Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Causes of Discord

Tacitus, Histories 2.38 (tr. Clifford H. Moore):
The same divine wrath, the same human madness, the same motives to crime drove them on to strife.

eadem illos deum ira, eadem hominum rabies, eaedem scelerum causae in discordiam egere.


A Classical Education

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Collected Works, Vol. XII: Degas, Manet, Morisot, tr. David Paul (New York: Pantheon Books, ©1960), p. 22 (on Degas):
As for me, I am still astounded by the complete absence of the simplest notions of the most elementary practicality, in a man so intelligent and — what is more — classically educated. In some ways he had no more sense than an old woman.

In the lycées of 1850, the curriculum must have been quite as ridiculous as that of today, though more thorough. Not one of the firsts in the Concours Général would have been able to point in the sky to the stars mentioned by Virgil; and as practitioners of Latin verse, they were radically unaware of the fact that French verse has a music of its own. Neither cleanliness, nor the smallest notions of hygiene, nor deportment, nor even the pronunciation of our language, had any place in the programs of that incredible system, conceived as it was to exclude carefully anything to do with the body, the senses, the sky, the arts, or social life....

Quant à moi, je demeure étonné du manque des notions les plus simples et des pratiques les plus élémentaires chez un homme si intelligent, et d'ailleurs nourri aux lettres classiques. Il avait sur bien des points des idées de bonne femme.

L'instruction que l'on dispensait vers 1850 dans les lycées devait être aussi absurde, quoique plus forte, que celle qui se donne aujourd'hui. Pas un de ces premiers prix du Concours Général n'eût été capable de montrer dans le ciel les étoiles dont parle Virgile; et ces fabricants de vers latins ignoraient radicalement qu'il y a une musique du vers français. Ni la propreté, ni les moindres notions d'hygiène, ni l'art de se tenir, ni même la prononciation de notre langue ne figuraient dans les programmes de cet incroyable enseignement, des conceptions duquel le corps, les sens, le ciel, les arts et la vie sociale étaient soigneusement exclus...
Id., p. 23:
[H]e nevertheless belonged to that delightful class of connoisseurs who take an obstinate pleasure in their own narrow-mindedness, are merciless to any novelty that is merely new, their minds full of Racine and old music, tireless quoters, "classicists" to the point of ferocity and extravagant outbursts — people who are now, alas, a vanished race.

[I]l n'en demeurait pas moins un de ces connaisseurs délicieux, obstinément, voluptueusement étroits, impitoyables aux nouveautés qui ne sont que neuves, nourris de Racine et d'ancienne musique, citateurs et «classiques» jusqu'à la férocité, à l'extravagance, aux éclats, qui nous sont malheureusement une espèce disparue.


Gaze On

Byron, Lara II.i:
Night wanes — the vapours round the mountains curl'd,
Melt into morn, and Light awakes the world.
Man has another day to swell the past,
And lead him near to little, but his last;
But mighty Nature bounds as from her birth,
The sun is in the heavens, and life on earth;
Flowers in the valley, splendour in the beam,
Health on the gale, and freshness in the stream.
Immortal man! behold her glories shine,
And cry, exulting inly, "They are thine!"
Gaze on, while yet thy gladden'd eye may see,
A morrow comes when they are not for thee;
And grieve what may above thy senseless bier,
Nor earth nor sky will yield a single tear;
Nor cloud shall gather more, nor leaf shall fall,
Nor gale breathe forth one sigh for thee, for all;
But creeping things shall revel in their spoil,
And fit thy clay to fertilise the soil.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Effect of Peace

Tacitus, Histories 2.17 (tr. Clifford H. Moore):
Long peace had broken their spirits, so that they were ready for any kind of servitude...

longa pax ad omne servitium fregerat...


Divine Revelation

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Recollections of My Youth, tr. C.B. Pitman (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1883), p. 51:
The sight of the Acropolis was like a revelation of the Divine...

Quand je vis l'Acropole, j'eus la révélation du divin...


Dispute at a Dinner Party

Joseph Waite, "Memoir," in Thomas Saunders Evans, Latin and Greek Verse (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1893), pp. i-lii (at xxix-xxx; the Bishop was Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter):
At one of the Bishop's frequent and delightful dinner parties, Professor Evans quoted Martial's epigram—
Callidus imposuit nuper mihi caupo Rauennae;
quum peterem mistum uendidit ille merum.

Ravenna's crafty tapster was a cheat;
I called for half-and-half; he served me neat.
'Quote correctly, Professor,' said another scholar at the table, who was somewhat of a Rupert in conversation, 'quum mistum exegi.' 'Surely that can scarcely be right,' answered Mr Evans. 'Why not?' 'Well, I think Martial would not ‘have used the word "exegi" in such a case, and, at any rate, he should have said "exigerem".' 'I do not know what he would or should have said, but I will lay you a wager of ten to one that I am right.' The Professor, unaccustomed to this brusque style of argument, looked perplexed as if wondering whether he could have fallen into some unaccountable blunder. When the party rose to go into the drawing-room, he crossed the College to his own house and brought back with him a small copy of Martial. 'Bishop,' he said, looking as if he had been the object of a nefarious assault, 'do you know I was quite right in my quotation? Here is the book.' 'Yes,' said the Bishop, 'I knew you were right, but you also made a mistake.' 'A mistake!' 'Yes, you did not know your man. You should have taken his wager and made him pay ten pounds for his positiveness and ignorance.' That is what the Bishop himself undoubtedly would have done.
The epigram is Martial 3.57, and the point is that water was more expensive than wine at Ravenna (see 3.56). There are no significant variants in D.R Shackleton Bailey's Teubner edition (p. 99).

Hat tip: Alan Crease. who says, "Nobody's ever quoted Martial at my dinner parties." I myself have more than once quoted "Non amo te, Sabidi..." (1.32) at a dinner party, by way of explaining my irrational dislike of certain people (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, a photograph of whose face adorns my dart board).


An Old Idea

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 590-594 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I propose that everyone should own everything in common,
and draw an equal living. No more rich man here, poor man there,
or a man with a big farm and a man without land enough for his own
grave, or a man with many slaves and a man without even an attendant.
No, I will establish one and the same standard of life for everyone.

κοινωνεῖν γὰρ πάντας φήσω χρῆναι πάντων μετέχοντας
κἀκ ταὐτοῦ ζῆν, καὶ μὴ τὸν μὲν πλουτεῖν, τὸν δ᾿ ἄθλιον εἶναι,
μηδὲ γεωργεῖν τὸν μὲν πολλήν, τῷ δ᾿ εἶναι μηδὲ ταφῆναι,
μηδ᾿ ἀνδραπόδοις τὸν μὲν χρῆσθαι πολλοῖς, τὸν δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀκολούθῳ.
ἀλλ᾿ ἕνα ποιῶ κοινὸν πᾶσιν βίοτον, καὶ τοῦτον ὅμοιον.
R.G. Ussher ad loc.:

Friday, September 14, 2018


The Past

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Bach and Handel," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 332-333 (at 332):
The past, for most of us, consists of a few little archipelagos of facts dotted sparsely here and there in the illimitable ocean of our ignorance.


As Usual

Tacitus, Histories 1.35.1 (tr. Clifford H. Moore):
No one knew; everyone affirmed.

nemo scire et omnes adfirmare.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Variations on the Eclogues

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), "Variations on the Eclogues," Collected Works, Vol. VII: The Art of Poetry, tr. Denise Folliot (1958; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 295-312 (at 296-297):
My small amount of schoolboy's Latin had faded, after fifty-five years, to the memory of a memory; and as so many men, among them the most scholarly and erudite (not to mention others), had toiled in the course of three or four centuries at the translation of these poems, I could only hope to do much worse what they had accomplished so well. In addition, I must confess that bucolic themes do not excite my interest uncontrollably. Pastoral life is quite foreign to me and strikes me as tedious. Agricultural industry requires precisely the virtues I lack. I am depressed by the sight of furrows—including those made by my pen. The recurrence of the seasons and of their effects illustrates the stupidity of nature and of life, which can persist only by repeating itself. I think, too, of the monotonous efforts required to trace lines in the heavy soil, and I am not surprised that the obligation inflicted on man of "earning his bread by the sweat of his brow" should be considered a harsh and degrading punishment. This rule has always seemed to me ignominious.
Id. (at 298):
So I again opened my school Virgil, where, as is usual, there was no lack of notes revealing the erudition of some professor but revealing it to him alone, for on the whole they are wonderfully calculated to entangle the innocent pupil in philology and doubts—if, that is, he should consult them, which he is careful not to do.

O classroom Virgil, who would have thought that I should have occasion to flounder about in you once more?
How many poetic works, reduced to prose, that is, to their simple meaning, become literally nonexistent! They are anatomical specimens, dead birds! Sometimes, indeed, untrammeled absurdity swarms over these deplorable corpses, their number multiplied by the teaching profession, which claims them as food for what is known as the "Curriculum." Verse is put into prose as though into its coffin.
Id. (at 301):
Although I am the least self-assured of Latinists, the slender and mediocre knowledge of the language of Rome that I still retain is very precious to me. One can quite easily write in ignorance of that language, but I do not believe that, if one is ignorant of it, one can feel that one is constructing what one writes as well as if one had a certain awareness of the underlying Latin. One may quite well draw the human body without having the least knowledge of anatomy, but he who has this knowledge is bound to profit somewhat by it, if only by abusing it in order more boldly and successfully to distort the figures in his composition. Latin is not merely the father of French; it is also its tutor in matters of the grand style. All the foolishness and extraordinary reasoning that have been put forward in defense of what are vaguely and untruthfully called the Humanities do but obscure the evidence of the true value for us of a language to which we owe what is most solid and dignified in the monuments of our own tongue.


Criticism of Ancient Historians

Ronald Syme (1903-1989), Tacitus, Vol. I (1958; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 291:
Rigid dogma has not infrequently been invoked to arraign and condemn the historians of classical antiquity. For all that they appeal to a plurality of authorities and adduce names or facts, they shall not be taken at their word. It is only convention, and it may be deception: the historian generally selects a single source and adheres to it closely; he abbreviates rather than supplements; and, if he alters, it is style not substance that is modified.5

In this dogma there are manifold attractions: the scope of historical inquiry can be narrowed on the plea of precision, the idiosyncrasy of a writer dismissed as irrelevant or barely existent.6

5 H. Nissen here set the fashion, but should not he blamed for all the extravagances of the epigoni.

6 cf. p. 190, with App. 29 (on the Historiae).


Government Handover

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 229-232 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson, slightly modified):
And so, gentlemen, let us hand over the city to the women,
and let's not beat around the bush or ask
what they plan to accomplish. Let's simply
let them govern.

ταύταισιν οὖν, ὦνδρες, παραδόντες τὴν πόλιν
μὴ περιλαλῶμεν, μηδὲ πυνθανώμεθα
τί ποτ᾿ ἄρα δρᾶν μέλλουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἁπλῷ τρόπῳ
ἐῶμεν ἄρχειν...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Our Policies

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 473-475 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Well, there is an ancestral saying,
that however brainless or foolish our policies,
all our affairs will turn out for the best.

λόγος γέ τοί τις ἔστι τῶν γεραιτέρων,
ὅσ᾿ ἂν ἀνόητ᾿ ἢ μῶρα βουλευσώμεθα,
ἅπαντ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸ βέλτιον ἡμῖν ξυμφέρειν.
R.G. Ussher ad loc.:


Wake Up

Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006), The Rage and the Pride (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), pp. 83-85:
I don't speak, of course, to the vultures who seeing the September 11's images scornfully giggle «Good. Americans-got-it-good». I speak to the people who, though neither stupid nor evil, delude themselves in pietism or uncertainty or doubt. And to them I say: Wake up, folks, wake up! As intimidated as you are by the fear of going against the stream and looking racist (a grossly erroneous word, by the way, because the problem has nothing to do with a race: it has to do with a religion) you don't understand or don't want to understand that a Reverse Crusade is on march. As blinded as you are by the myopia and the stupidity of the Politically Correct, you don't realize or don't want to realize that a war of religion is being carried out. A war they call Jihad. A war that does not aim at the conquest of our territory maybe, (maybe?), but certainly aims at the conquest of our souls and at the disappearance of our freedom. A war which is conducted to destroy our civilization, our way of living and dying, of praying or not praying, of eating and drinking and dressing and studying and enjoying Life. As numbed as you are by the propaganda of the falsehood, you don't put or do not want to put in your mind that if we do not defend ourselves, if we do not fight, the Jihad will win. It will win, yes, and destroy the world that somehow or other we have been able to build. To change, to improve, to make more intelligent, less bigoted or not bigoted at all. It will cancel our culture, our art, our science, our identity, our morals, our values, our pleasures... By God! Don't you see that all these Ousamas Bin Ladens consider themselves authorized to kill you and your children because you drink alcohol, because you don't grow the long beard and refuse the chador or the burkah, because you go to the theatre and to the movies, because you love music and sing a song, because you dance and watch television, because you wear the miniskirt or the shorts, because on the beach and by the swimming pool you sunbathe almost naked or naked, because you make love when you want and with whom you want, or because you don't believe in God?!? I am an atheist, thank God. And I have no intention of being punished for this by retrograde bigots who, instead of contributing to the improvement of humanity, salaam and squawk prayers five times a day.


An Inexhaustible Bone

E.M. Cioran (1911-1995), All Gall is Divided, tr. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1999), p. 102:
Of all that theologians have conceived, the only readable pages and the only true utterances are those devoted to the Adversary. How greatly their tone alters, their verve quickens when they turn their back on the Light in order to attend to the Darkness! As if they were climbing back down into their element, which they are rediscovering. At last they can hate, they are authorized to do so: no more sublime purring, no more edifying repetitions. Hatred can be vile; yet to rid oneself of hatred is more dangerous than to abuse it. The Church, in its high wisdom, has spared its own such risks; in order to satisfy their instincts, it excites them against the Evil One; they cling to him, nibble him: fortunately, an inexhaustible bone ... If we were to take it from them, they would succumb to vice or to apathy.

De tout ce que les théologiens ont conçu, les seules pages lisibles et les seules paroles vraies sont celles dédiées à l'Adversaire. Combien leur ton change, leur verve s'allume lorsqu'ils tournent le dos à la Lumière pour vaquer aux Ténèbres! On dirait qu'ils redescendent dans leur élément, qu'ils se redécouvrent. Ils peuvent haïr enfin, ils y sont autorisés: ce n'est plus du ronron sublime ni des ressassements édifiants. La haine peut être vile; s'en défaire pourtant est plus dangereux qu'en abuser. L'Église, dans sa haute sagesse, a épargné aux siens de tels risques; pour satisfaire leurs instincts, elle les excite contre le Malin; ils s'y cramponnent et le grignotent: par bonheur, c'est un os inépuisable... Si on le leur ôtait, ils succomberaient au vice ou à l'apathie.


The Future of Literature

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), "The Future of Literature," Collected Works, Vol XI: Occasions, tr. Roger Shattuck and Frederick Brown (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), pp. 151-157 (at 151-152):
In short, there is nothing to prevent us from imagining that literature as we know it may become an art as archaic and as remote from everyday life as geomancy or heraldry or falconry is today. Perhaps in a century's time there will be only a few scholars left who can painfully decipher our written characters and, after long critical effort, reconstruct the state of mind of an age when written language was the principal means of preserving and transmitting thoughts and impressions.

En somme, il n'est pas interdit d'imaginer que la littérature puisse devenir à bref délai un art aussi inactuel et aussi éloigné de la vie et de la pratique que le sont pour nous l'art héraldique, la géomancie, ou la science de la chasse au faucon. Peut-être, dans un siècle, subsistera-t-il quelques professeurs qui déchiffreront péniblement nos caractères d'écriture, et qui restitueront, par un long travail de critique, l'état des esprits à l'époque où le langage écrit était le principal moyen de conservation et de transposition des pensées et des impressions.
Id. (at 153):
All literature is dominated by the nature of the audience to whom it is addressed. Every book is aimed at a reader who corresponds, in the writer's mind, to the idea he has of his contemporaries. In effect, there is a kind of law of supply and demand in literature. Readers of a given era get the quality of literature they want, in keeping with their culture and their powers of attention. Now, modern man is, in general, an execrable reader. The time has gone forever when a man could sit down with a book and enjoy spending the entire night by the light of a single candle searching out its guiding principle and mastering the work's innermost meaning and at the same time savoring the finest details of its form. And if readers have neither the time nor the patience to weigh and appreciate the words given them to read, authors will no longer choose their words with care and affection.

Toute littérature est dominée par les conditions du public auquel elle s'adresse. Tout livre vise un lecteur qui correspond, dans l'esprit de l'écrivain, à une idée qu'il se fait de ses contemporains. Il y a, en somme, en matière littéraire et artistique, une sorte de loi de l'offre et de la demande. Les lecteurs d'une époque donnée obtiennent toujours la qualité de littérature qu'ils désirent et qui est conforme à leur culture et à leur capacité d'attention. Or, l'homme modeme est, en général, un lecteur détestable. Le temps n'est plus où un texte pouvait être longuement médité, où des amateurs passaient leurs nuits, à la lueur d'une chandelle, à jouir minutieusement d'un livre dont ils essayaient de pénétrer toutes les intentions et d'approfondir la pensée directrice, en même temps qu'ils en goûtaient minutieusement la forme. Mais, si le lecteur n'a ni le temps ni la patience, de savourer, de peser les mots qu'on lui offre à lire, l'auteur cessera, de son côté, de les rechercher avec soin et de les peser lui-même en les écrivant.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


A Contemporary Example of Epipompē

Televangelist Pat Robertson, quoted in Ed Mazza, "Pat Robertson Casts 'Shield of Protection' Ahead of Hurricane Florence," Huffington Post (September 11, 2018):
In the name of Jesus, you Hurricane Florence, we speak to you in the name of Jesus, and we command the storm to cease its forward motion and go harmlessly into the Atlantic. Go up north away from land and veer off in the name of Jesus. We declare in the name of the lord that you shall go no farther, you shall do no damage in this area.
Richard Wünsch (1869-1915) first used the terms apopompē (ἀποπομπή) and epipompē (ἐπιπομπή) to describe two different ways of banishing evil. See his "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13/14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else or to some other specific location. A classic example of epipompē can be found in the Gospels (Matthew 8.30-32, Mark 5.11-13, Luke 8.32-33), when Jesus, in performing an exorcism, drove demons into a herd of pigs. All other exorcisms in the Gospels are examples of apopompē.

By telling Hurricane Florence to go away to some other specific location ("into the Atlantic ... up north away from land"), Robertson is using the technique of epipompē.

For a similar example of epipompē involving bad weather, see Francisco Javier Fernández Nieto, "A Visigothic Charm from Asturias and the Classical Tradition of Phylacteries against Hail," in Richard L. Gordon and ‎Francisco Marco Simón, edd., Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept.-1 Oct. 2005 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 551-600 (at 568-569, translating a Byzantine exorcism of hail of unknown provenance, with footnote):
Exorcism of hail: a black cloud rose up from Bethlehem full of hail with thunder and lightning, and it was met by an archangel of the host of God, who said: where are you going, black cloud full of hail with thunder and lightning? It answered: I am going to the fields in (such-and-such a place) which are planted with vines to dry up the orchards, ruin the trees and their buds, and spoil the fruits and cause all types of damage. The archangel of the host of God said: I entreat you through God invisible, the creator of the heaven, earth and sea and everything that therein is. I entreat you before the four pillars that hold the unmovable throne of God and before the river of fire, do not try to go to the pieces of land in (such-and-such a place), and instead go to the wild mountains where no cock crows, no semantron45 sounds or is heard for the glory of the great God in heaven. Amen.

45 In Byzantine texts, the term σημαντήριον (σήμαντρον) denotes the semantron, the bar-gong used in Orthodox churches, cf. Longo 1989, 69.
An image of the Greek (id., p. 568):


Atalanta's Nightmare

John Barker Stearns, Studies of the Dream as a Technical Device in Latin Epic and Drama (Lancaster: Lancaster Press, 1927 = diss. Princeton University, 1924), p. 36:
Atalanta had been visited by frequent dreams of bad omen but on one occasion (Thebais ix.570 ff.) she had a dream even more significant. She beheld an oak, the object of her particular veneration, stripped of its foliage. In fright she prayed to Diana and learned that the dream denoted the impending death of her son. This information is confirmed by Apollo.
Statius, Thebaid 9.570-606 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Meantime the stern Tegean mother [sc. Atalanta] of the archer youth [sc. Parthenopaeus], troubled in her sleep by gloomy visions, was on her way before dawn with hair flying in the wind and feet bare as of wont to the chill waters of Ladon to purge her sinister slumber in the living stream.

For in nights dismayed by weight of cares she often saw spoils she had dedicated herself fallen from their shrines and herself wandering among unknown tombs exiled from the forest and banished from the Dryad folk; and often triumphs of her son new brought from the war, his arms and familiar horse and companions, but never himself; or again she would see the quiver slip from her shoulders and her own images and familiar likenesses burnt up.

But that night above all seemed to the poor woman to portend danger and roused the mother in all her breast. There was an oak of abundant timber known throughout Arcadia's forests, which she herself had chosen from a multitude of groves and consecrated to Trivia, making it numinous by her worship. Here she would lay by her bows and wearied arrows and fix the curving weapons of boars and hides of empty lions and antlers large as great woods. Scarcely is there room for the branches, so do rustic trophies cover all around and thc glint of steel blocks the green shade. As she was returning from the mountains weary from long hunting and proudly bearing the fresh-taken bead of an Erymanthian boar, she sees the tree dying on the ground, torn with many a wound, its leaves fallen and its branches dripping blood. To her question the Nymph tells of bloody Maenads and the cruelty of hostile Lyaeus.

As she groans and surrounds her breast with phantom blows, her eyes break off the night; she leaps from her sad couch and searches her orbs for imaginary tears. So when she had dipped her hair thrice in the river to expiate the abomination and added words to comfort a mother's anxious cares, she hastens in the dew of dawn to armed Diana's shrine and rejoices to see the trees in their familiar row and the oak.
The Latin:
Tristibus interea somnum turbata figuris        570
torva sagittiferi mater Tegeatis ephebi,
crine dato passim plantisque ex more solutis,
ante diem gelidas ibat Ladonis ad undas
purgatura malum fluvio vivente soporem.

namque per attonitas curarum pondere noctes        575
saepe et delapsas adytis, quas ipsa dicarat,
exuvias, seque ignotis errare sepulcris
extorrem nemorum Dryadumque a plebe fugatam,
saepe novos nati bello rediisse triumphos,
armaque et alipedem notum comitesque videbat,        580
numquam ipsum, nunc ex umeris fluxisse pharetras,
effigiesque suas simulacraque nota cremari.

praecipuos sed enim illa metus portendere visa est
nox miserae totoque erexit pectore matrem.
nota per Arcadias felici robore silvas        585
quercus erat, Triviae quam desacraverat ipsa
electam turba nemorum numenque colendo
fecerat: hic arcus et fessa reponere tela,
armaque curva suum et vacuorum terga leonum
figere et ingentes aequantia cornua silvas.        590
vix ramis locus, agrestes adeo omnia cingunt
exuviae, et viridem ferri nitor impedit umbram.
hanc, ut forte iugis longo defessa redibat
venatu, modo rapta ferox Erymanthidos ursae
ora ferens, multo proscissam vulnere cernit        595
deposuisse comam et rorantes sanguine ramos
exspirare solo; quaerenti Nympha cruentas
Maenadas atque hostem dixit saevisse Lyaeum.
dum gemit et planctu circumdat pectus inani,
abrupere oculi noctem maestoque cubili        600
exsilit et falsos quaerit per lumina fletus.

Ergo ut in amne nefas merso ter crine piavit
verbaque sollicitas matrum solantia curas
addidit, armatae ruit ad delubra Dianae
rore sub Eoo, notasque ex ordine silvas        605
et quercum gavisa videt.
Michael Dewar, Statius Thebaid IX. Edited with an English Translation and Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 170:
585 ff. From all the trees in the wood Atalanta had selected one, presumably for its prominence and size and strength (nota, felici robore), and consecrated it to the goddess. It is an oak, more usually sacred to Jupiter, though for an apparent association of oaks with Hecate see Ap. Rh. 3.1211 ff. At Hor. Carm. 3. 22. 5 the poet dedicates a pine-tree to Diana, and it is on a pine also that Propertius (2.19.19) and Ovid (Met. 12.267) speak of the spoils of hunting being hung. Contrast Theb. 2.707 ff., where Tydeus dedicates the spoils of the ambush to Minerva by hanging them on an oak. See further 589 ff. n. Tree-worship was, of course, an ancient and very wide-spread belief, especially prevalent in Germany (Tac. Ger. 9) and the Celtic West (e.g. Max. Tyr. 2.8). In ancient Palestine the practice aroused the wrath of the prophet (Isaiah 1:29 ff.), but the modern church has domesticated it through the the custom of decorating trees at Christmas. Atalanta's piety here is of a simple, rural kind: cf. esp. Plin. Nat. 12.3 'priscoque rite simplicia rura etiam nunc deo praecellentem arborem dicant nec magis auro fulgentia atque ebore simulacra quam lucos et in iis silentia ipsa adoramus'.
Id., p. 172 (I corrected ἰσοδένδρεου in the Pindar quotation to ἰσοδένδρου in accordance with Bowra's edition):
595 ff. The phrases multo ... vulnere, deposuisse comam, sanguine, and expirare stress the identification of the tree with its dryad. Tree-nymphs were usually thought to have the same life-span as their dwellings: see Pind. fr. 168 Bowra ἰσοδένδρου τέκμωρ αἰῶνος λαχοῖσαι, Call. Hymn 4.82 ff., Ap. Rh. 2.476 ff., Theb. 6.113 (a tree felling) 'nec amplexae dimittunt robora Nymphae', Silv. 1.3.63 (to Manilius Vopiscus, who incorporated a tree into his new villa) 'non abruptos tibi debet Hamadryas annos'. The blood is the dryad's: cf. the tale of the godless Erysichthon, who cut down a grove belonging to Ceres, Call. Hymn 6.24 ff. (with Hopkinson, esp. pp. 18 ff.) and Ov. Met. 8. 738 ff., esp. 758 ff. 'contremuit gemitumque dedit Deoia quercus: / et pariter frondes, pariter pallescere glandes / coepere, ac longi pallorem ducere rami. / cuius ut in trunco fecit manus impia vulnus, / ... fluxit discusso cortice sanguis'. See also Hollis on Ov. Met. 8.771. For the impiety of desecrating a holy tree see Hollis on Ov. Met. 8.741 f., and cf. Hor. Ep. 1.6.31 f. 'virtutem verba putas, et / lucum ligna', Luc. 3.399 ff. For the evil portent of the blood cf. also Virg. A. 3.19 ff., esp. 28 f. and Williams ad loc., Ov. Met. 9.329 ff., Dante, Inf. 13.31 ff., Frazer, ii.18 ff. Ironically, Parthenopaeus will be slain by a man named Dryas.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Four Causes of Decline

Tacitus, Dialogue on Orators 28.2 (tr. W. Peterson, rev. M. Winterbottom):
Everybody is aware that it is not for lack of votaries that eloquence and the other arts as well have fallen from their former high estate, but because of the laziness of our young men, the carelessness of parents, the ignorance of teachers, and the decay of the old-fashioned virtue.

quis enim ignorat et eloquentiam et ceteras artes descivisse ab illa vetere gloria non inopia hominum, sed desidia iuventutis et neglegentia parentum et inscientia praecipientium et oblivione moris antiqui?


Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living (1937; rpt. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1938), p. 150:
Culture, as I understand it, is essentially a product of leisure. The art of culture is therefore essentially the art of loafing. From the Chinese point of view, the man who is wisely idle is the most cultured man. For there seems to be a philosophic contradiction between being busy and being wise. Those who are wise won't be busy, and those who are too busy can't be wise. The wisest man therefore is he who loafs most gracefully.

Monday, September 10, 2018


Address to Mr. Woody?

Euripides, fragment 693 (Heracles speaking, from the satyr play Syleus; tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp, with their note):
Come on then, my dear club, stir yourself, please, and be bold!1

1Heracles prepares his club for violent action against Syleus' vines or more probably the man himself and any helpers (test. iiib (104)). For his 'dear' club cf. Bellerophon addressing his horse Pegasus, Bellerophon F 306. Alternatively (see note to the Greek text), Heracles is preparing himself to bed Xenodoce (F 694).
Greek text, with note by Collard and Cropp:
                             εἷα δή, φίλον ξύλον,
ἔγειρέ μοι σεαυτὸ καὶ γίγνου θρασύ.

George Choeroboscus (on the use of εἷα) in Etymologicum Genuinum B (= Etym. Magnum p. 294.45 Gaisford); cited by other grammarians, sometimes beginning at ἔγειρε and with slight variations. A terse entry in Hesychius τ 1626 (τύλον = 'penis') prompted Meineke to suggest that Euripides wrote τύλον rather than ξύλον here, but Ηesychius may reflect a coarse comic adaptation of the verse: cf. on Stheneboea F 664.2.
The note on the Greek text in the Digital Loeb Classical Library is faulty — it omits Etymologicum Genuinum, Etym. Magnum, and Stheneboea.

See Dana Ferrin Sutton, "The Hercules Statue from the House of the Stags, Herculaneum," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 127.1 (1984) 96; Pierre Voelke, "Figure du satyre et fonctions du drame satyrique," Mètis 13 (1998) 227-248 (at 237-238); and Franco Maltomini, "'Magia' in Euripide, "Syleus" fr. 693 N2?" Studi Classici e Orientali 46.1 (December, 1998) 209-212.

When he quotes the second line of the fragment Eustathius has ἔκτεινέ instead of ἔγειρέ.

Hercules Statue from the House of the Stags, Herculaneum



To the Memory of Aelia Secundula

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.20277, tr. Ramsay MacMullen, The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), p. 58, with note on p. 160 (I changed "the while the loaves" to "while the loaves"):
                              To the memory of Aelia Secundula:
We all have already spent much, as is right, on the burial, but we have decided furthermore to put up a stone dining chamber where Mother Secundula rests, wherein we may recall the many wonderful things she did, while the loaves, the cups, the cushions are set out, so as to assuage the sharp hurt that eats at our hearts. While the hour grows late, gladly will we revisit our tales about our virtuous mother, and our praises of her, while the old lady sleeps, she who nourished us and lies forever here in sober peace. She lived 72 years. Dated by the province's year 260 [A.D. 299]. Statulenia Iulia set up [the memorial].27

27. At Aïn Kebira Satifis, CIL 8.20277 Diehl (1925-31) 1.301 no. 1570; among many mentions, cf. Iosi (1924) 105f. In the inscription "mensa" is taken in the sense of a building, whereas, as I've explained, the alternative and older meaning of "table" is what I favor.
She lived for 75 years, not 72, as the Latin in the Corpus makes clear (p. 1913, with note):
    Memoriae Aeliae Secundulae.
Funeri mu[l]ta quid(e)m condigna iam misimus omnes,
insuper ar(a)equ(e) deposit(a)e Secundulae matri.
Lapideam placuit nobis atponere mensam,
in qua magna eius memorantes plurima facta,
dum cibi ponuntur calicesq(ue) e[t] copertae,
vulnus ut sanetur nos rod(ens) pectore saevum,
libenter fabul(as) dum sera red(d)imus hora
castae matri bonae laudesq(ue), vetula dormit;
ipsa [q(uae)] nutri(i)t, iaces, et sobria<e> semper!
V(ixit) a(nnis) LXXV. A(nno) p(rovinciae) CCLX (= p. Chr. 299). Statulenia Iulia fecit.

Carmen acrosticum est simulque telestichium; primae et ultimae versuum litterae efficiunt verba fili dulci simae matr. — 6 copertae videtur dictum esse pro coopertoriis, et significari vestis stragula.
The stone:

I learned about the inscription from Johannes Quasten, "'Vetus Superstitio et Nova Religio': The Problem of Refrigerium in the Ancient Church of North Africa," Harvard Theological Review 33.4 (October, 1940) 253-266 (at 257).

Sunday, September 09, 2018


Our Ancestors Did Not

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942; rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 21:
The desire for simplicity is a late and sophisticated one. We moderns may like dances which are hardly distinguishable from walking and poetry which sounds as if it might be uttered ex tempore. Our ancestors did not. They liked a dance which was a dance, and fine clothes which no one could mistake for working clothes, and feasts that no one could mistake for ordinary dinners, and poetry that unblushingly proclaimed itself to be poetry.

Saturday, September 08, 2018



Ammianus Marcellinus 27.7.4 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
For the philosophers define anger as a long-continued, sometimes permanent, ulcer of the mind, usually caused by weakness of the intellect; and they give for their opinion the plausible ground that the sickly are more inclined to anger than the sound, women than men, the old than the young, and the wretched than the fortunate.

hanc enim ulcus esse animi diuturnum, interdumque perpetuum, prudentes definiunt, nasci ex mentis mollitia consuetum, id asserentes argumento probabili, quod iracundiores sunt incolumibus languidi, et feminae maribus, et iuvenibus senes, et felicibus aerumnosi.
J. den Boeft et al., Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXVII (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 166-167:
Lindenbrog seems to have been the first scholar who tried to determine the identity of the prudentes in question. His reference to Plato, Theaetetus 144 a 6–8 is not felicitous, since in that passage entirely different categories are said to be prone to anger: οἵ τε ὀξεῖς ὥσπερ οὗτος καὶ ἀγχίνοι καὶ μνήμονες ὡς τὰ πολλὰ καὶ πρὸς τὰς ὀργὰς ὀξύρροποί εἰσι, 'keen people of his type, who are ready of wit and have a good memory are, generally speaking, quickly inclined to anger'. In contrast, his quotation from Aristotle, Rhetorica 2.2.10 (1379 a 16–18) is somewhat more relevant: διὸ κάμνοντες, πενόμενοι, ἐρῶντες, διψῶντες, ὅλως ἐπιθυμοῦντες καὶ μὴ κατορθοῦντες ὀργίλοι εἰσὶ καὶ εὐπαρόρμητοι, "wherefore the sick, the necessitous, the lovesick, the thirsty, in a word, all who desire something and cannot obtain it, are prone to anger and easily excited" (tr. Freese). Especially the first group is reminiscent of Amm.'s languidi. However, Lindenbrog's reference to some passages in Seneca's De ira clinches the matter: Amm.'s prudentes refers in fact to only one person, as the passages in question will quickly reveal. Seneca's words are: iracundissimi infantes senesque et aegri sunt, et invalidum omne natura querulum est (De ira 1.13.5), Iracundia nihil amplum decorumque molitur; contra mihi videtur veternosi et infelicis animi, inbecillitatis sibi conscii, saepe indolescere ... Ita ira muliebre maxime ac puerile vitium est (ib. 1.20.3), puerorum feminarumque irae acres magis quam graves sunt... senes difficiles et queruli sunt, ut aegri et convalescentes (ib. 2.19.4), iracundiores sunt valetudine aut aetate fessi (ib. 3.9.4). The quoted words function within various arguments, but they contain the same message: those who for reasons of physical health, sex, age or unhappiness can be regarded as weak are more prone to anger.


My Latest Pet Peeve

My latest pet peeve is the word pop-up, as in "After the Fire: A Pop-Up Discussion about the Burning of Brazil's National Museum." Why not simply "A Discussion..."? Meteorologists now predict "pop-up showers" — ordinary "showers" no longer occur, I guess.

Related posts:



Tacitus, Germania 4 (tr. M. Hutton, rev. E.H. Warmington):
Personally I associate myself with the opinions of those who hold that in the peoples of Germany there has been given to the world a race unmixed by intermarriage with other races, a peculiar people and pure, like no one but themselves, whence it comes that their physique, so far as can be said with their vast numbers, is identical: fierce blue eyes, red hair, tall frames, powerful only spasmodically, not correspondingly tolerant of labour and hard work, and by no means habituated to bearing thirst and heat; to cold and hunger, thanks to the climate and the soil, they are accustomed.

ipse eorum opinionibus accedo, qui Germaniae populos nullis aliis aliarum nationum conubiis infectos propriam et sinceram et tantum sui similem gentem exstitisse arbitrantur. unde habitus quoque corporum, tamquam in tanto hominum numero, idem omnibus: truces et caerulei oculi, rutilae comae, magna corpora et tantum ad impetum valida: laboris atque operum non eadem patientia, minimeque sitim aestumque tolerare, frigora atque inediam caelo solove adsueverunt.
Christopher B. Krebs, A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), p. 96, calls this the "most dangerous paragraph" of Tacitus' most dangerous book. Elsewhere (p. 57) Krebs quotes Rudolf of Fulda's paraphrase (Translatio S. Alexandri, chapter 1, p. 423 Krutsch):
The Saxons most carefully guarded their race and nobility and did not taint themselves casually by intermarriage with any other tribes, let alone inferior ones; they tried to generate a distinct, unadulterated people that resembles only itself.

generis quoque ac nobilitatis suae providissimam curam habentes, nec facile ullis aliarum gentium vel sibi inferiorum conubiis infecti, propriam et sinceram et tantum sui simile gentem facere conati sunt.
Related post: Pure Blood.

Friday, September 07, 2018


Sacred Cypresses in the Grove of Apollo at Daphne

Libanius, Orations 1.255 (tr. A.F. Norman, with his note):
The successor of this ungodly fellow was another unbeliever himself. He took up his office and began to run to fat through his self-indulgence, as being a man of property, but his property was the fruit of his wickedness. He was more stupid than the other in that, upon my telling him to do no damage to Daphne and to lay no axe to its cypresses, he became my foe and tried to bring me down through teachers, first of Latin, then of Greek.a

a The anonymous Comes (PLRE 1015 (61)) actively promotes Cynegius' second objective, the suppression of pagan temples. Libanius had just protested at this in Or. 30.42 f, emphasizing, as here, that they are imperial property. Felling of cypresses in Daphne was already subject to imperial control; cf. Codex Theodos. 10.1.12, of 379, Codex Justinianus 11.78.1–2. The Comes' other misdemeanours were the establishment of a chair in Latin (cf. Or. 58.21 f, 38.6) and the encouragement of a rival Greek sophist.

ἄλλος δέ τις ἀντὶ τοῦ οὐκ εἰδότος θεούς, εἰδὼς οὐδ᾿ αὐτὸς θεούς, παραλαβὼν τὴν ἀρχὴν τρυφῇ μὲν εἰς σάρκας ἐπιδούς, οἷα ἐκ πολλῆς οὐσίας, ἠ δὲ ἀδικίας ἔργον ἦν, ᾧ1 τοῦδε ἀνοητότερος, ἀκούσας μὴ χείρω ποιεῖν τὴν Δάφνην μηδὲ ἐπιφέρειν κυπαρίττοις σίδηρον ἐχθρός τε ἦν καὶ ἐπειρᾶτο τἀμὰ καθελεῖν, πρῶτα μὲν Ἰταλῶν φωνῇ, μετὰ ταῦτα δὲ καὶ Ἑλλάδι...
Id. 1.262:
The rule of our pot-bellied governor was a harsh one, for his wrath had been kindled by a piece of deceit.b He had decided to lay the axe to the cypresses in Daphne, and I, realizing that such a course would bring no good to any who chopped them down, advised one of his boon companions that he should not incur the anger of Apollo because of the trees, especially since his temple had already been afflicted by similar misdeeds. I told him that I would invite the emperor to show concern for Daphne, or rather to emphasize the concern he felt already, for he was not without it, as it was.

b Reverts to the anonymous Comes of §255, who has continued with his ravaging of Daphne. Apollo is both protector of Daphne (Or. 60.5) and, as in Iliad 1.284, the avenger.

Ἀρχὴ πικρὰ τοῦ μεγίστην ἔχοντος τὴν γαστέρα, δι᾿ ἀπάτης παρωξυμμένου. ἦν δὲ ἡ ἀπάτη, κυπαρίττοις μὲν ἐν τῇ Δάφνῃ σίδηρον ἐπενεγκεῖν ἐγνώκει, τουτὶ δὲ εἰδὼς ἐγὼ τῷ τέμνοντι τελευτῆσον οὐκ εἰς ἀγαθόν, πρός τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ συμποτῶν ἔλεγον ὡς οὐ παροξυντέον τὸν Ἀπόλλω διὰ τῶν κυπαρίττων, καὶ ταῦτα αὐτῷ τῆς οἰκίας ἀφ᾿ ὁμοίας πεπληγμένης αἰτίας, καὶ παρακαλέσειν δὲ ἔφην τὸν βασιλέα πρόνοιαν τῆς Δάφνης ἔχειν, μᾶλλον δὲ μείζω ποιῆσαι τὴν οὖσαν· εἶναι γὰρ δὴ καὶ νῦν.
For other references, see Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 22, n. 37:
Among the many references to the cypresses of Daphne the most important are Libanius Or. 11.236-238; Malalas 204.10ff.; Procopius Wars 2.14.5; Paulus Silentiarius Ekphrasis of St. Sophia 524; cf. Müller, Antiq. Antioch. 46. There are two laws protecting the cypresses of the sacred grove, of Arcadius and Honorius, and of Theodosius and Valentinian (CJ 11.78).



A Resolution

Edward Murphy (1707-1777), ed., The Select Dialogues of Lucian (New York: George Long, 1818), pp. ix-x:
In the meantime, if any single and singular father or son, or, rather, both together, should accidentally read these sentiments, and very accidentally join in them, let them (if the youth aspires to be a useful and a shining man) further join in the following resolution, which I here set down for the sake, or even the hope, of gaining over such a youth to a glorious ambition of emerging from the thick, and gross, and mean obscurity that at present overwhelms the minds of most of those who should be the lights and ornaments of the public. The resolution is this: That such a youth quit not school, till he is as perfect as a very good master can make him, in every single word of the following books, viz. Cæs. Comment. Quint. Curt. Sallust's Wars of Catil. and Jugurtha. The five first books of Livy. The select Orat. of Cicero. All Virgil, except his juvenile works. Hor. and Juv. (except the improper parts) Pers. The four first plays of Terence. St. John's Gospel. Leusd. Compend. These Dial. of Lucian. The four first books of Xen. Cyr. Epict. and Tab. Ceb. The eight first books of Hom. Iliad. Hesiod. The Idyl. of Theocrit. Hero and Leand. and Œdip. of Sophocles.
Leusd. Compend. = Johannes Leusden, Compendium Biblicum.

Hat tip: Alan Crease.

Thursday, September 06, 2018


Bread and Water

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 25.4 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
None of our possessions is essential. Let us return to the law of nature; for then riches are laid up for us. The things which we actually need are free for all, or else cheap; nature craves only bread and water. No one is poor according to this standard; when a man has limited his desires within these bounds, he can challenge the happiness of Jove himself, as Epicurus says.

Nihil ex his, quae habemus, necessarium est. Ad legem naturae revertamur; divitiae paratae sunt. Aut gratuitum est, quo egemus, aut vile; panem et aquam natura desiderat. Nemo ad haec pauper est, intra quae quisquis desiderium suum clusit, cum ipso Iove de felicitate contendat, ut ait Epicurus.
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 4.13 (tr. N.G. Wilson, cf. Stobaeus, Anthology 17.30):
Epicurus of the deme of Gargettus proclaimed that a man who is not satisfied with a little will not be satisfied with anything. He also said that he was ready to declare himself a match for Zeus in good fortune if he had bread and water.

Ἐπίκουρος ὁ Γαργήττιος <ἐκεκράγει> λέγων· "ᾧ ὀλίγον οὐχ ἱκανόν, ἀλλὰ τούτῳ γε οὐδὲν ἱκανόν." ὁ αὐτὸς ἔλεγε ἑτοίμως ἔχειν καὶ τῷ Διὶ ὑπὲρ εὐδαιμονίας διαγωνίζεσθαι μάζαν ἔχων καὶ ὕδωρ.
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus 131 (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Bread and water produce the highest pleasure, when one who needs them puts them to his lips.

καὶ μᾶζα καὶ ὕδωρ τὴν ἀκροτάτην ἀποδίδωσιν ἡδονήν, ἐπειδὰν ἐνδέων τις αὐτὰ προσενέγκηται.
Yes, but I would like my bread to be a freshly baked baguette and my water to be chilled San Pellegrino served in Waterford crystal, please.

Dear Mike,

Bread and water are all very well but Seneca might have acknowledged that a little money too comes in handy from time to time. After all he had enough of the stuff to buy 600 million loaves (see Emily Wilson, Seneca: A Life (London: Allen Lane, 2014) p. 127).

Best wishes,

Eric [Thomson]

From Wilson's book:
It is clear that Seneca was extremely rich. Cassius Dio tells us that under Nero, he accumulated over three hundred million sestertii, a very large sum, as well as a great deal of property, including several houses in Rome and elsewhere, and apparently large areas of land in the prime real estate area of central Rome as well as in other parts of Italy. He may well also have owned land in Egypt (Epistle 77), an important source of revenue, since Egypt was the primary grain supplier to the Empire. It is impossible to translate Roman money with any accuracy into modern currency, since the relative values of different types of object, and the value of labor, was radically different: property values were proportionately less, and, as in any preindustrialized economy, manufactured goods cost more. The ubiquity of slave labor also made the service economy very different. But we can get some idea of the scale of Seneca's wealth by knowing that a single sestertius could buy two loaves of bread or a jug of wine, and that a legionary in the Roman army, in Seneca's lifetime, earned 900 sestertii per annum. By today's standards, then, Seneca was at least a multimillionaire.


Mountain Dwellers

Ammianus Marcellinus 27.4.14 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Now it is well known, as constant reports have spread abroad, that almost all the country folk who dwell in the high mountains throughout the lands just described surpass us in health and strength, and in the prerogative (so to speak) of prolonging life; and it is thought that this is due to abstinence from a conglomeration of diet and from hot baths, and a lasting freshness knits their bodies through cold sprinklings with dew; and they enjoy the sweetness of a purer air; further they are first of all to feel the rays of the sun, which are by their own nature life-giving, before they are infected with any stains from human affairs.

Constat autem (ut vulgavere rumores assidui), omnes paene agrestes, qui per regiones praedictas montium circumcolunt altitudines, salubritate virium, et praerogativa quadam vitae longius propagandae, nos anteire, idque inde contingere arbitrantur, quod colluvione ciborum abstinent calidisque, et perenni viriditate roris asperginibus gelidis corpora constringente, aurae purioris dulcedine potiuntur, radiosque solis, suapte natura vitales, primi omnium sentiunt, nullis adhuc maculis rerum humanarum infectos.
Portion of critical apparatus from Wolfgang Seyfarth's Teubner edition:

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


I Sit Alone

Goethe, from "Das Schenkenbuch," West-östlicher Divan (tr. John Weiss):
I sit alone,
It suits me well, I own;
My wine I drink
Alone, and think;
No one setting bounds to me,
So I have my thinking free.

Sitz' ich allein,
Wo kann ich besser sein?
Meinen Wein
Trink' ich allein;
Niemand setzt mir Schranken,
Ich hab' so meine eignen Gedanken.
The same, tr. Martin Bidney:
Alone, just me.
And what could better be?
Drinking wine
Alone — quite fine.
No obligation, free —
My thoughts may wander by their own design.
There's a musical setting by Robert Schumann, Myrthen, Opus 25, No. 5:

Tuesday, September 04, 2018


Defeated by Ourselves

Plato, Menexenus 14 (243 D; tr. R.G. Bury):
And in truth it was by our own dissensions that we were brought down and not by the hands of other men; for by them we are still to this day undefeated, and it is we ourselves who have both defeated and been defeated by ourselves.

τῇ δὲ ἡμετέρᾳ αὐτῶν διαφορᾷ ἐκρατήθημεν, οὐχ ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων· ἀήττητοι γὰρ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ὑπό γε ἐκείνων ἐσμέν, ἡμεῖς δὲ αὐτοὶ ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς καὶ ἐνικήσαμεν καὶ ἡττήθημεν.


Holy Relics

Alan Bennett, The History Boys: A Play (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 58-59:
The monastic life only comes alive when contemplating its toilet arrangements.

Not monks stumbling down the night stairs at three in the morning to sing the first office of the day; not the sound of prayer and praise unceasing sent heavenwards from altar and cell; no, what fires the popular imagination is stuff from the reredorter plopping twenty feet into the drains.

God is dead. Shit lives.

Wanting toilet paper, or paper of any description, the monks used to wipe their bottoms on scraps of fabric ... linen, muslin, patches of tapestry even, which presumably they would rinse and rinse again before eventually discarding them. Some of these rags survive, excavated from the drains into which they were dropped five hundred years ago and more, and here now find themselves exhibited in the abbey museum.

The patron saint here, whose bones were buried at Rievaulx, was Aelred. And it is conceivable that one of these ancient arsewipes was actually used by the saint. Which at that time would have made it a relic, something at which credulous pilgrims would come to gaze.



A Secret and Valued Freemasonry

James Hilton (1900-1954), Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Chapter 3:
The books were chiefly classical, the classics having been his subject; there was, however, a seasoning of history and belles-lettres. There was also a bottom shelf piled up with cheap editions of detective novels. Chips enjoyed these. Sometimes he took down Vergil or Xenophon and read for a few moments, but he was soon back again with Doctor Thorndyke or Inspector French. He was not, despite his long years of assiduous teaching, a very profound classical scholar; indeed, he thought of Latin and Greek far more as dead languages from which English gentlemen ought to know a few quotations than as living tongues that had ever been spoken by living people. He liked those short leading articles in the Times that introduced a few tags that he recognized. To be among the dwindling number of people who understood such things was to him a kind of secret and valued freemasonry; it represented, he felt, one of the chief benefits to be derived from a classical education.


The Day Before He Died

Ammianus Marcellinus 28.4.15 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Whereas, considering the greatness of their fame and of their parentage, they ought to pore over many and varied works; they ought to learn that Socrates, when condemned to death and thrown into prison, asked a musician, who was skilfully rendering a song of the lyric poet Stesichorus, that he might be taught to do this while there was still time. And when the musician asked of what use that could be to him, since he was to die on the following day, Socrates replied: "In order that I may know something more before I depart from life."

cum multa et varia pro amplitudine gloriarum et generum lectitare deberent, audientes destinatum poenae Socratem, coniectumque in carcerem, rogasse quendam scite lyrici carmen Stesichori modulantem, ut doceretur id agere, dum liceret: interroganteque musico quid ei poterit hoc prodesse morituro postridie, respondisse 'ut aliquid sciens amplius e vita discedam'.
J. den Boeft et al., Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXVIII (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 196-197:
In Euthd. 272 c Plato says that Socrates as an old man took music lessons with the lyre player Connus. The story is also told by Cic. Sen. 26 and V. Max. 8.7 ext. 8: Socraten etiam constat aetate provectum fidibus tractandis operam dare coepisse satius iudicantem eius artis usum sero quam numquam percipere. In prison Socrates, according to Pl. Phd. 60 d–61 b, occupied himself by writing a hymn to Apollo and putting some fables of Aesop into verse.

As Valesius saw, Amm. made a mistake in telling this story about Socrates. In fact it was Solon, who as a very old man heard a nephew sing a wonderful poem of Sappho and asked the young man to teach him that song. A similar inaccuracy is found in 14.9.6, where Amm. mistakes Zeno of Citium for Zeno of Elea; see Rosen, 1982, 133. In an age without Realencyklopädie or Wikipedia such confusions were inevitable.


In the words of Aelianus, quoted in Stob. 3.29.58 (ed. Hense): ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο ἐσπούδασεν, ὁ δὲ ἔφη 'ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.' ('and when someone asked him for what reason he was eager to learn this, he answered: "in order to die knowing it"'). Amm. may have had Solon's famous dictum in mind fr. 17 γηράσκω δ' αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος ('I grow old learning many things').

Dear Michael,

Your quotation today about Socrates' bothering to learn something new on his last day alive reminds me of this anecdote about Oliver Wendell Holmes (from Britannica online):
A man austerely dedicated to his work, he also enjoyed the earthy and the droll. He loved Rabelais. Sometimes in Washington he attended burlesque shows and was said to have remarked, "I thank God I am a man of low tastes." The newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon the retired justice and found him reading Plato. "Why do you read Plato, Mr. Justice?" "To improve my mind, Mr. President," replied the 92-year-old man.
I have seen several versions of this anecdote: in one he is reading a Greek grammar, in another he reads Plato in Greek.



Kevin [Muse]


Sunday, September 02, 2018


Chanting Psalms in the Bog

Robin Lane Fox, Augustine: Conversions to Confessions (New York: Basic Books, 2015), p. 315 with note on p. 631:
On the night of his 'conversion' Licentius left to go out to the lavatory, where he sat loudly chanting his favourite line from the Psalms, 'O God of hosts, convert us...', set to Ambrose's new music. Monnica hammered him for singing these words in such an improper place. He tried to answer back: if an enemy was detaining him in the lavatory, surely God would heed his words? Monnica was not impressed with his facetiousness. It took Augustine on the following morning to show him that his singing about 'conversion' had almost been prophetic.27 Even the time and place, Augustine observed, had been apt, whatever Monnica said. The night was dark, the lavatory filthy, and the conversion of which Licentius sang was a conversion from the 'darkness' of error and the 'filth of the body and its stains'.

27. Aug. Ord. I, 8.22-3.
Licentius might have quoted sacred scripture in his defense, e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5.17 (Pray without ceasing) or Psalm 139.2, 7 (Thou knowest my downsitting....Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?).

Related post: Abodes of Demons.



A Man of Understanding

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), Elmer Gantry II.2:
Whatever difficulties he may have had with philosophy, Latin, and calculus, there had never been a time since the age of twelve when Eddie Fislinger had had difficulty in understanding what the Lord God Almighty wanted, and why, all through history, he had acted thus or thus.
Id., VI.1:
His only formal education had been in country schools; and of all books save the Bible, revivalistic hymnals, a concordance handy for finding sermon-texts, and a manual of poultry-keeping, he was soundly ignorant....But it would have been a waste of pity to sigh over Brother Karkis as a plucky poor student. He had no longing for further knowledge; he was certain that he already had it all.


Above the Fray

Goethe, from "Das Schenkenbuch," West-östlicher Divan (tr. John Weiss):
The straight ones serve me with reproof
    Because I never learn their rules:
At least I wisely keep aloof
    From squabble of pulpits and the schools.

Daß ich von Sitte nichts gelernt,
Darüber tadelt mich ein jeder;
Doch bleib ich weislich weit entfernt
Vom Streit der Schulen und Katheder.

Saturday, September 01, 2018


The Prophetic Impulse

E.M. Cioran (1911-1995), A Short History of Decay, tr. Richard Howard (1975; rpt. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2012), p. 6:
In every man sleeps a prophet, and when he wakes there is a little more evil in the world. . . .

Dans tout homme sommeille un prophète, et quand il s'éveille il y a un peu plus de mal dans le monde...


Nothing Sweeter

Homer, Odyssey 9.27-28 (A.T. Murray, rev. George E. Dimock):
And for myself no other thing can I see sweeter than one's own land.

                                                            οὔ τοι ἐγώ γε
ἧς γαίης δύναμαι γλυκερώτερον ἄλλο ἰδέσθαι.


Pure Blood

Plato, Menexenus 17 (245 C-D; tr. R.G. Bury):
So firmly-rooted and so sound is the noble and liberal character of our city, and endowed also with such a hatred of the barbarian, because we are pure-blooded Greeks, unadulterated by barbarian stock. For there cohabit with us none of the type of Pelops, or Cadmus, or Aegyptus or Danaus, and numerous others of the kind, who are naturally barbarians though nominally Greeks; but our people are pure Greeks and not a barbarian blend; whence it comes that our city is imbued with a whole-hearted hatred of alien races.

οὕτω δή τοι τό γε τῆς πόλεως γενναῖον καὶ ἐλεύθερον βέβαιόν τε καὶ ὑγιές ἐστι καὶ φύσει μισοβάρβαρον, διὰ τὸ εἰλικρινῶς εἶναι Ἕλληνες καὶ ἀμιγεῖς βαρβάρων. οὐ γὰρ Πέλοπες οὐδὲ Κάδμοι οὐδὲ Αἴγυπτοί τε καὶ Δαναοὶ οὐδὲ ἄλλοι πολλοὶ φύσει μὲν βάρβαροι ὄντες, νόμῳ δὲ Ἕλληνες, συνοικοῦσιν ἡμῖν, ἀλλ᾿ αὐτοὶ Ἕλληνες, οὐ μιξοβάρβαροι οἰκοῦμεν, ὅθεν καθαρὸν τὸ μῖσος ἐντέτηκε τῇ πόλει τῆς ἀλλοτρίας φύσεως.

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