M.L. West, Greek Lyric Poetry (1993; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 168:
str[uck you ... and you fell, as when a larch]
    or pine-tree in the [lonely mountain] glades
is felled by woodcutters ...
    and much ...
[A great grief seized] the war-host; [much they honoured you,]
    [and with Patr]oclus' [ashes mingled yours.]
[It was no ordinary mortal] laid you low,
    ['twas by Apoll]o's hand [that you were struck.]
[Athena] was at [hand, and smote the famous t]own[n]
    [with Hera; they were wro]th with Priam's sons
[because of P]aris' wickedness. The car of God's
    Justice o'ertakes [the sinner in the end.]
I'm too lazy to transcribe the Greek, which can be found (among other places) in Alessandro Barchiesi, "Simonides and Horace on the Death of Achilles," Arethusa 29 (1996) 247–253 (at 247). Barchiesi makes an interesting observation on p. 251 (footnotes omitted):
At the risk of sounding too rationalistic, I would note that tradition has it that Achilles was not struck at the throat or the breast—as is usually the case with Homeric warriors who fall to the ground "like a tree"—but at the heel or ankle. Achilles' fall is modeled on that of a tall pine, not only because of its height, but also because his body was felled by a blow to the base, just like a tall trunk assailed almost at its root by the woodcutters.


Thursday, March 01, 2012


Nomen Beati

Horace, Odes 4.9.45-52 (tr. Niall Rudd):
One would not be right to call happy the man of many possessions; the title of happy is more rightly claimed by the man who has the intelligence to make wise use of the gods' gifts and to put up with the rigours of poverty, who fears disgrace worse than death, and is not afraid to die for his dear friends or his native land.

non possidentem multa vocaveris
recte beatum; rectius occupat
    nomen beati, qui deorum
        muneribus sapienter uti

duramque callet pauperiem pati
peiusque leto flagitium timet,
    non ille pro caris amicis
        aut patria timidus perire.
In Jonathan Swift's translation:
Him for a happy man I own,
Whose fortune is not overgrown;
And happy he who wisely knows
To use the gifts that Heaven bestows;
Or, if it please the powers divine,
Can suffer want and not repine.
The man who infamy to shun
Into the arms of death would run;
That man is ready to defend,
With life, his country or his friend.

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