Saturday, November 16, 2019


A Laconic Message

Xenophon, Hellenica 1.1.24 (dispatch sent by Hippocrates to the Spartans, intercepted by the Athenians; tr. John Marincola):
Ships gone, Mindaros dead, men starving; don't know what to do.

ἔρρει τὰ κᾶλα. Μίνδαρος ἀπεσσύα. πεινῶντι τὤνδρες. ἀπορίομες τί χρὴ δρᾶν.
The translation is more laconic than the original, which has definite articles (the ships, the men) and non-truncated verbs.

Friday, November 15, 2019


In the School Library

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Eton," Experience (London: Putnam, 1935), pp. 149-156 (at 149; footnote omitted):
Books that I have read are like old diaries to me. I find my old self in their pages. Do I want to be back in my School Library I have only to open some book I first read there and as I allow my mind to wander, I see again the long book-lined room; the busts, the model of the Acropolis, the large diamond-paned windows, the leather-topped tables, and the attitudes of the boys sitting at them. I hear the whispers and suppressed giggles. Again I see the look of well-simulated amazement on the face of the precise, tiny Librarian, when someone brings a Greek Lexicon down on the bowed head of a fellow-student.
On books as weapons see Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon.


Source of Misfortunes

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées 139 Brunschvicg (tr. H.F. Stewart):
When I set myself, as I sometimes do, to consider human unrest in its various forms, and the perils and pains to which men expose themselves at court or in the camp (rich source of quarrels and passions, of bold and often unsuccessful ventures), I have often said that man's unhappiness arises from one thing only, namely that he cannot abide quietly in one room.

Quand je m'y suis mis quelquefois à considérer les diverses agitations des hommes et les périls et les peines où ils s'exposent dans la Cour, dans la guerre, d'où naissent tant de querelles, de passions, d'entreprises hardies et souvent mauvaises, etc., j'ai dit souvent que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XI.99 (tr. Henri van Laun):
All men's misfortunes proceed from their aversion to being alone; hence gambling, extravagance, dissipation, wine, women, ignorance, slander, envy, and forgetfulness of what we owe to God and ourselves.

Tout notre mal vient de ne pouvoir être seuls: de là le jeu, le luxe, la dissipation, le vin, les femmes, l'ignorance, la médisance, l'envie, l'oubli de soi-même et de Dieu.


Grading Students

Irvin Ehrenpreis (1920-1985), Swift: The Man, His Works, and the Age, Vol. I: Mr. Swift and His Contemporaries (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 57:
Bene, mediocriter, negligenter, male, pessime represent the range of marks, and haud or vix was available as a kind of minus sign.2

2 Forster, pp. 38-40. See Appendix E.
This seems to correspond to modern day A, B, C, D, F. Forster is John Forster, The Life of Jonathan Swift, Vol. I: 1667-1711 (London: John Murray, 1875), and Ehrenpreis' Appendix E (pp. 279-283) is "Roll of Students' Marks on the Terminal Examinations at Trinity College, Dublin, Easter 1685."

Ehrenpreis, p. 61:
By far the most common mark on this examination was mediocriter; about as many male's appear as bene's, which is not very many, and about the same number of negligenter's.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Deliverance from Anguish

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Paris Spleen, XXII: Evening Twilight (tr. Raymond N. Mackenzie):
O night, O refreshing shadows! For me, you are the signal for an interior holy day, you are deliverance from anguish! In the solitude of the plains, in the stony labyrinths of capital cities, you, the sparkling of stars and bursting forth of street lanterns, are the fireworks of the goddess Liberty!

Ô nuit! ô rafraîchissantes ténèbres! vous êtes pour moi le signal d'une fête intérieure, vous êtes la délivrance d'une angoisse! Dans la solitude des plaines, dans les labyrinthes pierreux d'une capitale, scintillement des étoiles, explosion des lanternes, vous êtes le feu d'artifice de la déesse Liberté!



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Antony and Octavius," Scene 10, lines 39-51, in his Poems, Dialogues in Verse, and Epigrams, Vol. I: Dramatic Scenes (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1902), p. 360:
We can not always swagger, always act
A character the wise will never learn:        40
When Night goes down, and the young Day resumes
His pointed shafts, and chill air breathes around,
Then we put on our own habiliments
And leave the dusty stage we proudly trod.
I have been sitting longer at life's feast        45
Than does me good; I will arise and go.
Philosophy would flatten her thin palm
Outspread upon my sleeve; away with her!
Cuff off, cuff out, that chattering toothless jade:
The brain she puzzles, and she blunts the sword:        50
Even she knows better words than that word live.


The Elizabethan James Joyce

Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 281-282, with notes on p. 348 (on Richard Stanyhurst's translation of Vergil's Aeneid):
Thanks largely to Nashe's attack, Stanyhurst has come to be regarded as a kind of literary-historical bad joke. The Cambridge History of English Literature solemnly asked whether we can plausibly "Imagine Dido Queen of Carthage asking in fury 'Shall a stranger give me the slampam?'" and a more recent guide is characteristically dismissive in suggesting that Stanyhurst "insisted on not being mistaken for an ignoramus" but that his translation "proves, in unconscious burlesque, how bad neo-classical theory was."12 The indecorum of high classical matter being rendered through low verbal coinages is what provokes the derision. Thus the Cambridge History again: "he surpassed in a fantastic eccentricity the vainest of his contemporaries. Never was there a stranger mixture of pedantry and slang than is to be found in his work."13 Wait a minute, though: is not the juxtaposition of high and low, of kings and clowns, of soaring poetry and earthy vernacular, one of the qualities that we so value in the plays of one William Shakespeare? Do we not praise the Stratford grammar school lad to the rafters for the living sound of his lines and the astonishing array of his verbal coinages? Stanyhurst gives us: Chuff chaff, clush clash, crack-rack crashing, hob lob, hurly burly, huf puff, kym kam, muff maff, pell mell, pit pat, rags jags, swish swash, tag rag, tara-tan-tara, thwick thwack, trush trash, wig wag, yolp yalp.

Again, do we not consider the art of creating compound adjectives as one of the marks of all true poets since Homer and the ancient Greek tragedians? Stanyhurst delights in: "Herd-flock," "Frith-cops," "Blustrous huzzing with clush clash buzzing, with drooming clattered humming," "It brayeth in snorting," "The push and poke of lance," "Deep minced, far chopped," "Rapfully frapping," "With belling screech cry she roareth." One almost hears Tony Harrison's acclaimed translation of Aeschylus's Oresteia. Or even the sheer zany word-adoring inventiveness of another Irishman in exile on the continent: could Richard Stanyhurst be not so much a joke as a pioneer? Was he the Elizabethan James Joyce?14

In the Oxford English Dictionary, Stanyhurst is credited with the invention of a rich array of more than one hundred and fifty words, including Bepowdered, Breakvow, Carousing, Disjoincted, Distracted, Flailing, Flounce, Frolic, Gadding, Gutter, Hoblobs, Hoodwink, Makesport, Mopsy, Pertlike, Plashy, Rake, Sea-froth, Smocktoy, Spumy, Unhoused, Wanton (as a verb), and Whizling. OED also gives him nearly two hundred nonce-words, among them Bedgle, Bepurpled, Blastbob, Breedsleep, Crabknob, Garbroils, Gyreful, Hedgebrat, Pack-paunch, Plashbreach, Racebrood, Snarnoise, Sportbreeder, Uddered, Upvomited, and Windblast. Many of his coinages failed to make it into the Oxford English Dictionary at all: Bughag, Birthsoil, Foresnaffled, Hailknob, Hell-swarm, Hotlove, Lustilad, Nightfog, Rapesnatched, Seabelch, and about seventy more. And on about fifty occasions, his usage of a word predates the OED's earliest citation. In the following instances, Shakespeare is cited as the earliest usage but the credit should really go to Stanyhurst: Baggage, Beldam, Eyeball, Huddle, Post-haste, Quillet.

12. Charles Whibley, "Translators," in The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. A.W. Ward and A.R. Waller (Cambridge University Press, 1919), 4. 18; J.W. Saunders, A Biographical Dictionary of Renaissance Poets and Dramatists, 1520-1650 (Harvester, 1983), p. 155.

13. Whibley, "Translators," 4.17.

14. There is a good account of the Irishness of Stanyhurst's language in Patricia Palmer, The Severed Head and the Grafted Tongue: Literature, Translation and Violence in Early Modern Ireland (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 125–32.
A caveat: if Bate means to say that tara-tan-tara is one of Stanyhurst's verbal coinages, then he is mistaken. The word occurs in Ennius, Annals 451 Skutsch (tr. E.H. Warmington):
And the trumpet in terrible tones taratantara blared.

at tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Ranulf Higden (1280-1364), Polychronicon, ed. Churchill Babington, Vol. I (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), pp. 386, 388, tr. G.G. Coulton, Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), pp. 66-67:
Scots be light of heart, strong and wild enough, but by mixing with Englishmen they be much amended. They be cruel upon their enemies, and hate bondage most of anything, and they hold it a foul sloth if any man dieth in his bed, and great worship if he die in the field. They be little of meat and may fast long, and eateth well seldom while the sun is up, and eateth flesh, fish, milk and fruit more than bread, and though they be fair of shape they be defouled and made unseemly enough with their own clothing. They praise fast the usage of their own fathers, and despise other men's doing.

Scoti sunt animo leves, barbari satis et silvestres, sed admixtione cum Anglis in parte emendantur. In hostes saevi, servitutem summe detestantur. In lecto mori reputant segnitiem, in campo interfici arbitrantur gloriam. Parci victu, diutius famem sustinent. Raro ante solis occasum comedunt; carnibus, lacticiniis, piscibus, et fructibus magis quam pane vescuntur. Et cum sint elegantis formae satis tamen ex proprio habitu deformantur. Paternos ritus commendant, alienos aspernantur.


Human History

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Introduction, Chapter I: Anti-Dryasdust, in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations, 3rd ed., Vol. I (London: Chapman and Hall, 1857), p. 6:
By very nature it is a labyrinth and chaos, this that we call Human History; an abatis of trees and brushwood, a world-wide jungle, at once growing and dying. Under the green foliage and blossoming fruit-trees of Today, there lie, rotting slower or faster, the forests of all other Years and Days. Some have rotted fast, plants of annual growth, and are long since quite gone to inorganic mould; others are like the aloe, growths that last a thousand or three thousand years. You will find them in all stages of decay and preservation; down deep to the beginnings of the History of Man. Think where our Alphabetic Letters came from, where our Speech itself came from; the Cookeries we live by, the Masonries we lodge under! You will find fibrous roots of this day's Occurrences among the dust of Cadmus and Trismegistus, of Tubalcain and Triptolemus; the tap-roots of them are with Father Adam himself and the cinders of Eve's first fire! At bottom, there is no perfect History; there is none such conceivable.


Luther on the Pope and the Bishops

Hartmann Grisar (1845-1932), Luther, Vol. IV, tr. E.M. Lamond (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1915), p. 321:
Of those who awaited the decision of a Council he writes: "Let the devil wait if he chooses.... The members of the body must not wait till the filth says and decrees whether the body is healthy or not. We are determined to learn this from the members themselves and not from the urine, excrement and filth. In the same way we shall not wait for the Pope and bishops in Council to say: This is right. For they are no part of the body, or clean and healthy members, but merely the filth of squiredom, merd spattered on the sleeve and veritable ordure, for they persecute the true Evangel, well knowing it to be the Word of God. Therefore we can see they are but filth, stench and limbs of Satan."10

10 Ibid., Weim. ed., 33, p. 458; Erl. ed., 48, p. 222.



The Battle of Roquecezière

Graham Robb, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), pp. 27-28:
The year is 1884. The priest of Montclar has found an exciting diversion from the monotony of life in a small town. His telescope is trained on a battlefield in the valley below. An army of men, women and children, wielding cudgels and lugging baskets of stones, is advancing on the village of Roquecezière. But scouts have been posted. Another army has already emerged from the village and is preparing to defend its territory.

On the bare rock that towers above the village, turning its back to the battle, is a colossal cast-iron statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue has been funded by public subscription — something of a miracle in this impoverished region — and has recently been placed on the rock to commemorate a successful mission.

Incensed to see the sacred effigy pointing its bottom at their village, the invaders have come to turn it around. The battle rages for hours. Several people are seriously injured. At last, the Roquecezièrain lines are breached and the statue is worked around to face the other village. To prevent a full-scale war, the Church authorities find a compromise. The Virgin is rotated ninety degrees, supposedly so that each village can see half of her face. However, she now looks east-north-east, towards Saint-Crépin, which contributed more than half the cost of the statue, and still has her back turned to the little clutch of houses at her foot.

The Battle of Roquecezière, like thousands of other tiny conflicts, is not mentioned in any history of France. Village wars had no perceptible effect on national security and their causes were often ancient and obscure. Yet they were a normal part of life for many people well into the nineteenth century. A 'very fat file' in the archives of the Lot département describes village brawls between 1816 and 1847: 'bloody scenes, combats, disorders, serious wounds, treaties of peace and rumours of war'. Villagers settled their differences in pitched battles rather than waste their time and money in court. Half-forgotten insults and territorial disputes culminated in raids on neighbouring villages to steal the corn or to carry off the church bells. Sometimes, champions were appointed and their battles entered local legend. Usually, a single battle was not enough. The Limousin villages of Lavignac, Flavignac and Texon were at war for more than forty years.
Related post: Local Chauvinism.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


A Mere Spectator

Robert Burton (1577-1640), "Democritus Junior to the Reader," Anatomy of Melancholy:
A mere spectator of other mens' fortunes and adventures, and how they act their parts, which methinks are diversely presented unto me, as from a common theatre or scene. I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c. daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes, of all sorts, ;new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villanies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical then tragical matters. To-day we hear of new Lords and officers created, to-morrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh; he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps &c. Thus I daily hear, and such like, both private and publick news.


The Shadow of an Inkpot

Christopher De Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), pp. 75, 78 (on the Codex Amiatinus, at Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ms. Amiatino 1):
The most famous and strangest of the preliminary pages is the so-called Ezra portrait, already mentioned, now placed as a frontispiece. It shows a haloed man in Jewish priestly garments sitting hunched up on a stool almost in profile, writing in a book half open on his lap. He has his feet on a low pedestal. Scattered around him are the various instruments of a scribe's occupation — stylus, dividers, pen, ink pot and what is probably a dish of pigment on a separate table. Behind him is an open cupboard, with panelled doors hinged back to reveal five sloping shelves on which are arranged nine books bound in decorated dark red covers. A very similar bookcase enclosing the four Gospels on shelves is depicted in a mosaic of Saint Laurence in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, datable to the second half of the fifth century, almost within Cassiodorus's lifetime. The carpentry of the furniture and the ornament carved around the cupboard shown in the Codex Amiatinus are extraordinarily delicate and sophisticated. There is an enlightened attempt at perspective. The ink pot throws a shadow on the ground, worth noting if only because it is usually said that shadows do not appear in European art until the fifteenth century. Simply as an illustration of a scribe drawn in England in the late seventh century, the picture is full of interest, not least in that he has no writing desk and he is working directly into a book on his lap, as scribes still do in Ethiopia today. As I was jotting this down and thinking how different it is from most images of a medieval scriptorium, I realized that I was at that moment taking my notes into a hard-bound exercise book on my own lap, because the Codex Amiatinus filled the entire table before me, leaving no room for anything else. For a moment, the scribe seated writing in front of a book cupboard might have been me beside the microfilm cabinets and reprographic equipment of the Laurenziana.
The Ezra portrait from the Codex Amiatinus (click once or twice to enlarge; the inkpot is at the lower right, with a rust-colored shadow cast on the floor to the right):

But cf. Roberto Casati, "Methodological Issues in the Study of the Depiction of Cast Shadows: A Case Study in the Relationships between Art and Cognition," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62.2 (Spring, 2004) 163–174 (n. 16 on p. 172):
Roman frescoes (such as the ones at Roman Villa of Augustus, first century A.D.) and mosaics (such as the ones at Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, fourth century A.D.) have survived that show interesting, if contrived, shadows.



Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 2.223-229 (tr. William H. Race):
The Harpies swoop down from some unseen place of destruction and snatch the food from my mouth. I have no strategy to help me. But when I long for a meal, I could more easily escape my own thought than I could escape them, so swiftly do they fly through the air. And if they ever do leave me a morsel of food, it gives off a powerful stench that is putrid and intolerable.

Ἅρπυιαι στόματός μοι ἀφαρπάζουσιν ἐδωδὴν
ἔκποθεν ἀφράστοιο καταΐσσουσαι ὀλέθρου.
ἴσχω δ᾿ οὔ τινα μῆτιν ἐπίρροθον· ἀλλά κε ῥεῖα
αὐτὸς ἑὸν λελάθοιμι νόον δόρποιο μεμηλὼς
ἢ κείνας, ὧδ᾿ αἶψα διηέριαι ποτέονται.
τυτθὸν δ᾿ ἢν ἄρα δή ποτ᾿ ἐδητύος ἄμμι λίπωσιν,
πνεῖ τόδε μυδαλέον τε καὶ οὐ τλητὸν μένος ὀδμῆς.
Vergil, Aeneid 3.214-218 (tr. Allen Mandelbaum):
                                               No monster
is more malevolent than these, no scourge
of gods or pestilence more savage ever
rose from the Stygian waves. These birds may wear
the face of virgins, but their bellies drip
with a disgusting discharge, and their hands
are talons, and their features pale and famished.

tristius haud illis monstrum, nec saevior ulla
pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis.
virginei volucrum vultus, foedissima ventris
proluvies, uncaeque manus, et pallida semper
ora fame.
H.W. Stubbs, "Vergil's Harpies: A Study in 'Aeneid' III: (With an addendum on Lycophron, 'Alexander' 1250-2)," Vergilius 44 (1998) 3-12 (at 6):
Here, if I may adapt Gibbon, the bombardier of the Royal Artillery may be of some assistance to the analyst of post-Homeric legend.

In 1941, the present writer was listening to a young sergeant describing his pre-War service in Egypt.

"When we were carrying our dinners from the cookhouse in our mess-tins, the kite-hawks used to swoop down and snatch them away before we could get them back to our barrack-rooms. And what's more, foedissima ventris proluvie omnem epularum apparatum taeterrime inquinabant." (I cannot remember the precise words of a frankly speaking vir militaris, but I feel that in any case they had best be confided to the decent obscurity of a learned language.) "We used to call them Shite-hawks."


I have come across nothing analogous elsewhere, though seagulls in Exmouth and Sidmouth have been known to snatch food almost from the hands of picnickers, and have also exasperated the municipal authorities by their droppings.
Phineus defending himself from the Harpies, on an Attic red figure hydria, at Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum (catalogue number 85.AE.316):

Monday, November 11, 2019



Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Renan," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 219-225 (at 225):
The infection which men caught from his work was a new kind of tolerance; not that cut-and-dry, rule-of-thumb tolerance which commands them to admit that others have a right to differ from them and to hold their own opinions; but a tolerance which is also an act of bonne volonté, springing from a kind of temporary metempsychosis, an imaginative transference of thought and emotion into another's point of view.



Homer, Iliad 13.431-432 (describing Hippodameia; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
...since she surpassed all the girls of her own age
for beauty and accomplishments and wit...

              ...πᾶσαν γὰρ ὁμηλικίην ἐκέκαστο
κάλλεϊ καὶ ἔργοισιν ἰδὲ φρεσί...
This sounds like my daughter.

ἐκέκαστο is pluperfect of καίνυμαι (surpass, excel) — "the pluperfect commonly functions as imperf." according to Middle Liddell s.v. Likewise Richard John Cunliffe, Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (1924; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), p. 207.


The Power of God Is Come Indeed!

John Wesley, Journal (August 25, 1774):
At eleven I preached within the walls of the old church at the Haye. Here and every where I heard the same account of the proceedings at ———. The Jumpers (all who were there informed me) were first in the court, and afterwards in the house. Some of them leaped up many times, men and women, several feet from the ground; they clapped their hands with the utmost violence; they shook their heads; they distorted all their features; they threw their arms and legs to and fro, in all variety of postures. They sung, roared, shouted, screamed with all their might; to the no small terror of those that were near them. One gentlewoman told me, "She had not been herself since, and did not know when she should." Meantime the person of the house was delighted above measure, and said, "Now the power of God is come indeed!"

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Party On

John Milton (1608-1674), Comus 102-110:
Meane while welcome Joy, and Feast,
Midnight shout, and revelrie,
Tipsie dance, and Jollitie.
Braid your Locks with rosie Twine,        105
Dropping odours, dropping Wine.
Rigor now is gone to bed,
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sowre Severitie
With their graue Sawes in slumber lie.        110


A Barbarous Noise

John Milton (1608-1674), Sonnet 12:
I did but prompt the age to quit their cloggs
    By the known rules of antient libertie,
    When strait a barbarous noise environs me
    Of Owles and Cuckoes, Asses, Apes and Doggs.
As when those Hinds that were transform'd to Froggs        5
    Raild at Latona's twin-born progenie
    Which after held the Sun and Moon in fee.
    But this is got by casting Pearl to Hoggs;
That bawle for freedom in their senceless mood,
    And still revolt when truth would set them free.        10
    Licence they mean when they cry libertie;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good;
    But from that mark how far they roave we see
    For all this wast of wealth, and loss of blood.
1 cloggs = foot shackles

5-7 Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.317-381, tells how Latona transformed peasants into frogs when they refused to give a drink of water to her children Apollo and Diana.

8 Matthew 7.6: Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.

10 John 8.32: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

12 wast = waste

See Nathaniel H. Henry, "Who Meant Licence when They Cried Liberty?" Modern Language Notes 66.8 (December, 1951) 509-513.


The Barest Minimum of Greek

T.R. Glover (1869-1943), From Pericles to Philip, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1918), p. 1:
Goethe and Eckermann were once talking about Schlegel, and his criticisms of Euripides came up, and Goethe, as frequently happened, said something that Eckermann carried home with him and wrote down. "If a modern man like Schlegel," said Goethe, "must pick out faults in so great an ancient, he ought only to do it upon his knees." Goethe is profoundly right; the great vice in criticism of ancient literature is that the critic seems more often anxious to find out what is wrong than what is right. Something must be very right indeed in a man's work if it can hold and delight mankind centuries after he is dead and gone, and not only his fellow-countrymen, but every foreigner also, who can even with a lexicon's aid pick out his meaning and who has, consciously or unconsciously, any idea of what a book is. For it is only to the sympathetic, to those who somehow have the right instinct, that a book will reveal itself. Books are strange things and have strange ways—like certain insects, when they feel themselves in wrong hands, they will sham dead. With the great writers of ancient Greece this often happens, and men say they are dull, and find faults in them; but when they reach the right hands, they change and live and move, and even the barest minimum of Greek will let the right man see that they too are right, and life begins anew with all its gladness and variety.

Saturday, November 09, 2019


Domestic Religion

Walter Pater (1839-1894), Marius the Epicurean, chapter 1:
While, in Rome, new religions had arisen with bewildering complexity around the dying old one, the earlier and simpler patriarchal religion, "the religion of Numa," as people loved to fancy, lingered on with little change amid the pastoral life, out of the habits and sentiment of which so much of it had grown. Glimpses of such a survival we may catch below the merely artificial attitudes of Latin pastoral poetry; in Tibullus especially, who has preserved for us many poetic details of old Roman religious usage.
At mihi contingat patrios celebrare Penates,
Reddereque antiquo menstrua thura Lari:
—he prays, with unaffected seriousness.
Tibullus 1.3.33-34 (tr. J.P. Postgate, rev. G.P. Goold):
And be it mine many times to stand before the shrine of my sires' Penates and offer incense, as the months come round, to the old Lar of my home.
K.F. Smith ad loc.:
For the Romans all the associations of our word home were in these lines.
See Harriet I. Flower, The Dancing Lares and the Serpent in the Garden: Religion at the Roman Street Corner (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 40-45 (on "Monthly Rituals at the Hearth").

John William Waterhouse, The Household Gods


The Secret of a Good Librarian

Robert Musil (1880-1942), The Man Without Qualities: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails, tr. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Vintage International, 1996), p. 503 (from Part II: Pseudoreality Prevails, § 100: General Stumm Invades the State Library and Learns About the World of Books, the Librarians Guarding It, and Intellectual Order):
'General,' he said, 'if you want to know how I know about every book here, I can tell you: Because I never read any of them.'

It was almost too much, I tell you! But when he saw how stunned I was, he explained himself. The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the titles and the tables of contents. 'Anyone who lets himself go. and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian,' he explained. 'He's bound to lose perspective.'

'So,' I said, trying to catch my breath, 'you never read a single book?'

'Never. Only the catalogs.'


The Longer One Lives

Richard Shilleto (1809-1876), ed., Thucydidis I (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1872), p. x:
But the longer one lives and reads the more one is conscious of one's ignorance, and shrinks from dogmatism.
Cf. the motto of Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655) — "Quantum est quod nescimus" ("How much there is that we don't know").

Related post: Understanding Greek.


A Radiant World

H.W. Stubbs (1917-2014), "Troubles of a Lexicographer," Pegasus 5 (1966) 10-15 (at 11):
Antiquity has always been, to me, a radiant world, to be visited on a kind of time-machine, mainly on the wings of poetry; a world of brightness, vigour, wisdom, heroism, yes; a world, too, in which there is laughter. Plenty of hard work, certainly; whether it is a matter of learning what is already written, or going out and discovering more; or criticizing; or applying one's knowledge to the strange world in which, as in Plato's cave, we are compelled to live our daily lives.

Friday, November 08, 2019


Economic Inequality

Thucydides 1.2.4 (tr. Richard Crawley):
The goodness of the land favored the aggrandisement of particular individuals, and thus created faction which proved a fertile source of ruin. It also invited invasion.

διὰ γὰρ ἀρετὴν γῆς αἵ τε δυνάμεις τισὶ μείζους ἐγγιγνόμεναι στάσεις ἐνεποίουν ἐξ ὧν ἐφθείροντο, καὶ ἅμα ὑπὸ ἀλλοφύλων μᾶλλον ἐπεβουλεύοντο.
E.C. Marchant ad loc.:
When Greece was in the village stage, (1) the inhabitants of some districts grew (comparatively) wealthy, and as a consequence there were disputes between the 'haves' and 'have-nots'; (2) these fertile districts excited the cupidity of other clans.
Latin crib by Friedrich Gottlob Haase:
Nam propter soli bonitatem et opes nonnullis admodum auctae seditiones inferebant, quibus perdebantur, et simul alienigenarum insidiis magis appetebantur.



Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto iv, Stanzas 21-23:
And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
   Deformed creature, on a filthie swyne;
   His belly was up-blowne with luxury,
   And eke with fatnesse swollen were his eyne,
   And like a Crane his necke was long and fyne,
   With which he swallowed up excessive feast,
   For want whereof poore people oft did pyne;
   And all the way, most like a brutish beast,
He spued up his gorge, that all did him deteast.

In greene vine leaves he was right fitly clad;
   For other clothes he could not weare for heat,
   And on his head an yvie girland had,
   From under which fast trickled downe the sweat:
   Still as he rode, he somewhat still did eat,
   And in his hand did beare a bouzing can,
   Of which he supt so oft, that on his seat
   His dronken corse he scarse upholden can,
In shape and life more like a monster, then a man.

Unfit he was for any worldly thing,
   And eke unhable once to stirre or go,
   Not meet to be of counsell to a king,
   Whose mind in meat and drinke was drowned so,
   That from his friend he seldome knew his fo:
   Full of diseases was his carcas blew,
   And a dry dropsie through his flesh did flow:
   Which by misdiet daily greater grew:
Such one was Gluttony, the second of that crew.

Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), Triumph of Bacchus
(Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inventory number 990)



Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), "The Library of Babel," Collected Fictions, tr. Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), pp. 112-118 (at 117):
There is no combination of characters one can make—dhcmrlchtdj, for example—that the divine Library has not foreseen and that in one or more of its secret tongues does not hide a terrible significance. There is no syllable one can speak that is not filled with tenderness and terror, that is not, in one of those languages, the mighty name of a god.
Related posts:

Thursday, November 07, 2019


Things of This World

Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), "Conversation with Jeanne," New and Collected Poems 1931-2001 (New York: Ecco, 2003), pp. 543-544:
Let us not talk philosophy, drop it, Jeanne.
So many words, so much paper, who can stand it.
I told you the truth about my distancing myself.
I've stopped worrying about my misshapen life.
It was no better and no worse than the usual human tragedies.

For over thirty years we have been waging our dispute
As we do now, on the island under the skies of the tropics.
We flee a downpour, in an instant the bright sun again,
And I grow dumb, dazzled by the emerald essence of the leaves.

We submerge in foam at the line of the surf,
We swim far, to where the horizon is a tangle of banana bush,
With little windmills of palms.
And I am under accusation: That I am not up to my oeuvre,
That I do not demand enough from myself,
As I could have learned from Karl Jaspers,
That my scorn for the opinions of this age grows slack.

I roll on a wave and look at white clouds.

You are right, Jeanne, I don't know how to care about the salvation of my soul.
Some are called, others manage as well as they can.
I accept it, what has befallen me is just.
I don't pretend to the dignity of a wise old age.
Untranslatable into words, I chose my home in what is now,
In things of this world, which exist and, for that reason, delight us:
Nakedness of women on the beach, coppery cones of their breasts,
Hibiscus, alamanda, a red lily, devouring
With my eyes, lips, tongue, the guava juice, the juice of la prune de Cythère,
Rum with ice and syrup, lianas-orchids
In a rain forest, where trees stand on the stilts of their roots.

Death, you say, mine and yours, closer and closer,
We suffered and this poor earth was not enough.
The purple-black earth of vegetable gardens
Will be here, either looked at or not.
The sea, as today, will breathe from its depths.
Growing small, I disappear in the immense, more and more free.


Like a Stone

Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 1.25.29 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
Why, what is this matter of being reviled? Take your stand by a stone and revile it; and what effect will you produce? If, then, a man listens like a stone, what profit is there to the reviler? But if the reviler has the weakness of the reviled as a point of vantage, then he does accomplish something.

ἐπεὶ τί ἐστιν αὐτὸ τὸ λοιδορεῖσθαι; παραστὰς λίθον λοιδόρει: καὶ τί ποιήσεις; ἂν οὖν τις ὡς λίθος ἀκούῃ, τί ὄφελος τῷ λοιδοροῦντι; ἂν δ᾽ ἔχῃ τὴν ἀσθένειαν τοῦ λοιδορουμένου ὁ λοιδορῶν ἐπιβάθραν, τότε ἀνύει τι.
I wonder if, in the last sentence, we're meant to imagine a city under siege, since ἐπιβάθρα can also mean a ladder. Robin Hard translates it as handhold.



Steve Sailer, "Why Did It Take Farmers and Philosophers So Long to Understand Heredity?" Unz Review (November 7, 2019):
Our word "race," meaning a lineage or breed, is etymologically linked to our word "race" meaning a test of speed, in part because breeding faster racehorses took up a lot of space in the English mind.
Screen image:

I don't think there's any etymological link between these two homonyms.

From Dr Dunstan Lowe:
After consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, I just wanted to confirm your suspicion, in today's blog post, that there is no etymological link between 'race' (competition) and 'race' (ethnicity). The former first appeared in connection with horsebreeding as Italian razzo (then razza), whose origin is disputed but is probably either from ratio or generatio. The latter is a borrowing from early Scandinavian ras, meaning onrush (originally of water, and hence also a word for a water-channel). In fact the word 'rush' comes from the same origin.

Of course, there can be perceived folk-etymological links between words that have no basis in fact. That is the position to which your author would presumably resort.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2019


Elmer Gantry and His Ilk

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), "The Pardoner's Prologue," Canterbury Tales VI.391-402 (tr. Nevill Coghill):
Then, priestlike in my pulpit, with a frown,
I stand, and when the yokels have sat down,
I preach, as you have heard me say before,
And tell a hundred lying mockeries more.
I take great pains, and stretching out my neck
To east and west I crane about and peck
Just like a pigeon sitting on a barn.
My hands and tongue together spin the yarn
And all my antics are a joy to see.
The curse of avarice and cupidity
Is all my sermon, for it frees the pelf.
Out come the pence, and specially for myself...

I stonde lyk a clerk in my pulpet,
And whan the lewed peple is doun yset,
I preche so, as ye han herd bifoore,
And telle an hundred false japes moore.
Thanne peyne I me to strecche forth the nekke,        395
And est and west upon the peple I bekke,
As dooth a dowve sittynge on a berne.
Myne handes and my tonge goon so yerne
That it is joye to se my bisynesse.
Of avarice and of swich cursednesse        400
Is al my prechyng, for to make hem free
To yeven hir pens, and namely, unto me...


The King of Podical Sternutations

The Laughable Stories Collected by Mâr Gregory John Bar Hebræus. The Syriac Text Edited with an English Translation by E.A. Wallis Budge (London, Luzac and Co., 1897), p. 161 (number DCXLII):
Another lunatic was boasting that he was a king in the time of Hercules, and when a certain nobleman said to him, "Thou art the king of podical sternutations", he replied, "If I were what thy words say I am, my kingdom would be greater and much more vast than that of Hercules, because podical sternutations are much more numerous than Greeks."
The phrase "podical sternutations" should be easily intelligible by anyone who knows Latin, but for the benefit of the Latinless, here are some hints:
A podical sternutation is therefore an anal sneeze, or passage of gas from below. I know someone whose recent misbehavior on an airplane flight qualifies him to be called the King of Podical Sternutations.


Tuesday, November 05, 2019


In the Woods

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Nature: Addresses and Lectures (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1903), pp. 9-10:
In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.

Eliot Porter, Path in Woods



Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 200-201:
This notion of a progression from lighter to more serious matter was based on the so-called cursus Virgilius, the model of the Virgilian poetic career that began with pastoral (the Eclogues or Bucolics), proceeded to labor (the Georgics, poems about the work of farming), and climaxed in epic (the Aeneid, poetry of a nation).
Read Virgilianus for Virgilius. The mistake is repeated in the index (p. 351).



The Tower of Fake News

John Milton (1608-1674), "On the Fifth of November," lines 170-193, in his Latin Poems, tr. Walter MacKellar (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), pp. 129, 131:
There is a place, men say, that looks toward the waters of Mareotis, equally distant from Asia and the fertile land of Europe; here stands the lofty tower of Fame, the Titanian goddess, brazen, wide, resounding, nearer to the golden stars than Athos, or Pelion piled upon Ossa. A thousand doors and a thousand windows stand open, and the spacious courts within shine through the thin walls. Here a swarming crowd raises a confused murmur, like the buzzing of flies about milk-pails or wattled sheepfolds, when in the heat of summer the Dog Star seeks the summit of the heavens. Fame herself, who avenges her mother, sits upon the topmost height, and lifts her head that is girt with numberless ears, with which she gathers the slightest whisper, and catches the airiest murmur from the ends of the wide-spread earth. Not even you, Argus, false guard of the heifer Io, rolled so many eyes in your savage face, eyes that never grow drowsy in silent sleep, eyes gazing far and wide over the lands beneath, eyes with which she often searches places devoid of light, places inaccessible even to the rays of the sun. What she has heard and seen, with a thousand babbling tongues she heedlessly pours out to any one; now with lies she lessens the truth, now with invented speeches she augments it.
The Latin (id., pp. 128, 130):
Esse ferunt spatium, qua distat ab Aside terra        170
Fertilis Europe, et spectat Mareotidas undas;
Hic turris posita est Titanidos ardua Famae,
Aerea, lata, sonans, rutilis vicinior astris
Quam superimpositum vel Athos vel Pelion Ossae.
Mille fores aditusque patent, totidemque fenestrae,        175
Amplaque per tenues translucent atria muros.
Excitat hic varios plebs agglomerata susurros;
Qualiter instrepitant circum mulctralia bombis
Agmina muscarum, aut texto per ovilia iunco,
Dum Canis aestivum caeli petit ardua culmen.        180
Ipsa quidem summa sedet ultrix matris in arce,
Auribus innumeris cinctum caput eminet olli,
Queis sonitum exiguum trahit, atque levissima captat
Murmura, ab extremis patuli confinibus orbis.
Nec tot, Aristoride, servator inique iuvencae        185
Isidos, immite volvebas lumina vultu,
Lumina non unquam tacito nutantia somno,
Lumina subiectas late spectantia terras.
Istis illa solet loca luce carentia saepe
Perlustrare, etiam radianti impervia soli.        190
Millenisque loquax auditaque visaque linguis
Cuilibet effundit temeraria; veraque mendax
Nunc minuit, modo confictis sermonibus auget.
Milton was writing about Guy Fawkes Day in 17th century England, but his words also seem suited to Election Day 2019 in the United States of America.

Monday, November 04, 2019


The Royals

Mark Twain (1835-1910), A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, chapter 8:
Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest. And the people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me, any kind of royalty, howsoever modified, any kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its aristocracies—a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.

Sunday, November 03, 2019



Father Alexey Yakovlev, quoted by Rod Dreher, "Father Alexey's Carpentry Shop" (November 3, 2019):
These men, when they come in here for class, they look like plankton. But then they take off their business suits, put on their work clothes, pick up a saw or a hatchet, and transform themselves into men. It's an amazing thing to see. There's something about working with your hands that is necessary to developing your masculinity.



The Oxyrynchus Papyri, Part IV, edd. Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904), pp. 24-25 (number 655 = "Fragment of a Lost Gospel," lines 17-23):
His disciples say unto him, When wilt thou be manifest to us, and when shall we see thee? He saith, When ye shall be stripped and not be ashamed.

λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ· πότε ἡμεῖν ἐμφανὴς ἔσει, καὶ πότε σε ὀψόμεθα; λέγει· ὅταν ἐκδύσησθε καὶ μὴ αἰσχυνθῆτε.
The Greek is misquoted (ἐκδύσητε for ἐκδύσησθε) in Sergey A. Ivanov, Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond, tr. Simon Franklin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 26.

The fragment is from the Gospel of Thomas, Logion 37. See Simon Gathercole, The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 362-366.



The Smell of the Past

Paul Edward Dutton, Charlemagne's Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. xii-xiv:
How, for instance, could we ever recreate the particular smell of the past?
Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, tr. John E. Woods (New York: Vintage International, 2001), pp. 3-4:
In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For in the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacteria busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.

Saturday, November 02, 2019


A Form of Idol Worship

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 64a:10 (tr. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz):
Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: An incident occurred involving a certain gentile woman who was very ill. She said: If that woman, referring to herself, recovers from her illness, she will go and worship every object of idol worship in the world. She recovered from her illness and subsequently worshipped every object of idol worship in the world. When she arrived at Peor she asked the priests: How does one worship this idol? They said to her: One eats spinach, which causes diarrhea, and drinks beer, which also causes diarrhea, and defecates before it. The woman said: Better for that woman, referring to herself, to return to her illness, and not worship an idol in such a manner.
Id. 64a:13:
The Gemara relates another incident with regard to Ba'al-Peor. The Sages taught: There was an incident involving a Jew named Sabbeta ben Alas, who rented out his donkey and his services to a certain gentile woman. He was driving his donkey behind her, and when she arrived at Peor, she said to him: Wait here until I go in and come out. After she came out, he said to her: You too wait for me until I go in and come out. She said to him: Aren't you Jewish? Why, then, are you worshipping idols? He said to her: And what do you care? He entered and defecated before the idol, and wiped himself with its nostril, as he wanted to demean the idol as much as possible. But he was unsuccessful, as the priests of Peor were praising him and saying: No person has ever worshipped it before with this excellent form of worship. Although he intended to demean Ba'al-Peor, he actually worshipped it.
Image of Belphegor (i.e. Ba'al-Peor) defecating, from J. Collin de Plancy (1793-1887), Dictionnaire Infernal, 6th ed. (Paris: Henri Plon, 1863), p. 89:



The Acts of a Sick Microbe

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), "De Rerum Virtute," § IV:
                                              Indeed it is hard to see beauty
In any of the acts of man: but that means the acts of a sick microbe
On a satellite of a dust-grain twirled in a whirlwind
In the world of stars ....
Something perhaps may come of him; in any event
He can't last long.
Id. § V:
One light is left us: the beauty of things, not men;
The immense beauty of the world, not the human world.

Friday, November 01, 2019


I See Him Now

Herman Melville (1819-1891), "Etymology," Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
Most people think Moby-Dick starts with the words "Call me Ishmael," but in fact it starts with the passage quoted above.


Songs of Lust and Rebellion

Christopher De Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), pp. 330, 333:
I took the Latin option at school, not because I had any particular aptitude for it (I hadn't), but because I was generally worse at nearly everything else. It was a local state school for boys, King's High School, in Dunedin, New Zealand, where, with hindsight, the curriculum was even then very old-fashioned. We struggled through the usual grammar and translation exercises. One day in the sixth form, our Latin teacher — he was called Mr Dunwoodie — imaginatively brought in a portable gramophone from home and a recording of the medieval Carmina Burana set to music by Carl Orff (1895–1982). It was unforgettable. We were all captivated by the haunting music and the sensuous rhythmical Latin lyrics about girls and drinking and the manifest unfairness of fortune. To a classroom of hormone-humming teenage boys, here was Latin which touched the soul as Caesar's Gallic Wars had never done. We urged Mr Dunwoodie to play it over and over again, assuring him that it was educational. To his credit, he did. We soon knew many of the Latin verses by heart, and some I still do: o! o! o! totus floreo, iam amore virginali, totus ardeo! — 'Oh! Oh! Oh! I am all in bloom, now I am all burning with first love', and so on. We were just the right age. This music was to us a seductive evocation of anarchic and amorous medieval students vagabonding their way in verse and song across twelfth-century Europe, with a free-spirited ethos very like that of the mid-1960s. It is quite likely that Latin masters in schools elsewhere in the world sometimes also played the same record to their own classes at that time and our generation all shared familiarity with these songs of lust and rebellion in Latin, which for that purpose was still — just — serving as an international language.


Florebat Olim Studium

Carmina Burana 6, lines 1-20 (tr. David Parlett):
Once learning flourished. Now it's come
to be condemned as tedium:
the days of thirsting after truth
are now the idle days of youth.

For students hardly in their prime
find themselves wise before their time:
they know it all — impertinence
replaces plain intelligence.

In days gone by we were required
to stick with study: none retired,
or wished himself to be released,
till ninety years of age at least.

Now lads of barely a decade
can graduate — get themselves made
professors too! And who's to mind
how blind the blind who lead the blind?

So fledgelings soar upon the wing,
so donkeys play the lute and sing:
bulls dance about at court like sprites
and ploughboys sally forth as knights.

Florebat olim studium,
nunc vertitur in tedium;
iam scire diu viguit,
sed ludere prevaluit.

iam pueris astutia
contingit ante tempora,
qui per malivolentiam
excludunt sapientiam.

sed retro actis seculis
vix licuit discipulis
tandem nonagenarium
quiescere post studium.

at nunc decennes pueri
decusso iugo liberi
se nunc magistros iactitant,
ceci cecos precipitant,

implumes aves volitant,
brunelli chordas incitant,
boves in aula salitant,
stive precones militant.
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich), Clm 4660, fol. 44v:

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