Monday, April 14, 2014


High Priests of Learning

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), p. 47:
FL.—The best thing that could be done for you Germans were to keep you from the sight of a book for at least two months in the year. You pore over old papers, peeping through the fumes of tobacco, till you positively unlearn the natural use of your eyes. How is it that in a company of half-a-dozen Germans three are sure to have spectacles on their noses?

B.—I do not know; but, if we did damage our eyes by too much poring over books, it is no small compensation to think that we have produced such men as Niebuhr and Mommsen, Wolf, Hermann, Boeckh, and Bopp.

FL.—In these names verily you have your reward. You are the high priests of learning, not for yourselves only, but for the whole world.
One German scholar supposedly became blind from poring over old papers, viz. Wilhelm Studemund (1843-1889), who prefixed Catullus' words "Ni te plus oculis meis amarem!" ("Did I not love thee more than my eyes!") to his transcription of the Ambrosian palimpsest of Plautus—T. Macci Plauti Fabularum Reliquiae Ambrosianae: Codicis Rescripti Ambrosiani Apographum (Berlin: Weidmann, 1889). However, Benjamin W. Fortson IV casts doubt on the story in his Language and Rhythm in Plautus: Synchronic and Diachronic Studies (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), p. 11, n. 27:
Contrary to popular wisdom, it is not physiologically possible to go blind in this fashion; more likely, Studemund suffered from macular degeneration.

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