Wednesday, May 23, 2018


But X Did the Same Thing!

Isocrates, Busiris 45 (tr. LaRue Van Hook):
For you do not exonerate him from the charges, but only declare that some others have done the same things, inventing thus a very easy refuge for all criminals. Why, if it is not easy to find a crime which has not yet been committed, and if we should consider that those who have been found guilty of one or another of these crimes have done nothing so very wrong, whenever others are found to have perpetrated the same offences, should we not be providing ready-made pleas in exculpation of all criminals and be granting complete licence for those who are bent on villainy?

οὐ γὰρ ἀπολύεις αὐτὸν τῶν αἰτιῶν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀποφαίνεις ὡς καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τινὲς ταὐτὰ πεποιήκασι, ῥᾳθυμοτάτην τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν εὑρίσκων καταφυγήν. εἰ γὰρ τῶν μὲν ἀδικημάτων μὴ ῥᾴδιον εὑρεῖν ὃ μήπω τυγχάνει γεγενημένον, τοὺς δ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἑκάστοις αὐτῶν ἁλισκομένους μηδὲν ἡγοίμεθα δεινὸν ποιεῖν, ὅταν ἕτεροι ταὐτὰ φαίνωνται διαπεπραγμένοι, πῶς οὐκ ἂν καὶ τὰς ἀπολογίας ἅπασι ῥᾳδίας ποιήσαιμεν, καὶ τοῖς βουλομένοις εἶναι πονηροῖς πολλὴν ἐξουσίαν παρασκευάσαιμεν;


The Man He Killed

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), "The Man He Killed," Harper's Weekly (November 8, 1902) 1649:
    'Had he and I but met
    By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
    Right many a nipperkin!

    'But ranged as infantry,
    And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
    And killed him in his place.

    'I shot him dead because —
    Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
    That's clear enough; although

    'He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
    Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
    No other reason why.

    'Yes; quaint and curious war is!
    You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
    Or help to half-a-crown.'

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


A Fellow Creature

George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War," The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 249-267 (at 253-254):
Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat beet-field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go out while it was still dark and return soon after dawn, before the light became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment a man, presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at "Fascists"; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a "Fascist", he is visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.
Id. (at 258-259):
I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that "the facts" existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth" exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as "science". There is only "German science", "Jewish science" etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, "It never happened" — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.
Id. (at 260):
When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves' names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker's name inscribed on the bottom, "Felix fecit". I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.
Here is the glass jar Orwell was talking about (British Museum, number 1922,0512.1, found at Faversham, Kent):

The base of the jar, with the inscription:

Id. (at 265):
The damned impertinence of these politicians, priests, literary men, and what not who lecture the working-class Socialist for his "materialism"! All that the working man demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day, clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak, and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. Not one of those who preach against "materialism" would consider life liveable without these things.

Monday, May 21, 2018


A Nun Eating a Banana

Cristina De Stefano, Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend, tr. Marina Harss (New York: Other Press, 2017), pp. 30-31:
To prepare for her first Communion, her mother sends her to a convent for a short retreat. Before sending her off, she gives her some chocolate and a banana, an extraordinary luxury. The nuns tell her to leave everything on the altar, as a gift to Jesus. "A little while later I crept into the church to see whether Baby Jesus had eaten the banana and chocolate, but there was nothing left. Not even the banana peel or the chocolate wrapper. This made me suspicious. I left the church, went down a hallway, and there, on the balustrade, was a nun eating my banana."


Worlds Apart

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "Two Races," Complete Verse (New York: Anchor Books, 1989), p. 821:
I seek not what his soul desires.
      He dreads not what my spirit fears.
Our Heavens have shown us separate fires.
      Our dooms have dealt us differing years.

Our daysprings and our timeless dead
      Ordained for us and still control
Lives sundered at the fountain-head,
      And distant, now, as Pole from Pole.

Yet, dwelling thus, these worlds apart,
      When we encounter each is free
To bare that larger, liberal heart
      Our kin and neighbours seldom see.

(Custom and code compared in jest —
      Weakness delivered without shame —
And certain common sins confessed
      Which all men know, and none dare blame.)

E'en so it is, and well content
      It should be so a moment's space,
Each finds the other excellent,
      And — runs to follow his own race!
Related post: Flocking Together.


A God Swears by Himself

Aristophanes, Birds 1614 (Poseidon speaking; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
By Poseidon, that's a very good point.

νὴ τὸν Ποσειδῶ ταῦτά γέ τοι καλῶς λέγεις.
J. Van Leeuwen in his commentary ad loc. points out that Hermes swears by the gods in Aristophanes, Wealth 1147 (πρὸς θεῶν), and that Jupiter sacrifices to himself in Plautus, Amphitruo 983 (mihi quom sacruficem).


They Laughed Themselves to Death

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, III, 8 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
For the old gods, after all, things came to an end long ago; and verily, they had a good gay godlike end. They did not end in a "twilight," though this lie is told. Instead: one day they laughed themselves to death. That happened when the most godless word issued from one of the gods themselves — the word: "There is one god. Thou shalt have no other god before me!" An old grim-beard of a god, a jealous one, thus forgot himself. And then all the gods laughed and rocked on their chairs and cried, "Is not just this godlike that there are gods but no God?"

Mit den alten Göttern ging es ja lange schon zu Ende: – und wahrlich, ein gutes fröhliches Götter-Ende hatten sie! Sie »dämmerten« sich nicht zu Tode — das lügt man wohl! Vielmehr: sie haben sich selber einmal zu Tode — gelacht! Das geschah, als das gottloseste Wort von einem Gotte selber ausging — das Wort: »Es ist ein Gott! Du sollst keinen andern Gott haben neben mir!« — ein alter Grimm-Bart von Gott, ein eifersüchtiger, vergaß sich also: — Und alle Götter lachten damals und wackelten auf ihren Stühlen und riefen: »Ist das nicht eben Göttlichkeit, daß es Götter, aber keinen Gott gibt?«
Related posts:

Sunday, May 20, 2018



Christopher Pelling, Literary Texts and the Greek Historian (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 123, with note on p. 276:
An American observer, so the story goes, once expressed surprise at the way in which Margaret Thatcher dominated the British cabinet. He was advised to read P.G. Wodehouse on Bertie Wooster and his aunts. Comedy tells. And Dionysius of Syracuse, so another story went, once asked Plato to explain to him the nature of Athenian political life. Plato responded by sending him a work of Aristophanes.1

1 Life of Aristophanes (Proleg. XXVIII 46–9, p. 135 Koster); Riginos 1976: 176-8.
Here is the Greek, followed by Jeffrey Henderson's translation:
φασὶ δὲ καὶ Πλάτωνα Διονυσίῳ τῷ τυράννῳ βουληθέντι μαθεῖν τὴν Ἀθηναίων πολιτείαν πέμψαι τὴν Αριστοφάνους ποίησιν, [τὴν κατὰ Σωκράτους ἐν Νεφέλαις κατηγορίαν,] καὶ συμβουλεῦσαι τὰ δράματα αὐτοῦ ἀσκηθέντα μαθεῖν αὐτῶν πολιτείαν.

And they say that when Dionysius the tyrant wanted to learn about the polity of the Athenians, Plato sent him the poetry of Ar. [the accusation against Socrates in Clouds] and advised him to study the plays if he would learn their polity.
Riginos = Alice Swift Riginos, Platonica: The Anecdotes Concerning the Life and Writings of Plato (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976).

Friday, May 18, 2018


Battle of the Bulls

Phaedrus 1.30 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
Poor folk suffer when the mighty quarrel.
A frog looking out from a marsh upon a combat between two bulls,
exclaimed: "Alas, what great destruction is verging upon us!"
Being asked by another frog why he said this,
since those bulls were contending for the sovereignty of the herd
and, as cattle, lived their lives at a distance from the frogs, he replied:
"Granted that their range is remote from ours, and that their species is different,
nevertheless, whichever of them is driven from the lordship of the meadow, and takes to flight,
will come to the secret recesses of our marsh
and will tread us down and crush us with his hard hoofs.
Thus their fury has something to do with our own safety."

Humiles laborant ubi potentes dissident.
Rana in palude pugnam taurorum intuens,
"Heu, quanta nobis instat pernicies" ait.
interrogata ab alia cur hoc diceret,
de principatu cum illi certarent gregis        5
longeque ab ipsis degerent vitam boves,
"Sit statio separata ac diversum genus;
expulsus regno nemoris qui profugerit
paludis in secreta veniet latibula,
et proculcatas obteret duro pede.        10
ita caput ad nostrum furor illorum pertinet."

Thursday, May 17, 2018


The Human Condition

Pascal, Pensées 199 Brunschvicg (tr. H.F. Stewart):
Imagine a number of men in fetters, all condemned to death, and some killed daily in the sight of the rest, and those who are left, reading their own fate in that of their fellows, waiting their turn, looking at each other in gloom and despair. That is a picture of man's state.

Qu'on s'imagine un nombre d'hommes dans les chaisnes, et tous condamnez à la mort, dont les uns estant chaque jour égorgez à la veue des autres, ceux qui restent voyent leur propre condition dans celle de leurs semblables, et, se regardant les uns et les autres avec douleur et sans espérance, attendent à leur tour. C'est l'image de la condition des hommes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Drowning in Filth

George Orwell, Diaries (April 27, 1942):
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone's thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a "case" with deliberate suppression of his opponent's point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.


Promises of the Feathered Gods

Aristophanes, Birds 723-734 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Well then, if you treat us as gods
you'll have the benefit of prophets, muses,
breezes, seasons—winter, mild summer,
stifling heat. And we won't run off and
sit up there preening among the clouds, like Zeus,
but ever at hand we'll bestow on you,
your children, and your children's children
healthy wealthiness, happiness, prosperity, peace,
youth, hilarity, dances, festivities,
and birds' milk.

ἢν οὖν ἡμᾶς νομίσητε θεούς,
ἕξετε χρῆσθαι μάντεσι, μούσαις,
αὔραις, ὥραις, χειμῶνι, θέρει        725
μετρίῳ, πνίγει· κοὐκ ἀποδράντες
καθεδούμεθ᾿ ἄνω σεμνυνόμενοι
παρὰ ταῖς νεφέλαις ὥσπερ χὠ Ζεύς·
ἀλλὰ παρόντες δώσομεν ὑμῖν
αὐτοῖς, παισίν, παίδων παισίν,        730
πλουθυγίειαν, βίον, εἰρήνην,
νεότητα, γέλωτα, χορούς, θαλίας
γάλα τ᾿ ὀρνίθων.
Text and translation from Aristophanes, Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria. Edited and Translated by Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000 = Loeb Classical Library, 159), pp. 120-121 (the same in the Digital Loeb Classical Library; I split up the English to correspond roughly to the Greek lines). Henderson's "happiness" doesn't appear in the Greek as printed. He has translated a different text from the one he prints. In the Greek, he has adopted Hamaker's deletion of the manuscripts' εὐδαιμονίαν after πλουθυγίειαν, but he has translated the rejected word. The deletion isn't noted in the critical apparatus. It should be, and the translation should match the text.

Nan Dunbar ad loc. (student edition only — I don't have access to the full edition):


Tuesday, May 15, 2018


He Never Talks

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Typhoon, chapter I (Jukes talking about Captain MacWhirr):
"Old Sol says he hasn't much conversation. Conversation! O Lord! He never talks. The other day I had been yarning under the bridge with one of the engineers, and he must have heard us. When I came up to take my watch, he steps out of the chart-room and has a good look all round, peeps over at the sidelights, glances at the compass, squints upward at the stars. That's his regular performance. By-and-by he says: 'Was that you talking just now in the port alleyway?' 'Yes, sir.' 'With the third engineer?' 'Yes, sir.' He walks off to starboard, and sits under the dodger on a little campstool of his, and for half an hour perhaps he makes no sound, except that I heard him sneeze once. Then after a while I hear him getting up over there, and he strolls across to port, where I was. 'I can’t understand what you can find to talk about,' says he. 'Two solid hours. I am not blaming you. I see people ashore at it all day long, and then in the evening they sit down and keep at it over the drinks. Must be saying the same things over and over again. I can't understand.'"
Related posts:


The Pushy Newcomer

Babrius 135 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A man bought a partridge and let him run around in the house, for he was fond of the creature. Immediately the bird began to clamour loudly in his usual style, went through all the house and ended at the hearth. The wily cat ran up to him and said: "Who are you? Where do you come from?" "I'm a partridge," he replied, "just recently bought." "And I," said the cat, "have been around here a long time. My mother, the mouse-slayer, gave birth to me inside this house. But I keep my mouth shut and sleep by the hearth; why is it that you, who come here lately purchased, as you say, are making yourself so free and crowing so loudly?"

Πέρδικά τις πριάμενος ἐντρέχειν οἴκῳ
ἀφῆκεν· ἡδέως γὰρ εἶχε τοῦ ζῴου.
κἀκεῖνος εὐθὺς κλαγγὸν ἐξ ἔθους ᾄδων
πᾶσαν κατ᾿ αὐλὴν ἄχρι βημάτων ᾔει.
γαλῆ πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡπίβουλος ὡρμήθη        5
καὶ πρῶτον εἶπε "τίς μὲν εἶ, πόθεν <δ᾿> ἥκεις;"
ὁ δ᾿ "ἠγόρασμαι" φησί "προσφάτως <πέρδιξ>."
"ἐγὼ χρόνον τοσοῦτον ἐνθαδὶ τρίβω
καὶ μ᾿ ἔνδον ἔτεκεν ἡ μυοκτόνος μήτηρ,
ἀλλ᾿ ἡσυχάζω καὶ πρὸς ἑστίην εὕδω·        10
σὺ δ᾿ ἄρτι πως ὠνητός, ὡς λέγεις, ἥκων
παρρησιάζῃ" φησί "καὶ κατακρώζεις;"

Monday, May 14, 2018


Grimani Reliefs

Ewe with lamb:

Lioness with cubs:

Sow with piglets:

From Praeneste, now at Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Sunday, May 13, 2018



George Orwell, "London Letter to Partisan Review," 1 January 1942, The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 175-183 (at 177-178):
Up till about 1930 nearly all "cultivated" people loathed the U.S.A., which was regarded as the vulgarizer of England and Europe. The disappearance of this attitude was probably connected with the fall of Latin and Greek from their dominant position as school subjects. The younger intellectuals have no objection to the American language and tend to have a masochistic attitude towards the U.S.A., which they believe to be richer and more powerful than Britain. Of course it is exactly this that excites the jealousy of the ordinary patriotic middle class. I know people who automatically switch off the radio as soon as any American news comes on, and the most banal English film will always get middle-class support because "it's such a relief to get away from those American voices". Americans are supposed to be boastful, bad-mannered and worshippers of money....
"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!"


What We Get from Zeus

Homer, Iliad 14.85-87 (Odysseus to Agamemnon; tr. Peter Green):
                                                              [To us] Zeus
has given the task, from youth to old age, of winding
the skein of grim war, till we perish, every last man!

ἐκ νεότητος ἔδωκε καὶ ἐς γῆρας τολυπεύειν
ἀργαλέους πολέμους, ὄφρα φθιόμεσθα ἕκαστος.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


A Multitude of Laws

Isocrates, Areopagiticus 40-41 (tr. George Norlin):
But in fact, they thought, virtue is not advanced by written laws but by the habits of every-day life; for the majority of men tend to assimilate the manners and morals amid which they have been reared. Furthermore, they held that where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed; for it is in the attempt to build up dikes against the spread of crime that men in such a state feel constrained to multiply the laws.

Those who are rightly governed, on the other hand, do not need to fill their porticoes with written statutes, but only to cherish justice in their souls; for it is not by legislation, but by morals, that states are well directed, since men who are badly reared will venture to transgress even laws which are drawn up with minute exactness, whereas those who are well brought up will be willing to respect even a simple code.

ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκ τούτων τὴν ἐπίδοσιν εἶναι τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ τῶν καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν ἐπιτηδευμάτων· τοὺς γὰρ πολλοὺς ὁμοίους τοῖς ἤθεσιν ἀποβαίνειν, ἐν οἷς ἂν ἕκαστοι παιδευθῶσιν. ἔπειτα τά γε πλήθη καὶ τὰς ἀκριβείας τῶν νόμων σημεῖον εἶναι τοῦ κακῶς οἰκεῖσθαι τὴν πόλιν ταύτην· ἐμφράγματα γὰρ αὐτοὺς ποιουμένους τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων πολλοὺς τίθεσθαι τοὺς νόμους ἀναγκάζεσθαι.

δεῖν δὲ τοὺς ὀρθῶς πολιτευομένους οὐ τὰς στοὰς ἐμπιπλάναι γραμμάτων, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἔχειν τὸ δίκαιον· οὐ γὰρ τοῖς ψηφίσμασιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἤθεσι καλῶς οἰκεῖσθαι τὰς πόλεις, καὶ τοὺς μὲν κακῶς τεθραμμένους καὶ τοὺς ἀκριβῶς τῶν νόμων ἀναγεγραμμένους τολμήσειν παραβαίνειν, τοὺς δὲ καλῶς πεπαιδευμένους καὶ τοῖς ἁπλῶς κειμένοις ἐθελήσειν ἐμμένειν.


A Chorus of Raspberries

George Orwell, "The Art of Donald McGill," The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 155-165 (at 164):
I never read the proclamations of generals before battle, the speeches of fuehrers and prime ministers, the solidarity songs of public schools and left-wing political parties, national anthems, Temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to whom these high sentiments make no appeal.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Born a Slave

Jonah Goldberg, The Suicide of the West (New York: Crown Forum, 2018), p. 40:
In the Roman tradition of slavery, slaves were not born, they were made. The child of a slave did not inherit that status.
I'm no expert, but I think that, under Roman law, a child had the same status its mother had when the child was born. See the Digest of Justinian (tr. Alan Watson):
People are brought under our power as slaves either by the civil law or by the jus gentium. This happens by civil law if someone over twenty years of age allows himself to be sold with a view to sharing in the price. By the jus gentium, people become slaves on being captured by enemies or by birth to a female slave.

servi autem in dominium nostrum rediguntur aut iure civili aut gentium: iure civili, si quis se maior viginti annis ad pretium participandum venire passus est. iure gentium servi nostri sunt, qui ab hostibus capiuntur aut qui ex ancillis nostris nascuntur.

Kevin Muse reminds me that the Romans had a special word for one who was born a slave—verna.



James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015), p. 6:
Later I would understand that modern people the world over are obsessed with the importance of "going somewhere" and "doing something" with your life. The implication is an idea I have come to hate, that staying local and doing physical work doesn't count for much.
Id., p. 19:
My grandfather was, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who live, work, love, and die without leaving much written trace that they were ever here. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially nobodies as far as anyone else is concerned. But that's the point. Landscapes like ours were created by and survive through the efforts of nobodies.
Id., p. 34:
My father can hardly spell common words but has an encyclopaedic knowledge of landscape. I think it makes a mockery of the conventional idea of who is and isn't intelligent. Some of the smartest people I have ever known are semi-illiterate.
Id., p. 84:
My grandmother once scolded me for idleness when she caught me reading in her house. The gist of it was that there couldn't possibly be so little else of value to do on the farm that I could justify reading a book in daylight hours. Books were considered a sign of idleness at best and dangerous at worst.
Id., pp. 89-90:
She didn't really understand new things like TV. She barely even tried. She lived in a world that died sometime in the 1970s and 1980s. A world that felt like it stretched from the beginning of time until then, where a woman was judged on her cooking, her house, and her garden. She didn't understand the emerging new world of the 1980s, our world, of books, money, computers, credit cards, and holidays. She lived with an unquestioned belief that these things were aberrations, foolishness, and fleeting fancies, the rubbish of now.

Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935), Leaving the Hills

Related post: Invisibility.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Be Best

Homer, Iliad 11.783-784 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
And Peleus the aged was telling his own son, Achilleus,
to be always best in battle and pre-eminent beyond all others.

Πηλεὺς μὲν ᾧ παιδὶ γέρων ἐπέτελλ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ
αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων.
Iliad 6.208 (Hippolochus to Glaucus) = Iliad 11.784.

Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), The Greeks and Greek Civilization, tr. Sheila Stern (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), p. 140, called this "the fundamental principle of Greek life."

Email from William Glennon (with subject line αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν):
Motto on seal of Boston College.

Usually translated 'Always eat breakfast' (ex ἀριστάω).

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


Heatherlegh's Prescription

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "The Phantom Rickshaw," The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Tales (New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1890), pp. 7-57 (at 9):
Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable prescription to all his patients is, "lie low, go slow, and keep cool." He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance of this world justifies.
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Hostility to the Persians

Isocrates, Panegyricus 158-159 (tr. George Norlin):
So ingrained in our nature is our hostility to them that even in the matter of our stories we linger most fondly over those which tell of the Trojan and the Persian wars, because through them we learn of our enemies' misfortunes; and you will find that our warfare against the barbarians has inspired our hymns, while that against the Hellenes has brought forth our dirges; and that the former are sung at our festivals, while we recall the latter on occasions of sorrow.

Moreover, I think that even the poetry of Homer has won a greater renown because he has nobly glorified the men who fought against the barbarians, and that on this account our ancestors determined to give his art a place of honour in our musical contests and in the education of our youth in order that we, hearing his verses over and over again, may learn by heart the enmity which stands from of old between us and them, and that we, admiring the valour of those who were in the war against Troy, may conceive a passion for like deeds.

οὕτω δὲ φύσει πολεμικῶς πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἔχομεν, ὥστε καὶ τῶν μύθων ἥδιστα συνδιατρίβομεν τοῖς Τρωικοῖς καὶ Περσικοῖς, δι᾿ ὧν ἔστι πυνθάνεσθαι τὰς ἐκείνων συμφοράς. εὕροι δ᾿ ἄν τις ἐκ μὲν τοῦ πολέμου τοῦ πρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους ὕμνους πεποιημένους, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ πρὸς τοὺς Ἕλληνας θρήνους ἡμῖν γεγενημένους, καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς ᾀδομένους, τῶν δ᾿ ἐπὶ ταῖς συμφοραῖς ἡμᾶς μεμνημένους.

οἶμαι δὲ καὶ τὴν Ὁμήρου ποίησιν μείζω λαβεῖν δόξαν, ὅτι καλῶς τοὺς πολεμήσαντας τοῖς βαρβάροις ἐνεκωμίασε, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο βουληθῆναι τοὺς προγόνους ἡμῶν ἔντιμον αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι τὴν τέχνην ἔν τε τοῖς τῆς μουσικῆς ἄθλοις καὶ τῇ παιδεύσει τῶν νεωτέρων, ἵνα πολλάκις ἀκούοντες τῶν ἐπῶν ἐκμανθάνωμεν τὴν ἔχθραν τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν πρὸς αὐτούς, καὶ ζηλοῦντες τὰς ἀρετὰς τῶν στρατευσαμένων τῶν αὐτῶν ἔργων ἐκείνοις ἐπιθυμῶμεν.


In Hora Mortis

Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Looking Back: An Autobiographical Excursion (London: Chatto and Windus, 1934), p. 461 (on Gifford Palgrave):
At the time of his death, Palgrave, after veering round from one religion to another, had settled down—for the time being, no doubt—to atheism. Somebody nevertheless tried to console the infidel's last moments by calling in a Catholic priest, who said to him in the course of his exhortations: 'Ah, if you could see how a Christian believer dies—' 'Haven't I seen it!' whispered the dying man. 'Perhaps you don't know that I was a Jesuit confessor myself for twenty years.' Se non è vero, etc.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


Not Ancestral Custom

Isocrates, Panegyricus 63 (tr. George Norlin):
Assuredly it is not ancestral custom for immigrants to set themselves over the sons of the soil, or the recipients of benefits over their benefactors, or refugees over those who gave them asylum.

οὐ δή που πάτριόν ἐστιν ἡγεῖσθαι τοὺς ἐπήλυδας τῶν αὐτοχθόνων, οὐδὲ τοὺς εὖ παθόντας τῶν εὖ ποιησάντων, οὐδὲ τοὺς ἱκέτας γενομένους τῶν ὑποδεξαμένων.

Monday, May 07, 2018


An Old Man's Wish

Euripides, fragment 369 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Let my spear lie idle for spiders to entangle in their webs; and may I dwell peacefully with grey old age, singing my songs, my grey head crowned with garlands, after hanging a Thracian shield upon Athena's columned halls; and may I unfold the voice of the tablets in which the wise are celebrated.

κείσθω δόρυ μοι μίτον ἀμφιπλέκειν ἀράχναις·
μετὰ δ᾿ ἡσυχίας πολιῷ γήρᾳ συνοικῶν
ᾄδοιμι κάρα στεφάνοις πολιὸν στεφανώσας,
Θρῃκίαν πέλταν πρὸς Ἀθάνας
περικίοσιν ἀγκρεμάσας θαλάμοις,
δελτῶν τ᾿ ἀναπτύσσοιμι γῆ-
ρυν ᾇ σοφοὶ κλέονται.

2 συνοικῶν Cropp: συνοικοίην or -είην Stobaeus: σύνοικος Page
See Maurizio Sonnino, Euripidis Erechthei quae exstant. Introduzione. Testo Critico. Commento. Traduzione (diss. Rome, 2009), pp. 169-177.


Too Many Books

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), pp. 1898-1899 (Z 4269-4270):
If the hope of immortality was ever fanciful, it is for writers of today. Too many books appear each day, whether good or bad or mediocre, which necessarily causes those of the previous day to be forgotten; even if they were excellent. All places for immortality in this respect are already occupied. By this, I mean that the ancient classical writers will keep the place they have acquired, or at least it is likely they will not die so fast. But to acquire a place now, to increase the number of immortals, I think is no longer possible. [4270] The destiny of books today is like that of those insects called ephemerals (éphémères): certain species live a few hours, some one night, others 3 or 4 days; but it is always only a matter of days. In truth, we of today are travellers and pilgrims on the earth: our time is truly short: we are here for one day: the morning in flower, the evening faded, or dried up: destined also to outlive our own fame, and living longer than we are remembered. Today it can be said more truly than ever before: "Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ, τοιήδε καὶ ἀνδρῶν" [even as are the generations of leaves, so also are those of men] (Iliad 6, l. 146.)

Se mai fu chimerica la speranza dell'immortalità, essa lo è oggi per gli scrittori. Troppa è la copia dei libri o buoni o cattivi o mediocri che escono ogni giorno, e che per necessità fanno dimenticare quelli del giorno innanzi; sian pure eccellenti. Tutti i posti dell'immortalità in questo genere, sono già occupati. Gli antichi classici, voglio dire, conserveranno quella che hanno acquistata, o almeno è credibile che non morranno così tosto. Ma acquistarla ora, accrescere il numero degl'immortali; oh questo io non credo che sia più possibile. [4270] La sorte dei libri oggi, è come quella degl'insetti chiamati efimeri (éphémères): alcune specie vivono poche ore, alcune una notte, altre 3 o 4 giorni; ma sempre si tratta di giorni. Noi siamo veramente oggidì passeggeri e pellegrini sulla terra: veramente caduchi: esseri di un giorno: la mattina in fiore, la sera appassiti, o secchi: soggetti anche a sopravvivere alla propria fama, e più longevi che la memoria di noi. Oggi si può dire con verità maggiore che mai: Oἵη περ ϕύλλων γενεὴ, τοιήδε καὶ ἀνδρῶν (Iliad. 6. v.146.)


Book Recommendation for Schoolboys

Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Looking Back: An Autobiographical Excursion (London: Chatto and Windus, 1934), pp. 272-273:
The Golden Ass forms no part of the regular school curriculum but I suppose all schoolboys are familiar with it; at least I hope they are; if not in the original, then in a crib.

Sunday, May 06, 2018



Cicero, Against Verres (tr. L.H.G. Greenwood):
You are aware of Verres' foul and wicked character: conceive, if you can, a man who can match him in every branch of unspeakable indulgence in every kind of vileness: that man will be the famous Apronius, who proclaims himself by his life, nay, by his very shape and countenance, a vast devouring human morass, replete with all manner of villainies and abominations. It is he who was Verres' right-hand man in his debaucheries, in his sacrilegious robberies, in his filthy carouses: and to such sympathy and affection does similarity of character give rise that Apronius, whom all others regarded as an uncouth savage, appeared to Verres an agreeable and cultivated person. Everyone else loathed him and shunned the sight of him: Verres could not live without him. Others could not drink in the same room with him: Verres would drink out of the same cup with him, and the disgusting smell of the man's breath and body, which we are told not even animals could endure, to him, and to him alone, seemed sweet and pleasant.

Verris mores improbos impurosque nostis; fingite vobis aliquem, si potestis, qui in omnibus isti rebus par ad omnium flagitiorum nefarias libidines esse possit; is erit Apronius ille, qui, ut ipse non solum vita sed corpore atque ore significat, immensa aliqua vorago est et gurges vitiorum turpitudinumque omnium. hunc in omnibus stupris, hunc in fanorum expilationibus, hunc in impuris conviviis principem adhibebat; tantamque habet morum similitudo coniunctionem atque concordiam ut Apronius, qui aliis inhumanus ac barbarus, isti uni commodus ac disertus videretur; ut, quem omnes odissent neque videre vellent, sine eo iste esse non posset; ut, cum alii ne conviviis quidem isdem quibus Apronius, hic isdem etiam poculis uteretur; postremo ut odor Apronii taeterrimus oris et corporis, quem, ut aiunt, ne bestiae quidem ferre possent, uni isti suavis et iucundus videretur.

Saturday, May 05, 2018


Born Centrifugal

Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Looking Back: An Autobiographical Excursion (London: Chatto and Windus, 1934), p. 61 (on Uppingham School):
Some few of us are born centrifugal. The herd-system and team-life, congenial to many, went against my grain. A mildewy scriptural odour pervaded the institution — it reeked of Jeroboam and Jesus; the masters struck me as supercilious humbugs; the food was so vile that for the first day or two after returning from holidays I could not get it down.


Rights of Man

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "Edgar Allan Poe, his Life and Works," Selected Writings on Art and Literature, tr. P.E. Charvet (1972; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 2006), pp. 162-187 (at 174):
Amongst the large numbers of Rights of Man which the nineteenth century, in its wisdom, so often enumerates with complacency, two quite important ones have been forgotten, namely our right to contradict ourselves, and our right to quit this life.

Parmi l'énumération nombreuse des droits de l'homme que la sagesse du XIXe siècle recommence si souvent et si complaisamment, deux assez importants ont été oubliés, qui sont le droit de se contredire et le droit de s'en aller.

Friday, May 04, 2018



Isocrates, Panegyricus 24-25 (tr. George Norlin):
For we did not become dwellers in this land by driving others out of it, nor by finding it uninhabited, nor by coming together here a motley horde composed of many races; but we are of a lineage so noble and so pure that throughout our history we have continued in possession of the very land which gave us birth, since we are sprung from its very soil and are able to address our city by the very names which we apply to our nearest kin; for we alone of all the Hellenes have the right to call our city at once nurse and fatherland and mother.

ταύτην γὰρ οἰκοῦμεν οὐχ ἑτέρους ἐκβαλόντες οὐδ᾿ ἐρήμην καταλαβόντες οὐδ᾿ ἐκ πολλῶν ἐθνῶν μιγάδες συλλεγέντες, ἀλλ᾿ οὕτω καλῶς καὶ γνησίως γεγόναμεν, ὥστ᾿ ἐξ ἧσπερ ἔφυμεν, ταύτην ἔχοντες ἅπαντα τὸν χρόνον διατελοῦμεν, αὐτόχθονες ὄντες καὶ τῶν ὀνομάτων τοῖς αὐτοῖς, οἷσπερ τοὺς οἰκειοτάτους, τὴν πόλιν ἔχοντες προσειπεῖν· μόνοις γὰρ ἡμῖν τῶν Ἑλλήνων τὴν αὐτὴν τροφὸν καὶ πατρίδα καὶ μητέρα καλέσαι προσήκει.


Most Hateful of All Names

George Orwell, "The Lion and the Unicorn," The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 56-109 (at 59):
[A]nother English characteristic ... is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official — the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the "nice cup of tea". The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in the nineteenth century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty, the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above. The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker.
Related post: Let's Stop Somebody from Doing Something!


Molop Labe?

From (click to enlarge):

I'd be up in arms if I ordered a Molon Labe flag and received a Molop Labe flag instead. Those who quote Greek should mind their pi's and nu's.

Plutarch, Spartan Sayings: Sayings of Leonidas the son of Anaxandridas, number 11 (= Moralia 225 D; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
When Xerxes wrote again, "Hand over your arms," he wrote in reply, "Come and take them."

πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος, "πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα," ἀντέγραψε, "μολὼν λάβε."
Other vendors sell the same flag with the botched Greek quotation.

Did I myself botch the quotation, with a misplaced accent? Should the imperative be λάβε or λαβέ? Kevin Muse writes:
Thinking back to those pesky exceptions we learn for the accentuation of thematic aorist imperatives in first-year Greek, I wonder whether the accentuation μολὼν λάβε in the Loeb is correct. The TLG, after the Teubner, has μολὠν λαβέ. The grammarians (e.g., Herodian, Choeroboscus) suggest that λάβε was the usual pronunciation in Koine (cf. also Epictetus Discourses 3.22), and that λαβέ would have been an Attic pronunciation (cf. Smyth 424b). What would the Spartans have said? The accent on the theme vowel was the older form, as Michael Weiss, in his chapter "Morphology and Word Formation" in A Companion to Ancient Greek Language (Blackwell 2010) p. 114 writes: "Thematic aorists are characterized by a zero-grade root and thematic endings. Before the assignment of recessive accent to finite verbal forms the thematic vowel bore the accent. This pattern survives exceptionally in the imperatives ἰδέ, λαβέ, ἐλθέ and regularly in the participle (λιπών) and infinitive (λιπεῖν)." What would a Spartan have said? Had the accent shifted back in Doric by the time this was originally uttered? What would Plutarch have preferred to say?


Thursday, May 03, 2018


Bad Pegs

Euripides, fragment 360, lines 11-13 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
But someone who settles in one city from another
is like a bad peg fixed in a piece of wood:
he's a citizen in name, but not in reality.

ὅστις δ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἄλλης πόλεος οἰκήσῃ πόλιν,
ἁρμὸς πονηρὸς ὥσπερ ἐν ξύλῳ παγείς,
λόγῳ πολίτης ἐστί, τοῖς δ᾿ ἔργοισιν οὔ.


Music and Religion

E.S.P. Haynes (1877-1949), The Lawyer: A Conversation Piece. Selected from the Lawyer's Notebooks and Other Writings (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951), p. xlii:
My musical gods are Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Corelli and Scarlatti, and the old English composers. I find in music all the alleged consolations of religion, but it is becoming more difficult to hear since the B.B.C. adopted the idiotic method of counting heads in the matter and of substituting a quantity of jazz and some pretentious cacophony for their old programmes. Modern developments of discord are no doubt due to two wars and general unhappiness. I venture to say that Corelli's Christmas music reflects a higher civilisation than the music which is now called modern and which reeks of industrialisation.

I do not wish to denigrate religion. Like Lord Melbourne, I feel a great respect for the Church so long as it does not unduly interfere with private life.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


English Civilization

George Orwell, "The Lion and the Unicorn," The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 56-109 (at 57):
When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not 46 million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning — all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.


Faithfulness in Translation

Luther A. Weigle, "English Versions since 1611," The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West, from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. S.L. Greenslade (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1963), pp. 361-382 (at 371-372):
The revisers' ideal of 'faithfulness' in translation was a meticulous word-for-word reproduction of the Greek text in English words, using the same English word for a given Greek word whenever possible, leaving no Greek word without translation into a corresponding English word, following the order of the Greek words rather than the order natural to English, and attempting to translate the articles and the tenses with a precision alien to English idiom. The result is that the Revised Version is distinctly 'translation English'. It was unnecessary, for example, to change the third petition of the Lord's Prayer to read, 'Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth'. Or to change the statement concerning Jesus in Mark i.28, 'And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee', to read, 'And the report of him went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about'.
Mark 1.28:
καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εὐθὺς πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας.


Gender Fluid

Euripides, Orestes 1528 (Orestes to Helen's Phrygian slave; tr. David Kovacs):
You're not a woman by birth nor yet do you count as a man.

οὔτε γὰρ γυνὴ πέφυκας οὔτ᾿ ἐν ἀνδράσιν σύ γ᾿ εἶ.

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