Saturday, August 02, 2014


Milk from a Grindstone

Erasmus, letter 3 (to Peter Gerard; tr. Francis Morgan Nichols):
You seem to be so resolved, that I think it would be an easier thing to draw milk from a grindstone than anything like a letter from you.
The Latin, from Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ed. P.S. Allen, tom. I: 1484-1514 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906; rpt. 1992), p. 75:
Vt ego tuam pertinaciam video, procliuius factu credo vt ex cote lac quam ex te aliquid literarum eliciamus.
I am a lax correspondent, and there are many who could with justice direct at me Erasmus' criticism against Peter Gerard.

Cf. Erasmus, Adagia I iv 75 (adapted from Plautus, Persa 41): Aquam e pumice postulas (tr. Margaret Mann Phillips: You are asking for water out of a pumice stone). Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), p. 1375, # 1887, gives other parallels, but not "ex cote lac" from this letter of Erasmus. In English we say "blood from a stone."

A friend just gave me, as an early birthday present, all 12 volumes of Allen's Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, "one of the great monuments of English learning," as J.B. Trapp, "Allen, Percy Stafford (1869–1933), Erasmian scholar," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, describes it. Thanks very much, dear friend.

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