Sunday, February 26, 2017


Upright Saints

Stavros Deligiorgis, "Boccaccio and the Greek Romances," Comparative Literature 19.2 (Spring, 1967) 97-113 (at 108), discussing Boccaccio's "San Cresci-in-Valcava" (Decameron 2.7):
...a form derived from the Latin crisco...
There is a Latin verb cresco, but not crisco. Is this a Freudian slip, unconsciously recalling the use of Crisco vegetable shortening as a lubricant?

On Boccaccio's two saints "San Cresci-in-Mano" and "San Cresci-in-Valcava," both mentioned in Decameron 2.7, see the definitions in John Florio (1553?-1625), A Worlde of Wordes. A Critical Edition with an Introduction by Hermann W. Haller (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013), p. 594 (p. 342, col. 3, of the 1598 edition; p. 462, col. 2, of the 1611 edition):
SAN CRESCI IN MANO, used for a mans pricke, bicause it growes in ones hand.

SANCRESCI IN VALLE, used for a mans prick bicause it riseth in a hollow cave.

From Eric Thomson:
I think these two saints are the object of universal vener(y)ation.

They have certainly risen in stature in my estimation after reading Florio's gloss. San Crisco in Mano is obviously a saint of last resort for horny-handed sons of toil but not to be despised.

Spiritually akin to these two saints in Boccaccio is Rabelais' Saint Andouille (1.17). See Jacques E. Merceron, "Saints, Imaginary," The Rabelais Encyclopedia, ed. Elizabeth Chesney Zegura (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), pp. 218-219 (at 218).

Dear Mike,

I attach portions of a couple of relevant pages from Valter Boggione & Giovanni Casalegno's Dizionario letterario del lessico amoroso: metafore, eufemismi, trivialismi (Turin, UTET, 2000). References:

Belo = F. Belo: El Beco (Rome, 1538)
G. Gozzi = G. Gozzi: Rime burlesche inedite, ed. E. Falqui (Florence, 1938)
Bevilaqua = A. Bevilaqua: L'Eros (Milan, 1994)
Benigni = R. Benigni: E l'alluce fu (Turin, 1996)

You'll note from p. 500 that there is a Beato Crisco, which is perhaps the source of the error. There are many references to him in Google Books.

As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

Boggione & Casalegno, p. 142:

Boggione & Casalegno, pp. 500-501:



An Insatiable Desire

Petrarch, Familiar Letters 3.18, to Giovanni dell'Incisa (tr. Betty Radice):
Here, brother, is a topic which I have hitherto been too forgetful or too lazy to mention. If you will permit me to boast in your hearing, I should like to do so now, on the one subject where it can be safely allowed. I have been largely, if not wholly, delivered from the burning of nearly every human desire by divine mercy — for this is surely heaven-sent, whether it has come to me through natural virtue or in course of time. Widening experience and deep reflection have led me to understand at last the true value of the passions which inflame mankind.

But lest you think me innocent of every human failing, let me add that I am in the grip of one insatiable desire which so far I have been quite unable to control. Nor indeed have I wished to do so, preferring to excuse myself with the thought that a desire for worthy objects cannot be unworthy in itself. You will want to know what I am suffering from: books are the answer, and the impossibility of getting enough of them. Maybe I have more than I need, but it is the same with books as with everything else — success finding them spurs one on to greed for more. There is moreover something special about books; gold and silver, jewels and purple raiment, marble halls and well-tended fields, pictures and horses in all their trappings, and everything else of that kind can afford only passing pleasure with nothing to say, whereas books can worm the heart with friendly worlds and counsel, entering into a close relationship with us which is articulate and alive.

Quod sepe olim vel oblivio vel torpor abstulit, attingam, frater. Si gloriari licet apud te, gloriabor in illo in quo solo gloriari tutum est: fere iam ex omnibus humanarum cupiditatum ardoribus, etsi non totum, magna tamen ex parte, divina me pietas eripuit; e celo enim est, seu id michi nature bonitas seu dies prestiterit. Multa quidem videndo multumque cogitando, intelligere tandem cepi quanti sint studia hec, quibus mortale genus exestuat.

Ne tamen ab omnibus hominum piaculis immunem putes, una inexplebilis cupiditas me tenet, quam frenare hactenus nec potui certe nec volui; michi enim interblandior honestarum rerum non inhonestam esse cupidinem. Expectas audire morbi genus? libris satiari nequeo. Et habeo plures forte quam oportet; sed sicut in ceteris rebus, sic et in libris accidit: querendi successus avaritie calcar est. Quinimo, singulare quiddam in libris est: aurum, argentum, gemme, purpurea vestis, marmorea domus, cultus ager, picte tabule, phaleratus sonipes, ceteraque id genus, mutam habent et superficiariam voluptatem; libri medullitus delectant, colloquuntur, consulunt et viva quadam nobis atque arguta familiaritate iunguntur, neque solum se se lectoribus quisque suis insinuat, sed et aliorum nomen ingerit et alter alterius desiderium facit.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Multum Legendum, Non Multa

Martin Luther, Table Talk, No. 2894a (January 1533; tr. Theodore G. Tappert):
A student who doesn't want his work to go for nothing ought to read and reread some good author until the author becomes part, as it were, of his flesh and blood. Scattered reading confuses more than it teaches. Many books, even good ones, have the same effect on the student. So he is like the man who dwells everywhere and therefore dwells nowhere. Just as in human society we don't enjoy the fellowship of every friend every day, but only of a few chosen ones, so we ought to do in our studies.

Ein Student, der seine Mühe nicht verlieren möchte, der sollte irgend einen guten Schriftsteller so lesen und wieder lesen, daß er ihm gleichsam in Fleisch und Blut überginge. Denn unnützes Lesen verwirrt, lehrt nicht. Ebenso macht das Lesen vieler, aber guter Sachen den Studierenden zu einem solchen, der überall zu Hause ist, und darum nirgends. Und wie wir in der menschlichen Gesellschaft nicht jeden Tag mit jedem einzelnen Freunde Freundschaft pflegen, sondern mit auserlesenen, so sollte es auch im Studium sein.
Related post: Advice on Reading.



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
"You're against everything that's been done since the last war," said the very up-to-date lady.

"You've got the wrong date: I'm against everything that's been done since Adam."

— Vous êtes contre tout ce qu'on a fait depuis la dernière guerre, me disait cette dame à la page.

— Vous vous trompez de date. Je suis contre tout ce qu'on a fait depuis Adam.


How to Become Famous

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 22 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Effrontery and shamelessness, a prompt lie, with an oath to confirm it always on the edge of your lips, jealousy and hatred of everyone, abuse and plausible slanders — all this will make you famous and distinguished in an instant.

ἡ τόλμα γὰρ καὶ ἡ ἀναισχυντία καὶ ψεῦδος πρόχειρον καὶ ὅρκος ἐπ᾿ ἄκροις ἀεὶ τοῖς χείλεσι καὶ φθόνος πρὸς ἅπαντας καὶ μῖσος καὶ βλασφημία καὶ διαβολαὶ πιθαναί — ταῦτά σε ἀοίδιμον ἐν βραχεῖ καὶ περίβλεπτον ἀποφανεῖ.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Corrections Welcome

Lucian, Anacharsis 17 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
And take care not to regard everything that I may say to you as a law, so as to believe it at all hazards. Whenever you think I am incorrect in anything that I say, contradict me at once and set my reasoning straight. One thing or the other, certainly, we cannot fail to accomplish: either you will become firmly convinced after you have exhausted all the objections that you think ought to be made, or else I shall be taught that I am not correct in my view of the matter.

καὶ ὅπως μὴ καθάπερ νόμοις προσέξεις οἷς ἂν λέγω πρὸς σέ, ὡς ἐξ ἅπαντος πιστεύειν αὐτοῖς, ἀλλ᾿ ἔνθα ἄν σοι μὴ ὀρθῶς τι λέγεσθαι δοκῇ, ἀντιλέγειν εὐθὺς καὶ διευθύνειν τὸν λόγον. δυοῖν γὰρ θατέρου πάντως οὐκ ἂν ἁμάρτοιμεν, ἢ σὲ βεβαίως πεισθῆναι ἐκχέαντα ὁπόσα οἴει ἀντιλεκτέα εἶναι ἢ ἐμὲ ἀναδιδαχθῆναι ὡς οὐκ ὀρθῶς γιγνώσκω περὶ αὐτῶν.


Religious and Political Conflict

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
I read some pages on Jovinian, Saint Basil, and several others. The conflict, during the first centuries of Christianity, between orthodoxy and heresy seems no more insane than the one to which modern ideologies have accustomed us. The modalities of the controversy, the passions at work, the follies and the absurdities, are almost identical. In both cases, everything turns on the unreal and the unverifiable, which form the very basis of either religious or political dogmas. History would be tolerable only if we escaped both kinds. True, it would then cease altogether, for the great good of everyone—those who endure it as well as those who make it.

Je lis des pages sur Jovinien, saint Basile et quelques autres. Le conflit, aux premiers siècles, entre l'orthodoxie et l'hérésie, ne paraît pas plus insensé que celui auquel nous ont accoutumés les idéologies modernes. Les modalités de la controverse, les passions en jeu, les folies et les ridicules, sont quasi identiques. Dans les deux cas, tout tourne autour de l'irréel et de l'invérifiable, qui forment les assises mêmes des dogmes tant religieux que politiques. L'histoire ne serait tolérable que si on échappait et aux uns et aux autres. Il est vrai qu'elle cesserait alors, pour le plus grand bien de tous, de ceux qui la subissent, comme de ceux qui la font.



Bendt Alster, "Paradoxical Proverbs and Satire in Sumerian Literature," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 27.4 (October, 1975) 201-230 (at 212):
The fox urinated into the sea:
"The sea—(all) its surface(?) is my urine!" (he said).
The fox urinated into the Tigris:
"I am causing the high tide to rise!" (he said).


Not Altogether in Favor of Progress

Michael King (1945-2004), Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999), pp. 74-75:
In 1969 I was asked to cover the Cook Bicentenary celebrations in Mercury Bay. There, on the beach where James Cook and his men observed the transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun in November 1769 and claimed possession of the surrounding countryside in the name of King George III, I heard gentle and implicit criticism of policies that seemed at that time destined to reshape the peninsula's future appearance and economic growth. The keynote speaker was the chairman of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the great Cook scholar and former teacher at my first university, J.C. Beaglehole. His idea of a fitting memorial to James Cook, he told the large crowd, 'is a place left as nearly as possible as he found it — so that you can, when conditions are favourable, almost feel his presence. I am not altogether in favour of progress, development, of more and more people living in more and more houses — even if the people and houses are undeniably nice. There is something very satisfactory about a waste of sandhills.' The irony was not lost on the audience. Only weeks before planning permission had been given to subdivide the very sandhills of which the professor was speaking.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


A Lovable Buffoon

M.L. West (1937-2015), "Prolegomena" to Hesiod, Works & Days (1978; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 69 (footnote omitted):
The next commentary after Proclus' was written by that lovable buffoon, John Tzetzes, about 1135-40. Actually it is the text of his lectures, delivered to an audience to whom he had supplied a text equipped with interlinear glosses. As lectures they must have been entertaining. For example, discussion of physical theory apropos of lines 414-22 leads him to observe that some people are naturally fragrant; so it is reported of Alexander the Great; 'and I myself have been often assured of it, although I do not use scents or anoint myself, or take baths either, except two or three times a year'.


Decline and Fall

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Alaric claimed that a "demon" drove him against Rome. Every exhausted civilization awaits its barbarian, and every barbarian awaits his demon.

Alaric disait qu'un «démon» le poussait contre Rome. Toute civilisation exténuée attend son barbare, et tout barbare attend son démon.
Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.10 (tr. A.C. Zenos):
It is said that as he was advancing towards Rome, a pious monk exhorted him not to delight in the perpetuation of such atrocities, and no longer to rejoice in slaughter and blood. To whom Alaric replied, "I am not going on in this course of my own will; but there is a something that irresistibly impels me daily, saying, 'Proceed to Rome, and desolate that city.'"

λέγεται δὲ ὡς ἀπιόντι αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τὴν Ῥώμην εὐλαβής τις ἀνὴρ, μοναχὸς τὸν βίον, παρῄνει, "μὴ ἐπιχαίρειν ἐν τηλικούτοις κακοῖς, μηδὲ χαίρειν φόνοις καὶ αἵμασιν." ὁ δὲ, "οὐκ ἐγὼ," ἔφη, "ἐθελοντὴς ἐπὶ τὰ ἐκεῖ πορεύομαι· ἀλλά τις καθ' ἑκάστην ὀχλεῖ μοι βασανίζων, καὶ λέγων, ἄπιθι, τὴν Ῥωμαίων πόρθησον πόλιν."


A Constitutional Right

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
The right to suppress everyone that bothers us should rank first in the constitution of the ideal State.

Le droit de supprimer tous ceux qui nous agacent devrait figurer en première place dans la constitution de la Cité idéale.


Odium Philosophicum

Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 1.8.27 (tr. H. Rackham):
Insult and abuse, or ill-tempered wrangling and bitter, obstinate controversy are beneath the dignity of philosophy.

maledicta, contumeliae, tum iracundae contentiones concertationesque in disputando pertinaces indignae philosophia mihi videri solent.


The Bibliotheca Latrina

James Duff Brown (1862-1914), The Small Library: A Guide to the Collection and Care of Books (London: George Routledge & Sons Limited, 1907), pp. 44-45:
[T]he Bibliotheca Latrina, as this department of the Household Library may be called, has a considerable claim to attention, and its furnishing with books should be undertaken along with the rest of the house. Considering the peculiar characteristics of the apartment in question, and the large amount of desultory reading which takes place in it, the books procured must necessarily be of a slight and unsustained kind. A capital class of book, eminently suitable for the purpose, will be found in small collections of anecdotes like Joe Miller, Chambers, Seton, Laird of Logan, and dozens of others which need not be named. Books of aphorisms, like MacNish or Smith's Tin Trumpet; short moral reflections, like those of La Rochefoucauld; or amusing works, like Beresford's Miseries of Human Life, (an admirable book which ought to be reprinted at once); and all short and pithy collections, such as proverbs, epigrams, etc., might with perfect propriety find a place in the Bibliotheca Latrina. In this, as in other departments of the Household Library, ultimate selection of books must be left to the individual tastes and preferences of householders; but the object of this paragraph will be gained if it succeeds in preventing the claims of the Bibliotheca Latrina from being entirely overlooked.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


A Dedication to Artemis

Dedication to Artemis Proseoia (dawn-facing Artemis), in the Artemisium district of Euboea, preserved by Plutarch, Life of Themistocles 8.3 (my translation):
Sons of the Athenians, having once in this part of the sea overpowered in a battle of ships races of all sorts of men from the country of Asia, set up these tokens for Maid Artemis after the host of the Medes perished.

παντοδαπῶν ἀνδρῶν γενεὰς Ἀσίας ἀπὸ χώρας
    παῖδες Ἀθηναίων τῷδέ ποτ᾿ ἐν πελάγει
ναυμαχίῃ δαμάσαντες, ἐπεὶ στρατὸς ὤλετο Μήδων
    σήματα ταῦτ᾿ ἔθεσαν παρθένῳ Ἀρτέμιδι.
Commentary in D.L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 236-238, who remarks (at 236-237):
The contents are remarkable. The Athenian fleet at Artemisium was indeed almost as large as that of all the other allies together (Hdt. 8.1; 127 ships out of 267), and the Athenians greatly distinguished themselves both in the first battle (Hdt. 8.11.2, an Athenian won the prize of valour, τὸ ἀριστήιον) and in the second (8.17, the Athenians ἠρίστευσαν); but it is remarkable that they should have claimed all the credit, to the exclusion of nine allied states, in a public inscription in an Euboean temple. Moreover the phrase ναυμαχίαι exaggerates greatly. The outcome of the two sea-battles at Artemisium was indecisive (Hdt. 8.11 and 16), and though it is understandable that the Greeks should claim to have had the better of either or both, the verb is much too strong, even if it takes account of the fortuitous destruction of two hundred Persian ships in a storm off south-west Euboea (Hdt. 8.13-14), remote from the fighting.

The editors appear to impute a vastly greater exaggeration by putting a comma after ἐπεὶ στρατὸς ὤλετο Μήδων, as if this clause referred backwards; but to say that 'the Persian host perished' at Artemisium would be a ridiculous untruth, hollow gasconade of a type alien to early inscriptions. The clause looks forward, 'they made these dedications after the destruction of the Persian army', i.e. after the final expulsion of the Persians from Hellas.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Unmanly versus Manly Complexions

Lucian, Anacharsis 25 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
You can imagine, I suppose, the consequence—what they are likely to be with arms in hand when even unarmed they would implant fear in the enemy. They show no white and ineffective corpulence or pallid leanness, as if they were women's bodies bleached out in the shade, quivering and streaming with profuse sweat at once and panting beneath the helmet, especially if the sun, as at present, blazes with the heat of noon. What use could one make of men like that, who get thirsty, who cannot stand dust, who break ranks the moment they catch sight of blood, who lie down and die before they get within a spear's cast and come to grips with the enemy?

But these young men of ours have a ruddy skin, coloured darker by the sun, and manly faces; they reveal great vitality, fire, and courage; they are aglow with such splendid condition; they are neither lean and emaciated nor so full-bodied as to be heavy, but symmetrical in their lines; they have sweated away the useless and superfluous part of their tissues, but what made for strength and elasticity is left upon them uncontaminated by what is worthless, and they maintain it vigorously.

Ἐννοεῖς γάρ, οἶμαι, τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο, οἵους εἰκὸς σὺν ὅπλοις ἔσεσθαι τοὺς καὶ γυμνοὺς ἂν φόβον τοῖς δυσμενέσιν ἐμποιήσαντας, οὐ πολυσαρκίαν ἀργὸν καὶ λευκὴν ἢ ἀσαρκίαν μετὰ ὠχρότητος ἐπιδεικνυμένους οἷα γυναικῶν σώματα ὑπὸ σκιᾷ μεμαρασμένα, τρέμοντα ἱδρῶτί τε πολλῷ εὐθὺς ῥεόμενα καὶ ἀσθμαίνοντα ὑπὸ τῷ κράνει, καὶ μάλιστα ἢν καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ὥσπερ νῦν τὸ μεσημβρινὸν ἐπιφλέγῃ. οἷς τί ἄν τις χρήσαιτο διψῶσι καὶ τὸν κονιορτὸν οὐκ ἀνεχομένοις καὶ εἰ αἷμα ἴδοιεν, εὐθὺς ταραττομένοις καὶ προαποθνήσκουσι πρὶν ἐντὸς βέλους γενέσθαι καὶ εἰς χεῖρας ἐλθεῖν τοῖς πολεμίοις;

Οὗτοι δὲ ἡμῖν ὑπέρυθροι εἰς τὸ μελάντερον ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου κεχρωσμένοι καὶ ἀρρενωποί, πολὺ τὸ ἔμψυχον καὶ θερμὸν καὶ ἀνδρῶδες ἐπιφαίνοντες, τοσαύτης εὐεξίας ἀπολάμποντες, οὔτε ῥικνοὶ καὶ κατεσκληκοτες οὔτε περιπληθεῖς εἰς βάρος, ἀλλὰ εἰς τὸ σύμμετρον περιγεγραμμένοι, τὸ μὲν ἀχρεῖον τῶν σαρκῶν καὶ περιττὸν τοῖς ἱδρῶσιν ἐξαναλωκότες, ὃ δὲ ἰσχὺν καὶ τόνον παρεῖχεν ἀμιγὲς τοῦ φαύλου περιλελειμμένον ἐρρωμένως φυλάττοντες.
Id. 29:
I should like to put side by side one of those white-skinned fellows who have lived in the shade and any one you might select of the athletes in the Lyceum, after I had washed off the mud and the dust, and to ask you which of the two you would pray to be like. I know that even without testing each to see what he could do, you would immediately choose on first sight to be firm and hard rather than delicate and mushy and white because your blood is scanty and withdraws to the interior of the body.

καὶ ἔγωγε ἡδέως ἂν παραστησάμενος πλησίον τῶν τε λευκῶν τινα ἐκείνων καὶ ὑπὸ σκιᾷ δεδιῃτημένων καὶ ὃν ἂν ἕλῃ τῶν ἐν τῷ Λυκείῳ γυμναζομένων, ἀποπλύνας τὴν κόνιν καὶ τὸν πηλόν, ἐροίμην ἄν σε ποτέρῳ ἂν ὅμοιος εὔξαιο γενέσθαι· οἶδα γὰρ ὡς αὐτίκα ἕλοιο ἂν ἐκ πρώτης προσόψεως, εἰ καὶ μὴ ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων πειραθείης ἑκατέρου, συνεστηκὼς καὶ συγκεκροτημένος εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ θρύπτεσθαι καὶ διαρρεῖν καὶ λευκὸς εἶναι ἀπορίᾳ καὶ φυγῇ εἰς τὰ εἴσω τοῦ αἵματος.
Related posts:



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
In one medieval exorcism, all the parts of the body, even the smallest, are listed from which the demon is ordered to depart: a kind of lunatic anatomy treatise, fascinating for its hypertrophy of precision, its profusion of unexpected details. A scrupulous incantation. Leave the nails! Fanatic but not without poetic effect. For authentic poetry has nothing in common with "poetry."

Dans un exorcisme du Moyen Age, on énumère toutes les parties du corps, même les moindres, que le démon est invité à quitter: on dirait un traité d'anatomie fou, qui séduit par l'excès de précision, la profusion de détails et l'inattendu. Une incantation minutieuse. Sors des ongles! C'est insensé mais non exempt d'effet poétique. Car la vraie poésie n'a rien de commun avec la «poésie».
Cf. Girolamo Menghi (1529-1609), Fustis Daemonum Adiurationes Formidabiles, et potentissimas ad malignos spiritus effugandos de oppressis corporibus humanis, complectens (1621), pp. 162-163:
Expelle, Domine Deus omnipotens, ab hac creatura tua N. omnia maleficia diaboli, omnesque incantationes, ligaturas, signaturas, facturas, & omne opus Satanae, & ministrorum eius, a capite, a capillis, a vertice, a cerebro, a paniculis cerebri, a fronte, ab oculis, a lingua, a sublingua, de auribus, de naribus, de collo, de maxillis, de dentibus, de gutture, de gingiuis, de ore, de palato, de ciliis, de superciliis, de pilis, de pedibus, de tibiis, de genibus, de cruribus, de partibus verecundis, de renibus, de lateribus, de intestinis superioribus, & inferioribus, de femore, de ventre, de stomacho, de corde, de spatulis, de humeris, de pectore, de vberibus, de brachiis, de manibus, de vnguibus, de ossibus, de neruis, de venis, de medullis, de pulmone, de compaginibus membrorum suorum, de omnibus iuncturis, de toto corpore suo intus, & extra, de quinque sensibus corporis, & animae: nullumque locum ipsa habeant intus, & foris amplius, vt sana & salua fiat per inuocationem sanctissimi nominis tui, & per inuocationem Spiritus sancti paraclyti.


Buying Books on a Modest Scale

A.N.L. Munby (1913-1974), Essays and Papers, ed. Nicolas Barker (London: The Scolar Press, 1977), p. 39:
Even if one buys on a modest scale — say, one book a day on an average — they fill room after room with the inevitability of the rising tide. I once visited a house in Blackheath after its owner had died. It was solid books. Shelves had been abandoned years before; in every room narrow lanes ran between books stacked from floor to ceiling, ninety per cent of them utterly inaccessible. In one of the bedrooms there was a narrow space two feet wide round the bed, and there the owner had died, almost entombed in print.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Men Unlike Us

Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), Life in Renaissance France, tr. Marian Rothstein (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 2 (footnote omitted):
Renaissance, Humanism, Reformation are not mere abstractions, personifications wandering over the heavens where the Chimera chases Transcendent Ideals. To understand these great changes we must recreate for ourselves the habits of mind of the people who brought them about.

Were those minds like our minds? I know that man's essential nature is unchanging through time and space. I know that old tune. But that is an assumption, and I might add, a worthless assumption for a historian. For him, as for the geographer, as we have had occasion to remark earlier, man does not exist, only men. His efforts are directed toward discerning the particular originality, the distinguishing marks, all that in which and by which those men differed from us, men who did not live or feel or behave as we do.
Id., p. 20:
Was man in the abstract the same? Possibly. I know nothing about him. He and the historian have little contact, for the historian is concerned with reality rather than abstractions. Concrete man, living man, man in flesh and blood living in the sixteenth century and modern man do not much resemble each other. He was a country man, a nomad, a rustic, and in all these we are far from him.
Id., p. 23:
These are the things we should try to remember when we wish to understand the "things of the sixteenth century." We must remember that we are all, like it or not, hothouse products; the man of the sixteenth century grew in the open air.
Id., p. 48:
Obviously the projection of the present, which has no special claim to eternity, into the past is not acceptable.
Id., p. 73:
We must banish the France of today from our minds.


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