Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Proposed Changes to Constitution

Proposed by Guy Davenport, published in Guy Davenport and Nicholas Kilmer, "Fragments from a Correspondence," Arion 13.3 (Winter, 2006) 89-130 (at 97):
And when the Constitution is rewritten, it must say: All occupations will be within walking distance of the laborer's house, and the walk there between shall pass friendly dogs, cats, and well-bred children.

FIRST AMENDMENT. No vehicle of any kidney propelled by mechanical power of any description shall operate within the borders of the United States.

SECOND AMENDMENT. All public offices shall be filled by incumbents selected by chance. The names of all citizens between the ages of 45 and 100, none excluded for any reason, shall be placed in capsules in a Large Bowl ...


Museum of Dead Sentiments

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. 14: Analects, tr. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 187:
How many ancient practices—honor, respect, veneration, panegyrics, thanksgiving—are by way of becoming oddities and passing from active life into museums! (Someone might do worse than found a Museum of Dead Sentiments.)


Dog as an Insult

A kerfuffle erupted when the U.S. president called a disloyal former aide a dog. The insult is as old as Homer and the Bible, although surely the president didn't borrow the insult from either of those sources.

For Homer, see Margaret Graver, "Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult," Classical Antiquity 14.1 (April, 1995) 41-61, who cites, among many passages, Iliad 1.158-160 (Achilles to Agamemnon; tr. A.T. Murray, rev. William F. Wyatt):
But you, shameless one, we followed here in order to please you,
seeking to win recompense for Menelaus and for you, dogface,
from the Trojans. This you do not regard or take thought of.

ἀλλὰ σοί, ὦ μέγ᾿ ἀναιδὲς, ἅμ᾿ ἑσπόμεθ᾿ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε, κυνῶπα,
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ᾿ ἀλεγίζεις.
On the Latin side, I don't have access to Ilona Opelt, Die Lateinischen Schimpfwörter und verwandte sprachliche Erscheinungen: Eine Typologie (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1965).

I've been rereading Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), who writes (p. 105, with notes on p. 341):
The Eastern view of dogs as filthy scavengers had been transmitted via the Bible to medieval England and was still widely current in the sixteenth century. The Book of Revelation suggested that at the Resurrection dogs, like other unclean beings, would be excluded from the New Jerusalem. Some commentators thought this meant 'men of dogged impudency and maliciousness',47 but most took it literally. Chaucer has nothing good to say about the dog and neither has Shakespeare. In popular proverbs there was no suggestion that the dog might be faithful and affectionate; instead, we have 'as greedy as a dog', 'a surly as a butcher's dog', and 'a dog's life'.48 Fine ladies, observed the Elizabethan Thomas Muffett, hated lice, even 'more than dogs and vipers'49 The dog, said a Jacobean preacher, was an emblem of greed and shamelessness: 'a most unclean and filthy creature which goeth publicly and promiscuously to generation'. Dogs were filthy beastly, quarrelsome creatures, agreed the sectary George Foster.50 In 1662 the preacher Thomas Brooks classified dogs with 'vermin', and in eighteenth-century painting the dog frequently remained a symbol of man's baser parts: he represented gluttony, lust, coarse bodily functions and general disruptiveness. 'In all countries and languages,' declared a mid-eighteenth-century author, '"Dog" is a name of contempt.'51

47. Revelation, xxii.15; Thomas Brightman, The Revelation of St John Illustrated (4th edn, 1644), 888.

48. Beryl Rowland, Blind Beasts (Kent State U.P., 1971), 161; Caroline F.E. Spurgeon, Shakespeare's Imagery (Cambridge, 1935), 195-9; Tilley, Dictionary of the Proverbs, 163, 74, 168; F. Edward Hulme, Proverb Lore (1902), 164.

49. Mouffet, Theater of Insects, 1093.

50. Francis Rollenson, Sermons preached before his Maiestie (1611), 59-60; John Weemse, An Exposition of the Second Table of the Moral! Law (1636), 163; George Foster, The Pouring Forth of the Seventh and Last Viall (1650), 21.

51. Thomas Brooks, The Crown & Glory of Christianity (1662), 54. See Ronald Paulson, Popular and Polite Art in the Age of Hogarth (1979), chap. 5.

Update — I have just learned from a confidential source that the text of the president's tweet actually read:
When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out. I mean 'Οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις'. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!

Monday, August 20, 2018


Quite a Character

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. 14: Analects, tr. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 183:
I once knew a curious man who believed everything he read in one newspaper and not a word of what he read in another.

Quite a character, in fact—now in a mental home.

J'ai connu un être bizarre qui croyait tout ce qu'il lisait dans un certain journal, et rien de ce qu'il lisait dans un autre.

C'était un original; enfermé depuis.


Attention to Detail

V.K. Arseniev (1872-1930), Dersu the Trapper: A True Account, tr. Malcolm Burr (1941; rpt. Kingston: McPherson & Company, 1996), p. 188:
Dersu strode on in silence, serenely seeing everything. I was revelling in the view, but he looked at a twig broken off at the height of a man's arm, and from the way it was hanging knew the direction in which the man had been going. From the freshness of the fracture he judged the time that had elapsed. Whenever I failed to see a point, to draw a conclusion, or express doubt, he said reproachfully:

"How you go many years in taigá don't understand?"

What to me seemed incomprehensible was to him clear and simple. Sometimes he would pick up a spoor where with the best intention in the world I could see nothing. Yet he could tell that an old wapiti hind had passed that way with her fawn. They had browsed on the Spiræa as they passed and then been suddenly startled at something and bolted.

This was not all done for the sake of impressing me. We knew each other too well for that. It was simply done from lifelong habit, never to overlook details, and to be attentive to everything, and always observant. If he had not learnt from childhood to understand the art of tracking, he would have soon died of hunger. Whenever I passed by a particularly obvious track, Dersu would chuckle, wag his head, and say:

"H'm! Just like small boy. Go walk, wag head; have eyes, no-can look-see, no-can understand. True, that sort man live in towns. No need go hunt wapiti. Want eat ... go buy meat. No-can live all-alone in taigá soon go-lost."

He was quite right. A thousand risks await the solitary wayfarer in the taigá, and only he who can read the signs can count upon reaching the end of his journey in safety.



Isaak Levitan (1860-1900), Evening in the Field (1883)

Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870-1936), The Land (1898)

Hat tip: Andrew Rickard.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


The Vincentian Canon

Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium Against Heresies 1.2 (tr. C.A. Heurtley):
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.

In ipsa item Catholica Ecclesia magnopere curandum est ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.
Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. 14: Analects, tr. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 86:
What has been believed by all, always and everywhere, has every likelihood of being untrue.


Expressions of Opinion

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. 14: Analects, tr. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 74:
How many expressions of opinion are products of intestinal flatulence! They relieve the man giving vent to them, but pollute the intellectual air of others. This goes for insults, mockery, and exclamations.



Solomon and Saturn II, lines 60-74, tr. Daniel Anlezark, "Acquiring Wisdom: Teaching Texts and the Lore of the People," in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 297-317 (at 302):
Solomon said: 'Books are famous, they abundantly proclaim the ordered mind to the one who thinks at all. They strengthen and establish resolute thought, make merry the mind of each man against the mental oppressions of this life.'

Saturn said: 'Bold is he who tastes of the power of books, he will always be the wiser who has control of them.'

Solomon said: 'They present victory to each of the righteous, a harbour of safety for those who love them.'

Salomon cuæð:
Bec sindon breme,    bodiað geneahhe
weotodne willan    ðam ðe wiht hygeð.
gestrangað hie and gestaðeliað    staðolfæstne geðoht,
amyrgað modsefan    manna gehwylces
of ðreaniedlan    ðisses lifes.

Saturnus cwæð:
Bald bið se ðe onbyregeð    boca cræftes;
symle bið ðe wisra    ðe hira geweald hafað.

Salomon cuæð:
Sige hie onsendað    soðfæstra gehwam,
hælo hyðe,    ðam ðe hie lufað.


Écrasez l'infâme!

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Will to Power, Book II, § 168 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
—The church is precisely that against which Jesus preached—and against which he taught his disciples to fight—

—Die Kirche ist exakt Das, wogegen Jesus gepredigt hat—und wogegen er seine Jünger kämpfen lehrte—

Saturday, August 18, 2018


A Highly Enthusiastic Fish Bone Specialist

H.E.M. Cool, Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 104:
I well recall in the mid-1970s, when working as a finds supervisor for a big urban excavation, the sudden appearance of cod and ling vertebrae on the finds trays amongst all the normal potsherds and mammal bone. This took place the day after everyone working on the site had listened to a lecture by a highly enthusiastic fish bone specialist. As fish bones go, these are large; but they had rarely appeared in the preceding weeks. It was a classic example of the phenomenon that what goes on the finds tray is what the excavator recognises. Not all digging teams can have the opportunity of being similarly enthused and, even if they are, they would still miss the smaller species.



Albert Camus (1913-1960), "Prometheus in the Underworld," Lyrical and Critical Essays, tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy (New York: Vintage Books, ©1968), pp. 138-142 (at 141):
Myths have no life of their own. They wait for us to give them flesh. If one man in the world answers their call, they give us their strength in all its fullness.

Les mythes n'ont pas de vie par eux-mêmes. Ils attendent que nous les incarnions. Qu'un seul homme au monde réponde à leur appel, et ils nous offrent leur sève intacte.


The Grand Inquisitors

Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 7th ed. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995), pp. 17-18 (discussing Himmler; footnote omitted):
In a civilized world, it is true, such men are seldom tolerated; but if we look back at the cataclysmic periods of society, at periods of revolution and violent social change, his prototype is there. It is the Grand Inquisitor, the mystic in politics, the man who is prepared to sacrifice humanity to an abstract ideal. The Grand Inquisitors of history were not cruel or self-indulgent men. They were often painfully conscientious and austere in their personal lives. They were often scrupulously kind to animals, like St Robert Bellarmine, who refused to disturb the fleas in his clothes. Since they could not hope for theological bliss (he said), it would be uncharitable to deny them that carnal refreshment to which alone they could aspire. But for men who, having opportunities of worshipping aright, chose wrong, no remedy was too drastic. So the faggots were piled and lit, and the misbelievers and their books were burnt, and those gentle old bishops went home to sup on white fish and inexpensive vegetables, to feed their cats and canaries, and to meditate on the Penitential Psalms, while their chaplains sat down in their studies to compose their biographies and explain to posterity the saintly lives, the observances and austerities, the almsgivings and simplicity, of those exemplary pastors, knowing (as Cardinal Newman said) that it is better that all humanity should perish in extremest agony than that one single venial sin should be committed.
David Hume, The Natural History of Religion, Section X (citing the article on Bellarmine from Bayle's Dictionary):
Bellarmine patiently and humbly allowed the fleas and other odious vermin to prey upon him. We shall have heaven, said he, to reward us for our sufferings: but these poor creatures have nothing but the enjoyment of the present life.
Cardinal Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Chapter 5:
I said [Twelve Lectures VIII.4], "The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse."


The Homeric Established Church

Hugh Trevor-Roper, letter to James Howard-Johnston (April 15, 1961; my additions in brackets):
How little of religion there is in Homer! I have cast my mind over Iliad and Odyssey, over all 48 books of them, and (although no doubt I have forgotten much) I can only remember three clergymen; and even they are not noticeably devout. First, of course, there is the first person who enters the stage in the Iliad, the Revd Chryses, vicar of the parish of Chryse, who starts all the trouble by mobilising his patron and persuading him to intervene in his own domestic troubles (which have nothing whatever to do with religion); thus confirming the wise observation of our present Prime Minister's old Nanny, as quoted by him at a Cabinet meeting, that 'whenever there is a spot of trouble in the world, if only you will look deep enough, you will always find a clergyman at the bottom of it'. Then there is our old friend whose name I have forgotten [Maron, in Odyssey 9.97 ff.], the epicurean incumbent of Ismaros, who is only remembered because of his particularly choice cellar, and his refusal to part with the key of it except to his safely teetotal housekeeper. And finally, I recall some rather primitive lower, unbeneficed clergy—I expect it was a theological college, like Cuddesdon—at Dodona, who are only mentioned because of their unhygienic habits of sleeping on the ground and not washing their feet: ἀνιπτόποδες χαμαιεῦναι [Iliad 16.235]. Perhaps I shall remember others later, but on the whole I think we can take these three as typical representatives of the Homeric Established Church: and a very typical Established Church too.

Friday, August 17, 2018


My Man Messalla

Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory 15.1 (tr. W. Peterson, rev. M. Winterbottom):
"My dear Messalla," Aper rejoined, "you are never done admiring what is old and out of date, and that alone, while you keep pouring ridicule and scorn on the culture of the present day."

Tum Aper: "Non desinis, Messalla, vetera tantum et antiqua mirari, nostrorum autem temporum studia inridere atque contemnere."

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Saint Guinefort

Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), p. 106, with note on p. 342:
The only dog to become a saint was a French greyhound, unjustly killed after saving a child from a snake in the diocese of Lyons; in the thirteenth century the common people knew him as St Guinefort, and healing miracles on sickly children were performed at his tomb until the Dominicans suppressed the cult.58

58. In his Le saint Lévrier, Guinefort, guérisseur d'enfants depuis le XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1979), Jean-Claude Schmitt reveals that the cult was still in existence in the later nineteenth century. His book provides a brilliant analysis of the myth and the elements which gave it potency.
Schmitt's book was translated into English by Thom Martin as The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, Healer of Children since the Thirteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983; rpt. 2009).

Dear Mike,

Saint Guinefort might be the only saint who is entirely canine from the neck down but there is cynocephalic St Christopher who as reprobate Reprebus/Reprobus could only bark, but when struck by an angel who then blew on his snout, spoke Greek. See David Gordon White, Myths of the Dog-Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) p. 34.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]


A Rather Complicated Problem

Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, tr. Michael Eldred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987; rpt. 2001), p. 150:
I regret this for all sensitive readers, but the fart, even if not emitted, cannot be omitted. Those who do not want to talk about it would also have to have kept silent about the arse. The subject matter demands it, and after we have spoken about oral matters, our presentation, for better or for worse, must go through its anal phase before we come to the genitals. To speak of the fart is not difficult insofar as it represents a sound that always means something in social situations. Witnesses of a fart inevitably interpret the sound. All in all, the semantics of the fart is a rather complicated problem, a problem that is seriously neglected by linguistics and communication research. The scale of meaning stretches from awkwardness to contempt, from humorous intentions to lack of respect. Teachers, professors, speakers, and conference participants all know the torture of having to stifle a fart because such a sound expresses something that, in reality, one does not want to say. Could it aid our empathy with politicians if, in listening to their speeches, we were to think more often that they are possibly at that very moment concentrating on subduing a fart that has been wanting to interrupt their talk? The art of the vague statement is related to the art of unobtrusive flatulence: Both are diplomacy.

Semiotically, we assign the fart to the group of signals, that is, of signs, which neither symbolize nor depict something but rather point to a situation.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Don't Read Too Many Commentaries

Hugh Trevor-Roper, letter to James Howard-Johnston (June 19, 1960):
As for Shakespeare, don't read too many commentaries. In reading any great work one must read as much as is necessary to appreciate it: one must know the language, understand the allusions, or at least the important allusions, appreciate the nuances. But once one can do that, it is the great work, not the commentary that matters.



George Monbiot, "We're in a new age of obesity. How did it happen? You'd be surprised," Guardian (August 15, 2018):
Perhaps this is because obesophobia is often a fatly-disguised form of snobbery. In most rich nations, obesity rates are much higher at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.
To a linguistic snob such as I am, the word obesophobia is an abomination. It's a hybrid compound, a mishmash, cobbled together from a Latin root (obesus) and a Greek one (φόβος). A better formation would be pachyphobia, with the first element coming from Greek παχύς = thick, fat. Cf. pachyderm and Oxford English Dictionary s.v. pachy-, comb. form.

I once was thin (under a hundred pounds when I graduated from high school) but now am fat. I'm a pachyphile, not a pachyphobe. My goal is to be Omo de panza, omo de sostanza. In reading the entry for παχύς in Liddell-Scott-Jones, I see ample classical precedents for the proverb:
οἱ παχέες men of substance, the wealthy, Hdt. 5.30,77, 6.91; "τοὺς π. καὶ πλουσίους" Ar. Pax 639; ὃς ἂν ᾖ π. Id. Eq. 1139; ἀνὴρ π. Id. V. 287; cf. πάχης.
Related posts: Pejorocracy

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


A Great Object

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877), "William Cowper," Works, Vol. I (Hartford: Travelers Insurance Company, 1891), pp. 387-444 (at 387):
Of course a man who has not read Homer is like a man who has not seen the ocean: there is a great object of which he has no idea.


The Bane of a University

Hugh Trevor-Roper, letter to Peter Ramsbotham (March 19, 1947):
Conceive, if you can, my term,—eight weeks of it—not only pupils (that bane of a university) but these unabated climatic horrors.


The Booby-Traps of Scholarship

V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018), Literary Occasions: Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), p. 48:
My taste for literature had developed into a love of language, the word in isolation. At school my subjects were French and Spanish; and the pleasures of the language were at least as great as those of the literature. Maupassant and Molière were rich; but it was more agreeable to spend an hour with the big Harrap French-English dictionary, learning more of the language through examples, than with Corneille or Racine.
Id., p. 49:
The fact was, I had no taste for scholarship, for tracing the growth of schools and trends. I sought continuously to relate literature to life. My training at school didn't help. We had few libraries, few histories of literature to turn to; and when we wrote essays on Tartuffe we wrote out of a direct response to the play. Now I discovered that the study of literature had been made scientific, that each writer had to be approached through the booby-traps of scholarship. There were the bound volumes of the Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, affectionately referred to by old and knowing young as PMLA. The pages that told of Chaucer's knowledge of astronomy or astrology (the question came up every year) were black and bloated and furred with handling, and even some of the pencilled annotations (No, Norah!) had grown faint. I developed a physical distaste for these bound volumes and the libraries that housed them.


No Sign of Dignity

Ronald Syme (1903-1989), Tacitus, Vol. I (1958; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 43:
To be pelted with turnips when proconsul of Africa is no sign of dignity.2

2 4.3.
Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 4.3 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
The chance of the lot then gave him Africa, which he governed with great justice and high honour, save that in a riot at Hadrumetum he was pelted with turnips.

Exim sortitus Africam integerrime nec sine magna dignatione administravit, nisi quod Hadrumeti seditione quadam rapa in eum iacta sunt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018



Aristophanes, fragment 305 (from Peace II; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
(Agriculture) Of Peace, so dear to all mankind,
a faithful nurse, housekeeper, helper, steward,
daughter and sister: all these she had in me.
(B) So what is your name? (A) Mine? Agriculture.
I added the speaker indication (B), which is missing in Aristophanes, Fragments. Edited and Translated by Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007 = Loeb Classical Library, 502), p. 255.

Here is the Greek:
(Γε.) τῆς πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποισιν Εἰρήνης φίλης
πιστὴ τροφός, ταμία, συνεργός, ἐπίτροπος,
θυγάτηρ, ἀδελφή· πάντα ταῦτ᾿ ἐχρῆτό μοι.
(B.) σοὶ δ᾿ ὄνομα δὴ τί ἐστιν; (Γε.) ὅ τι; Γεωργία.
By the way, the footnotes on pp. 333-381 of this Loeb edition are a mess, most of them misplaced on the wrong pages.

Poetae Comici Fragmenta, Vol. III 2: Aristophanes, Testimonia et Fragmenta, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), p. 171:


I Wished I Was of Their Spirit

V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018), An Area of Darkness (1964; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 178 (the god = Shiva):
The god existed: the faces and cries of the returning pilgrims carried this reassurance. I wished I was of their spirit. I wished that something of their joy awaited me at the end.
Naipaul, A Turn in the South (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 15:
So I began to feel the pleasures of the religious meeting: the pleasures of brotherhood, union, formality, ritual, clothes, music, all combining to create a possibility of ecstasy.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Here I Sit, Broken-Hearted

Everyone knows the rhyming couplet that starts "Here I sit, broken-hearted." The same Sitz im Leben lies behind Sotades, fragment 2 Powell (from Athenaeus 14.621a; tr. S. Douglas Olson):
He opened up the hole of his back alley
and expelled an idle blast through his bushy
crack, the type an old plow-ox lets loose.

ὁ δ᾿ ἀποστεγάσας τὸ τρῆμα τῆς ὄπισθε λαύρης
διὰ δενδροφόρου φάραγγος ἐξέωσε βροντὴν
ἠλέματον, ὁκοίην ἀροτὴρ γέρων χαλᾷ βοῦς.
Heather White, "Sotades and the Flute-Player," Habis 35 (2004) 101-103 (at 102, footnotes omitted):
Sotades states that Philinus uncovered his anus (evidently in order to defecate) and that, instead of being able to defecate, he merely farted loudly. In other words, Philinus tried to defecate but his efforts were vain: instead of defecating he merely managed to emit a vain πορδή (βροντὴν ἠλέματον). This explanation accounts for the epithet ἠλέματον, which until now had remained inexplicable.



The Decay of the Old Customs

V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018), An Area of Darkness (1964; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 31:
Indians are an old people, and it might be that they continue to belong to the old world. That Indian reverence for the established and ancient, however awkward, however indefensible, however little understood: it is part of the serious buffoonery of Ancient Rome, an aspect of the Roman pietas. I had rejected tradition; yet how can I explain my feeling of outrage when I heard that in Bombay they used candles and electric bulbs for the Diwali festival, and not the rustic clay lamps, of immemorial design, which in Trinidad we still used? I had been born an unbeliever. Yet the thought of the decay of the old customs and reverences saddened me ...


The Wall

Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), The Rise of the Greek Epic, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), pp. 10-11:
You will notice in the ordinary language of ancient writers a characteristic which throws light on this aspect of Greek life. Non-Hellenic nations are nearly always spoken of by their tribes or races—'Ethnè'—Pelasgians, Macedonians, Phoenicians; the Greeks are spoken of by their cities, or, what comes to the same thing, by their islands—Milesians, Phocaeans, Eretrians, Athenians. On the mainland it is the Polis or circuit wall that forms the essential boundary of the nation; in the case of the islands, Samos, Naxos, Aegina, it is the equivalent wall of sea. Every Greek community is like a garrison of civilization amid wide hordes of barbarians; a picked body of men, of whom each individual has in some sense to live up to a higher standard than can be expected of the common human animal. As the shield is the typical weapon of the Greek warrior, so the wall is the typical mark of Greek civilization.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


A Man of Parts

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Kidnapped, chapter XII:
I will add the rest of what I have to say about my friend, that he was skilled in all kinds of music, but principally pipe-music; was a well-considered poet in his own tongue; had read several books both in French and English; was a dead shot, a good angler, and an excellent fencer with the small sword as well as with his own particular weapon.
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator, who has been reading Kidnapped aloud to me.


An Obsolete Meaning of Clergy

Oxford English Dictionary (electronic edition), s.v. clergy, n., sense II.5:
'Clerkly skill'; learning, scholarship, science. Obsolete except in proverb (quot. 1699, 1822).


1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew at Clerk-ship    An Ounce of Mother-Wit is worth a Pound of Clergy, or Book-learning.

1822 S. SMITH Wks. (1859) II. 3/1    The old saying, that an ounce of mother wit is worth a pound of clergy.
Cf. OED, s.v. clerisy, n., sense 1:
Learned men as a body, scholars.

a1834 S. T. Coleridge Lit. Remains (1836) I. 238    After the Revolution..a learned body, or clerisy, as such, gradually disappeared.
The date should be pushed back from 1834 to 1830. Coleridge used the word clerisy in his book On the Constitution of the Church and State, According to the Idea of Each (London: Hurst, Chance, and Co., 1830), p. 47:
The Clerisy of the nation (a far apter exponent of the thing meant, than the term which the usus et norma loquendi forces on me), the clerisy, I say, or national church, in its primary acceptation and original intention comprehended the learned of all denominations;—the sages and professors of law and jurisprudence; of medicine and physiology; of music; of military and civil architecure; of the physical sciences; with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the Theological.
Or rather 1829, as Eric Thomson informs me. According to The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 10: On the Constitution of the Church and State, ed. John Colmer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. xv, despite the imprint date of the first edition, the work actually appeared in December of 1829.


What's Wrong?

Aristophanes, fragment 621 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
What's the matter? Have you breakfasted on plums?

τί τὸ κακόν; ἀλλ᾿ ἦ κοκκύμηλ᾿ ἠκρατίσω;


Us and Them

V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018), An Area of Darkness (1964; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 25:
We ate certain food, performed certain ceremonies and had certain taboos; we expected others to have their own. We did not wish to share theirs; we did not expect them to share ours. They were what they were; we were what we were.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


A Dreadful Wild Animal

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Parerga und Paralipomena, Bd. II, Kap. VIII (Zur Ethik), § 115 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Man is at bottom a dreadful wild animal. We know this wild animal only in the tamed state called civilization and we are therefore shocked by occasional outbreaks of its true nature; but if and when the bolts and bars of the legal order once fall apart and anarchy supervenes it reveals itself for what it is.

Der Mensch ist im Grunde ein wildes, entsetzliches Thier. Wir kennen es bloß im Zustande der Bändigung und Zähmung, welcher Civilisation heißt: daher erschrecken uns die gelegentlichen Ausbrüche seiner Natur. Aber wo und wann einmal Schloß und Kette der gesetzlichen Ordnung abfallen und Anarchie eintritt, da zeigt sich was er ist.

Friday, August 10, 2018


What Good Came of It?

Robert Southey (1774-1843), "The Battle of Blenheim," lines 63-66:
"But what good came of it at last?"
    Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why that I cannot tell," said he,
    "But 'twas a famous victory."


Without Exception

François Villon (1431-?), Grant Testament 305-312 (stanza XXXIX; tr. Galway Kinnell, with his note):
I know that the poor and the rich
The wise and the foolish, the priests and the laymen
The nobles, the serfs, the generous, the mean
Small and great, handsome and ugly
Ladies in upturned collars
No matter what their rank
Whether in kerchiefs or bourrelets
Death seizes them without exception.

311 bourrelets: A bourrelet was a sort of headdress indicative of a woman's station in life.

Je congnois que povres et riches
Sages et folz, prestres et laiz
Nobles, villains, larges et chiches
Petiz et grans et beaulx et laiz
Dames а rebrassez colletz
De quelconque condicion
Portans atours et bourreletz
Mort saisit sans exception.
Some woodcuts from La Danse macabre de Guy Marchant (1486):

Thursday, August 09, 2018



Euripides, fragment 452 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
My experience is the same as every man's:
I feel no disgrace in loving myself above all.

κεῖνο γὰρ πέπονθ᾿ ὅπερ πάντες βροτοί·
φιλῶν μάλιστ᾿ ἐμαυτὸν οὐκ αἰσχύνομαι.


A Canting, Lying, Thievish Race

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Historical Parallels," Richmond Examiner (October 28, 1863), rpt. in Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War, ed. Ward W. Briggs Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 119-123 (at 121; footnotes omitted):
A more canting, lying, thievish race than the Roman was never suffered by the Master of history to run so long a career on His footstool; and the sympathies of every generous soul must always be with their antagonists, whether those antagonists were nations or individuals—the Latins, whom they cheated out of their "reserved rights," or the Samnites, whom they crushed by brute force; Hannibal, the Lybian lion, or Mithridates, the Pontic fox. In all the wearisome annals of the Republic there is but one great man, and him they killed; in all their verse-manufactory there is but one great poet, and he wasted his talents on the dullest of themes and died a maniac; and moreover, it must be remembered that both Caesar and Lucretius belong to the period of transition from the Republic to the Empire.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018


Hortatory Names

David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 97:
Sussex Puritans made heavy use of hortatory names such as Be-courteous Cole (in the Parish of Pevensey), Safely-on-high Snat (Uckfield), Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith White (Ewhurst), Small-hope Biggs (Rye), Humiliation Scratcher (Westham), Kill-sin Pemble (also Westham), and Mortifie Hicks (Hailsham). A classic example was an unfortunate young woman named ffly fornication Bull, of Hailsham, Sussex, who was made pregnant in the shop of a yeoman improbably called Goodman Woodman.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018



Greek Anthology 5.60 (by Rufinus; tr. W. R. Paton, rev. Michael A. Tueller):
A silver-footed maiden was bathing, letting the water fall on the golden apples of her breasts, with flesh like curdled milk. Her rounded buttocks, their flesh more fluid than water, gyrated back and forth. Her outspread hand covered the swelling Eurotas—not all of it, but as much as it could.

Παρθένος ἀργυρόπεζος ἐλούετο, χρύσεα μαζῶν
    χρωτὶ γαλακτοπαγεῖ μῆλα διαινομένη·
πυγαὶ δ᾽ ἀλλήλαις περιηγέες εἱλίσσοντο,
    ὕδατος ὑγροτέρῳ χρωτὶ σαλευόμεναι·
τὸν δ᾽ ὑπεροιδαίνοντα κατέσκεπε πεπταμένη χεὶρ        5
    οὐχ ὅλον Εὐρώταν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅσον ἠδύνατο.
Denys Page, The Epigrams of Rufinus. Edited with an Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 91-92:

Barry Baldwin, "Rufinus, AP v 60," Journal of Hellenic Studies 100 (1980) 182-184, challenges Page on several points. See also Regina Höschele and David Konstan, "Eurotas: Wide or Dank? A Note on Rufinus AP 5.60 = 21 Page," Classical Quarterly 55.2 (December, 2005) 623-627.

Perhaps the poem is a portrait from life, but I suspect it might be the ekphrasis of a statue (written before I read Alan Cameron, "Notes on the Erotic Art of Rufinus," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 22.2 [1981] 179-186 [at 179-183]).


Stop Tweeting

Aristophanes, Knights 821 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Shut up, shut up, you, and stop your sleazy mud-slinging!

παῦ᾿ παῦ᾿, οὗτος, καὶ μὴ σκέρβολλε πονηρά.



Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Self-Reliance:
The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers,—under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are: and of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman's-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side,—the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true.



E.M. Cioran (1911-1995), The Fall Into Time, tr. Richard Howard (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), p. 61:
Every step forward, every form of dynamism, entails something satanic: "progress" is the modern equivalent of the Fall, the profane version of damnation. And those who believe in it are its promoters—in other words, all of us, for what are we but an army of the damned, predestined to the foul, to these machines, to these cities of which only an exhaustive catastrophe could rid us?

Tout pas en avant, toute forme de dynamisme comporte quelque chose de satanique: le «progrès» est l'équivalent moderne de la Chute, la version profane de la damnation. Et ceux qui y croient et en sont les promoteurs, nous tous en définitive, que sommes-nous sinon des réprouvés en marche, prédestinés à l'immonde, à ces machines, à ces villes, dont seul un désastre exhaustif pourrait nous débarrasser.

Monday, August 06, 2018


A Divine Task

Boccaccio (1313-1375), Genealogy of the Pagan Gods 1.pr.1.42 (tr. Charles S. Osgood):
Who in our day can penetrate the hearts of the Ancients? Who can bring to light and life again minds long since removed in death? Who can elicit their meaning? A divine task that—not human!

Quis enim tempestate nostra antiquorum queat terebrare pectora et mentes excutere, in vitam aliam iam diu a mortali segregatas, et, quos habuere, sensus elicere? Esset edepol divinum potius quam humanum!


Party Membership

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. 14: Analects, tr. Stuart Gilbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 71:
You belong to a party, my friend. That is to say, you have to applaud or vilify though it goes against the grain. The party insists on it.

Vous êtes d'un parti, mon ami, c'est-à-dire que vous applaudissez ou injuriez contre votre coeur. Le parti le veut.


Dust of Libraries

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, Vol. VIII: 1841-1843 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 315 (slightly edited):
I hate books, they are an usurpation & impertinence. I cannot once go home to truth & Nature for this perpetual clatter of words & dust of libraries. Yet take me at my word & burn my books &, like poor Petrarch, I might come to insanity for want of this fine wine of the gods.

Sunday, August 05, 2018


Plant and Animal Names

Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), p. 85 (notes omitted):
Finally, the old vernacular names for plants and animals were disliked because they were thought too coarse. Anyone who wants evidence of the way in which polite sensibilities have changed with the centuries need only consider the briskly anatomical nature of this now suppressed terminology, for in the seventeenth-century countryside there grew black maidenhair, naked ladies, pissabed (or shitabed), mares fart and priest's ballocks. In the herb garden could be found horse pistle and prick madam; while in the orchard the open arse (or medlar) was a popular fruit. Even the black beetle was twitch-ballock and the long-tailed titmouse bum-towel. Many of today's more fanciful flower names — lords and ladies, for example — are deliberate inventions of the nineteenth century, designed to obliterate some unacceptable indecency of the past; and some present-day survivors still conceal a grosser meaning given them by liberal shepherds in bygone days. The mid eighteenth century was a transitional period, when bowdlerization had begun, but not been completed. Even so genteel a figure as Robert Smith, official rat-catcher to George II's daughter, the Princess Amelia, could occasionally drop his guard, as when he refers in the cold print of his book on how to catch vermin (1768) to a bird called 'the large brown, white arse, ring-tailed hawk'. But then he lived in an age when Wittenham Clumps, those pleasant twin hills in Berkshire, were still known (after the local landowner's wife) as Mrs Dunch's buttocks.
Bum-towel as a bird name reminds me of Gargantua's search for the perfect torchecul (Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel I.13, tr. M.A. Screech):
Then I wiped my bum on a hen, a cock, a pullet, on calf-skin, on the pelt of a hare, on a pigeon, a cormorant, a lawyer's bundle, a woollen hood, a night-cap and a stuffed decoy-bird.

But to conclude: I affirm and maintain that there is no bottom-wiper like a downy young goose, provided that you hold its head between your legs. Believe me on my honour, for you can feel in your bumhole a mirifical voluptuousness, as much from the softness of its down as from the temperate heat of the young goose which is readily communicated to the arse-gut and the rest of the intestines until it reaches the region of the heart and the brain. And do not believe that the blessedness of the heroes and demi-gods in the Elysian Fields lies in their nectar, asphodel or ambrosia, as these old women would maintain: in my opinion it consists in the fact that they wipe their bums on a young goose.

Saturday, August 04, 2018


Our Forebears

Aristophanes, Knights 565-568 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
We want to praise our forebears for
being gentlemen worthy of this land and the Robe,
who in infantry battles and naval expeditions
were always victorious everywhere and adorned our city.

εὐλογῆσαι βουλόμεσθα τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν, ὅτι
ἄνδρες ἦσαν τῆσδε τῆς γῆς ἄξιοι καὶ τοῦ πέπλου,
οἵτινες πεζαῖς μάχαισιν ἔν τε ναυφάρκτῳ στρατῷ
πανταχοῦ νικῶντες ἀεὶ τήνδ᾿ ἐκόσμησαν πόλιν.
A.H. Sommerstein, commentary on line 566:
[T]he robe (peplos) which was borne in procession and offered to Athena at the annual festival of the Panathenaea was embroidered with mythological scenes such as the battle of the gods and Titans (cf. Eur. Hec. 466-474, Pl. Euthph. 6b-c); thus "worthy of <being depicted on> the peplos" means "superhuman, heroic".


How to Be Interesting

Basil L. Gildersleeve (1831-1924), "My Sixty Days in Greece, II: A Spartan School," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 79, No. 473 (March, 1897) 301-312 (at 305):
The true way to be interesting is to smack of the soil, — to be Spartan, to be Treviran, to be American. Your cosmopolitan is one of your transportable fruits, your transportable wines, your translatable poets.
Gildersleeve, ed., Pindar, The Olympian and Pythian Odes, new rev. ed. (New York: American Book Company, 1890), p. xii:
The man whose love for his country knows no local root, is a man whose love for his country is a poor abstraction...


Shackled by a Certainty

E.M. Cioran (1911-1995), The Fall Into Time, tr. Richard Howard (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), pp. 57-58:
Once someone is shackled by a certainty, he envies your vague opinions, your resistance to dogmas or slogans, your blissful incapacity to commit yourself. Blushing in secret for belonging to a sect or a party, ashamed of possessing a truth and of being enslaved by it, it is not his acknowledged enemies he resents, those who profess another, but you, the Indifferent, guilty of pursuing none. And if, in order to escape the servitude into which he has fallen, you seek refuge in vagueness or caprice, he will do everything in his power to forestall you, to hold you in a thrall analogous and, if possible, identical to his own.

Dès que quelqu'un se laisse prendre à une certitude, il jalouse vos opinions flottantes, votre résistance aux dogmes ou aux slogans, votre bienheureuse incapacité de vous y inféoder. Rougissant en secret d'appartenir à une secte ou à un parti, honteux de posséder une vérité et de s'y être asservi, il n'en voudra pas à ses ennemis déclarés, à ceux qui en détiennent une autre, mais à vous, à l'Indifférent, coupable de n'en poursuivre aucune. Pour fuir l'esclavage où il est tombé, cherchez-vous refuge dans le caprice ou l'approximation? Il mettra tout en oeuvre pour vous en empêcher, pour vous con-traindre à une servitude analogue, et, si possible, identique à la sienne.

Friday, August 03, 2018


Old Keeckero Kaisar

Charles Forster Smith (1852-1931), "The South's Contribution to Classical Studies," in The South in the Building of the Nation, Vol. VII (Richmond: The Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909), pp. 135-172 (at 147-148, on Milton W. Humphreys):
Washington and Lee University was the first institution in this country to adopt the Roman pronunciation of Latin. This was in 1868, and due to Humphreys. The head of the department (Professor Harris) had told him he might investigate the subject and adopt what he should believe to have been the pronunciation of Cicero. Humphreys did so, but when the professor attended an oral at the intermediate examination he was amazed, and wanted Humphreys to abandon the "new-fangled pronunciation." But this Humphreys refused to do. He had already met ridicule enough from his students, e.g., the nickname of "old Keeckero Kaisar." He taught all the students of the first two years, i.e., four-fifths of those who went on into advanced Latin, and these, having become accustomed to the Roman pronunciation, refused to change when they reached Professor Harris. "I have had some fights in my life of which I am wont to boast," says Humphreys, "as when, from sunset till dark, with one three-inch rifle I fought at 400-500 yards range nine pieces of artillery under Colonel DuPont (five of them belonging to the regular army); but the fight of my life that required most moral courage was c=k, j=y, v=w in Latin, with the influence of my full professor against me."


Noiseless Scholarship

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924), "University Work in America and Classical Philology," Essays and Studies (Baltimore: N. Murray, 1890), pp. 87-123 (at 95-96):
[I]t were not only foolish but criminal to measure a professor's efficiency simply by his written work. There is often a sublime self-denial in the resolute concentration of a teacher on the business of the class-room; and the noiseless scholarship that leavens generation after generation of pupils is of more value to the world of letters than folios of pretentious erudition.


Gentle Pleasures

"A Symposium on the Value of Humanistic, Particularly Classical, Studies as a Training for Men of Affairs. I, Letters, 2: From James Loeb," School Review 17.6 (June, 1909) 370-374 (at 373-374):
The great and legitimate aim of a business man is to make money, to provide for himself and his family such luxuries and comforts as his taste and social standing demand. But when a man has reached the goal of his desires, when he has made his pile and wants to enjoy it, then comes the time for the making of the real and only balance sheet. Then he must ask himself, "What are my resources, now that I have everything that money can buy? What are my spiritual and intellectual assets? How can I best spend what is left to me of life?" Lucky is the man whose early training fits him for something more than the golf-field, or the tennis-court, and for something better than the gaming-table when his days of business activity are over. He can taste the gentler pleasures that await him in his study and by the blazing hearth-fire. His Sophocles or his Horace or his Catullus will make the winter of life seem like its early spring when the greatest struggle he knew was with the elusive rules of grammar and syntax.

Thursday, August 02, 2018


A Foretaste of Heaven

Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Old Calabria (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915), pp. 26-28:
This pamphlet also contains a litany in which the titles of the archangel are enumerated. He is, among other things, Secretary of God, Liberator from Infernal Chains, Defender in the Hour of Death, Custodian of the Pope, Spirit of Light, Wisest of Magistrates, Terror of Demons, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Lord, Lash of Heresies, Adorer of the Word Incarnate, Guide of Pilgrims, Conductor of Mortals: Mars, Mercury, Hercules, Apollo, Mithra—what nobler ancestry can angel desire? And yet, as if these complicated and responsible functions did not suffice for his energies, he has twenty others, among them being that of "Custodian of the Holy Family"—who apparently need a protector, a Monsieur Paoli, like any mortal royalties.

"Blasphemous rubbish!" I can hear some Methodist exclaiming. And one may well be tempted to sneer at those pilgrims for the more enlightened of whom such literature is printed. For they are unquestionably a repulsive crowd: travel-stained old women, under-studies for the Witch of Endor; dishevelled, anaemic and dazed-looking girls; boys, too weak to handle a spade at home, pathetically uncouth, with mouths agape and eyes expressing every grade of uncontrolled emotion—from wildest joy to downright idiotcy. How one realizes, down in this cavern, the effect upon some cultured ancient like Rutilius Namatianus of the catacomb-worship among those early Christian converts, those men who shun the light, drawn as they were from the same social classes towards the same dark underground rites! One can neither love nor respect such people; and to affect pity for them would be more consonant with their religion than with my own.

But it is perfectly easy to understand them. For thirteen centuries this pilgrim-movement has been going on. Thirteen centuries? No. This site was an oracle in heathen days, and we know that such were frequented by men not a whit less barbarous and bigoted than their modern representatives—nothing is a greater mistake than to suppose that the crowds of old Rome and Athens were more refined than our own ("Demosthenes, sir, was talking to an assembly of brutes"). For thirty centuries then, let us say, a deity has attracted the faithful to his shrine—Sant'Angelo has become a vacuum, as it were, which must be periodically filled up from the surrounding country. These pilgrimages are in the blood of the people: infants, they are carried there; adults, they carry their own offspring; grey-beards, their tottering steps are still supported by kindly and sturdier fellow-wanderers.

Popes and emperors no longer scramble up these slopes; the spirit of piety has abated among the great ones of the earth; so much is certain. But the rays of light that strike the topmost branches have not yet penetrated to the rank and seething undergrowth. And then—what else can one offer to these Abruzzi mountain-folk? Their life is one of miserable, revolting destitution. They have no games or sports, no local racing, clubs, cattle-shows, fox-hunting, politics, rat-catching, or any of those other joys that diversify the lives of our peasantry. No touch of humanity reaches them, no kindly dames send them jellies or blankets, no cheery doctor enquires for their children; they read no newspapers or books, and lack even the mild excitements of church versus chapel, or the vicar's daughter's love-affair, or the squire's latest row with his lady—nothing! Their existence is almost bestial in its blankness. I know them—I have lived among them. For four months in the year they are cooped up in damp dens, not to be called chambers, where an Englishman would deem it infamous to keep a dog—cooped up amid squalor that must be seen to be believed; for the rest of the time they struggle, in the sweat of their brow, to wrest a few blades of corn from the ungrateful limestone. Their visits to the archangel—these vernal and autumnal picnics—are their sole form of amusement.

The movement is said to have diminished since the early nineties, when thirty thousand of them used to come here annually. It may well be the case; but I imagine that this is due not so much to increasing enlightenment as to the depopulation caused by America; many villages have recently been reduced to half their former number of inhabitants.

And here they kneel, candle in hand, on the wet flags of this foetid and malodorous cave, gazing in rapture upon the blandly beaming idol, their sensibilities tickled by resplendent priests reciting full-mouthed Latin phrases, while the organ overhead plays wheezy extracts from "La Forza del Destino" or the Waltz out of Boito's "Mefistofele "... for sure, it must be a foretaste of Heaven! And likely enough, these are "the poor in heart" for whom that kingdom is reserved.

One may call this a debased form of Christianity. Whether it would have been distasteful to the feelings of the founder of that cult is another question, and, debased or not, it is at least alive and palpitating, which is more than can be said of certain other varieties.
Hat tip: A friend who just visited the shrine and sends the following email:
It was a rather long journey for a day’s outing but curiosity got the better of me (as it invariably does) and we made our way up to Gargano peninsula yesterday to the shrine of St Michael at Monte Sant'Angelo that Norman Douglas is so entertainingly scathing about in the early chapters of Old Calabria. He witnessed a repulsive medley of "travel-stained old women, under-studies for the Witch of Endor; dishevelled anaemic, and dazed-looking girls; boys too weak to handle a spade at home, pathetically uncouth, with mouths agape and eyes expressing every grade of uncontrolled emotion – from wildest joy to downright idiocy". And how they all stank, he tells us forthrightly, more than once ("And here they kneel, candle in hand, on the wet flags of this foetid and malodorous cave, gazing in rapture upon the blandly beaming idol, their sensibilities tickled by resplendent priests reciting full-mouthed Latin phrases, while the organ overhead plays wheezy extracts from La Forza del Destino or the Waltz out of Boito's Mefistofele ... for sure, it must be a foretaste of heaven!")

All gone to their graves. There were one or two that from their pious demeanour you might be tempted to dub pilgrims but my impression was that the majority, and they were not many, were just glaikit tourists like ourselves and less than fervent in their devotions to the Archangel, whose shares have generally been trading low in the 21st century. No disrespect intended. Gabriel and Rafael must feel equally aggrieved at dwindling cult-status.

It's curious that you should post something about St Michael's footprints in Rome. Anyone who wishes to see the real thing should visit Monte Sant'Angelo, where an Archangelic foot was firmly imprinted into the rock and on display, plain for all to see and never to be confused with any earlier heathen grotto-dwelling deity. After all, Pan's feet were cloven.

On the way north, we stopped off at bilingual Canusium (Canosa) of the gritty bread, one of the oldest settlements in Puglia, as they say that it was founded by Diomedes after the Trojan War, and no sane Italophile should have any reason to doubt it. The Via Minucia followed by Horace & Vergil and their party crosses the river Ofanto just outside the town and the Roman bridge there is intact though much overlaid with mediaeval repair work. We crossed and recrosssed, peered and gazed, assuring ourselves that pace Heraclitus, it was the same river and grosso modo the very same bridge that they crossed.


The Manner of Our Death

Euripides, Helen 814 (tr. David Kovacs):
Yes, better to die doing than not doing.

δρῶντας γὰρ ἢ μὴ δρῶντας ἥδιον θανεῖν.
Id. 841:
How then shall we die so as to win glory?

πῶς οὖν θανούμεθ᾿ ὥστε καὶ δόξαν λαβεῖν;
Cf. Albert Camus, The Rebel, tr. Anthony Bower (New York: Vintage Books, 1956):
Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees.

Plutôt mourir debout que de vivre à genoux.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018


Footprints of an Angel

Nicholas Purcell, "The City of Rome," in Richard Jenkyns, ed., The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 421-453 (at 432):
The Araceli, we may note, housed until the Counter Reformation another conspicuous example of this kind of cult—a statue base on which the marks of the feet of the statue were taken to be the footprints of the Archangel Michael and much venerated. The statue base in question was in fact dedicated to the goddess Isis.


Let Nothing Be Between Us

Greek Anthology 5.252 (by Paulus Silentarius; tr. W.R. Paton, rev. Michael A. Tueller):
Let us throw off this clothing, my beauty, and join naked limbs with naked limbs entwined. Let nothing be between us; even that thin tissue you wear seems like the wall of Semiramis to me. Let our breasts and our lips be linked—the rest must be veiled in silence: I hate a babbling tongue.

Ῥίψωμεν, χαρίεσσα, τὰ φάρεα, γυμνὰ δὲ γυμνοῖς
    ἐμπελάσῃ γυίοις γυῖα περιπλοκάδην·
μηδὲν ἔοι τὸ μεταξύ· Σεμιράμιδος γὰρ ἐκεῖνο
    τεῖχος ἐμοὶ δοκέει λεπτὸν ὕφασμα σέθεν.
στήθεα δ᾽ ἐζεύχθω τά τε χείλεα· τἄλλα δὲ σιγῇ
    κρυπτέον· ἐχθαίρω τὴν ἀθυροστομίην.


Festival of Freedom

Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades 21.2-5 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
[2] The Plataeans undertook to make funeral offerings annually for the Hellenes who had fallen in battle and lay buried there. And this they do yet unto this day, after the following manner. On the sixteenth of the month Maimacterion (which is the Boeotian Alalcomenius), they celebrate a procession. [3] This is led forth at break of day by a trumpeter sounding the signal for battle; waggons follow filled with myrtle-wreaths, then comes a black bull, then free-born youths carrying libations of wine and milk in jars, and pitchers of oil and myrrh (no slave may put hand to any part of that ministration, because the men thus honoured died for freedom); [4] and following all, the chief magistrate of Plataea, who may not at other times touch iron or put on any other raiment than white, at this time is robed in a purple tunic, carries on high a water-jar from the city's archive chamber, and proceeds, sword in hand, through the midst of the city to the graves; [5] there he takes water from the sacred spring, washes off with his own hands the gravestones, and anoints them with myrrh; then he slaughters the bull at the funeral pyre, and, with prayers to Zeus and Hermes Terrestrial, summons the brave men who died for Hellas to come to the banquet and its copious draughts of blood; next he mixes a mixer of wine, drinks, and then pours a libation from it, saying these words: "I drink to the men who died for the freedom of the Hellenes." These rites, I say, are observed by the Plataeans down to this very day.

[2] οἱ Πλαταιεῖς ὑπεδέξαντο τοῖς πεσοῦσι καὶ κειμένοις αὐτόθι τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἐναγίζειν καθ᾿ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτόν. καὶ τοῦτο μέχρι νῦν δρῶσι τόνδε τὸν τρόπον· τοῦ Μαιμακτηριῶνος μηνός, ὅς ἐστι παρὰ Βοιωτοῖς Ἀλαλκομένιος, τῇ ἕκτῃ ἐπὶ δέκα πέμπουσι πομπήν, [3] ἧς προηγεῖται μὲν ἅμ᾿ ἡμέρᾳ σαλπιγκτὴς ἐγκελευόμενος τὸ πολεμικόν, ἕπονται δ᾿ ἅμαξαι μυρρίνης μεσταὶ καὶ στεφανωμάτων καὶ μέλας ταῦρος καὶ χοὰς οἴνου καὶ γάλακτος ἐν ἀμφορεῦσιν ἐλαίου τε καὶ μύρου κρωσσοὺς νεανίσκοι κομίζοντες ἐλεύθεροι· δούλῳ γὰρ οὐδενὸς ἔξεστι τῶν περὶ τὴν διακονίαν ἐκείνην προσάψασθαι διὰ τὸ τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀποθανεῖν ὑπὲρ ἐλευθερίας· [4] ἐπὶ πᾶσι δὲ τῶν Πλαταιέων ὁ ἄρχων, ᾧ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον οὔτε σιδήρου θιγεῖν ἔξεστιν οὔθ᾿ ἑτέραν ἐσθῆτα πλὴν λευκῆς ἀναλαβεῖν, τότε χιτῶνα φοινικοῦν ἐνδεδυκὼς ἀράμενός τε ὑδρίαν ἀπὸ τοῦ γραμματοφυλακίου ξιφήρης ἐπὶ τοὺς τάφους προάγει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως. [5] εἶτα λαβὼν ὕδωρ ἀπὸ τῆς κρήνης αὐτὸς ἀπολούει τε τὰς στήλας καὶ μύρῳ χρίει, καὶ τὸν ταῦρον εἰς τὴν πυρὰν σφάξας καὶ κατευξάμενος Διΐ καὶ Ἑρμῇ χθονίῳ παρακαλεῖ τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς ἄνδρας τοὺς ὑπὲρ τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἀποθανόντας ἐπὶ τὸ δεῖπνον καὶ τὴν αἱμοκουρίαν. ἔπειτα κρατῆρα κεράσας οἴνου καὶ χεάμενος ἐπιλέγει· "Προπίνω τοῖς ἀνδράσι τοῖς ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐλευθερίας τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἀποθανοῦσι." ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ἔτι καὶ νῦν διαφυλάττουσιν οἱ Πλαταεῖς.

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