Thursday, September 28, 2023


An Empty Bag

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack (New York: The Century Co., 1902), p. 99 (from the 1740 Almanack):
An empty bag cannot stand upright.
Cloth or leather, not paper.


Free Men

Sophocles, fragment 927 a Radt, in Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, vol. 4, p. 584 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Free men have free tongues!

ἐλευθέρα γὰρ γλῶσσα τῶν ἐλευθέρων.
Related post: Silenced.


Cruel or Kind?

Augustine, Sermons 21.8 (Patrologia Latina, vol. XXXVIII, col. 147; tr. Edmund Hill):
Now learn a lesson from your son. Your little son is crying before you to lift him onto a horse. Do you listen, do you let him have his way? Are you being cruel, or in fact kind? Tell me, what is it, what's your reason for refusing? Can anyone doubt that the reason of course is love? You are saving up your whole estate for him when he is big, and while he is a little boy crying you won't lift him up on a single horse. Everything you have, house and whatever's in it, piece of land and whatever's in it, you are saving for him. And yet this little boy's crying and you won't lift him up on a horse. Let him cry all he wants, let him cry all day, and you don't listen to him, and it's out of kindness you don't listen to him, and you would be cruel if you did.

Nunc similitudinem accipe de filio tuo. Plorat ante te filius tuus parvus, ut eum leves in equum tuum: numquid audis? numquid exaudis? Durus es, an potius misericors? Quid est, dic mihi, quo consilio facis? Certe hoc consilium est charitatis, quis dubitet? Cui grandi servas totam domum, parvulum plorantem non levas in equum. Omnia quae habes, et domum et quidquid in domo, et agrum et quidquid in agro, illi servas; et tamen in equum non levas parvulum plorantem. Ploret quantum vult, tota die ploret; non exaudis, et misericordia non exaudis, et si exaudires, crudelis esses.



Trevor Dean and Daniel Waley, The Italian City-Republics, 5th ed. (London: Routledge, 2023), pp. 5-6:
The sentiment within the city-state of sharing a common citizenship was not solely the result of having a common place of residence. When, in his fiction of a journey through the afterlife, the poet Dante meets the soul of the unhappy Pia dei Tolomei (Purgatorio V, 134), and she says that 'Siena made me' (Siena mi fe), she is doing more than announcing her place of birth. She is saying that the city-state of Siena provided the physical, social and political environment in which she grew up, that it moulded her outlook and personality. The modern citizen is shaped by varied forces, among which the monstrously powerful energy of the nation-state competes with international mass communications and with the generally diluted and disappearing strength of regional and local patriotism (resurgent though it is in some areas). The local newspaper demonstrates the survival of older loyalties, and in Italy itself the spirit of campanilismo, of the cherished and longed-for city tower, is not yet dead. But the citizen who fought alongside his neighbours against the citizens of the neighbouring cities knew through his way of life a now-vanished patriotism and campanilismo.
Id., p. 6:
And one must add the attachment that almost all people, and especially those of conventional and conservative temperaments, feel to what is familiar, the spectacle of the same daily surroundings and accustomed ways of speech. Only thus can one understand something of the intensity of that emotion which Dante conveys in a passage of the Purgatorio (VI, 70 ff) when Virgil utters the single word 'Mantua' and a figure replies:
'O Mantoano, io son Sordello
De la tua terra;' e l'un l'altro abbracciava.

('O Mantuan, I am Sordello from your town.' And they embraced.)
Related posts:



Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (London: Chatto and Windus, 1927), p. 87:
So I like, respect, and, in a sense, reverence Ezra Pound; I have found him a true, disinterested and unspoilt individual. He has not effected this intimate entrance into everything that is noble and enchanting for nothing. He has really walked with Sophocles beside the Aegean; he has seen the Florence of Cavalcanti; there is almost nowhere in the Past that he has not visited; he has been a great time-trotter, as we could describe this new kind of tourist. And he is not unworthy, in himself, of these many privileges.

But where the Present is concerned it is a different matter. He is extremely untrustworthy where that is concerned. That is the penalty of his function, like that of the eunuch instanced above. When he tries to be up-to-date it is a very uncomfortable business. And because he is conventional, and so accepts counterfeit readily where no standard has been established, he is a danger as far as he exerts any contemporary influence. He should not be taken seriously as a living being at all. Life is not his true concern, his gifts are all turned in the other direction. 'In his chosen or fated field he bows to no one,' to use his words. But his field is purely that of the dead. As the nature mortist, or painter essentially of still-life, deals for preference with life-that-is-still, that has not much life, so Ezra for preference consorts with the dead, whose life is preserved for us in books and pictures. He has never loved anything living as he has loved the dead.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023


The Beginning of Evil

Dante, Paradiso XVI.67-69 (Cacciaguida speaking; tr. John D. Sinclair):
The mixture of peoples was ever
the beginning of the city's ills,
as food in excess is of the body's.

Sempre la confusion delle persone
principio fu del mal de la cittade,
come del vostro il cibo che s'appone.
Natalino Sapegno ad loc.:
[L]a contusione di stirpi diverse, l'immigrazione di gente nuova, fu sempre cagione di sovvertimento e rovina dello stato (cittade); come il cibo che si sovrappone, mescolandosi nello stomaco, ad altro non ancora digerito, è causa di malattia nell'uomo. Principio di dottrina comune nei giuristi e filosofi medievali, e derivato da Aristotele (Politica, III, 3; VI, 10, ecc).


Ouster of Unjust Rulers

Epigram preserved by Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 190 = Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 62.50 (tr. Chris Carey):
These men for their virtue were honored with crowns by the ancient
people of Athens, because once when men with unjust
ordinances ruled the city, they were first to check them
and lead the way, accepting mortal danger.

·τούσδ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἕνεκα στεφάνοις ἐγέραιρε παλαίχθων
    δῆμος Ἀθηναίων, οἵ ποτε τοὺς ἀδίκοις
θεσμοῖς ἄρξαντας πόλιος πρῶτοι καταπαύειν
    ἦρξαν, κίνδυνον σώμασιν ἀράμενοι.
See Peter Liddel, Decrees of Fourth-Century Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), vol. I, pp. 105-113.


Still the Old Gods Reign

Excerpt from John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), "Southward Bound," Many Moods: A Volume of Verse (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1878), pp. 3-7 (at 3-4):
Great cities, greater in decay and death,
    Dream-like with immemorial repose,
Whose ruins like a shrine for ever sheathe
    The mighty names and memories of those
    Who lived and died to die no more, shall close
Your happy pilgrimage; and you shall learn,
Breathing their ancient air, the thoughts that burn

For ever in the hearts of after men:—
    Yea, from the very soil of silent Rome
You shall grow wise; and, walking, live again
    The lives of buried peoples, and become
    A child by right of that eternal home,
Cradle and grave of empires, on whose walls
The sun himself subdued to reverence falls.

O solemn aisles! O vast and sacred shade!
    Ruins on ruins heaped! Imperial state
With rubbish of wrecked centuries o'erlaid!
    There Christ in Phoebus' shrine is consecrate;
    Titles of pope and priest surmount the gate
Where Cæsar's legions trampled: yet in vain
Age strives with age; for still the old gods reign:

Pale gods in cere-cloths, ghosts of bye-gone Greece,
    Rule in their marble sepulchres: the halls,
Through which we pass, with dead divinities
    Are gleaming; and the voice of Hellas calls
    Clear from her grave: nought but the pedestals
Belong to Christ: the carven shapes above
Still breathe and smile with life of ancient Love.
Related posts:

Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Civil Discord

Publilius Syrus 680 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
Discord mid citizens is the foeman's chance.

Seditio civium hostium est occasio.
Horace, Odes 3.6.13-14 (tr. Niall Rudd):
Occupied with internecine feuds, the capital has been almost destroyed by the Ethiopian and the Dacian.

paene occupatam seditionibus
delevit urbem Dacus et Aethiops.


No Escape

Homer, Iliad 11.451 (vaunt of Odysseus over the body of Sokos; tr. Peter Green):
The end of death overtook you, you couldn't escape it!

φθῆ σε τέλος θανάτοιο κιχήμενον, οὐδ᾽ ὑπάλυξας.
It could be a line from an epitaph.

Monday, September 25, 2023


Belching of John the Evangelist

Augustine, Sermons 20A.8 (Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, vol. 41, p. 272; tr. Edmund Hill, with his notes):
Which John? The one, brothers, whom the Lord loved more than the rest, who reclined on his breast,16 who drank from his breast what he himself belched forth17 in the gospel. It's the very John who said, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was made nothing (Jn 1:1-3). A great belching—but first there had been a great drinking! Do you enjoy what he belches out? See where he drank from. He was reclining on the Lord's breast. At that banquet he had drunk everything that he was to belch forth so felicitously in the gospel.

16. See Jn 13:23.
17. In English "belching" is not a nice word, and metaphorically only used of such things as chimneys belching forth smoke. But in the Latin of Augustine's time it was a nice word, possibly because belching after a meal was correct etiquette, as still today in certain Oriental cultures. I have to keep it here (though otherwise I would have translated it by something like "gushed forth"), because of his comment immediately after the quotation, where he quite obviously is presenting us with the image of a doughty pot-man belching.

Qui Ioannes? Ille, fratres, quem dominus prae ceteris diligebat, qui super pectus domini recumbebat, qui de pectore eius bibit quod in euangelio ructavit. Ipse est Ioannes qui dixit: In principio erat uerbum, et uerbum erat apud deum, et deus erat uerbum. Hoc erat in principio apud deum. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil. Magna ructatio, sed prior erat magna potatio. Delectat quod ructat? Vide unde bibit. Super pectus domini discumbebat, in conuiuio illo haec omnia biberat quae in euangelio magna felicitate ructabat.

Sunday, September 24, 2023



Corpus Parisinum 196 (tr. Denis Searby):
Natural wealth is complete when you have bread and water and simple covering for the body. Superfluous wealth, however, contains a boundless agony of desire in its heart.

Ὁ κατὰ φύσιν πλοῦτος ἄρτῳ καὶ ὕδατι καὶ τῇ τυχούσῃ τοῦ σώµατος σκέπῃ συµπεπλήρωται· ὁ δὲ περιττὸς κατὰ ψυχὴν ἀπέραντον ἔχει καὶ τὴν τῆς ἐπιθυµίας βάσανον.
As I've said before, I would like my bread to be a freshly baked baguette and my water to be chilled San Pellegrino served in Waterford crystal, please.


Plautine Wordplay

Plautus, Stichus. Trinummus. Truculentus. Tale of a Travelling Bag. Fragments. Edited and translated by Wolfgang de Melo (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013 = Loeb Classical Library, 328), pp. 294-297 (Truculentus 262-264):
AST comprime sis eiram.
TRVC    eam quidem hercle tu, quae solita es, comprime,
impudens, quae per ridiculum rustico suades stuprum.
AST “eiram” dixi: ut decepisti! dempsisti unam litteram.

262 eam P, meam A, eram Spengel

AST Do keep your distress in check.
TRVC No, you, who are used to doing it, keep your mistress in check,10 you shameless creature! You jokingly advise a country lad to have sex.
AST I said “distress”: how you’ve tricked me! You’ve changed one letter.

10 The word ira, “anger, distress,” originally contained the diphthong ei in its first syllable; in Plautus’ day the diphthong was still written and possibly still pronounced, though it is more likely that in pronunciation it had already developed into a closed ē. Truculentus (probably deliberately) misunderstands the word as ĕra, “mistress,” which leads to a different interpretation of comprimere: Astaphium had intended the meaning “keep in check, control,” whereas Truculentus interprets it as “keep in check, rape.” In the Latin, Astaphium goes on to say that Truculentus removed one letter (eiraera); in the translation this is rendered as “changing one letter” (distressmistress).
In line 262, de Melo put the manuscript reading eam into his Latin text, but translated Spengel's conjecture eram. The conjecture, evidently approved by de Melo, belongs in the Latin text. I might also note in the critical apparatus that the spelling eiram (262, 264) is due to Geppert—the manuscripts have iram.


Saturday, September 23, 2023


A Joke

Augustine, Sermons 18.1 (Patrologia Latina, vol. XXXVIII, col. 129; tr. Edmund Hill):
Now, you see, when God's commandments are recited, they are treated by some people as a joke. Because what God has promised is not yet forthcoming, and what he threatens is not yet to be seen, what he commands is jeered at. Now, you see, what we call the good luck of this world is enjoyed by bad people too; and what we call this world's hard luck is suffered by good people too. People who only believe what they can see with their eyes and believe nothing about the future notice that the good things and bad things of this present age are indiscriminately the lot of good and bad people. If their desire is for riches, they see that both the worst of people and good people have riches. They also see, if they have a horror of poverty and the miseries of this life, that it is not only good people who are caught in the toils of these miseries but also bad people. And they say in their heart of hearts that God is neither interested in nor in control of human affairs, but has utterly abandoned us in this world as in some kind of rock-bottom dump to be the playthings of chance, and makes no provision for us whatever.

modo enim quando dicuntur praecepta Dei, quibusdam in risum veniunt. et quoniam quod promisit Deus modo non ostenditur, et quod minatur modo non videtur, quod praecipit irridetur. modo enim felicitatem quae dicitur mundi huius, habent et mali; infelicitatem quae dicitur mundi huius, habent et boni. attendunt homines qui credunt praesentia et non credunt futura, quoniam ista bona et mala praesentis saeculi promiscue habentur a bonis et malis. si divitias optant, vident habere divitias et pessimos homines et bonos homines. vident etiam, si exhorrent paupertatem et miserias huius saeculi, laborare in his miseriis non solum bonos, sed etiam malos. et dicunt in corde suo, quia res humanas Deus nec respicit nec regit, sed omnino in intimo quodam fundo mundi huius dimisit nos casibus volvi, nec aliquam providentiam exhibet nobis.


One Small Poor Dog

George Borrow, Lavengro, chapter XV:
So I studied French and Italian under the tuition of the banished priest, to whose house I went regularly every evening to receive instruction. I made considerable progress in the acquisition of the two languages. I found the French by far the most difficult, chiefly on account of the accent, which my master himself possessed in no great purity, being a Norman by birth. The Italian was my favourite.

"Vous serez un jour un grand philologue, mon cher," said the old man, on our arriving at the conclusion of Dante's Hell.

"I hope I shall be something better," said I, "before I die, or I shall have lived to little purpose."

"That's true, my dear! philologist—one small poor dog."


Not a Bit Funny?

Charles T. Murphy, "Popular Comedy in Aristophanes," American Journal of Philology 93.1 (January, 1972) 169-189 (at 171):
More prolonged and less palatable to modern taste is the easing-scene in Ecc., 311-71. Here Blepyrus, husband of Praxagora, the leader of the Greek Women's Liberation Movement, comes out of the house in his wife's clothes: she has sneaked out with his clothes to attend the Ecclesia, dressed as a man. He has had a violent attack of diarrhea, and proceeds to defecate on stage, and discusses his predicament with a friend for all of 60 lines. The scene, to be sure, introduces one of the leading characters and shows the straits to which he has been reduced by his wife. But it is intolerably long and vulgar, and not (to most modern tastes) a bit funny.
In this scene from Aristophanes' Women at the Assembly (Ecclesiazusae), Blepyrus suffers from constipation, not diarrhea.

To me, it's one of the funniest passages (pun intended, Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. passage, senses I.1.8 and IV.13) that I've ever read. I wish I could see it performed on stage. It ranks up there with Gargantua's search for the perfect arse-wipe and the episode in which Sancho Panza defecates in the dark right under Don Quixote's nose.

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Friday, September 22, 2023


A Comical Compound

Aristophanes, Clouds 332:
K.J. Dover ad loc.:
-αργο- (cf. 316 n.) and -κομήτας (cf. 14 n.) are plain enough. σφραγίς is 'seal' (commonly set in a ring), and ὄνυξ can mean the gem 'onyx'. This was used in signet-rings, as we see from IG ii2.1338.86 (cf. i2.282.128), and if that is the meaning here σφραγιδονυχαργοκομῆται are well-to-do, fashionable idlers who wear valuable rings. But they are keeping odd company, and we should consider the commoner meaning of ὄνυξ, 'fingernail'; the reference is then to unkempt creatures, like the Socratics, whose only 'seal' is the marks they can make on wax with their nails. Ar., I think, intends a pun, and Socrates can make the point clear by a gesture with his forefinger.
S. Douglas Olson ad loc.:
"seal-ring-fingernail-lazy-longhairs", i.e. wealthy people (cf. 14n.) who have possessions valuable enough to keep under seal and whose nails are unbroken because they do no hard physical labor.



Augustine, Sermons 17.1 (Patrologia Latina, vol. XXXVIII, col. 124; tr. Edmund Hill):
He's not silent. What we have to do is hear him—but with the ears of the heart, because it's easy to hear with these ones of gristle. We ought to hear with the kind of ears the master himself was looking for when he said Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear (Mt 13:9). When he said that, were there any standing in front of him without a pair of ears on their head? They all had ears, and only a few of them had ears. They didn't all have ears to hear, that is, to obey, to take to heart.

non silet. opus est ut nos audiamus, sed aure cordis, nam facile est audire carnis. illis auribus audire debemus, quas quaerebat magister ipse cum diceret: qui habet aures audiendi audiat (Matth. XIII, 9). quis enim ante illum, quando ista dicebat, sine auribus carnis stabat? omnes aures habebant, et pauci habebant. non omnes habebant aures audiendi, hoc est, obediendi.


Contrition Etc.

Edmund Hill, "Religious Translation," Blackfriars Vol. 37, No. 430 (January 1956) 19-25 (at 22):
Contrition is an example of those many words whose meaning, though accurate enough, is poor and colourless compared with what they signify in Latin. It is a technical word for sorrow for sin. Many people, perhaps, who could well manage to be really and truly sorry for their sins, find the complicated business of making a perfect act of contrition too much for them. The Latin word means literally crushing or grinding or bruising; but the English ear, taking the metaphorical sense for the proper one, misses the metaphor completely, and metaphor is the very sap of an effective religious language. 'Make a good act of contrition while I give you absolution'; what would be wrong, except that it would be unfamiliar, with saying, 'Try and bruise your heart for your sins' (or simply 'Be really sorry for your sins'), 'while I untie you from them'?
Id. (at 25):
There is a fetish here that needs exorcising, called Dignity of Language. By all means keep it where it is found in the original, as in St Leo's sermons for example, or the canon of the Mass. But not all, nor yet the greatest, religious works are written in dignified language. To impose elevated diction on St Augustine's sermons or even on the Gospels is to mistranslate them. 'Peace, be still' is a beautiful dignified phrase. But what our Lord actually said to the wind and the sea was literally 'Be gagged, be quiet'; much nearer the undignified but vigorous shut up of colloquial English. If street smells have invaded the original, do not drive them out with incense from the translation.
Mark 4:39:
σιώπα, πεφίμωσο
Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 1060, s.v. φιμόω:


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