Saturday, June 30, 2012


Kick a Tree for Me

Mrs. R. Clipston Sturgis, Random Reflections of a Grandmother (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917), pp. 53-54:
The most charming and witty woman in Boston once remarked to a friend: "Going to the country, are you? Well, just kick a tree for me, will you?" — upon which remark was promptly formed the "Kickatree Club," of which I am an unknown and humble, but most enthusiastic member.
The charming and witty woman was Helen Bell, née Choate. See also Paulina Cony Drown, Mrs. Bell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931), p. 13:
Many sayings of hers are quoted bearing on her hatred of Nature and the country. 'Slap Nature's green face for me.' 'Talk of the carpet of Nature! Give me a three-ply in a Chestnut Street garret.'
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Bitter Medicine

Samuel Johnson, Sermon XV:
To consider the shortness, or misery, of life, is not an employment to which the mind recurs for solace or diversion; or to which it is invited by any hope of immediate delight. It is one of those intellectual medicines, of which the nauseous essence often obstructs the benefit, and which the fastidiousness of nature prompts us to refuse. But we are told by Solomon, that there is "a time not only to laugh, but a time to weep;" and that it is good sometimes to enter into the house "of mourning." Many things which are not pleasant may be salutary; and among them is the just estimate of human life, which may be made by all with advantage, though by few, very few, with delight.

Friday, June 29, 2012



Wei Yingwu (737–792), East of the Town, tr. Witter Bynner:
From office confinement all year long,
I have come out of town to be free this morning
Where willows harmonize the wind
And green hills lighten the cares of the world.
I lean by a tree and rest myself
Or wander up and down a stream.
...Mists have wet the fragrant meadows;
A spring dove calls from some hidden place.
...With quiet surroundings, the mind is at peace,
But beset with affairs, it grows restless again...
Here I shall finally build me a cabin,
As T'ao Ch'ien built one long ago.
T'ao Ch'ien (362-427), also known as Tao Yuan-ming, described himself thus in a short third-person autobiography (tr. David Hinton):
No one knows where he came from. His given and literary names are also a mystery. But we know there were five willows growing beside his house, which is why he used the name Master Five-Willows. At peace in idleness, rarely speaking, he had no longing for fame or fortune. He loved to read books, and yet never puzzled over their profound insights. But whenever he came upon some realization, he was so pleased that he forgot to eat.

He was a wine-lover by nature, but couldn't afford it very often. Everyone knew this, so when they had wine, they'd call him over. And when he drank, it was always bottoms-up. He'd be drunk in no time; then he'd go back home, alone and with no regrets over where things were going.

In the loneliness of his meager wall, there was little shelter from wind and sun. His short coat was patched and sewn. And made from gourd and split bamboo, his cup and bowl were often empty. But he kept writing poems to amuse himself, and they show something of who he was. He went on like this, forgetting all gain and loss, until he came naturally to his end.
For some poems by T'ao Ch'ien (Tao Yuan-ming) see:


Why All This To Do About Trees?

C.E.M. Joad (1891-1953), The Untutored Townsman's Invasion of the Country (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1946), excerpts from Chapter 7 (Trees and Forests), pp. 131-148 (at 139-141):
Why all this 'to do' about trees and especially about hard-wood trees; why, in fact, such an indignant fuss about lopping and pruning and cutting down, about the planting of soft woods, about the destruction of elms and beeches? The question raises large issues. Let me try very briefly to answer it.

In Defence of Trees

The answer turns, in the last resort, upon the kind of life we think desirable for men and women, turns, in fact upon our conception of the good life. One of the elements in the good life is, I insist, contact with Nature. Nature is the mother of our race; we have evolved as part of a natural process and our ancestors lived for millennia in natural conditions. As a result, there lies deep-seated within us a natural love of country sights and sounds and smells and an instinctive need for occasional moments of quiet alone with Nature. The smell of fallen leaves or new-mown hay, the tang of a mountain brook, the feel of lush meadow grass against the face, the texture of the bole of an oak, or the sight of its first young leaves showing yellow-green against the April sky, these things touch in us an ancestral chord that stretches back to our savage, perhaps to our sub-human, past.

Most of us who live in great cities are unaware of this need, just as we are unaware of the need of religion. It exists none the less, and to the extent to which it is not met, we live maimed and thwarted lives. A man is a richer, a fuller, and a more many-sided being; he touches life at more points, getting more out of it if only because he brings more to it, provided he be not wholly cut off from these ancestral sources of our being. Yet most of us do not know these things and, because we do not, we heedlessly overrun Nature and destroy its beauty.

A Vision of the Future

In a hundred years' time, if present tendencies are not checked, there will be neither town nor country in Southern England, but only a vast suburb sprawling shapelessly from Watford to the coast. What will the inhabitants of that suburb do? I will assume that we have abolished war, overcome our economic difficulties and superseded alternating booms and slumps and that, under some form of national ownership, men and women are assured of comfort and a competence on a few hours' machine-minding a day. In what sort of England will they be living?

If present tendencies continue, one can foresee an England in which whatever land is left over from cultivation is covered with a network of golf courses, tennis courts or whatever kind of ground the popular game of the future demands. Our coasts will be ringed with a continuous string of resorts at which dance bands will discourse the wailing of crooners to tired sportsmen and their overnourished wives; our roads will be covered with a stationary mass of metal stretching from John o' Groats to Land's End, consisting of cars wedged together in a solid and nextricable jam; a deluge of news, warranted not to arouse thought and carefully chewed so as not to excite comment will descend upon the defenceless heads of the community through all the devices of television and telephotony that the science of the future may have been able to perfect. Finally, men will be driven to make life hard and dangerous again in despair of tolerating the burden of amusing themselves for eighteen or nineteen hours out of every twenty-four.

This jaundiced vision is of a future in which man, having conquered Nature, finds that in the process he has lost his own soul. For man cannot live by movies and radio alone, but by the spirit of God as it manifests itself in the visible scene that He has set before us in hills and valleys and rivers, in the air and the sky, in fields and flowers, in meadows and woods, and in great trees ranged in an avenue along a road or standing brooding and solitary in the fields. This exhortation to keep our trees is, then, in its last analysis a plea to preserve the conditions which are necessary to our full human development as beings having minds and spirits as well as bodies and appetites.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


A Farmer's Bookshelf

Donald G. Mitchell (1822-1908), Wet Days at Edgewood (New York: Charles Scribner, 1865), pp. 4-5:
In that alcove of my library which immediately flanks the east window is bestowed a motley array of farm-books: there are fat ones in yellow vellum; there are ponderous folios with stately dedications to some great man we never heard of; there are thin tractates in ambitious type, which promised, fifty years and more ago, to overset all the established methods of farming; there is Jethro Tull, in his irate way thrashing all down his columns the effete Virgilian husbandry; there is the sententious talk of Cato, the latinity of Columella, and some little musty duodecimo, hunted down upon the quays of Paris, with such title as "Comes Rusticus"; there is the first thin quarto of Judge Buel's "Cultivator"—since expanded into the well-ordered stateliness of the "Country Gentleman"; there are blackletter volumes of Barnaby Googe, and books compiled by the distinguished "Captaine Garvase Markhame"; and there is a Xenophon flanked by a Hesiod, and the heavy Greek squadron of the "Geoponics."

I delight immensely in taking an occasional wet-day talk with these old worthies.

Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665–1747), Bookshelf


The Spirit of Controversy

Samuel Johnson, Sermons XXIII (on James 3.16)
Whenever, therefore, we find the teacher jealous of the honour of his sect, and apparently more solicitous to see his opinions established than approved, we may conclude that he has added envy to his zeal; and that he feels more pain from the want of victory, than pleasure from the enjoyment of truth....All violence, beyond the necessity of self-defence, is incited by the desire of humbling the opponent, and, whenever it is applied to the decision of religious questions, aims at conquest, rather than conversion.
Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 56 (Saturday, September 29, 1750):
Even though no regard be had to the external consequences of contrariety and dispute, it must be painful to a worthy mind to put others in pain, and there will be danger lest the kindest nature may be vitiated by too long a custom of debate and contest.
Samuel Johnson, Life of Sir Thomas Browne:
Men may differ from each other in many religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute, and yet not differ much from one another: the rigorous persecutors of errour should, therefore, enlighten their zeal with knowledge, and temper their orthodoxy with charity; that charity without which orthodoxy is vain; charity that "thinketh no evil," but "hopeth all things," and "endureth all things."
James Fordyce, Addresses to the Deity (London: T. Cadell, 1785), pp 209-232 = Address VI: On the Death of Dr. Samuel Johnson (at 215):
Then it was, that I heard him condemn, with holy self-abasement, the pride of understanding by which he had often trespassed against the laws of courteous demeanour, and forgotten the fallible condition of his nature. Then it was, that I heard him with ingenuous freedom, commend the virtues of forbearance and moderation in matters of belief, as more conformable to reason, and to the Gospel of thy Son, than he had long conceived.

Carl Spitzweg, Disputierende Mönche


Rage Against Trees

C.E.M. Joad (1891-1953), The Untutored Townsman's Invasion of the Country (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1946), excerpt from Chapter 7 (Trees and Forests), pp. 131-148 (at 131-135):
The Loppers

Along the road at the bottom of my Hampstead garden runs a row of noble trees. Last autumn their enemies descended upon them and assaulted them, hewing, hacking and lopping them out of all recognition. Now they stand like a row of corpses in a German atrocity picture, holding their mutilated arms in dumb protest to the skies. What is more, I can, for the first time, see the ugly houses for which they were so merciful a screen.

Now 'they' are at it again. Every spring, about February or March, there begins a great pruning and lopping of the London trees. It is ruthlessly, often abominably, done. Granted that for some obscure reason of arboriculture it is necessary from time to time to cut large pieces from fine trees, some attention might, one would think, be paid to the shape of the trees selected for treatment, some regard to the amenities of the landscape. No such considerations appear to weigh with the guardians of our London parks and heaths. There is, or rather there was, a particularly fine group of elms on Hampstead Heath, not a hundred yards from my house. They were old trees, shapely and spacious, showing a network of delicate tracery against the winter sky; to-day their beauty is gone. Instead there is a ragged outline of melancholy stumps with their truncated limbs jutting bleakly from the outraged trunks.

A large and lovely willow stood at the meeting of two roads overshadowing a trough of water, from which horses used to drink on their way up the hill. Two years ago, it was cut down. Many willows have been cut down – in fact, the number of old willows in Hampstead must have been diminished by over half in the last twelve years.

That Trees Are Dangerous

The official explanation in this and in every other case is that the trees are dangerous, by which is meant that in a gale of abnormal strength they are liable to lose a branch or so. In this sense of the word every tree, not only in Hampstead, but throughout the length and breadth of the country, is dangerous. If people insist on standing under trees in hurricanes, they must expect what they get. In this sense chimney pots are dangerous because they may be blown down, or roofs are dangerous because in a gale they may shed their tiles; but nobody regards these facts as constituting a sufficient reason for removing people's roofs and chimney pots.

Why, then, one wonders, should a similar excuse be allowed to justify the destruction of what little beauty remains to our London suburbs? Or we are told that a branch might fall on a passing car – trees, it would seem, are dangerous, but cars are not. I do not know how many people are killed in England every year by trees, but the number, I imagine, is well under a hundred. I do, however, know that in the second year of the war cars were responsible for the deaths of nearly 10,000 and the mutilation of some 350,000 persons on English roads. (The number of cars in peace-time is, of course, very much larger, though the casualties are smaller). Yet trees forsooth are dangerous; cars are not!

The Rage Against Trees

What, one wonders, is the reason for this rage against trees? Is it perhaps because they are beautiful? This seems at first an intolerable suggestion. Yet there have been times when I have been hard put to it to find another. A few years ago a group of pine trees, immediately to the west of The Spaniards and close to the famous Constable clumps on Hampstead Heath, were cut down. They were old, celebrated and beautiful but, so far as I could ascertain, gave no other cause for offence.

Here there were and could be none of the usual excuses for cutting down noble trees, as, for example, that they might blow down and destroy ignoble houses, or that some fool had built a house behind them in order that he might then complain that they were darkening his rooms, or impeding the view from his windows, and must, therefore, be removed. There are no ignoble houses within reach and nobody's view was being impeded. The trees, no doubt, were rotten, but what of it? Who was, or was likely to be harmed by them? There is no answer and so, I repeat my question, 'Why this rage against trees?'

Partly, no doubt, it is official zeal; partly, the pleasure that the operation gives. We all like cutting and hacking something about and we are all, therefore, glad of an excuse for a bit of destruction, not less glad if we are urban municipal employees with time heavy on our hands. But the real reason, I suspect, lies deeper. Urban man has lost the power of taking natural things naturally. A piece of untouched country puts him out of countenance, making him feel small and trivial and vulgar; and, to put himself at ease, he must contrive, somehow, to set his mark upon it. And so he goes to work 'improving' and 'developing', laying down paths and putting up fences, pruning and clipping and draining and smartening and tidying, making ornamental and useful the haphazard uselessness of natural beauty. So he justifies himself in his own eyes and, having made his mark, is appeased.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Enemies of Scholarship

Isaiah Berlin, "L.B. Namier," in Personal Impressions (New York: The Viking Press, 1981), pp. 63-82 (at 79-80):
He spoke often of the dignity of learning: of the need to keep scholarship pure, to protect it from its three greatest enemies: amateurism, journalistic prostitution, and obsession with doctrine. 'An amateur', he declared in one of his typical apophthegms, 'is a man who thinks more about himself than about his subject', and he mentioned a younger colleague whom he suspected of a wish to glitter. He passionately believed in professionalism in every field: he denounced fine writing, and, still more, a desire to startle or shock the reader, whether he was a member of the general public or of the world of scholars.


Journalism    the desire to épater, to entertain, to be brilliant    was, in a man of learning, mere irresponsibility. 'Irresponsible' was one of the most opprobrious terms in his vocabulary. His belief in the moral duties of historians and scholars generally was Kantian in its severity and genuineness. As for doctrinaire obsessions, that again appeared to him as a form of culpable self indulgence — wanton escape from the the duty of following minutely, wherever they led, the often complex, convoluted empirical paths constituted by the 'facts', into some symmetrical pattern invented by the historian to indulge his own metaphysical or moral predilection; alternatively it was a quasi-pathological intellectual obsession which rendered the historian incapable of seeing 'wie es eigentlich gewesen'. Hence Namier's distaste for, and ironies at the expense of, philosophical historians; and the emphasis on material factors and distrust of ideal ones.


This Modern World Is Grey and Old

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Pan: Double Villanelle:

O Goat-foot God of Arcady!
  This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of Thee?

No more the shepherd lads in glee
  Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O Goat-foot God of Arcady!

Nor through the laurels can one see
  Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of Thee?

And dull and dead our Thames would be,
  For here the winds are chill and cold,
O Goat-foot God of Arcady!

Then keep the tomb of Helicé,
  Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
Ah what remains to us of Thee?

Though many an unsung elegy
  Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O Goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah what remains to us of Thee?


Ah leave the hills of Arcady,
  Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of Thee.

No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
  For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah leave the hills of Arcady!

This is the land where Liberty
  Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of Thee!

A land of ancient chivalry
  Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah leave the hills of Arcady!

This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
  This England, lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of Thee!

Then blow some Trumpet loud and free,
  And give thy oaten pipe away,
Ah leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of Thee!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Ars Praedicandi

On the topic of preaching, Eric Thomson today contributes a sample of 19th century pulpit oratory and a picture. First the sermon fragments, as recorded in Kilvert's Diary 1870-1879: Selections from The Diary of the Reverend Francis Kilvert, edited by William Plomer (New York: Macmillan, 1947), pp. 150-151 (Friday, July 14, 1871):
The afternoon became lovely, very hot, and being early for the 3.15 return train I strolled across the meadows near the Moorfields Station. I got out at Whitney and went to the Rectory. I dined with the girls and their father. He told me of the sermons which old Mr. Thomas the Vicar of Disserth used to preach as they were described to him by the Venables. He would get up in the pulpit without an idea about what he was going to say, and would begin thus. 'Ha, yes, here we are. And it is a fine day. I congratulate you on the fine day, and glad to see so many of you here. Yes indeed. Ha, yes, very well. Now then I shall take for my text so and so. Yes. Let me see. You are all sinners and so am I. Yes indeed.' Sometimes he would preach about 'Mr. Noe'. 'Mr. Noe, he did go on with the ark, thump, thump, thump. And the wicked fellows did come and say to him "Now, Mr. Noe, don't go on there, thump, thump, thump, come and have a pint of ale at the Red Lion. There is capital ale at the Red Lion, Mr. Noe." For Mr. Noe was situated just as we are here, there was the Red Lion close by the ark, just round the corner. Yes indeed. But Mr. Noe he would not hearken to them, and he went on thump, thump, thump. Then another idle fellow would say, "Come Mr. Noe the hounds are running capital, yes indeed. Don't go on there thump, thump, thump." But Mr. Noe he did never heed them, he just went on with his ark, thump, thump, thump.'
Second, the picture, William Hogarth's Sleeping Congregation:


Socks in Cistercian History

Ian Jackson sent me pp. 363-367 of The Great Beginning Of Cîteaux. A Narrative of the Beginning of the Cistercian Order: The Exordium Magnum of Conrad of Eberbach, tr. Benedicta Ward and Paul Savage (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012). On these pages are Book 4, Chapters 24-25, of Conrad's narrative. Chapter 24 has the heading "How a Lay Brother Was Punished by God for Washing His Socks without Permission," and chapter 25 is "About a Monk Who Presumed to Sleep without His Socks, and How He Was Prohibited from Becoming an Abbot through a Divine Revelation."

From Book 4, Chapter 24 (p. 364):
On one of the granges of Clairvaux, a lay brother presumed to wash his socks without the permission of the master. He went alone to the side of a little stream which ran beside the grange, and, entirely concerned with the work he had begun, he, alas, gave little thought to how gravely they transgress who presume to violate the purity of the holy Order even in little ways. While he was doing his ill-advised job without the knowledge of his master, he heard a voice call out, as if one person were speaking to another, "Hit him, hit him!" And at once the lay brother felt two very hard blows, one on his head and another on his feet. Pale and trembling, he ran to the grange and told the brothers in a faltering voice what he had done, heard, and suffered. He was immediately taken to the abbey, and there, with as much humility as he could muster, he declared both his fault and the punishment for the fault. He said that the two blows he had mysteriously received little by little had spread inside him, one from his head, the other from his feet, and that, in any case, he was going to die when the blows met in his heart. And the outcome of the matter proved this to be true. A few days later the brother died, making a good confession, and we devoutly believe that he went to God more pure because his death was such a terrible one and canceled his sin.
From Book 4, Chapter 25 (pp. 366-367):
On the night of the election, however, the father abbot heard, by divine revelation, a voice saying, "Take care, lest you install as abbot that monk who dared to sleep without socks." Greatly troubled by these words, the venerable abbot only knew in his surprise that the Lord was trying to tell him something. The person mentioned above, whom he thought suitable for the dignity of such an office, had arrived the previous evening to take part in the election. In the morning he made the sign to the father abbot that he wanted to make his confession and took him into the chapter house...There, he humbly confessed that on his journey he had presumed to pull off his socks because of the intense heat and to sleep without wearing them. After that, the seniors and the more mature monks were assembled in council with the father abbot to discuss the election, and they all unanimously began to cast their vote for the man whom the confidential divine revelation had judged ineligible for such an honor. So the father abbot told them secretly about the divine order given him and advised them to elect someone else, saying that he could not go against his conscience and disobey the Lord's command.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Ignorant and Affected Preachers

Samuel Johnson, quoted in "Anecdotes by George Steevens," Johnsonian Miscellanies, ed. George Birkbeck Hill (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897), II, 312-329 (at 319):
'I am convinced (said he to a friend) I ought to be present at divine service more frequently than I am; but the provocations given by ignorant and affected preachers too often disturb the mental calm which otherwise would succeed to prayer. I am apt to whisper to myself on such occasions—How can this illiterate fellow dream of fixing attention, after we have been listening to the sublimest truths, conveyed in the most chaste and exalted language, throughout a Liturgy which must be regarded as the genuine offspring of piety impregnated by wisdom? Take notice, however—though I make this confession respecting myself, I do not mean to recommend the fastidiousness that led me to exchange congregational for solitary worship.'
Samuel Johnson, Life of Francis Cheynel:
When they arrived at Oxford, they began to execute their commission, by possessing themselves of the pulpits; but, if the relation of Wood is to be regarded, were heard with very little veneration. Those who had been accustomed to the preachers of Oxford, and the liturgy of the church of England, were offended at the emptiness of their discourses, which were noisy and unmeaning; at the unusual gestures, the wild distortions, and the uncouth tone with which they were delivered...


Senicide, Part I

I once heard a story about a former policeman who was asked if he had long term health care insurance. He said, "Yes," while pointing two fingers at his head in imitation of a gun. John Derbyshire, "Going out With a Bang Instead of a Whimper," Taki's Magazine (May 24, 2012), has the same idea:
I have a good selection of guns and have made up my mind that if it comes to diapers, I shall see myself out with a gun. I will not wear diapers—that’s the end point for me, the milestone I am determined not to pass.
In some cultures, the decision is not the individual's, but is put into the hands of friends or relatives or committees, death panels, if you will. The age limit for extermination is quite low in some dystopian fiction, e.g. 18 (the movie Children of the Corn, based on a Stephen King story) or 30 (the movie Logan's Run).

Tim G. Parkin, Old Age in the Roman World: A Cultural and Social History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 259-272, has a useful collection and discussion of ancient references to the practice of senicide, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "The killing of the old men of a tribe, etc.". This post is the first in a series presenting some of the ancient evidence. In the following passages from Herodotus (both tr. A.D. Godley), it is noteworthy that senicide appears in connection with cannibalism. E.M. Murphy and J.P. Mallory, "Herodotus and the Cannibals", Antiquity 74 (2000) 388–394, is unavailable to me.

Herodotus 1.216.2-3 (on the Massagetae):
Though they fix no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his family meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it. [3] This is held to be the happiest death; when a man dies of an illness, they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth, and lament that he did not live to be killed.

οὖρος δὲ ἡλικίης σφι πρόκειται ἄλλος μὲν οὐδείς· ἐπεὰν δὲ γέρων γένηται κάρτα, οἱ προσήκοντές οἱ πάντες συνελθόντες θύουσί μιν καὶ ἄλλα πρόβατα ἅμα αὐτῷ, ἑψήσαντες δὲ τὰ κρέα κατευωχέονται. [3] ταῦτα μὲν τὰ ὀλβιώτατά σφι νενόμισται, τὸν δὲ νούσῳ τελευτήσαντα οὐ κατασιτέονται ἀλλ᾽ γῇ κρύπτουσι, συμφορὴν ποιεύμενοι ὅτι οὐκ ἵκετο ἐς τὸ τυθῆναι.
Herodotus 3.99.1-2 (on the Padeans of India):
Other Indians, to the east of these, are nomads and eat raw flesh; they are called Padaei. It is said to be their custom that when anyone of their fellows, whether man or woman, is sick, a man's closest friends kill him, saying that if wasted by disease he will be lost to them as meat; though he denies that he is sick, they will not believe him, but kill and eat him. [2] When a woman is sick, she is put to death like the men by the women who are her close acquaintances. As for one that has come to old age, they sacrifice him and feast on his flesh; but not many reach this reckoning, for before that everyone who falls ill they kill.

ἄλλοι δὲ τῶν Ἰνδῶν πρὸς ἠῶ οἰκέοντες τούτων νομάδες εἰσὶ κρεῶν ἐδεσταὶ ὠμῶν, καλέονται δὲ Παδαῖοι, νομαίοισι δὲ τοιοῖσιδε λέγονται χρᾶσθαι· ὃς ἂν κάμῃ τῶν ἀστῶν, ἤν τε γυνὴ ἤν τε ἀνήρ, τὸν μὲν ἄνδρα ἄνδρες οἱ μάλιστά οἱ ὁμιλέοντες κτείνουσι, φάμενοι αὐτὸν τηκόμενον τῇ νούσῳ τὰ κρέα σφίσι διαφθείρεσθαι· ὁ δὲ ἄπαρνος ἐστὶ μὴ μὲν νοσέειν, οἱ δὲ οὐ συγγινωσκόμενοι ἀποκτείναντες κατευωχέονται. [2] ἣ δὲ ἂν γυνὴ κάμῃ, ὡσαύτως αἱ ἐπιχρεώμεναι μάλιστα γυναῖκες ταὐτὰ τοῖσι ἀνδράσι ποιεῦσι. τὸν γὰρ δὴ ἐς γῆρας ἀπικόμενον θύσαντες κατευωχέονται· ἐς δὲ τούτου λόγον οὐ πολλοί τινες αὐτῶν ἀπικνέονται· πρὸ γὰρ τοῦ τὸν ἐς νοῦσον πίπτοντα πάντα κτείνουσι.
On the Indians, see also Pomponius Mela 3.7.64-65 (tr. Arthur Golding, spelling modernized by me):
Some kill their neighbors and parents, in manner of sacrifice, before they pine away with age and sickness, and think it not only lawful, but also godly, to eat the bowels of them when they have killed them. But if they be attacked with old age or sickness, they get them out of all company into the wilderness, and there without sorrowing for the matter, abide the end of their life. The wiser sort of them, which are trained up in the profession and study of wisdom, linger not for death, but hasten it, by throwing themselves into the fire, which is counted a glory.

quidam proximos parentes, priusquam annis aut aegritudine in maciem eant, velut hostias caedunt, caesorumque visceribus epulari fas et maxime pium est. at, ubi senectus aut morbus incessit, procul a ceteris abeunt mortemque in solitudine nihil anxii exspectant. prudentiores et quibus ars studiumque sapientiae contingit non exspectant eam, sed ingerendo semet ignibus laeti et cum gloria arcessunt. 

proximos U, proximi V
Latin text and apparatus above are from Pomponii Melae De Chorographia Libri Tres. Introduzione, edizione critica e commento a cura di Piergiorgio Parroni (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1984), p. 166, where U = Vaticanus Urbinas Latinus 1173, a. 1458, and V = Vaticanus Latinus 4929, s. IX2. Parroni in his commentary (p. 416) cites the imitation by Solinus (52,22) with variants, as follows:
sunt qui proximos parentesque [parentes qui N, parentes RCH] priusquam annis aut aegritudine in maciem eant, velut hostias caedunt, deinde peremptorum viscera epulas habent: quod ibi non scleris, sed pietatis loco numerant.
I haven't seen Gunnar Ranstrand's edition of Pomponius Mela or his Textkritische Beiträge zu Pomponius Mela (both Gothenburg: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971) = Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia, 28-29, so I don't know if Ranstrand discusses the phrase proximos parentes. Since parentes can mean also grandparents, progenitors, and ancestors, I wondered whether proximos parentes here might mean mother and father, as opposed to more distant grandparents. But maybe Vaticanus Latinus 4929's reading proximi = friends, neighbors, as subject, deserves a closer look, in light of Herodotus' οἱ μάλιστά οἱ ὁμιλέοντες (3.99.1).

F.E. Romer's translation of proximos parentes, in Pomponius Mela's Description of the World (Lansing: University of Michigan Press, 1998), p. 119, doesn't convince me:
Some kill their parents (when they are on the verge of decline) like sacrificial animals before the parents decline from age and illness, and it is both morally right and absolutely pious to feast on the viscera of the slain parents.
Thanks to Eric Thomson for copying some pages of Parkin's book not available via Google Books.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Yuan Mei's Outlook

Arthur Waley, Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1956), p. 114:
The basic idea on which Yuan Mei's whole philosophy rests is that whatever can be sensuously enjoyed is given to us by Heaven for our delight, and that we are impiously flouting Heaven if we refuse to take advantage of it to the full, or prevent others from doing so. How other people fulfill their duty to Heaven in this respect is indeed no one's business but their own. There must be no 'hiding under beds and spying into private affairs'. I have spoken of Yuan's 'philosophy', but this is perhaps too grand a term. One would expect a philosopher to deal with the main difficulties that adoption of his system would entail. To explain, for example, in Yuan's case, what is to happen if my exploitation of Heaven's gifts interferes with someone else's. But so far as I know, he never does this, and perhaps it would be better merely to speak of his 'outlook'.
Id., pp. 137-138 (on his collection of ghost stories):
A story which Yuan obviously concocted to express his own views is contained in the Supplement to the collection. It is about a man who 'died and came to life again'. He was surprised when he reached the Nether Regions to find a woman from his own village, who was a notorious adulteress, being launched on to a very high-class new incarnation, instead of being (as he would have expected) detained in Hell for punishment. 'Oh, that's not at all the sort of thing they worry about here', the people in the Land of the Dead explained. 'King Yama (the king of the Dead) is a dignified, straight-forward deity. One can't imagine him hiding under people's beds and spying upon what they do together in private.'

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Saint Naso

J.B. Trapp, "Ovid's Tomb: The Growth of a Legend from Eusebius to Laurence Sterne, Chateaubriand and George Richmond," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 36 (1973) 35-76 (at 43), translating from a medieval manuscript:
Neverthless many say that Ovid was saved and is numbered among the saints, because during his relegation to Patmos, St. John the Evangelist went about preaching the word of truth. Patmos and Tomis are islands near to each other. And when Ovid, now old, had heard that truth, he was converted from the error of the pagans and baptized by the aforesaid John and became a great preacher, inasmuch as he had already learned the language of that country—as he himself tells in the Tristia: "I have now learned to speak the barbarian Getan tongue". When St. John was recalled from exile, he ordained Ovid, a very wise and learned man, bishop of the land of Tomis. He suffered for the faith and so is known as St. Naso. I have heard this from many preachers.
For the Latin, in a 13th century hand added to a 10th-11th south German manuscript now in Freiburg, see Bernhard Bischoff, "Eine mittelalterliche Ovidlegende," Historisches Jahrbuch 71 (1952) 268-273 (at 272):
Sed tamen affirmant multi ipsum esse salvatum et de numero sanctorum dicentes, quod tempore relegacionis beati Iohannis evangelistae idem Iohannes circuiebat predicando veritatem. Sunt autem Pathmos et Thomos insule contigue. Cum ergo audisset Ovidius iam decrepitus veritatem, conversus est ab errore gentilitatis et a predicto Iohanne baptisatus et effectus magnus predicator utpote qui iam didicerat idioma **** terre illius sicut ipse dicit in libro Tristium:
"Iam didici Getice barbariceque loqui",*****
Cum autem revocatus fuisset beatus Iohannes, ordinavit Ovidium quasi virum prudentissimum et eruditissimum episcopum terre Tomitane et passus est pro fide et dicitur sanctus Naso. Et ego audivi hoc a multis predicatoribus.
This is the type of story one wishes were true. It strains my credulity much less than the speculations of those doubting Tomises who claim that Ovid was never exiled at all, e.g. A.D. Fitton-Brown, "The Unreality of Ovid’s Tomitan Exile," Liverpool Classical Monthly 10 (1985) 19-22, and his followers.

Sancte Naso, ora pro nobis.

Friday, June 22, 2012



Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to this screed by Roy Campbell, directed against Vita Sackville-West, who had won the Hawthornden Prize in 1927 for her poem The Land. Campbell's verses come from The Georgiad: A Satirical Fantasy in Verse (London: Boriswood Limited, 1931), reprinted in his Collected Works, Vol. 1, edited by Peter Alexander, Michael Chapman and Marcia Leveson (Craighall: A.D. Donker, 1985), these lines on pp. 205-206:
Sing but of country joys and you will rise,
Praised by the world, from prize to golden prize:
Now to the soil address your bumpkin Muse,
To some old rick declaim your billets-doux:
Or drive, slow trudging down some boggy road
Your Clydesdale Pegasus with creaking load:
When by your bower some nightingale complains,
Sing but like him and with as little brains:
Or, like the brooklet, with as small pretense
To style, to wit, to poetry, or sense –
Squire will accord a fellow Georgian's praise,
And Gosse, though deader than his own dead lays,
Out of his tomb will sprout a sprig of bays:
Seek some old farm (the image of your mind)
Where in some farmer's ledger you may find
Fodder to please the ruminative mind,
Which, thrice-digested, into cud refined,
May clatter down in cantos from behind:
There, safe sequestered in some rustic glen,
Write with your spade, and garden with your pen,
Shovel your couplets to their long repose
And type your turnips down the field in rows.
Equal your skill, no matter which is which,
To dig an ode, or to indite a ditch,
With lumbering cantos to upload a cart
Or with a pitch-fork to unload your heart,
Or with your fountain-pen to spray the flowers,
The hosepipe of your literary hours.
There, while in rhyme you keep the farmer's books,
Your soulful face will scare away the rooks,
While wondering yokels all around you sit,
Relieved of every labour by your wit,
Which, while it fetches, carries, ploughs, or digs,
Or trickles into hogwash for the pigs,
At the same time will leave your talents free
To make each strophe a catastrophe...
Campbell had other reasons to hate Sackville-West, besides her poetry.

Related posts:


Like Lambs

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), On the Suffering of the World, from Parerga and Paralipomena, II, 12 § 151 (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey. So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil Fate may have presently in store for us — sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason.
Wir gleichen den Lämmern, die auf der Wiese spielen, während der Metzger schon eines und das andere von ihnen mit den Augen auswählt: denn wir wissen nicht, in unsern guten Tagen, welches Unheil eben jetzt das Schicksal uns bereitet, — Krankheit, Verfolgung, Verarmung, Verstümmelung, Erblindung, Wahnsinn u.s.w.
Saunders in his translation omits Verfolgung (persecution). The same in Schopenhauer's Senilia § 182, except that there he adds death at the end of the list.

I wonder if Schopenhauer might have had an epigram by Palladas in the back of his mind (Greek Anthology 10.85, tr. W.R. Paton):
We are all kept and fed for death, like a herd of swine to be slain without reason.

Πάντες τῷ θανάτῳ τηρούμεθα καὶ τρεφόμεσθα,
   ὡς ἀγέλη χοίρων σφαζομένων ἀλόγως.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who can always be relied on for a cheerful thought to start the day.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Disregard of Funeral Instructions

V. Sackville-West, Testament, in Orchard and Vineyard (London: John Lane, 1921), p. 54:
When I am dead, let not my limbs be given
To rot amongst the dead I never knew,
But cast my ashes wide under wide heaven,
Or to my garden let me still be true,

And, like the ashes I was wont to save
Preciously from the hearth beneath my fire,
Lighten the soil with mine. Not, not the grave!
I loved the soil I fought, and this is my desire.
Apparently her wishes for the disposition of her remains, as expressed in this poem, were not respected. According to T.J. Hochstrasser, "West, Victoria Mary [Vita] Sackville- (1892–1962), writer and gardener," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "She was cremated and was buried in the Sackville family vault at Withyham, Sussex."

Lucian, Demonax 66-67 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
A short time before the end he was asked: "What orders have you to give about your burial?" and replied: "Don't borrow trouble! The stench will get me buried!" The man said: " Why, isn't it disgraceful that the body of such a man should be exposed for birds and dogs to devour?" "I see nothing out of the way in it," said he, "if even in death I am going to be of service to living things."

But the Athenians gave him a magnificent public funeral and mourned him long. To honour him, they did obeisance to the stone bench on which he used to rest when he was tired, and they put garlands on it; for they felt that even the stone on which he had been wont to sit was sacred. Everybody attended his burial, especially the philosophers; indeed, it was they who took him on their shoulders and carried him to the tomb.
Related posts:

Update from Robert J. O'Hara:
Mike, the "Disregard of funeral instructions" brought to mind some of the magnificent opening sentences of Hydriotaphia, by your favorite and mine, Sir Thomas Browne:
"But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the Oracle of his ashes, or whether they are to be scattered? The Reliques of many lie like the ruines of Pompeys, in all parts of the earth; And when they arrive at your hands, these may seem to have wandered far, who in a direct and Meridian Travell, have but few miles of known Earth between your self and the Pole."


Accolti's Ode to Sleep Revisited

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for sending his verse translation of Accolti's Ode to Sleep, with notes:
Night rushes: driving dark steeds in the sky,
    she darkens dark earth with her gentle cold;
and chasing worries from all kinds of people
    lightens weak limbs, as sleep suffuses them.
Yet my tired mind finds no oblivion                       5
    and Sleep, you, too, forever shun my prayers.
Sleep, heart’s own Rest, Sleep, only Ease of Worries,
    come, Secret One, come on your sacred feet,
and with your bough dipped in the stream of Lethe,
    defeat and wet my brows with your light dew.   10
Drive out at last the stubborn crowds of worries;
    and let me worriless pursue your gifts,
so that no troubles of a ruined Age may touch me
    nor grim fears reawaken crueller times.
For you I’ll bring fresh blossoms, freshest casia,    15
    where a sweet-sounding wave runs on light feet,
and that loud bird that has a scarlet crest,
    for you will stain the soil, with its throat cut!
Now let your power tie the exhausted limbs
    while in delight descend the lucid stars.              20
(14) To me "tristes metus" seem the subject. One could take them as object; but I think that Sleep does not abolish bad times, but the fears, that bring back bad times.

(16) "facili unda pede": the “wave” I think is that of a brook or spring: as in Horace Epode 16.47-8 "montibus altis / levis crepante lympha desilit pede"

(20) "iuvat et cadunt": perhaps hendiadys = laeta cadunt (vel sim.).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Facts and Theories

Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals 3.10 (760 b 30; tr. Arthur Platt):
Such appears to be the truth about the generation of bees, judging from theory and from what are believed to be the facts about them; the facts, however, have not yet been sufficiently grasped; if ever they are, then credit must be given rather to observations than to theories, and to theories only if what they affirm agrees with the observed facts.
ἐκ μὲν οὖν τοῦ λόγου τὰ περὶ τὴν γένεσιν τῶν μελιττῶν τοῦτον ἔχειν φαίνεται τὸν τρόπον καὶ ἐκ τῶν συμβαίνειν δοκούντων περὶ αὐτάς· οὐ μὴν εἴληπταί γε τὰ συμβαίνοντα ἱκανῶς, ἀλλ´ ἐάν ποτε ληφθῇ τότε τῇ αἰσθήσει μᾶλλον τῶν λόγων πιστευτέον, καὶ τοῖς λόγοις ἐὰν ὁμολογούμενα δεικνύωσι τοῖς φαινομένοις.
Sherlock Holmes, quoted by Arthur Conan Doyle in A Scandal in Bohemia:
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.


Hatchet Job

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church. A Translation of the Ethiopic Synaxarium Made from the Manuscripts Oriental 660 and 661 in the British Museum, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928; rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1976), I, 170 (fol. 47b 1; on John of Dailam, who lived from 668 to 738; brackets in original):
Then JOHN departed thence by another road. When he found that the men there worshipped trees, he exhorted them to turn from iniquity, and when they refused to do so he came by night among their trees, and prayed to God, and taking an axe [in his hand], he said, “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost I will cut you down”; and straightway one thousand trees fell down at one stroke of the axe. When the men of the city saw this they believed, and were baptized together with their women and children.
Dailam, John's base of operations, was in northern Iran. In the passage quoted, "thence" means "from Dailam." John was roughly contemporary with Boniface (672-754), who cut down the Geismar oak for similar reasons.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012



P.G. Wodehouse, letter to his step-daughter Leonora in 1925:
Mummie and I have come to the conclusion that we loathe foreign countries. We hate their ways, their architecture, their looks, their language and their food.
Related posts:


Unfit for the Society of the Living

Richard Steele, The Spectator, No. 362 (Friday, April 25, 1712; supposedly quoting from a letter by "Will. Cymon."):
I am a Person who was long immured in a College, read much, saw little; so that I knew no more of the World than what a Lecture or a View of the Map taught me. By this means I improved in my Study, but became unpleasant in Conversation. By conversing generally with the Dead, I grew almost unfit for the Society of the Living; so by a long Confinement I contracted an ungainly Aversion to Conversation, and ever discoursed with Pain to my self, and little Entertainment to others. At last I was in some measure made sensible of my failing, and the Mortification of never being spoke to, or speaking, unless the Discourse ran upon Books, put me upon forcing my self amongst Men. I immediately affected the politest Company, by the frequent use of which I hoped to wear off the Rust I had contracted; but by an uncouth Imitation of Men used to act in publick, I got no further than to discover I had a Mind to appear a finer thing than I really was.
Related posts:


Pereant Qui Ante Nos Nostra Dixerunt

I thought I was the first to discover the ancient Greek source of H.D.'s poem Priapus Keeper-of-Orchards, but I wasn't. Ian Jackson sent me a copy of Robert G. Babcock, "Verses, Translations, and Reflections from 'The Anthology': H.D., Ezra Pound, and the Greek Anthology," Sagetrieb 14.1-2 (Spring and Fall, 1995) 201-216, where I read (at 207):
It was not until 1985 that the principal Greek model for this poem was discovered by Joan Retallack.14
14. "H.D., H.D." Parnassus: Poetry in Review 12 (1985): 67-88, here 70-71.
I don't have access to Retallack's article.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Indulgence in Excesses

A poem by Yuan Mei (1716–1797), tr. Arthur Waley:
When one is old, one treasures every minute;
A single day is precious as a year.
And how seldom, even in a whole year,
Does a true rapture of the senses come one's way!
Man is born to get pleasure where he can;
How he sets about it depends on how he is made.
All that matters is to find out in good time,
Each for himself, which things he really enjoys.
I was born with many strong cravings;
Now that I am old they are gradually slipping away.
There are only left two or three things
That still delight me as they did in former days—
To spread out a book beside a bamboo stream,
To run my fingers along an ancient jade,
To climb a hill with a stout stick in my hand,
To drink wine in the presence of lovely flowers,
Talk of books—why they please or fail to please—
Or of ghosts and marvels, no matter how far-fetched.
These are excesses in which, should he feel inclined,
A man of seventy-odd may well indulge.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Travails of My Alma Mater

Siva Vaidhyanathan, "Strategic Mumblespeak. Er, UVA's Teresa Sullivan was fired for what?" Slate (June 15, 2012):
In the 19th century, robber barons started their own private universities when they were not satisfied with those already available. But Leland Stanford never assumed his university should be run like his railroad empire. Andrew Carnegie did not design his institute in Pittsburgh to resemble his steel company. The University of Chicago, John D. Rockefeller’s dream come true, assumed neither his stern Baptist values nor his monopolistic strategies. That's because for all their faults, Stanford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller knew what they didn't know.

In the 21st century, robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris. At least that's what's been happening at one of the oldest public universities in the United States—Thomas Jefferson's dream come true, the University of Virginia.
Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "U-Va. board leader wanted Teresa Sullivan to make cuts," Washington Post (June 17, 2012):
Leaders of the University of Virginia's governing board ousted President Teresa Sullivan last week largely because of her unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive....The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn't sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.
Karin Kapsidelis, "U.Va. leaders protest Sullivan firing," Richmond Times-Dispatch (June 14, 2012):
Sullivan, who is to step down Aug. 15 after two years on the job, met with department chairs at the end of April and told them of board pressure to reallocate resources.
"She made it clear that the board wanted her to lop off, for lack of better word, parts of the institution that were underperforming," said David Leblang, chair of the department of politics.
"Her point of view was that you don't get rid of a department like classics, for example, just because it doesn't produce enough graduates. There are parts of a university that need to be part of a university regardless of how many graduates they have," said Leblang...
Code of Virginia § 23-63:
The following branches of learning shall be taught at the University: the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Anglo-Saxon languages; the different branches of mathematics, pure and physical; natural philosophy, chemistry, mineralogy, including geology; the principles of agriculture; botany, anatomy, surgery, and medicine; zoology, history, ideology, general grammar, ethics, rhetoric, and belles lettres; civil government, political economy, the law of nature and of nations and municipal law.

(Code 1919, § 817.)
Hat tip: rogueclassicism.


Horace and His Father

Horace, Satires 1.4.105-131 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
'Tis a habit the best of fathers taught me, for, to enable me to steer clear of follies, he would brand them, one by one, by his examples. Whenever he would encourage me to live thriftily, frugally, and content with what he had saved for me, "Do you not see," he would say, "how badly fares young Albius, and how poor is Baius? A striking lesson not to waste one's patrimony!" When he would deter me from a vulgar amour, "Don't be like Scetanus." And to prevent me from courting another's wife, when I might enjoy a love not forbidden, "Not pretty," he would say, "is the repute of Trebonius, caught in the act. Your philosopher will give you theories for shunning or seeking this or that: enough for me, if I can uphold the rule our fathers have handed down, and if, so long as you need a guardian, I can keep your health and name from harm. When years have brought strength to body and mind, you will swim without the cork." With words like these would he mould my boyhood; and whether he were advising me to do something, "You have an example for so doing," he would say, and point to one of the special judges; or were forbidding me, "Can you doubt whether this is dishonourable and disadvantageous or not, when so and so stands in the blaze of ill repute?" As a neighbour's funeral scares gluttons when sick, and makes them, through fear of death, careful of themselves, so the tender mind is oft deterred from vice by another's shame. Thanks to this training I am free from vices which bring disaster, though subject to lesser frailties such as you would excuse.
Id., Satires 1.6.71-91:
I owe this to my father, who, though poor with a starveling farm, would not send me to the school of Flavius, to which grand boys used to go, sons of grand centurions, with slate and satchel slung over the left arm, each carrying his eightpence on the Ides—nay, he boldly took his boy off to Rome, to be taught those studies that any knight or senator would have his own offspring taught. Anyone who saw my clothes and attendant slaves—as is the way in a great city—would have thought that such expense was met from ancestral wealth. He himself, a guardian true and tried, went with me among all my teachers. Need I say more? He kept me chaste—and that is virtue's first grace—free not only from every deed of shame, but from all scandal. He had no fear that some day, if I should follow a small trade as crier or like himself as tax-collector, somebody would count this to his discredit. Nor should I have made complaint, but, as it is, for this I owe him praise and thanks the more. Never while in my senses could I be ashamed of such a father.



R.A.B. Mynors, commentary on Vergil, Georgics 1.164:
The tribulum was a wooden sledge, the underside of which was thick-set with nails or sharp flints; on this the driver stood or sat as it was towed round the threshing floor (see on 176-86) by his oxen, and it broke up the ears and chaff so the grain could be separated from them....the instrument was widespread over the Mediterranean and Levant, e.g. in Palestine, 2 Kings 12.31, 2 Chronicles 20.3, Isaiah 41.15 ('Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth')....In Latin the idea was so common that the insignificant verb terere tended to be replaced by the more mouth-filling tribulare (as, e.g., edere was by manducare), and the Christian fathers have bequeathed to us 'tribulation' in the metaphorical sense.
Mynors goes on to cite James Hornell, "The Cypriote Threshing Sledge," Man 30 (1930) 135-139, who writes (at 135):
In Cyprus every farmer threshes his own grain, employing for the purpose a very ancient type of implement, known as dukáni (δουκάνι or δουκάναις), which, for want of a better term, may be rendered "threshing sledge." Its special interest lies in the fact that its lower surface is armed with serried rows of chipped flints, which if found apart and the real origin unknown, may be mistaken readily for palaeolithic artifacts. Such an implement furnishes a striking object lesson of what the ingenuity of ancient man, ignorant of metal working, was capable, in adapting a crude and refractory material to a purpose of considerable complexity. Its survival to-day may also be taken as exemplifying the extreme conservatism of the Eastern agriculturist.

This dukáni of the Cypriote is a broad board about six and a half feet long, of which a length of nearly five feet is straight, the remaining portion, about twenty inches at the forward end, being inclined upwards at an angle of from 18 to 20 degrees. The breadth varies in different dukáni from 24 to 27 inches....

Except for a bare margin of eight inches at either end, the straight section of the sledge is studded on the lower side with many rows of sharp-edged flints (athkiatchia), inserted by their bases into long and narrow triangular slots.
On p. 136 Hornell provides the following photograph:

Hornell describes the operation of the dukáni on p. 138:
A chair and sometimes one or more heavy stones are placed upon the upper side of the sledge, midway between the two battens; on the chair the driver takes his seat and with vigorous prods of his goad starts the cattle off, to drag the sledge round and round the threshing floor over thickly strewn loosened sheaves.
For more interesting details, see John C. Whittaker, "Alonia and Dhoukanes: The Ethnoarchaeology of Threshing in Cyprus," Near Eastern Archaeology 63.2 (June 2000) 62-69. According to Whittaker (at 62), "Until the 1950s, the threshing sledge was in common use in Cyprus. Today it has been replaced entirely by tractor-powered threshing machines and combines."


Saturday, June 16, 2012


What More Could Heart Desire?

V. Sackville-West, From a Diary, January 1918, in Orchard and Vineyard (London: John Lane, 1921), pp. 47-48:
Joy have I had of life this vigorous day
Since sunrise when I took the wealden way,
And my fair country as I rapid strode
Lay round the turn of the familiar road
In mists diaphanous as seas in foam.

And all the orchards cried me welcome home.

I drove the spade that turned the heavy loam,
Bending the winter to the needs of spring,
                             The soft air winnowing
The thistledown that blew along the hedge.
A little moorhen rippled in the sedge;
A distant sheep-dog barked; the day was still,
For summer's ghost in winter lay upon the hill.
I worked in peace; an aeroplane above
Crooned through the heaven coloured like a dove.

                      Within the house I lit a fire
And coaxed the friendly kettle on to boil.
My boots were heavy with the wealden soil,
My hunger eager from the glow of toil.
Fresh bread had I; brown eggs; a little meat;
Clear water, and an apple sweet.
Freedom I drank for my delirious wine,
And Shelley gave me company divine.
                    What more could heart desire?
And when the orange of the sunset burned,
I laid aside my tools and townward turned,
Seeing across the uplands of the Weald
The ploughteams straining on the half-brown field.
I sang aloud; my limbs were rich with health,
As brooding winter rich with summer's wealth.


The Good Man

Cato, On Agriculture, praef. 2 (tr. W.D. Hooper and H.B. Ash):
And when they [our ancestors] would praise a worthy man their praise took this form: "good husbandman, good farmer"; one so praised was thought to have received the greatest commendation.

et virum bonum quom laudabant, ita laudabant: bonum agricolam bonumque colonum. amplissime laudari existimabatur qui ita laudabatur.
Cato, To His Son Marcus, fragment 6 Jordan (my translation):
The good man, Marcus my son, is the one skilled in farming, whose tools shine.

vir bonus, Marce fili, colendi peritus, cuius ferramenta splendent.

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Man with Scythe

Related post: Tools, Land, Beasts, Loves

Update from Robert J. O'Hara:

Mike, on the enduring ideal of the good-farmer-as-good-man that you just posted, I think Cato would recognize Ephraim Pratt of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, in this little word-picture from John Hayward's New England Gazetteer of 1839:
"Ephraim Pratt lived in this town many years, and died here in 1804, aged 116 years. He married at the age of 21, and could count 1,500 descendants. He was a very temperate man, so much so that for 40 years he took almost no animal food. He was a farmer, and his health was so uniformly good that he was able to mow a good swath 101 years in succession."

Friday, June 15, 2012


Benedetto Accolti's Ode to Sleep

I can't remember the last time I slept through the night without interruption. An Ode to Sleep by Benedetto Accolti, in Latin Writings of the Italian Humanists. Selections by Florence Alden Gragg (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927), pp. 353-354, has never been translated into English, so far as I can tell. I amused myself in the middle of the night, during episodes of wakefulness, by trying to translate it. My rough translation (a crib, really) looks like verse, but isn't. I merely followed the original line by line.
Night rushes on; driven aloft on a black chariot,
it darkens the shaded earth with a pleasant coolness;
and all the human race, with cares banished,
refreshes tired limbs in sleep's embrace.
But forgetfulness does not restore my weary mind,        5
and even you, Sleep, shun my prayers.
Sleep, the soul's repose, Sleep, alleviation of cares,
come here and advance, o silent one, your holy foot;
carrying a branch dipped in the waters of Lethe,
moisten my brows, overpowered by soft dew.        10
At last drive away the obstructing crowds of worries
and may I, untroubled, pursue your gifts,
so that the misfortunes of this topsy-turvy age touch me not,
nor the cruel times revive my gloomy fears.
I will bring flowers to you and fresh cassia,        15
where the sweetly sounding wave flows with easy motion.
A cock, with purple crest rising up,
will stain the ground for you, its throat cut.
Now at last may your power bind my weary limbs
while it is pleasing and the bright constellations are setting.        20
The Latin:
Nox ruit et caelum fuscis invecta quadrigis
  umbrosam molli frigore opacat humum
atque adeo curis hominum genus omne repulsis
  languida concepto membra sopore levat.
Nulla tamen fessam reparant oblivia mentem        5
  et refugis nostras tu quoque, Somne, preces.
Somne, animi requies, curarum, Somne, levamen,
  huc ades et sanctum fer, taciturne, pedem,
imbutumque gerens lethaeo gurgite ramum,
  fac rore immadeant tempora victa levi.        10
Curarum obstantes demum propelle catervas
  et mihi securo sit tua dona sequi,
ut neque me eversi tangant incommoda saecli
  nec renovent tristes tempora saeva metus.
Ipse tibi floresque feram casiamque recentem,        15
  dulce sonans facili qua fugit unda pede,
et tibi, purpurea insurgat cui vertice crista,
  ales dissecto gutture tinguet humum.
Nunc tua defessos tandem vis alliget artus,
  dum iuvat et caelo lucida signa cadunt.        20

9 gerens: gerent Gragg et al.
Lines 7-18 are a good example of the "da ut dem" type of prayer.

The image of Sleep sprinkling water from Lethe (lines 9-10) may come from Vergil, Aeneid 5.854-856 (Sleep slips Palinurus a mickey; tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
But lo! the god, shaking over his temples a bough dripping with Lethe's dew and steeped in the drowsy night of Styx, despite his efforts relaxes his swimming eyes.

ecce deus ramum Lethaeo rore madentem
vique soporatum Stygia super utraque quassat
tempora, cunctantique natantia lumina solvit.
The source of the curious sacrifice at lines 17-18 is probably Ovid, Fasti 1.455-456 (tr. James G. Frazer, rev. G.P. Goold):
By night to Goddess Night the crested fowl is slain, because with wakeful notes he summons up the warm day.

nocte deae Nocti cristatus caeditur ales,
  quod tepidum vigili provocet ore diem.
Cf. also Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.597-598 (in the Cave of Sleep; tr. Frank Justus Miller):
There no wakeful, crested cock with his loud crowing summons the dawn.

non vigil ales ibi cristati cantibus oris
evocat Auroram.
Bettina Windau, Somnus: Neulateinische Dichtung an und über den Schlaf. Studien zur Motivik. Texte, Übersetzung, Kommentar (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1998) discusses Accolti's ode to sleep, but the book is unavailable to me.

Related posts:

Thursday, June 14, 2012


A Bad Bargain

A poem by T'ao Ch'ien, aka T'ao Yüan-ming (365-427), tr. Arthur Waley:
A long time ago
I went on a journey,
Right to the corner
Of the Eastern Ocean.
The road there
Was long and winding,
And stormy waves
Barred my path.
What made me
Go this way?
Hunger drove me
Into the World.
I tried hard
To fill my belly:
And even a little
Seemed a lot.
But this was clearly
A bad bargain,
So I went home
And lived in idleness.



David Gilmour, The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (London: The Harvill Press, 1988), p. 106 (footnotes omitted):
'I am a person,' noted Lampedusa in 1954, 'who is very often alone. Of the sixteen hours of daily wakefulness, at least ten are spent in solitude. And being unable, after all, to read the whole time, I amuse myself by constructing literary theories...' In fact he was not really thinking up theories but simply cogitating on writers, placing them in categories and making comparisons between them. It was, in the literal sense of the word, his pastime. As Francesco Orlando recalled after his death, 'Literature was the great occupation and consolation of this nobleman from whom various patrimonial misfortunes had removed all worldliness and practical usefulness, and who was reduced to living isolated, without any luxury other than his considerable expenditure on books...'
Literature was essential to Lampedusa‘s life. It gave him most of his ideas and much of his happiness, and it also attenuated the heavy depressions to which he was increasingly prone. According to Licy, 'he never left the house without a copy of Shakespeare in his bag, with which he would console himself when he saw something disagreeable'. 'There were several editions of Shakespeare’s works: some of them were portable, and these he took with him on his walks to the club; others were large volumes to read during sleepless nights...' The Pickwick Papers, which may have been his favourite book of all, was also crucial: 'He had a copy on the bedside table at night, he took it with him when he travelled, he kept rereading it.' Literature aroused emotions in Lampedusa in a way that human relations could not. He was capable of laughing aloud at Shakespeare's characters and confessed that he had once wept at the beauty of Milton's Lycidas.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Saintsbury on Greek

George Saintsbury (1845–1933), A Scrap Book (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1922), pp. 175-177:
I do not know—and I do not believe that anybody knows—any single "subject," as we call it, in language, literature, art, or science which approaches Greek in the validity, variety, and virtue of the powers and influences which it exercises and brings with it in education. As for the literature, it would be absurd and impertinent to dilate on that here. The greatest in the world, except English, it has, by a strange mixture of good and bad luck, a quality of selection, of essence, which our own ocean of treasure and rubbish necessarily lacks. In matter it is the source to this day of all our kinds; in form, the unsurpassed model of most of them. But for purposes of education, it is the language itself that counts most of all.

For combination of Order and Freedom, Beauty and Strength, nothing can touch it. As for the first pair, Latin is a great deal too orderly, and English, I fear, rather too free; as to the second, we must go to individuals, such as Dante or Shakespeare, not to their languages and literatures as wholes, to match it. Probably for very young children, and for a time, Latin grammar ought to be, as it once was, the only wear; but as soon as their brains get a little developed and disciplined, Greek is better, from its astonishing union of system in accidence with idiom in syntax and elasticity in prosody. And the good effect increases with the boy's years. I cannot "spot" any definite episode of my own education (except another some years later, when Prantl's Geschichte der Logik was the chief instrument) which whetted my own mind so effectually as the following. I had tried at Oxford for one scholarship and missed it (as an obliging examiner told a sort of friendly trainer of mine) by not very much—chiefly by weakness in some points of technical "scholarship." I was recommended to give up ordinary schoolwork for a month or two and tackle the big Jelf-Kühner Grammar as if it were a single text. That it made me what is esoterically called a "scholar," I cannot say. I am sure it made me a critic. The relation of the myriad examples to the rules they illustrated or excepted themselves from, combined with their intrinsic literary beauty, was enough for me, just as later were the quare-quale-quiddities of scholasticism.

George Saintsbury


"War Against the Superlative Degree" Revisited

Dear Mike,

I have been reading today a work on eloquent Italian by the novelist Edmondo De Amicis, L'Idioma Gentile (Milan, Treves, 1905), in which I find (pages 285-6) a passage that Emerson and Landor might have relished:
Author: Nowadays, you can't say that an actor is great in a certain role. He has to be immense. And famous turns up at every meal. A good sauce? Famous. A smart slap? Famous. A major drunken binge? Famous. This wine, for instance, is rather good, but not so famous as you think.

Professor: And what about superb?  And magnificent?  And splendid?

Lawyer:  A magnificent pair of shoes... 

Journalist: ... that lace up magnificently.

Author: Even divinely! But splendid is the cock-of-the-walk adjective these days.  A pair of trousers, an avenue, an artist, a political agenda, a risotto — they're all splendid. It has become an adjective that no one can resist. Do you know that [Olindo] Guerrini once tried to stem the tide by giving a satirical lecture on the subject to a roomful of his friends? Everyone was won over by his eloquence, but what was their verdict? A unanimous cry of Splendid!

                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Scrittore: Ora non basta più dire che un attore è grande in una data parte: si dice che è immenso. Anche famoso si dice a tutto pasto. Una buona salsa? Famosa.  Un potente schiaffo? Famoso. Una sbornia maiuscola? Famosa. Questo vino, per esempio, è bonino; ma non così  famoso come a voi pare.

Professore: E superbo? E magnifico? E splendido?

Avvocato: Un magnifico paio di scarpe ...

Cronista di giornale: Che calzano magnificamente.

Scrittore: Anzi, divinamente! Ma splendido è l'aggettivo re del tempo che corre. Splendido  un par di calzoni, un viale, un artista, un programma politico, un risotto. È diventato un aggettivo irresistibile. Sapete che il Guerrini, per combatterne l'abuso, tenne una volta una conferenza satirica a un auditorio d'amici? Tutti ne furono persuasi; ma quando egli ebbe finito, e domandò un giudizio sul suo discorso, risposero tutti a una voce: — Splendido!
                  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Has it occurred to you that the USDA 'grade-inflation' of that quintessentially Graeco-Italian fruit, the olive (e.g. 'super-colossal' for a fruit of scarcely more than ordinary size) may simply be an American institutional echo of traditional Italian grandiloquence?

As ever,

Ian Jackson

Related posts:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Arthur Waley

Dear Mr. Gilleland,

For several years I have been enjoying your blog Laudator Temporis Acti. You recently quoted some passages from the late Ivan Morris's essay on Arthur Waley; and I am moved now to write to you about him.

Like Waley, I first read Classics at King's College, Cambridge; and I followed in his footsteps by eventually becoming an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, in the same Department of Oriental Antiquities where he had worked for many years. I became familiar there with his child-like handwriting, not only in the Departmental register of Prints and Drawings, but also in the Museum's copy of Brinkley's Japanese-English Dictionary, which he clearly had by his side when he was translating Genji. (Waley's translation of hagi as "lespedeza" must come from there.) I would often see him making his way to the British Museum Reading Room, and I met him in the Department on a number of occasions. I would attempt to engage him in conversation, but he was shy and spoke in monosyllables, and in any case I was over-awed. The only time I heard him open up was when some one asked him at a museum reception about Joseph Needham: he launched into a bitter diatribe, saying that Needham could not read Chinese, and thought that nobody could catch him out. I treasure in my library one of Needham's books (Time: The Refreshing River, 1943), bearing the signature "A.Waley" on the flyleaf.

I agree entirely with Waley's points about learning Chinese and Japanese. My own training in classical Latin and Greek has been immensely helpful, though I tend to learn all other languages, including even French, as if they were dead. My best Asian language is Japanese (modern and classical); but I have also studied classical Chinese, Korean and Turkish, and I have smatterings of others. In connexion with work on Japanese prints I have translated many classical Japanese poems, preserving the Japanese syllable count and (as far as possible) the word order. My prior experience turning English verse into Greek iambics or Latin hexameters and elegiac couplets has come in handy for this purpose. (Waley, in his translation of Genji, chose to render the poems in prose.)

I have recently been dipping into Orienting Arthur Waley: Japonism, Orientalism, and the Creation of Japanese Literature in English (University of Hawai'i Press, 2003), by John Walter de Gruchy; and feel I could write an extended commentary on it. Among other things, I can claim to have known personally all three translators of Genji into English: Arthur Waley, Edward Seidensticker and Royall Tyler.


With good wishes,

Yours ever,

David Waterhouse
Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies,
University of Toronto

Thanks to Professor Waterhouse for permission to quote from his very interesting email.



C. Day Lewis (1904-1972), The Buried Day (London: Chatto & Windus, 1960), p. 97:
As I worked on into the early summer of 1940, I felt more and more the kind of patriotism which I imagine was Virgil's—the natural piety, the heightened sense of the genius of place, the passion to praise and protect one's roots, or to put down roots somewhere while there is still time, which it takes a seismic event such as war to reveal to most of us rootless moderns. More and more I was buoyed up by a feeling that England was speaking to me through Virgil, and that the Virgil of the Georgics was speaking to me through the English farmers and labourers with whom I consorted.

Monday, June 11, 2012


A New Creed

John Burroughs, "The Faith of a Naturalist," in Accepting the Universe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921), pp. 112-133 (at 116-117):
Amid the decay of creeds, love of nature has high religious value. This has saved many persons in this world — saved them from mammon-worship, and from the frivolity and insincerity of the crowd. It has made their lives placid and sweet. It has given them an inexhaustible field for inquiry, for enjoyment, for the exercise of all their powers, and in the end has not left them soured and dissatisfied. It has made them contented and at home wherever they are in nature — in the house not made with hands. This house is their church, and the rocks and the hills are the altars, and the creed is written in the leaves of the trees and in the flowers of the field and in the sands of the shore. A new creed every day and new preachers, and holy days all the week through. Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth. There are no heretics in Nature's church; all are believers, all are communicants. The beauty of natural religion is that you have it all the time; you do not have to seek it afar off in myths and legends, in catacombs, in garbled texts, in miracles of dead saints or wine-bibbing friars. It is of to-day; it is now and here; it is everywhere. The crickets chirp it, the birds sing it, the breezes chant it, the thunder proclaims it, the streams murmur it, the unaffected man lives it. Its incense rises from the plowed fields, it is on the morning breeze, it is in the forest breath and in the spray of the wave. The frosts write it in exquisite characters, the dews impearl it, and the rainbow paints it on the cloud. It is not an insurance policy underwritten by a bishop or a priest; it is not even a faith; it is a love, an enthusiasm, a consecration to natural truth.

The God of sunshine and of storms speaks a less equivocal language than the God of revelation.

John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge

V. Sackville-West, A Creed, in Poems of West and East (London: John Lane, 1917), p. 22:
That I should live and look with open eyes
I count as half my claim to Paradise.
I have not crept beneath cathedral arches,
But bathed in streams beneath the silver larches;

And have not grovelled to the Sunday priest,
But found an unconfined and daily feast;
Was called ungodly, and to those who blamed
Laughed back defiance and was not ashamed.

Some hold their duty to be mournful; why?
I cannot love your weeping poets; I
Am sad in winter, but in summer gay,
And vary with each variable day.

And though the pious cavilled at my mirth,
At least I rendered thanks for God's fair earth,
Grateful that I, among the murmuring rest,
Was not an unappreciative guest.



R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), quoted by Byron Rogers in his obituary of Thomas, The Guardian (September 26, 2000):
"My mother used to ask my father, 'Haven't you a good word to say about anybody?' He thought for a long time and said 'No'."


The Men of Old and the People of Today

A poem by Yuan Mei (1716–1797), tr. Arthur Waley:
If one opens a book, one meets the men of old;
If one goes into the street, one meets the people of today.
The men of old! Their bones are turned to dust;
It can only be with their feelings that one makes friends.
The people of today are of one's own kind,
But to hear their talk is like chewing a candle!
I had far rather live with stocks and stones
Than spend my time with ordinary people.
Fortunately one need not belong to one's own time;
One's real date is the date of the books one reads!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


The Simple Life

Yuan Mei (1716–1797), Nearing Hao-pa, tr. J.P. Seaton:
(I saw in the mist a little village of a few tiled roofs and joyfully admired it.)

There's a stream, and there's bamboo,
there's mulberry and hemp.
Mist-hid, clouded hamlet,
a mild, tranquil place.
Just a few tilled acres.
Just a few tiled roofs.
How many lives would I
have to live, to get
that simple.

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