Thursday, May 31, 2012


Seven Oaks

Guy Davenport, "Making It Uglier to the Airport," in Every Force Evolves a Form: Twenty Essays (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987), pp. 156-165 (at 161):
Poland survived the Second World War better than my hometown in South Carolina. Main Street has rotted into a wasteland. Gracious old homes came down to make way for used-car lots, tacky little finance companies, and drive-in hamburger pavilions. The seven ancient oaks that stood around the house where Thomas Wolfe's sister lived fell to the power saw, and the house itself, deporched, hoked up with neon and Coca-Cola signs, was islanded in a desolation of tar paving and converted into an eatery called, with that genius of the destroyer for taunting, The Seven Oaks.
Related post: Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre.



An Invading Army

Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989), "My Countryside, Then and Now: A Study in American Evolution," Harper's Magazine 158 (January 1929):
When I went away, in 1916, it had the look of something ravished and deserted. The Vinton Lumber Company had cut the second-growth pine, the first-growth hemlock, the sugar-maple and, leaving birch and beech as unworthy of attention, had torn up its twenty miles of railroad track and moved into Kentucky. Fires had followed the lumbermen, turning thousands of acres into black meadows where ashes stirred in the breeze like the pollen of infernal flowers. Mine-tipples and culm-banks were toadstools on the bare hills. The poisoned creeks ran orange with sulphur water. It was as if my country had been occupied by an invading army which had wasted the resources of the hills, ravaged the forests with fire and steel, fouled the waters, and now was slowly retiring, without booty.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Writing Materials

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Finding," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 359-367 (at 364):
Sir Walter Scott, out hunting and with some good lines suddenly in his head, brought down a crow, whittled a pen from a feather, and wrote the poem on his jacket in crow's blood.
This may be an embellished recollection of a passage in a letter from Walter Scott to William Clerk (August 26, 1791):
[S]o much simplicity resides among these hills, that a pen, which could write at least, was not to be found about the house, though belonging to a considerable farmer, till I shot the crow with whose quill I write this epistle.

F.B. Pinnion, Thomas Hardy: His Life and Friends (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), p. 111:
He could meditate on his subject as he walked in congenial surroundings on the heath or in the neighbouring woods, jotting down his thoughts, sometimes, when he had no scrap of paper with him, on 'large dead leaves, white chips left by the wood-cutters, or pieces of stone or slate that came to hand'; he had found that 'when he carried a pocket-book his mind was barren as the Sahara'.


Raison d'Être

Ezra Pound (1885-1972), "Hudson: Poet Strayed into Science," The Little Review (May-June, 1920), rpt. in Selected Prose 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1975), pp. 429-432 (at 430): an age of pestilence like our own there is little but the great art of the past to convince one that the human species deserves to continue...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Why Should I Care?

Tao Yuan-Ming (372?-427), Living in the Country (tr. Yang Chi-sing):
At the foot of the south mountain I sow beans;
The weeds tangle them, the bean shoots are weak.
I rise early and scratch in the wilderness.
Under the moonlight I return with my hoe on my shoulder.
The footpath between the furrows so narrow, the grasses so long
That my clothes are moistened with dew.
Why should I care when my clothes are wet?
I only hope to make myself a hermit.
The same (tr. Burton Watson):
I planted beans at the foot of the southern mountain;
weeds flourished, but my bean shoots were few.
I get up at dawn, work to clear away the tangle;
wrapped in moonlight, I shoulder my hoe and come home.
The path is narrow, grass and trees tall;
the evening dew wets my clothes.
Wet clothes—they're not worth a worry,
just so my hopes aren't disappointed!


Short Attention Span

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Ezra Pound 1885-1972," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 169-176 (at 172):
Nothing characterises the twentieth century more than its inability to pay attention to anything for more than a week.

Monday, May 28, 2012


All Is Hushed

Herman Melville, Shiloh. A Requiem (April, 1862):
Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
  The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
  The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
  Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
    And natural prayer
  Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
  Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
  But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
  And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The Wisdom of Heracles

Euripides, Alcestis 779-802, tr. H.W. Garrod with the title The Wisdom of Heracles:
Come now, come hither and be wise in time.
Knowest thou the burden of the life of man?
How should'st thou know it? Therefore learn of me
We must all die: Death's debtors are we all:
The day and hour knows no man, but he dies
The fool of never-coming morrows. Dark
Are all the processes of doom: it comes
Neither with observation nor by art
Forecast to any. Therefore, wise in time,
Drink and be merry. Count to-day as thine,
And all things else permit to the world's whim.
Be thy religion Woman: sweet is Love:
There is no kinder goddess: worship Love.
And let the world go by.
                                       If this be wisdom,
If this be wisdom, and methinks it is,
Obey it and be done with sorrow, drink
Crowning thy hair with flowers, and conquer Fate.
Full soon the pulse o' the wine within the cup
Shall smooth a sullen care-contracted brow.
Men are we, and a man asks Life: and Life
Dwells not with sour and solemn looks: with them
Dwells death, not life. So have I learnt the world.

δεῦρ' ἔλθ', ὅπως ἂν καὶ σοφώτερος γένῃ.
τὰ θνητὰ πράγμαθ' ἣντιν' οἶσθ' ἔχει φύσιν;
οἶμαι μὲν οὔ· πόθεν γάρ; ἀλλ' ἄκουέ μου.
βροτοῖς ἅπασι κατθανεῖν ὀφείλεται,
κοὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἐξεπίσταται
τὴν αὔριον μέλλουσαν εἰ βιώσεται·
τὸ τῆς τύχης γὰρ ἀφανὲς οἷ προβήσεται,
κἄστ' οὐ διδακτὸν οὐδ' ἁλίσκεται τέχνῃ.
ταῦτ' οὖν ἀκούσας καὶ μαθὼν ἐμοῦ πάρα
εὔφραινε σαυτόν, πῖνε, τὸν καθ' ἡμέραν
βίον λογίζου σόν, τὰ δ' ἄλλα τῆς τύχης.
τίμα δὲ καὶ τὴν πλεῖστον ἡδίστην θεῶν
Κύπριν βροτοῖσιν· εὐμενὴς γὰρ ἡ θεός.
τὰ δ' ἄλλ' ἔασον πάντα καὶ πιθοῦ λόγοις
ἐμοῖσιν, εἴπερ ὀρθά σοι δοκῶ λέγειν.
οἶμαι μέν. οὔκουν τὴν ἄγαν λύπην ἀφεὶς
πίῃ μεθ' ἡμῶν [τάσδ' ὑπερβαλὼν τύχας,
στεφάνοις πυκασθείς]; καὶ σάφ' οἶδ' ὁθούνεκα
τοῦ νῦν σκυθρωποῦ καὶ ξυνεστῶτος φρενῶν
μεθορμιεῖ σε πίτυλος ἐμπεσὼν σκύφου.
ὄντας δὲ θνητοὺς θνητὰ καὶ φρονεῖν χρεών·
ὡς τοῖς γε σεμνοῖς καὶ συνωφρυωμένοις
ἅπασίν ἐστιν, ὥς γ' ἐμοὶ χρῆσθαι κριτῇ,
οὐ βίος ἀληθῶς ὁ βίος ἀλλὰ συμφορά.
Related posts:

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Indian Ancestry?

I've become interested in the controversy over whether Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee Indian blood. Warren has said, "These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw."

According to family lore, my great great grandfather, Robert E. Gilleland (1832-1912), was married twice, to sisters. This is confirmed by a contemporary source, The History of Cass and Bates Counties, Missouri (St. Joseph, Mo.: National Historical Co., 1883), p. 645:
Mr. Gilleland was married, August 22, 1854, to Miss Elizabeth A. Wagner, a native of Pike County, Illinois. She was born February 18, 1839, and died March 5, 1857, leaving one child, Eliza J. (now the wife of William Cox, who resides in California). Mr. G. was married again, August 15, 1858, to Miss Emily M. Wagner, a sister of his first wife. She was also born in Pike County, November 24, 1842. They have had eleven children, six of whom are now living: Francis E., Elmer B., William T., Oscar E., Effie M. and Ida A.
My father told me that Elizabeth and Emily Wagner were American Indians. This tradition of Indian ancestry survives among other descendants of Robert E. Gilleland. Distant cousins, whom I have never met in person, have written to me and repeated the story.

But, besides family tradition, there seems to be no evidence that Emily M. Wagner really was an American Indian. The 1870, 1880, and 1900 U.S. Census records, which included race among the data collected, all list Emily M. Gilleland, wife of Robert E. Gilleland, as white. I have no photographs of Emily M. Wagner, but thanks to a distant cousin, here is a photograph of Robert E. Gilleland:


A Prayer

H.W. Garrod (1878-1960), Strife:
I ask not from the inward strife
  A dozing spirit tamely free:
To wrestle with the Life of Life
  Is life, or life enough for me.

But from the strife of tongues, O Lord,
  That rages round thy sanctuary,
From speech that slayeth like a sword
  Protect the soul that seeketh Thee.


Naturam Expelles Furca, Tamen Usque Recurret

Robert Graves (1895-1985), Marigolds:
With a fork drive Nature out,
  She will ever yet return;
Hedge the flowerbed all about,
  Pull or stab or cut or burn,
  She will ever yet return.

Look: the constant marigold
  Springs again from hidden roots.
Baffled gardener, you behold
  New beginnings and new shoots
  Spring again from hidden roots.
  Pull or stab or cut or burn,
  They will ever yet return.

Gardener, cursing at the weed,
  Ere you curse it further, say:
Who but you planted the seed
  In my fertile heart, one day?
  Ere you curse me further, say!
  New beginnings and new shoots
  Spring again from hidden roots.
  Pull or stab or cut or burn,
  Love must ever yet return.

Friday, May 25, 2012


One or Two Solitary Voices

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), The Transcendentalist:
Amidst the downward tendency and proneness of things, when every voice is raised for a new road or another statute, or a subscription of stock, for an improvement in dress, or in dentistry, for a new house or a larger business, for a political party, or the division of an estate,—will you not tolerate one or two solitary voices in the land, speaking for thoughts and principles not marketable or perishable? Soon these improvements and mechanical inventions will be superseded; these modes of living lost out of memory; these cities rotted, ruined by war, by new inventions, by new seats of trade, or the geologic changes:—all gone, like the shells which sprinkle the sea beach with a white colony to-day, forever renewed to be forever destroyed. But the thoughts which these few hermits strove to proclaim by silence, as well as by speech, not only by what they did, but by what they forbore to do, shall abide in beauty and strength, to reorganize themselves in nature, to invest themselves anew in other, perhaps higher endowed and happier mixed clay than ours, in fuller union with the surrounding system.


The Cottage

Robert Graves (1895-1985), The Cottage:
Here in turn succeed and rule
Carter, smith, and village fool,
Then again the place is known
As tavern, shop, and Sunday-school;
Now somehow it's come to me
To light the fire and hold the key,
Here in Heaven to reign alone.

All the walls are white with lime,
Big blue periwinkles climb
And kiss the crumbling window-sill;
Snug inside I sit and rhyme,
Planning poem, book, or fable,
At my darling beech-wood table
Fresh with bluebells from the hill.

Through the window I can see
Rooks above the cherry-tree,
Sparrows in the violet bed,
Bramble-bush and bumble-bee,
And old red bracken smoulders still
Among boulders on the hill,
Far too bright to seem quite dead.

But old Death, who can't forget,
Waits his time and watches yet,
Waits and watches by the door.
Look, he's got a great new net,
And when my fighting starts afresh
Stouter cord and smaller mesh
Won't be cheated as before.

Nor can kindliness of Spring,
Flowers that smile nor birds that sing,
Bumble-bee nor butterfly,
Nor grassy hill nor anything
Of magic keep me safe to rhyme
In this Heaven beyond my time.
No! for Death is waiting by.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Attic Greek

H.W. Garrod (1878-1960), Scholarship: Its Meaning and Value (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946), pp. 67-68:
About the Greek drama in itself, I will add, I feel still a fundamental disquiet. It seems to me a never properly adjusted fusion between two elements which, for convenience, I will call the Attic and the Doric. When I was a boy in one of the lower forms at school, we used to read the dialogue parts (for they were Attic) and leave out the choruses—they were too hard. Now I read the choruses and leave out the rest; and I await the day when somebody will have the courage to say that the Greek drama was spoiled by becoming Attic. People have complained of Gilbert Murray for rendering the non-choric portions of Greek tragedy by rhymed verse. But here, though not everywhere perhaps, he knew what he was doing. The rhymed decasyllabic couplets are wanted; for the original has the same jejunity as Pope.

I am going to let the flood of heretical opinion carry me yet further. For the purpose of composition, of the imitatio veterum, our reading in Greek—I speak of Oxford custom—is directed above all upon the Attic writers, prose and verse. When I taught Greek, I could not tell my pupils that these were the worst parts of Greek literature—that the fifth century B.C. marked (except for Plato) a progressive degeneration of language and style. I could not say that, but I believed it. Plato stands in his own circle of light; and the mystery of him—why he is not Attic—I have not the learning to penetrate. But when I read, first Homer, and then Pindar and the great lyrists, and then Herodotus (I think they are still my favourite Greek authors), when, after reading these, I turn to the Attics, I feel myself in a world comparatively mean and in parts of it dowdy. Atticism and the Attic— whether ancient or modern—I believe that in the heart of us we all hate it, or are all a little bored with it, and dare not say so.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012



Excerpts from Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922).

He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new intricate mechanism—metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine gun, oxyacetylene welder—he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated.
"I don’t see why they give us this old-fashioned junk by Milton and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and all these has-beens," he protested. "Oh, I guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and read 'em—These teachers—how do they get that way?”

Mrs. Babbitt, darning socks, speculated, "Yes, I wonder why. Of course I don’t want to fly in the face of the professors and everybody, but I do think there’s things in Shakespeare—not that I read him much, but when I was young the girls used to show me passages that weren't, really, they weren't at all nice."
"Old Shimmy Peters, that teaches Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia and he sits up all night reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about the 'value of languages,' and the poor soak doesn't make but eighteen hundred a year, and no traveling salesman would think of working for that."
"Course I’d never admit it publicly—fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater—but smatter of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent."
"Oh, there's a gang of woolly-whiskered book-lice that think they know more than Almighty God, and prefer a lot of Hun science and smutty German criticism to the straight and simple Word of God."
"Do you know, the other evening Eunice told me her papa speaks three languages!" said Mrs. Babbitt.

"Huh! That's nothing! So do I—American, baseball, and poker!"
9.i (at a séance):
Mrs. Orville Jones begged, "Oh, let's talk to Dante! We studied him at the Reading Circle. You know who he was, Orvy."

"Certainly I know who he was! The Wop poet. Where do you think I was raised?" from her insulted husband.

"Sure—the fellow that took the Cook's Tour to Hell. I’ve never waded through his po'try, but we learned about him in the U.," said Babbitt.

"Page Mr. Dannnnnty!" intoned Eddie Swanson.

"You ought to get him easy, Mr. Frink, you and he being fellow-poets," said Louetta Swanson.

"Fellow-poets, rats! Where d' you get that stuff?" protested Vergil Gunch. "I suppose Dante showed a lot of speed for an old-timer—not that I've actually read him, of course—but to come right down to hard facts, he wouldn't stand one-two-three if he had to buckle down to practical literature and turn out a poem for the newspaper-syndicate every day, like Chum does!"

"That's so," from Eddie Swanson. "Those old birds could take their time. Judas Priest, I could write poetry myself if I had a whole year for it, and just wrote about that old-fashioned junk like Dante wrote about."
To them, the Romantic Hero was no longer the knight, the wandering poet, the cowpuncher, the aviator, nor the brave young district attorney, but the great sales-manager, who had an Analysis of Merchandizing Problems on his glass-topped desk, whose title of nobility was "Go-getter," and who devoted himself and all his young samurai to the cosmic purpose of Selling—not of selling anything in particular, or to anybody in particular, but pure Selling.
As he approached the office he walked faster and faster, muttering, "Guess better hustle." All about him the city was hustling, for hustling's sake. Men in motors were hustling to pass one another in the hustling traffic. Men were hustling to catch trolleys, with another trolley a minute behind, and to leap from the trolleys, to gallop across the sidewalk, to hurl themselves into buildings, into hustling express elevators. Men in dairy lunches were hustling to gulp down the food which cooks had hustled to fry. Men in barber shops were snapping, "Jus' shave me once over. Gotta hustle." Men were feverishly getting rid of visitors in offices adorned with the signs, "This Is My Busy Day" and "The Lord Created the World in Six Days—You Can Spiel All You Got to Say in Six Minutes." Men who had made five thousand, year before last, and ten thousand last year, were urging on nerve-yelping bodies and parched brains so that they might make twenty thousand this year; and the men who had broken down immediately after making their twenty thousand dollars were hustling to catch trains, to hustle through the vacations which the hustling doctors had ordered.

Among them Babbitt hustled back to his office, to sit down with nothing much to do except see that the staff looked as though they were hustling.
Upon this theology he rarely pondered. The kernel of his practical religion was that it was respectable, and beneficial to one’s business, to be seen going to services; that the church kept the Worst Elements from being still worse; and that the pastor’s sermons, however dull they might seem at the time of taking, yet had a voodooistic power which "did a fellow good—kept him in touch with Higher Things."
"Now, I want to confess that, though I'm a literary guy by profession, I don't care a rap for all this long-haired music. I'd rather listen to a good jazz band any time than to some piece by Beethoven that hasn't any more tune to it than a bunch of fighting cats, and you couldn't whistle it to save your life!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Perusta Solibus

In ancient Greece, pale skin was a mark of female pulchritude. Homer applies the adjective "white-armed" (λευκώλενος) to various beauties, human and divine. A woman's place was normally indoors, and if she ventured outside, she often used an umbrella, not to protect herself from the rain, but to shield herself from the sun's rays. Women smeared white lead on their faces to enhance their natural pallor.

It was a sign of effeminacy, on the other hand, for ancient Greek men to be pale. Men were supposed to spend most of their time outdoors. As a result, the macho Greek man had tanned skin, while only sissy boys were pale.

Fashions change. New Jersey mother Patricia Krentcil goes to tanning salons twenty times a month, or did so before she was banned from them, after her arrest for allegedly taking her five year old daughter with her. In an interview with Mara Schiavocampo (May 21, 2012), Krentcil said, "I'm sorry. I'm tan. I like to be tan. It just feels good." It may feel good, but it doesn't look good:

Related posts:

Monday, May 21, 2012


Two Little Houses

Suetonius, De Grammmaticis 11.3 (tr. J.C. Rolfe; on the poet P. Valerius Cato):
He reached an advanced age, but in extreme poverty and almost in destitution, buried in a little hovel, after he had given up his villa at Tusculum to his creditors, as Bibaculus tells us:
If haply one has seen my Cato's house,
His shingles stained with red,
His garden over which Priapus watched:
One can but wonder by what training he
To such a height of wisdom has attained
That three small cabbages, half a pound of meal,
And clusters twain of grapes beneath one roof
Suffice for him when well-nigh at life's end.
The Latin:
vixit ad extremam senectam, sed in summa pauperie et paene inopia, abditus modico gurgustio, postquam Tusculana villa creditoribus cesserat, ut auctor est Bibaculus:
si quis forte mei domum Catonis,
depictas minio assulas, et illos
custodis videt hortulos Priapi:
miratur, quibus ille disciplinis
tantum sit sapientiam assecutus,
quem tres cauliculi, selibra farris,
racemi duo tegula sub una
ad summam prope nutriant senectam.
Robert A. Kaster's edition of Suetonius, De Grammaticis (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1995), is unavailable to me. For commentary on Bibaculus' verses, see Edward Courtney, ed., The Fragmentary Latin Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993; rpt. 2003), pp. 192-193, and Adrian S. Hollis, ed., Fragments of Roman Poetry c. 60 BC-AD 20 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 138-139.

Leonidas, in Greek Anthology 6.226 (tr. W.R. Paton):
This is Clito's little cottage, this his little strip of land to sow, and the scanty vineyard hard by, this is his patch of brushwood, but here Clito passed eighty years.
The same, tr. Kenneth Rexroth:
Here is Klito's little shack.
Here is his little corn-patch.
Here is his tiny vineyard.
Here is his little woodlot.
Here Klito spent eighty years.
The Greek:
τοῦτ᾽ <ὀλίγον> Κλείτωνος ἐπαύλιον, ἥ τ᾽ ὀλιγῶλαξ
  σπείρεσθαι, λιτός θ᾽ ὁ σχεδὸν ἀμπελεὼν,
τοῦτό τε † ῥωπεῖον ὀλιγόξυλον· ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τούτοις
  Κλείτων ὀγδώκοντ᾽ ἐξεπέρησ' ἔτεα.
I don't have access to A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, edd., The Garland of Philip and Some Contemporary Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968).

Related posts:

Sunday, May 20, 2012


An Appropriate Dedication

Agathias Scholasticus, in Greek Anthology 6.32 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Charicles by the wooded hill offered to Pan who loves the rock this yellow, bearded goat, a horned creature to the horned, a hairy one to the hairy-legged, a bounding one to the deft leaper, a denizen of the woods to the forest god.
Δικραίρῳ δικέρωτα, δασυκνάμῳ δασυχαίταν,
  ἴξαλον εὐσκάρθμῳ, λόχμιον ὑλοβάτᾳ,
Πανὶ φιλοσκοπέλῳ λάσιον παρὰ πρῶνα Χαρικλῆς
  κνακὸν ὑπηνήταν τόνδ᾽ ἀνέθηκε τράγον.
The vocabulary seems a bit recherché, at least to me. Some dictionary definitions:

1 δίκραιος: forked, cleft
1 δικέρως: two-horned
1 δασύκνημος: shaggy-legged
1 δασυχαίτης: shaggy-haired
2 ἴξαλος: bounding, springing
2 εὔσκαρθμος: swift-springing, bounding
2 λόχμιος = λοχμαῖος: of the coppice
2 ὑλοβάτης: one who haunts the woods
3 φιλοσκόπελος: loving rocks
3 λάσιος: shaggy
3 πρών: foreland, headland
4 κνηκός: pale yellow, tawny
4 ὑπηνήτης: bearded

Saturday, May 19, 2012



W. Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), A Bookman's Letters (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913), p. 217:
Reading has been the chief pleasure of my life. It has given me so much pleasure that I feel that I am in danger of falling into extravagance when I speak of it. The pleasure has gone on increasing, and is stronger now than ever. Of many things we grow weary in the course of years, but nowadays I have a greater happiness in reading than ever I had before, and I am thankful that this is so. For reading is not an expensive nor an unreachable pleasure. It is within the power of all to get the joy of reading, and the independence of reading, for it means a great deal of independence and separation from care. Besides, it is an elevating pleasure if the books are rightly chosen, and ought to brighten and elevate and purify the character. It is always more pleasant to meet with one who is a bookman than with one who is not. I always feel safe and comfortable and happy in the presence of any one who is really fond of reading.


Up in Smoke

W. Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), A Bookman's Letters (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913), p. 113 (on George Augustus Simcox):
His temperament did not fit him for the routine work of a tutorship, though the best men enjoyed his teaching. He could be very sarcastic with duller pupils. To one such, in handing him back his copy of prose, he said with his peculiar smile and gurgling chuckle: 'Do you smoke?' 'Yes, sir,' replied the youth, expecting to be offered the opportunity. 'Then you can take this to light your cigar,' replied Simcox with further chucklings.
Prose is of course to be understood here in Oxford English Dictionary sense 2.b: "a passage of Greek or Latin prose composed or (more usually) translated as an exercise."

Friday, May 18, 2012


The Rise of Silas Lapham

Excerpts from William Dean Howells (1837-1920), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).

"I wish some of the people that talk about the landscape, and write about it, had to bu'st one of them rocks out of the landscape with powder, or dig a hole to bury it in, as we used to have to do up on the farm; I guess they'd sing a little different tune about the profanation of scenery. There ain't any man enjoys a sightly bit of nature—a smooth piece of interval with half a dozen good-sized wine-glass elms in it—more than I do. But I ain't a-going to stand up for every big ugly rock I come across, as if we were all a set of dumn Druids. I say the landscape was made for man, and not man for the landscape."
The silken texture of the marriage tie bears a daily strain of wrong and insult to which no other human relation can be subjected without lesion; and sometimes the strength that knits society together might appear to the eye of faltering faith the curse of those immediately bound by it. Two people by no means reckless of each other's rights and feelings, but even tender of them for the most part, may tear at each other's heart-strings in this sacred bond with perfect impunity; though if they were any other two they would not speak or look at each other again after the outrages they exchange. It is certainly a curious spectacle, and doubtless it ought to convince an observer of the divinity of the institution.
"But I don't see how a fellow like that, that's had every advantage in this world, can hang round home and let his father support him. Seems to me, if I had his health and his education, I should want to strike out and do something for myself....I like to see a man act like a man. I don't like to see him taken care of like a young lady. Now, I suppose that fellow belongs to two or three clubs, and hangs around 'em all day, lookin' out the window,—I’ve seen 'em,—instead of tryin' to hunt up something to do for an honest livin'."
"It seems to me that you're exacting, sir," said the son. "How can you expect people who have been strictly devoted to business to be grammatical? Isn't that rather too much?"
"I can't get the time for books. It's as much as I can do to keep up with the newspapers; and when night comes, I'm tired, and I'd rather go out to the theatre, or a lecture, if they've got a good stereopticon to give you views of the places. But I guess we all like a play better than 'most anything else. I want something that'll make me laugh. I don't believe in tragedy. I think there's enough of that in real life without putting it on the stage."
"She reads a great deal," admitted her mother. "She seems to be at it the whole while. I don’t want she should injure her health, and sometimes I feel like snatchin' the books away from her. I don’t know as it's good for a girl to read so much, anyway, especially novels. I don’t want she should get notions."
"The most that we can do is to hope for the best till we know the worst. Of course we shall make the best of the worst when it comes."

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Nation of Issimi

Dear Mike,

 Superlatives obviously didn't suit Emerson, but surely this is essentially a matter of pitch, which may be set anywhere? (Admittedly, if you are always screaming, it is hard to yell). Italian wines, in my experience, are best drunk in Italy. They do not export well, nor is it easy to accommodate the superlatives of a Nation of Issimi in English translation. Leigh Hunt, I think, succeeded best, albeit with some slight padding. He is at his best in his version of Bacchus in Tuscany (1825). Like much humorous Italian verse, Francesco Redi's vivacious headlong dithyramb Bacco in Toscana (1685) revels in the absurdities and exaggerations of the language. It includes such lines as:

Ariana mia bellissima
Crescerà sì tua vaghezza,
Che nel fior di giovinezza
Parrai Venere stessissima      (edition of 1748, p.10)

Hunt translates:

Drink it, Ariadne mine,
And sweet as you are,
'Twill make you so sweet, so perfect and fair,
You'll be Venus at her best,
Venus Venusissimest.            (Milford's edition of The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, 1923, p.469)

Later on:

Ma se vivo costantissimo
Nel volerlo arcifreddissimo    (1748 edition, p.19)

is rendered by Hunt as:

But if still, as I ought to do,
I love any wine iced through and through,
If I will have it (and none beside)
Superultrafrostified.              (Milford, p.472)

Naturally, the Mississippi is the favorite American river of a Nation of Issimi. Rossini's La Pietra del Paragone includes a famous comic aria allusiva eroico-bernesca on a 'scornful little ghost of the Mississippi,' Ombretta sdegnosa del Mississippi, in which the reduplicated syllables are fully savored.

As ever,
Ian Jackson

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


War Against the Superlative Degree

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (May 18, 1833):
The Italians use the Superlative too much. Mr. Landor calls them the nation of issimi. A man, to tell me that this was the same thing I had before, said, "È l'istessissima cosa;" and at the trattoria, when I asked if the cream was good, the waiter answered, "Stupendo."
Id. (December 3, 1836):
I have been making war against the superlative degree in the rhetoric of my fair visitor. She has no positive degree in her description of characters & scenes. You would think she had dwelt in a museum where all things were extremes & extraordinary. Her good people are very good, her naughty so naughty that they cannot be eaten. But beside the superlative of her mind, she has a superlative of grammar which is suicidal & defeats its end. Her minds are "most perfect" "most exquisite" & "most masculine." I tell her the positive degree is the sinew of speech, the superlative is the fat. "Surely all that is simple is sufficient for all that is good," said Madame de Stael. And when at a trattoria in Florence I asked the waiter if the cream was good, the man replied, 'yes, sir, stupendous': Si, signore, stupendo.
Id. (October 26, 1838):
Superlatives in conversation have the effect of diminutives or negatives. "An exquisite delightful angel of a child," probably means a child not engaging.


Reading the Dictionary

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (November 20, 1859):
Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy is a wonderful work of a man. To read it however is much like reading in a dictionary. I think we read it as an inventory to be reminded how many classes & species of facts exist &, by observing in to what strange & multiplex byways learning hath strayed, agreeably infer our opulence. A dictionary however is not a bad book to read. There is no cant in it. No excess of explanation. And it is very suggestive, full of inferences undrawn. There is all poetry & all prose & needs nothing but a little combination. See what hosts of forgotten scholars he feeds us withal.
Id. (April 1867):
Alcott told me, that he found a dictionary fascinating: he looked out a word, & the morning was gone; for he was led on to another word, & so on & on. It required abandonment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Fellow Students

Cicero, On Friendship 27.104 (tr. William Armistead Falconer):
Why need I speak of our constant devotion to understanding and to learning in which, remote from the gaze of men, we spent our leisure time?
nam quid ego de studiis dicam cognoscendi semper aliquid atque discendi, in quibus remoti ab oculis populi omne otiosum tempus contrivimus?


What Is Man?

J. Howard Moore (1862-1916), The Universal Kinship (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1916), pp. 239-240:
Instead of the highest, man is in some respects the lowest, of the animal kingdom. Man is the most unchaste, the most drunken, the most selfish and conceited, the most miserly, the most hypocritical, and the most bloodthirsty of terrestrial creatures. Almost no animals, except man, kill for the mere sake of killing. For one being to take the life of another for purposes of selfish utility is bad enough. But the indiscriminate massacre of defenceless innocents by armed and organised packs, just for pastime, is beyond characterisation. The human species is the only species of animals that plunges to such depths of atrocity. Even vipers and hyenas do not exterminate for recreation. No animal, except man, habitually seeks wealth purely out of an insane impulse to accumulate. And no animal, except man, gloats over accumulations that are of no possible use to him, that are an injury and an abomination, and in whose acquisition he may have committed irreparable crimes upon others. There are no millionaires—no professional, legalised, lifelong kleptomaniacs—among the birds and quadrupeds. No animal, except man, spends so large a part of his energies striving for superiority—not superiority in usefulness, but that superiority which consists in simply getting on the heads of one's fellows. And no animal practises common, ordinary morality to the other beings of the world in which he lives so little, compared with the amount he preaches it, as man.

Monday, May 14, 2012


A Ruthless, Brutal Process

John Donne, Meditation XVII:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
Edward Abbey, "The Dead Man at Grandview Point," from Desert Solitaire:
Each man's death diminishes me? Not necessarily. Given this man's age, the inevitability and suitability of his death, and the essential nature of life on earth, there is in each of us the unspeakable conviction that we are well rid of him. His departure makes room for the living. Away with the old, in with the new. He is gone—we remain, others come. The plow of mortality drives through the stubble, turns over rocks and sod and weeds to cover the old, the worn-out, the husks, shells, empty seedpods and sapless roots, clearing the field for the next crop. A ruthless, brutal process—but clean and beautiful.
According to James M. Cahalan, Edward Abbey: A Life (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001), p. 68, the date of this episode was August 11-12, 1957, and the man died at Upheaval Dome, not Grandview Point. See "Lost Stockton Man Found Dead," Lodi News-Sentinel, Thursday, August 15, 1957, p. 5, with the dateline "Moab, Utah, Aug. 14—(UPS)," retrieved from Google News Archive:
The body of a Stockton, Calif., man lost since last weekend when he walked into a rugged mountain area near here, was found by a search party today.
The man, Clinton Kjar, 69, apparently died from a heart attack, authorities said. His body was found in the Upheaval Dome area of Grand county in Southern Utah.
Kjar was a government food processor in Stockton.
Related post: Cactus Ed's Funeral Instructions.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


All Things to All Men

St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 9.19-22:
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω·
καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω·
τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους·
ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω.
Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades 23.5 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
In Sparta, he was all for bodily training, simplicity of life, and severity of countenance; in Ionia, for luxurious ease and pleasure; in Thrace, for drinking deep; in Thessaly, for riding hard; and when he was thrown with Tissaphernes the satrap, he outdid even Persian magnificence in his pomp and lavishness. It was not that he could so easily pass entirely from one manner of man to another, nor that he actually underwent in every case a change in his real character; but when he saw that his natural manners were likely to be annoying to his associates, he was quick to assume any counterfeit exterior which might in each case be suitable for them.
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν Σπάρτῃ γυμναστικός, εὐτελής, σκυθρωπός, ἐν Ἰωνίᾳ χλιδανός, ἐπιτερπής, ῥᾴθυμος, ἐν Θράκῃ μεθυστικός, ἐν Θετταλοῖς ἱππαστικός, Τισαφέρνῃ δὲ τῷ σατράπῃ συνὼν ὑπερέβαλεν ὄγκῳ καὶ πολυτελείᾳ τὴν Περσικὴν μεγαλοπρέπειαν, οὐχ αὑτὸν ἐξιστὰς οὕτω ῥᾳδίως εἰς ἕτερον ἐξ ἑτέρου τρόπον, οὐδὲ πᾶσαν δεχόμενος τῷ ἤθει μεταβολήν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι τῇ φύσει χρώμενος ἔμελλε λυπεῖν τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας, εἰς πᾶν ἀεὶ τὸ πρόσφορον ἐκείνοις σχῆμα καὶ πλάσμα κατεδύετο καὶ κατέφευγεν.
See Clarence E. Glad, Paul and Philodemus: Adaptability in Epicurean and Early Christian Psychagogy (Leiden: Brill, 1995), pp. 29-30.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


American Culture

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Olson," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 80-99 (at 86-87, footnote omitted, link added):
What has happened to American culture (Melville observed that we are more a world than a nation) is a new disintegration that comes hard upon our integration. A new daimon has got into the world, a daimon that cancels place (American cities all look like each other), depletes the world's supply of fossil fuel (if anybody's around to make the statement, our time can be put into a sentence: the Late Pleistocene ate the Eocene), transforms the mind into a vacuum ("Do they grow there?" a New Yorker asked of the offshore rocks at Gloucester) which must then be filled with evaporating distractions called entertainment. Olson was too intelligent to give a name to this daimon; he was aware of the names Ruskin and Pound had given it, but a cooperation between greed and governments is far too mild a monster for Olson's vision. He was of De Gaulle's opinion that we are the first civilization to have bred our own barbarians: De Gaulle was alluding to the masked rioters stomping down the Boulevard St.-Germain in May of '68; Olson would have meant the automobiles with their hind ends up like the butts of hemorrhoidal jackrabbits that squawl their tires and are driven by a hunnish horde of young who have been taught nothing, can do nothing, and exhibit a lemming restlessness. Their elders are scarcely more settled or more purposeful to themselves or their neighbors.
A shift in attention allows the jungle in.
As the expression goes, "Tell us what you really think, Guy." These may have been Charles Olson's opinions, but they were also clearly Davenport's.

Automobiles, in particular, were one of Davenport's bêtes noires. In his essay on Whitman (id., p. 78), he says:
The largest American business is the automobile, the mechanical cockroach that has eaten our cities; that and armaments.
Similarly, in his essay "Finding" (id., p. 361):
I walk everywhere, rejecting the internal combustion engine as an effete surrender to laziness and the ignoble advantage of convenience.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Klein aber Mein

Hávamál, stanza 36, tr. W.H. Auden and P.B. Taylor:
A small hut of one's own is better,
A man is his master at home:
A couple of goats and a corded roof
Still are better than begging.
The same, tr. Henry Adams Bellows in The Poetic Edda (New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1923), p. 36:
Better a house,         though a hut it be,
A man is master at home;
A pair of goats        and a patched-up roof
Are better far than begging.
The same, tr. Olive Bray in The Elder or Poetic Edda, Part I (London: Printed for the Viking Club, 1908), p. 71:
One's own house is best,         though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats         and a bark-thatched hut
'tis better than craving a boon.
The same, tr. D. E. Martin Clarke in The Hávamál: With Selections from Other Poems of The Edda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923; rpt. 2011), p. 53:
A house of your own is better, though it is only a little one. Every man is a person of consequence at home. Even if you only have two goats and a cottage thatched with fibre it is better than begging.
Old Norse:
Bú er betra
þótt lítit sé
halr er heima hverr
þótt tvær geitr
eigi ok taugreptan sal
þat er þó betra an bœn
Related posts:

Thursday, May 10, 2012


A Chip Off the Old Block

Anatoly Liberman, "Ten Scandinavian and North English Etymologies," Alvíssmál 6 (1996) 63–98 (at 79; links added by me):
Very early in its history, Germanic developed the syncretism 'child'/'wood'. Compare, for example, Engl. chit 'young of a beast, very young person' (as in chit of a child, chit of a girl, and the like) and 'potato shoot' recorded in the seventeenth century on the one hand and OE cīþ 'shoot, sprout, seed, mote in the eye' on the other; Germ. Kind 'child' and Old Saxon cîthlêk 'tax on bundles of wood'. The association could have been from 'offshoot' to 'child', as in imp, scion, stripling, slip, or from 'chip off an old block', or even from 'stub, stump' (something formless, "swollen") to 'child'. In studying the history of German words for 'boy, lad', one constantly runs into nouns designating 'peg, stump, bundle', etc. (see the etymology of Bengel, Knabe, Knecht, Knirps, and Striezel in etymological dictionaries). The most complete list of such words can be found in Much 1909. In the Scandinavian picture of the world, the descent of human beings from trees (Askr and Embla) finds the well-known complement in skaldic kennings for 'man' and 'woman'. Outside Germania, the Pinocchio myth points in the same direction.
"Much 1909" is a reference to Rudolf Much, "Holz und Mensch," Wörter und Sachen 1 (1909) 39–48.

Related post: Men Born from Trees.


Janitors with Ph.D.'s

Between 2007 and 2010, according to Stacey Patton, "The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps," Chronicle of Higher Education (May 6, 2012):
[T]he number of people with Ph.D.'s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655.
Richard Vedder, "Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College?" Chronicle of Higher Education (October 20, 2010):
[T]here are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.
Nowadays someone with a Ph.D. would be lucky to get a job as a janitor. A few years ago, my daughter told me how much one of her friends (with no education after high school) was earning in his entry-level janitor job. It was more than I was then earning in my so-called "professional" white-collar job.

In 1981, not long after getting a Ph.D. in classics, I was temporarily out of work, and I applied for a job as a janitor. On my application, I didn't mention any of my college degrees, and simply said that I was a high school graduate. I wasn't hired, despite prior experience working as a janitor.

Gac Filipaj had the right idea. While working as a janitor at Columbia University, he took advantage of free tuition and, at the rate of one or two courses a semester, he eventually earned a B.A. in classics. Now he wants to continue towards the M.A. or Ph.D.

Hat tip: Underbelly (via email) and Mangan's.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012



Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Another Odyssey," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 29-44 (at 34):
Translation involves two languages; the translator is in constant danger of inventing a third that lies between, a treacherous nonexistent language suggested by the original and not recognized by the language into which the original is being transposed.


The Falernian Fellows

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Hearts-of-Gold:
'Twere pity, if true,
What the pewterer said—
Hearts-of-gold be few.
Howbeit, when snug in my bed,
And the firelight flickers and yellows,
I dream of the hearts-of-gold sped—
The Falernian fellows—
Hafiz and Horace,
And Beranger—all
Dexterous tumblers eluding the Fall,
Fled? can be sped?
But the marygold's morris
Is danced o'er their head;
But their memory mellows,
Embalmed and becharmed,
Hearts-of-gold and good fellows!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (December 28, 1856):
I thrive best on solitude. If I have had a companion only one day in a week, unless it were one or two I could name, I find that the value of the week to me has been seriously affected. It dissipates my days, and often it takes me another week to get over it. As the Esquimaux of Smith's Strait in North Greenland laughed when Kane warned them of their utter extermination, cut off as they were by ice on all sides from the race, unless they attempted in season to cross the glacier southward, so do I laugh when you tell me of the danger of impoverishing myself by isolation. It is here that the walrus and the seal, and the white bear, and the eider ducks and auks on which I batten, most abound.

Monday, May 07, 2012


From a Library Window

Arundell Esdaile (1880-1956), From a Library Window, in Poems and Translations (London: Elkin Matthews, 1906), pp. 37-38:
(The Compendium Theologicae Veritatis and a poplar.)

These leaves spoke once to the live hearts of men
  Words full of faith and wisdom; but to-day
  More dead than drift in winter woods are they,
With less of power to wake and live again.

See through the window, green and silver-grey,
  Like a sun-flecked and willow-shaded pool,
  The poplar ripples, till the London day,
Dusty and hot, seems fresh once more and cool.

This printed page speaks from the past to me
  Of creeds grown false, of thoughts long dead and vain.
When Nature turns her leaves, what do I see?
Life shines and whispers in that living tree,
  Sweet as the sudden rush of evening rain.


Dressed to Kill

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Narrative Tone and Form," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 308-318 (at 312-313):
The action of the Iliad lasts fifty-five days. The twenty-eighth day (Book X), or time-center of the epic, finds the Argives on their night raid into the Trojan lines. Agamemnon dresses in a lionskin, Menelaos in that of a leopard; Odysseus wears the helmet of his thieving grandfather Autolykos (The Wolf). Dolon, the Trojan spy they encounter, wears a wolf's hide. Greek and Trojan alike have become stalking nocturnal animals. Homer has measured out the days of his poem so that there are twenty-seven days + a day on which men dress as animals and act with brutal cunning + twenty-seven days.
One might get the impression from Davenport's words that Agamemnon, Menelaos, and Odysseus went on the night raid. But of course the raiding party in the Doloneia consisted only of Odysseus and Diomedes. The teeth of a boar decorated Odysseus' helmet (10.263-265). Diomedes not only wore a lionskin (10.177-178), but is explicitly compared to a lion during his killing spree (10.485-488). In addition to a wolf's hide (10.334), the Trojan spy Dolon also wore a cap made from the skin of a marten (10.335), a small but fierce animal. After Odysseus and Diomedes captured and interrogated Dolon, they killed him and took his outfit (wolf's hide and marten-skin cap) as spoils to dedicate to the goddess Athena (10.458-464, 10.570-571). 

As for Odysseus and his grandfather Autolycus ("Wolf Himself" or "Very Wolf"?), George Melville Bolling, "The Etymology of ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ," American Journal of Philology 27 (1906) 65-67, conjectured that the name Odysseus is derived from the name Autolycus. A howling wolf lurks behind my own last name.

I haven't seen Louis Gernet, "Dolon the Wolf," in The Anthopology of Ancient Greece, tr. John Hamilton and Blaise Nagy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 125-139.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


On the Move, Then and Now

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Whitman," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 68-79 (at 72):
And at the center of all Whitman's poetry there is movement. His age walked with a sprier step than ours; it bounced in buckboard and carriage; a man on a horse has his blood shaken and his muscles pulled. A man in an automobile is as active as a sloth; an airplane ride offers no activity more strenuous than turning the pages of a magazine. Dullness, constant numbing dullness, was the last thing Whitman would have thought of America, but that is what has happened.
Thanks to Ian Jackson for giving me a copy of this splendid book. If my life had taken a slightly different turn, I might have met and perhaps even taken a class from Davenport, who taught at the University of Kentucky from 1963 to 1990. In 1972 I was interested in patristics and wanted to go to graduate school. I applied to the University of Kentucky because Louis Swift, a specialist in patristics, taught there. But the University of Kentucky didn't offer a Ph.D. in classics, and so I decided to go elsewhere.



Ovid, Metamorphoses, tr. Frank Justus Miller, 3rd ed., rev. G.P. Goold, Volume I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), in the Loeb Classical Library series.

4.30 (pp. 180-181):
longoque foramine buxus

the shrill piping of the flute
"Shrill" describes a high-pitched sound, but the longer the air column of a wind instrument, the lower the pitch. A fife or a penny whistle, with a short bore, emits higher notes than a flute with a longer bore, other things being equal. Thus a boxwood flute (buxus) with a long bore (longo foramine) doesn't necessarily produce a shrill sound. Instead of "the shrill piping of the flute" translate "the long-bored flute".

4.48 (pp. 182-183):
albis in turribus

on high battlements
Manuscripts are divided between albis and altis. Miller and Goold print albis, but translate altis. Translate "on white battlements" or "on shining battlements".

4.261 (pp. 196-197):
sedit humo nuda nudis incompta capillis.

she sat upon the bare ground, naked, bareheaded, unkempt.
Scansion shows that nuda (or, with long marks, nūdā) modifies humo. The ground was bare, but the nymph wasn't naked, so far as we know. Translate "she sat on the bare ground, bareheaded, unkempt."


Saturday, May 05, 2012


Song of the One Percent

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–1861), Spectator ab Extra, from Dipsychus:
As I sat at the café, I said to myself,
They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,
They may sneer as they like about eating and drinking,
But help it I cannot, I cannot help thinking,
  How pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  How pleasant it is to have money.

I sit at my table en grand seigneur,
And when I have done, throw a crust to the poor;
Not only the pleasure, one’s self, of good living,
But also the pleasure of now and then giving.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

It was but last winter I came up to town,
But already I’m getting a little renown;
I make new acquaintance where’er I appear;
I am not too shy, and have nothing to fear.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

I drive through the streets, and I care not a d—n;
The people they stare, and they ask who I am;
And if I should chance to run over a cad,
I can pay for the damage if ever so bad.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

We stroll to our box and look down on the pit,
And if it weren’t low should be tempted to spit;
We loll and we talk until people look up,
And when it’s half over we go out to sup.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

The best of the tables and the best of the fare—
And as for the others, the devil may care;
It isn’t our fault if they dare not afford
To sup like a prince and be drunk as a lord.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

We sit at our tables and tipple champagne;
Ere one bottle goes, comes another again;
The waiters they skip and they scuttle about,
And the landlord attends us so civilly out.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

It was but last winter I came up to town,
But already I’m getting a little renown;
I get to good houses without much ado,
Am beginning to see the nobility too.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

O dear! what a pity they ever should lose it!
For they are the gentry that know how to use it;
So grand and so graceful, such manners, such dinners,
But yet, after all, it is we are the winners.
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

Thus I sat at my table en grand seigneur,
And when I had done threw a crust to the poor;
Not only the pleasure, one’s self, of good eating.
But also the pleasure of now and then treating,
  So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  So pleasant it is to have money.

They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,
And how one ought never to think of one’s self,
And how pleasures of thought surpass eating and drinking—
My pleasure of thought is the pleasure of thinking
  How pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
  How pleasant it is to have money.

Friday, May 04, 2012


A Donkey's Shadow

Aristophanes, Wasps 190-191 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Leave me alone, or we'll soon be fighting.
Fighting about what?
The donkey's shadow!
εἰ μή μ᾽ ἐάσεθ᾽ ἥσυχον, μαχούμεθα.
περὶ τοῦ μαχεῖ νῷν δῆτα;
περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ὄνος, explain περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς as "for an ass's shadow, i.e. for a trifle."

"A donkey's shadow" is an ancient proverb ripe for modern revival. When I listen to contemporary debates about politics or religion, I am often tempted to say, "A donkey's shadow."

Renzo Tosi, Dicionário de Sentenças Latinas e Gregas, tr. Ivone Castilho Benedetti (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1996), pp. 230-231 (#488 = Περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς), cites most of the ancient evidence for this proverb, including the following literary references.

Aristophanes, fragment 192 Kock = Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta I, 437 (from Daedalus; I don't have access to Kassel-Austin, but I think this is their fragment 199; my translation):
What's the battle about now? About a donkey's shadow.
περὶ τοῦ γὰρ ὑμῖν ὁ πόλεμος νῦν ἐστι; περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς
Sophocles, fragment 331 Radt (from the satyr play Celadion, my translation):
Whatever happens, this is all a donkey's shadow.
ὅσ' ἂν γένηται ταῦτα πάντ' ὄνου σκιά.
Plato, Phaedrus 260c (where some editors excise σκιᾶς = shadow), tr. H.N. Fowler:
Then when the orator who does not know what good and evil are undertakes to persuade a state which is equally ignorant, not by praising the "shadow of an ass" under the name of a horse, but by praising evil under the name of good, and having studied the opinions of the multitude persuades them to do evil instead of good, what harvest do you suppose his oratory will reap thereafter from the seed he has sown?
ὅταν οὖν ὁ ῥητορικὸς ἀγνοῶν ἀγαθὸν καὶ κακόν, λαβὼν πόλιν ὡσαύτως ἔχουσαν πείθῃ, μὴ περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς ὡς ἵππου τὸν ἔπαινον ποιούμενος, ἀλλὰ περὶ κακοῦ ὡς ἀγαθοῦ, δόξας δὲ πλήθους μεμελετηκὼς πείσῃ κακὰ πράττειν ἀντ᾽ ἀγαθῶν, ποῖόν τιν᾽ ἂν οἴει μετὰ ταῦτα τὴν ῥητορικὴν;
Archippus (late 5th-early 4th century BC) wrote a comedy with the title ὄνου σκιά = a donkey's shadow. See Suda, omicron 400 Adler, who cites Aristotle's Didascaliae (fragment 625 Rose), and Zenobius 6.28, in E.L. von Leutsch and F.G. Schneidewin, Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum, Vol. I (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1839), pp. 169-170 (at 170, lines 18-19).

Lucian, Hermotimus 71 (tr. Augusta M. Campbell Davidson):
All philosophers are contending as it were for an ass's shadow.
ἀλλὰ πάντες, ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν, περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς μάχονται οἱ φιλοσοφοῦντες.
Dio Chrysostom 34.48 (tr. H. Lamar Crosby):
And whether it is a question of Aegaeans quarrelling with you [Tarsians], or Apameans with men of Antioch, or, to go farther afield, Smyrnaeans with Ephesians, it is an ass's shadow, as the saying goes, over which they squabble; for the right to lead and to wield authority belongs to others.
καὶ εἴτε Αἰγαῖοι πρὸς ὑμᾶς εἴτε Ἀπαμεῖς πρὸς Ἀντιοχεῖς εἴτε ἐπὶ τῶν πορρωτέρω Σμυρναῖοι πρὸς Ἐφεσίους ἐρίζουσι, περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς, φασί, διαφέρονται. τὸ γὰρ προεστάναι τε καὶ κρατεῖν ἄλλων ἐστίν.
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 9.42 (tr. W. Adlington, rev. S. Gaselee), conflates two Greek proverbs (ὄνου σκιά = a donkey's shadow and ὄνου παράκυψις = a donkey's peeping):
But I, that was an ass very curious and restless in my nature, when I heard so great a noise craned my neck and put my head out of a little window to learn what the stir and tumult did signify. It fortuned that one of the soldiers, spying about, perceived my shadow, whereupon he began to cry, saying that he had certainly seen me: then they were all glad and a great shouting arose, and they brought a ladder and came up into the chamber and pulled me down like a prisoner; and when they had found me, they doubted nothing of the gardener, but seeking about more narrowly, at length they found him couched in a chest. And so they brought out the poor gardener to the justices, who was committed immediately to prison, in order that he might suffer the pain of death; but they could never forbear laughing and jesting how I looked out from my window: from which, and from my shadow, is risen the common proverb of the peeping and shadow of an ass.
The ancient scholiasts, lexicographers, and paroemiographers offer another aetiology of "a donkey's shadow." Tosi gives many citations for the aetiology, but not Aesopica 460 Perry = 339 Halm and Pseudo-Plutarch, Lives of the Ten Orators 8.64-65 = Moralia 848a-b. Here is the story, from the Aesopica, in Laura Gibbs' translation:
They say that during an assembly in Athens, Demosthenes was prevented from making his speech, so he told the audience he wanted to say just a few words. When the audience had fallen silent, Demosthenes began his tale. 'It was summertime, and a young man had hired a donkey to take him from Athens to Megara. At midday, when the sun was blazing hot, the young man and the donkey's driver both wanted to sit in the donkey's shadow. They began to jostle one another, fighting for the spot in the shade. The driver maintained that the man had rented the donkey but not his shadow, while the young man claimed that he had rented both the donkey and all the rights thereto.' Having told this much of the story, Demosthenes then turned his back on the audience and began to walk away. The Athenians shouted at him to stop and begged him to finish the story. 'Indeed!' said Demosthenes. 'You want to hear all about the donkey's shadow, but you refuse to pay attention when someone talks to you about serious matters!'
In the modern retelling of this tale by Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813) in Die Abderiten, Book IV: Der Process um des Esels Schatten, the name of the man who rented the donkey is Struthion, and the name of the donkey's owner is Anthrax.

Also not cited by Tosi is Origen, Against Celsus 3.1 (quoting Celsus; cf. also 3.2 and 3.4; tr. Frederick Crombie):
He gives it as his opinion, that "the controversy between Jews and Christians is a most foolish one," and asserts that "the discussions which we have with each other regarding Christ differ in no respect from what is called in the proverb, 'a fight about the shadow of an ass,'" and thinks that "there is nothing of importance in the investigations of the Jews and Christians: for both believe that it was predicted by the Divine Spirit that one was to come as a Saviour to the human race, but do not yet agree on the point whether the person predicted has actually come or not."
José Sánchez Lasso de la Vega, "Notulae," Emérita 38 (1960) 125–142, discusses the proverb on pp. 133–135, with the unconvincing suggestion that behind the expression is περὶ ὀνείρου σκιᾶς = concerning a dream's shadow.

I haven't seen Herwig Maehler, "Der Streit um den Schatten des Esels," in A.H.S. El-Mosalamy, ed., Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Papyrology, vol. I (Cairo, 1992), pp. 625-633 (discussing P.Berol. 21188 recto).

For more ancient lore and proverbs about donkeys, see Herbert Pierrepont Houghton, Moral Significance of Animals as Indicated in Greek Proverbs (Amherst: Carpenter & Morehouse, 1915 = diss. Johns Hopkins University), pp. 44-48, and Kathleen Freeman, "Vincent, or the Donkey," Greece & Rome  14, No. 41/42 (Jun., 1945) 33-41.

Thanks to Eric Thomson for much help with this post.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Presidential Campaign Slogan

Homer, Iliad 1.117 (tr. A.T. Murray):
Rather would I have the folk safe than perishing.

βούλομ᾿ ἐγὼ λαὸν σῶν ἔμμεναι ἢ ἀπολέσθαι.


What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Edward Abbey (1927-1989), Desert Solitaire:
They work hard, these people. They roll up incredible mileages on their odometers, rack up state after state in two-week transcontinental motor marathons, knock off one national park after another, take millions of square yards of photographs, and endure patiently the most prolonged discomforts: the tedious traffic jams, the awful food of park cafeterias and roadside eateries, the nocturnal search for a place to sleep or camp, the dreary routine of One-Stop Service, the endless lines of creeping traffic, the smell of exhaust fumes, the ever-proliferating Rules & Regulations, the fees and the bills and the service charges, the boiling radiator and the flat tire and the vapor lock, the surly retorts of room clerks and traffic cops, the incessant jostling of the anxious crowds, the irritation and restlessness of their children, the worry of their wives, and the long drive home at night in a stream of racing cars against the lights of another stream racing in the opposite direction, passing now and then the obscure tangle, the shattered glass, the patrolman’s lurid blinker light, of one more wreck.


Inscription on a Wristwatch

Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? (1988; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 311 (on Alan Campbell's decision to enlist in the Army; brackets in original):
Among those praising Alan's decision as deeply courageous was Gerald Murphy, who presented him with a wristwatch engraved with the admiring but melodramatic inscription, QUI SENSAT ACET [He who feels, acts].
I don't know any language in which "qui sensat, acet" is a grammatical or meaningful sentence. Perhaps it's a mistake for Latin "qui sentit, agit". Ian Jackson (via email) agrees and suggests:
I suspect that someone saw the motto in Latin, had it explained to him in English, remembered feeling as "sensitivity" and acting as "agitate" and attempted a memorial reconstruction of the Latin using some such paradigm as "bis dat qui cito dat".


Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Swamp Life

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (May 11, 1858):
My dear Henry,
    A frog was made to live in a swamp, but a man was not made to live in a swamp. Yours ever,
We know from Henry David Thoreau's journals that he spent the afternoon of May 9, two days earlier, in a swamp, studying frogs and frog spawn. But Thoreau's most lyrical evocation of swamp life comes from his journal entry of June 16, 1840:
Would it not be a luxury to stand up to one's chin in some retired swamp for a whole summer's day, scenting the sweet-fern and bilberry blows, and lulled by the minstrelsy of gnats and mosquitoes? A day passed in the society of those Greek sages, such as described in the "Banquet" of Xenophon, would not be comparable with the dry wit of decayed cranberry vines, and the fresh Attic salt of the moss beds. Say twelve hours of genial and familiar converse with the leopard frog. The sun to rise behind alder and dogwood, and climb buoyantly to his meridian of three hands' breadth, and finally sink to rest behind some bold western hummock. To hear the evening chant of the mosquito from a thousand green chapels, and the bittern begin to boom from his concealed fort like a sunset gun! Surely, one may as profitably be soaked in the juices of a marsh for one day, as pick his way dry-shod over sand. Cold and damp,—are they not as rich experience as warmth, and dryness?
Thoreau reworked this journal entry slightly to fashion the following passage from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:
I can fancy that it would be a luxury to stand up to one's chin in some retired swamp a whole summer day, scenting the wild honeysuckle and bilberry blows, and lulled by the minstrelsy of gnats and mosquitoes! A day passed in the society of those Greek sages, such as described in the Banquet of Xenophon, would not be comparable with the dry wit of decayed cranberry vines, and the fresh Attic salt of the moss-beds. Say twelve hours of genial and familiar converse with the leopard frog; the sun to rise behind alder and dogwood, and climb buoyantly to his meridian of two hands' breadth, and finally sink to rest behind some bold western hummock. To hear the evening chant of the mosquito from a thousand green chapels, and the bittern begin to boom from some concealed fort like a sunset gun!—Surely one may as profitably be soaked in the juices of a swamp for one day as pick his way dry-shod over sand. Cold and damp,—are they not as rich experience as warmth and dryness?


Philological Seminar

Tao Yuan-Ming (372?-427), Moving House (tr. Yang Yeh-tzu):
There was a time when I wanted to live in a south village,
But not because I was guided by the auguries.
I had heard that many simple men lived here—
With them I would be glad to spend my mornings and evenings.
For many years this was my desire,
And now today I shall accomplish my task:
So wretched a cottage need not be spacious,
All I want is a bed and a mat.
Often the neighbors will come to visit me,
We shall argue vociferously about the ancient times,
Rare writings we shall enjoy reading together,
And we shall clear up all doubtful interpretations.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


A Popgun Is a Popgun

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), The American Scholar:
The world of any moment is the merest appearance. Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended upon this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.


Dorothy Parker and the Maple Grove

Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? (1988; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 266:
Near the house stood a grove of trees, "a clump of sickly, straggly maples" as Dorothy described them, that blocked her view of the meadows. With little thought to the matter, she and Alan [Campbell] had the trees chopped down. When word of the desecration circulated among their writing friends, everyone expressed horror. Fifty years later, the cutting of the trees still had not been forgotten. Writer Joseph Schrank observed, "They weren't content to citify the house, but then they started cutting down trees. It was horrible. Dottie didn't give a damn, but the writers out there were incensed, and I remember how one playwright swore he was going to write a play about it."
Dorothy found the fuss incomprehensible. "Fifty-second Street Thoreaus," she sniffed.
Sid Perelman gazed out over the spot where the offending maples had once stood. "You must have needed the wood pretty bad," he told her.
This was the last straw. Indignant, she banned the Perelmans from Fox House for a time.
Several years later, she got her revenge on Bucks County tree lovers. At a cost of nearly thirty-five thousand dollars, Moss Hart had transformed his New Hope estate practically overnight by planting thousands of pines, elms, and maples, but Dorothy remained unimpressed. When she saw the trees, she said that it only showed what God could do if He had money.
Sources (see p. 432) are Meade's interviews with Joseph Schrank and Allen Saalberg, plus Dorothy Parker, "Destructive Decoration," in Mary Jane Pool, ed., 20th Century Decorating, Architecture, and Gardens: 80 Years of Ideas and Pleasure from House and Garden (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980), pp. 178-179 (originally published in the November 1942 issue of House and Garden), which I haven't seen.


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