Sunday, September 25, 2016


Preparation for Study

A.D. Nuttall, Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 142 (on Isaac Casaubon), with notes on p. 218:
He is berating himself for rising as late as five o'clock — "A quinta (heu quam sero) surreximus." "Got up at five (gosh, how late!)." I have translated this into colloquial modern idiom in order to reflect the extraordinarily easy, free immediacy of Casaubon's Latin. He writes of books as though they were friends or acquaintances. This may momentarily confuse the unprepared reader. Casaubon keeps referring to time given to "Basilius." At last one realises that Basilius is a long-dead author (he is reading Hieronymus Froben's 1598 edition — 698 close-packed folio pages). One sentence sticks in the memory: "Dein pro more pexo capillo museum ingressi," "Then I combed my hair in the usual way and went into my study." Why does Casaubon, the least narcissistic of men, record in his diary that he combed his hair? One wonders for a moment if there is a strain of ritual in this careful preparation of his person before engaging in the wholly private activity of study. Machiavelli famously tells posterity that he put on his court robes before passing into the world of the ancients and reading for four hours, alone.28 Keats told his brother George on 17 September 1819 in a letter how he would brush his hair, put on a clean shirt, and "in fact adonize as I were going out" before sitting down to write poetry.29

28. Letter to Francesco Vettori, 10 December 1513, in The Literary Works of Machiavelli, trans. J.R. Hale (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 139.

29. The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821, ed. H.E. Rollins, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 2:186.
For the endnotes (not visible in Google Books) I'm indebted to Ian Jackson, who adds, "And let us not forget that Haydn put on his best wig and formal garb before sitting down to compose." I'm also reminded of the Spartans' habit of combing their hair before battle (Herodotus 7.209.3: νόμος γάρ σφι ἔχων οὕτω ἐστί· ἐπεὰν μέλλωσι κινδυνεύειν τῇ ψυχῇ, τότε τὰς κεφαλὰς κοσμέονται).

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