Sunday, November 27, 2022
The Dullness of Vergil
In fact the only reason why Virgil is thought 'dull' by some of his modern readers is that these readers are too 'dull' in Latin to perceive his subtlety, variety and novelty of expression. We know the conceptual and factual meanings of most Latin words, we even know, with the help of statistics, which words are 'poetic' and which 'unpoetic'; but who among us can claim to feel all the shades of meaning of a Latin word, who can see its whole 'colour', who can taste its full 'flavour'?
Old and New
Senators, everything that is now believed to be really ancient was once new.
omnia, patres conscripti, quae nunc vetustissima creduntur, nova fuere.
Sit Still and Listen
When he saw some man of the people who was shouting,
he would strike at him with his staff, and reprove him also:
"Excellency! Sit still and listen to what others tell you,
to those who are better men than you, you skulker and coward
and thing of no account whatever in battle or council.
Surely not all of us Achaians can be as kings here.
Lordship for many is no good thing. Let there be one ruler,
one king, to whom the son of devious-devising Kronos
gives the sceptre and right of judgment, to watch over his people."
ὃν δ' αὖ δήμου τ᾽ ἄνδρα ἴδοι βοόωντά τ' ἐφεύροι,
τὸν σκήπτρῳ ἐλάσασκεν ὁμοκλήσασκέ τε μύθῳ·
δαιμόνι' ἀτρέμας ἧσο καὶ ἄλλων μῦθον ἄκουε, 200
οἳ σέο φέρτεροί εἰσι, σὺ δ' ἀπτόλεμος καὶ ἄναλκις
οὔτέ ποτ' ἐν πολέμῳ ἐναρίθμιος οὔτ' ἐνὶ βουλῇ·
οὐ μέν πως πάντες βασιλεύσομεν ἐνθάδ' Ἀχαιοί·
οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη· εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω,
εἷς βασιλεύς, ᾧ δῶκε Κρόνου πάϊς ἀγκυλομήτεω 205
σκῆπτρόν τ' ἠδὲ θέμιστας, ἵνά σφισι βουλεύῃσι.
A Sacred Ceremony
Therefore, the best reading is the one adopted by Ernout in the Budé edition5 (Paris, 1962): 'pygesiaca sacra' = a sacred ceremony dedicated to πυγή.My brother:
I've seen some buttocks that I'd like to honor.
Saturday, November 26, 2022
I Would Never Read a Book
"I would never read a book....I'm very skeptical of books. I don't want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that."Charles Dickens, Bleak House, chapter XXI:
"Don't you read, or get read to?"
The old man shakes his head with sharp sly triumph. "No, no. We have never been readers in our family. It don't pay. Stuff. Idleness. Folly. No, no!"
Strength in Numbers
For the many, who are not as individuals excellent men, nevertheless can, when they have come together, be better than the few best people, not individually but collectively, just as feasts to which many contribute are better than feasts provided at one person's expense. For being many, each of them can have some part of virtue and practical wisdom, and when they come together, the multitude is just like a single human being, with many feet, hands, and senses, and so too for their character traits and wisdom. That is why the many are better judges of works of music and of the poets. For one of them judges one part, another another, and all of them the whole thing.
τοὺς γὰρ πολλούς, ὧν ἕκαστός ἐστιν οὐ σπουδαῖος ἀνήρ, ὅμως ἐνδέχεται συνελθόντας εἶναι βελτίους ἐκείνων, οὐχ ὡς ἕκαστον ἀλλ' ὡς σύμπαντας, οἷον τὰ συμφορητὰ δεῖπνα τῶν ἐκ μιᾶς δαπάνης χορηγηθέντων· πολλῶν γὰρ ὄντων ἕκαστον μόριον ἔχειν ἀρετῆς καὶ φρονήσεως, καὶ γίνεσθαι συνελθόντων, ὥσπερ ἕνα ἄνθρωπον τὸ πλῆθος, πολύποδα καὶ πολύχειρα καὶ πολλὰς ἔχοντ' αἰσθήσεις, οὕτω καὶ περὶ τὰ ἤθη καὶ τὴν διάνοιαν. διὸ καὶ κρίνουσιν ἄμεινον οἱ πολλοὶ καὶ τὰ τῆς μουσικῆς ἔργα καὶ τὰ τῶν ποιητῶν· ἄλλοι γὰρ ἄλλο τι μόριον, πάντα δὲ πάντες.
His son Peregrine's eulogy for the funeral Mass ended: "He died fortified by the rites of the Holy Church, and a partridge and a bottle of champagne."Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
All That Is Needed
O miserable minds of men! O hearts that cannot see!See the brilliant exposition of these lines in Don Fowler, Lucretius on Atomic Motion: A Commentary on De Rerum Natura, Book Two, Lines 1-332 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 66-110.
Beset by such great dangers and in such obscurity
You spend your little lot of life! Don't you know it's plain
That all your nature yelps for is a body free from pain,
And, to enjoy pleasure, a mind removed from fear and care?
And so we see the body's needs are altogether spare —
Only the bare minimum to keep suffering at bay,
Yet which can furnish pleasures for us in a wide array.
Nature has no need of more, not golden figurines
Throughout the house, with lamps in their right hands to light the scenes
Of nightly feasts and revelry, nor does nature require
A palace whose enamelled ceiling echoes to the lyre,
Glinting silver and gold, when people can as pleasantly pass
Their hours al fresco, sprawling out in groups on the soft grass
Beside a babbling brook, beneath a tall and shady tree,
Where they can merrily unwind, and practically for free —
Especially on spring days when the weather smiles serene
And when the season sprinkles flowers all across the green.
Nor do raging fevers any faster cease to burn
If you have fancy tapestries on which to toss and turn
And royal-purple sheets to wrap in, than if you are broke
And all you have to huddle under is a peasant's cloak.
o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis 15
degitur hoc aevi quodcumquest! nonne videre
nihil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi ut qui
corpore seiunctus dolor absit, mensque fruatur
iucundo sensu cura semota metuque?
ergo corpoream ad naturam pauca videmus 20
esse opus omnino, quae demant cumque dolorem.
delicias quoque uti multas substernere possint
gratius interdum, neque natura ipsa requirit,
si non aurea sunt iuvenum simulacra per aedes
lampadas igniferas manibus retinentia dextris, 25
lumina nocturnis epulis ut suppeditentur,
nec domus argento fulget auroque renidet
nec citharae reboant laqueata aurataque templa,
cum tamen inter se prostrati in gramine molli
propter aquae rivum sub ramis arboris altae 30
non magnis opibus iucunde corpora curant,
praesertim cum tempestas arridet et anni
tempora conspergunt viridantis floribus herbas.
nec calidae citius decedunt corpore febres,
textilibus si in picturis ostroque rubenti 35
iacteris, quam si in plebeia veste cubandum est.
18 mensque Marullus: mente codd.: menti' Lachmann
28 templa codd.: tecta Macrobius 6.4.21
The Unforgivable Sin
The problem is not (for the historian, at any rate) to catch hold of a man, a writer of the sixteenth century, in isolation from his contemporaries, and, just because a certain passage in his work fits in with the direction of one of our own modes of feeling, to decide that he fits under one of the rubrics we use today for classifying those who do or do not think like us in matters of religion. When dealing with sixteenth-century men and ideas, when dealing with modes of wishing, feeling, thinking, and believing that bear sixteenth-century arms, the problem is to determine what set of precautions to take and what rules to follow in order to avoid the worst of all sins, the sin that cannot be forgiven—anachronism.Id., p. 11:
Can it be that the problems about their views that we have declared to be insoluble have been brought into being by ourselves, and by us alone? Do we not substitute our thought for theirs, and give the words they used meanings that were not in their minds?Id., p. 12:
But to reread the texts with eyes of 1530 or 1540—texts that were written by men of 1530 and 1540 who did not write like us, texts conceived by brains of 1530 and 1540 that did not think like us—that is the difficult thing and, for the historian, the important thing.
Friday, November 25, 2022
Patron of Textual Critics
Pontius Pilatus' quod scripsi, scripsi (John 19.22) could qualify him as the patron of textual critics.
It Will Vex the Kind of People I Don't Like
I am a conservative, and do not like changing anything without due reason.R.W. Chambers, Man's Unconquerable Mind: Studies of English Writers, from Bede to A.E. Housman and W.P. Ker (London: Jonathan Cape, 1939), p. 379:
Housman was no political partisan, yet he generally welcomed a Conservative victory at a bye-election, 'because', he said, 'it will vex the kind of people I don't like'.I owe the references to E. Christian Kopff, "Conservatism and Creativity in A.E. Housman," Modern Age 47.3 (Summer, 2005) 229-238 (at 231, 238).
Thursday, November 24, 2022
Portrait of an Intellectual
On a small red-figure askos, for example, of ca. 440 B.C., a naked, emaciated little man with an enormous head leans far forward on his slender staff and seems to be simply lost in contemplation. Just so, we are told, Socrates could stand still for hours, concentrating on a problem (fig. 20). The vase probably caricatures one of the leading thinkers of the day. The creature's bare skull, swelling out in all directions, seems about to burst with all the profound thoughts churning inside it. He is nevertheless an Athenian citizen, and not a member of one of those categories of inferiors like slaves or barbarians, as we can infer from the characteristic pose of resting on the staff and short mantle.Alexandre G. Mitchell, "Humour in Greek Vase-Painting," Revue Archéologique 37 (2004) 3-32 (at 18, notes omitted):
On one side a bald deformed man leans on a staff; the other side shows a roaring lion. The man’s body is absurdly small compared to his enormous head, larger than the whole body. He is leaning on a staff; his cloak is folded under his left arm and hangs off the staff. This bald man is strikingly caricatured. His attitude is that of many nonchalant strollers at the palaestra. With such a huge head and pensive attitude, this figure could be a caricature of a sophist; not a sophist in particular but what the common artisan in the Potters quarter thought of sophists, who spent their time thinking, or chatting at the palaestra. Views on sophists, or philosophers in antiquity were diverse. In Clouds Aristophanes gives a very critical and comical view of what was probably thought of intellectuals and "wandering wonder-workers" in Athens by most Athenians: "Bah! Good-for-nothings, I know. You're talking about those vagabonds, those pallid faces, those barefooted wanderers"; "lazy, supplied with food for doing nothing"; "who never went to the baths to wash". Socrates himself, in a discussion on the needs of the philosopher, clearly despises the body, while holds in the highest regard the soul. According to D. Metzler the lion is as symbol of hoplite virtue routing out the sophist parasite.There is a drawing of the intellectual based on this vase in Alexandre G. Mitchell, Greek Vase-Painting and the Origins of Visual Humour (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 246, fig. 125:
The egg-head's glabrous pate conforms in shape to the rounded convexity of the askos, and what does the banquet parasite do after a skinful but spout? The head is oriented in just that direction. The fact that the askos was originally a wine-skin is a bonus.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
An Ugly Necessity
... all government is an ugly necessity ...
During the summer of 1959 the new papyrus of Menander's Dyskolos had just been published. The first edition was obviously inadequate, and the world of scholarship was swept by an epidemic of an illness which Eduard Fraenkel called Dyscolitis. Scholars everywhere were publishing emendations; most of these proved to be identical with the emendations of other scholars, so that Bruno Snell suggested a new siglum, which meant 'omnes praeter Martinum'. I had been commanded by Paul Maas to bring out an edition in the hope of checking this disease. Knowing this, Reinhold Merkelbach sent me a telegram inviting me to come to Germany to lecture on the Dyskolos. This happened during Merkelbach's brief but important time as professor at Erlangen, where he was not far from Karl Meuli and where Burkert had just become a Privatdozent. In order to finance my expedition, he arranged for me to lecture also at Cologne and Würzburg.
This was my first visit to a German-speaking country, and I had scarcely ever spoken German; it was almost as if I had suddenly found myself in a place where I had to speak ancient Greek. My education had owed much to the presence in Oxford of famous exiles from Germany, so that it was an exciting experience for me. I went first to Cologne, where I met Günther Jachmann, Andreas Rumpf, Josef Kroll and Albrecht Dihle. From Erlangen I went to the neighbouring Würzburg, where I met Friedrich Pfister and Rudolf Kassel. In Erlangen itself I met Alfred Heubeck and Walter Burkert. Merkelbach felt that Burkert's teachers in Erlangen had not insisted strongly enough on the importance of textual criticism, so he decided that the three of us should go through the Dyskolos together. On the first day, we got halfway through the play. Burkert explained that on the next day he could not come to the institute; he was about to become a father for the first time, and must remain at home. 'All right!', said Merkelbach, 'then we meet in your house!', and we did meet there and finished the play, poor Frau Burkert sustaining us with an agreeable dish of rhubarb.
A Crude Latin Inscription
[vides d]uas berpasberpas = verpas. On verpa see J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982; rpt. 1993), pp. 12-14.
[ego sum] tertius qui
You see two pricks.
I, the one reading this, am the third.
There is a similar inscription from Pompeii — Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum IV 2360 = Carmina Latina Epigraphica 45. See Attilio Mastino and Raimondo Zucca, "Verpa qui lego," Sicilia Antiqua 13 (2016) 125-131.
Philological Camp Followers
Although arranged in discrete notes on particular passages, this paper is not a random miscellany. It comports a theme both coherent and combative, being in the main a stout plea for pragmatism and conservatism against the popular sports of interpolation-hunting and textual emendation engaged in by latter-day Petronian editors and their philological camp followers. True, I would not fight to the death for every phrase beginning id est or scilicet, nor for every last reading in Η (the Codex Traguriensis). But far more are defensible than is allowed in other quarters, and the burden of proof or probability should be transferred back to those who tamper with the text rather than rest upon the shoulders of those who defend it. Above all, such phantoms as Fraenkel's Carolingian interpolator should be exorcised in favour of level-headed consideration of each and every case on its individual merits.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Hair, Skin, Flesh, Bone, Marrow
Vedic texts give us almost tediously ample evidence that the five terms found in the MS passage: lóman- 'hair', tvác- 'bone', māṁsá- 'flesh', ásthi- 'bone', and majján- 'marrow', arranged in that particular order, are the fixed traditional expression of the make-up of the canonical beast.See further Calvert Watkins (1933-2013), How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 525-536.
I wondered if this particular combination of body parts might occur in curse tablets, but nothing jumped out at me from a quick reading of Henk S. Versnel, "καὶ εἴ τι λ[οιπὸν] τῶν μερ[ῶ]ν [ἔσ]ται τοῦ σώματος ὅλ[ο]υ[.. (... and any other part of the entire body there may be ...) An Essay on Anatomical Curses," in Fritz Graf, ed., Ansichten griechischer Rituale. Geburtstags-Symposium für Walter Burkert (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1998), pp. 216-267. Versnel did have this amusing sentence on p. 248:
Whoever fancies a beautiful girl or boy and wishes to influence her or his feelings, would be well advised to peruse a few corpora of defixiones or magical papyri.
Blood for Blood
... one murder is to bring another in its train, decreeing it ...Kells, p. 134:
φόνον δικάζων φόνος ...
The Greeks were perhaps more inclined to draw imagery from law and the administration of law than we are, because they had an almost romantic passion for law (cf. the wealth of legal reference and imagery in, say, Aeschylus). There is room for further exploration of this tendency.Euripides, Suppliant Women 614 (tr. Edward P. Coleridge):
Vengeance calls vengeance forth; slaughter calls for slaughter.Related post: Forgiving One's Enemies.
δίκα δίκαν δ' ἐκάλεσε καὶ φόνος φόνον.
Epitaph of Lucius Runnius Pollio
Lucius Runnius Pollio, son of Gnaeus, of the Papirian voting tribe.Franz Cumont, After Life in Roman Paganism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), p. 54 (footnote omitted):
For this reason I drink to the dregs more greedily (than ever) in my tomb,
because I must sleep and remain here.
L(ucius) Runnius Pap(iria) Cn(aei) f(ilius) Pollio.
[eo] cupidius perpoto in monumento meo,
quod dormiendum et permanendum heic est mihi.
eo vel hoc suppl. Ritschl
An epitaph of Narbonne jokingly expresses the vulgar idea as to the participation of the deceased in the banquet: "I drink and drink again, in this monument," says the dead man, "the more eagerly because I am obliged to sleep and to dwell here."See Maria José Pena, "Sur quelques carmina epigraphica de Narbonnaise," Revue archéologique de Narbonnaise 36 (2003) 425-432 (at 426-427).
Before Christianity, while we were all pagans alike, humility was meanness. No one ever dreamed of depreciating himself either to his God or to his brother man. He that recommended himself to the favor of God, never thought of saying he was unworthy of that favour, never thought of pleading against himself, on the contrary he put forward all his merits, all he had done, all he would do. To have underrated himself was the last thing in the world to occur to his mind, to his common human sense, and the surest way to prevent God from doing that which he might otherwise have been inclined to do, the surest way to foil himself in his object. In his dealings with man he proceeded on the same principle, always on the principle of his merits, always endeavoured to appear as well as he could, to impress every one with the best possible opinion of him, and so be treated in return by every one as an honest, truthspeaking, brave, generous, noble-minded and above all tender-hearted, "pius" (see Rem. on l. 14) man.
The pagan was thus at least consistent, dealt with his God and his brother man on the same principle, always and upon all occasions standing up for, and never unless in some paroxysm of despair, like Oedipus's, turning upon, abusing and depreciating himself. The first Christians, too, were consistent, but their consistency was of an opposite kind. They recommended themselves to the favour of God and man, not on the ground of merit, but on the ground of demerit. The more they sunk themselves, the more they expected to be exalted, the lower down at the table they took their seat, the higher up did they expect to be asked to sit. They washed the beggars' feet, without pomp and without ceremony, in the sure expectation that angels would in return wash their feet, and clothe them with surplices of spotless dazzling white. Humility and want of merit served the same purpose with them as transcendant merit, and a consciousness of it, served amongst the pagans, it was their way to honour among men, and honour with their God, their road to heaven, their "sic itur ad astra." Real humility, a really modest opinion of themselves, was their ladder to glorification, real humility I mean in every respect, except—and it is a startling exception—their religion. It never so much as once entered into their heads to extend their humility to their religion. To their religious pride there were no bounds. Humble and modest in all other respects, they were in respect of their new religion all Jews, as proud, overbearing, and intolerant, as ready to extirpate the Hittite, Gergashite, and Amalekite. With this one exception, however, they were consistent. Humble before heaven, humble towards each other, frugal, simple, self-denying, kind-hearted, and affectionate amongst themselves, ever ready to renounce this world, and all its pomps and pleasures, in order, by so doing, the better to secure for themselves what they called an eternal crown of glory hereafter. But these first Christians have all, long since, gone the way Jew and Pagan went before them, and we have now another Pharoah, who knows not Joseph—a Pharoah who has inherited not the real, living humility, sincerity, and simplicity of his forefathers, but the names, phrases, words, titles, and empty sounds, and who palms these off, in place of the qualities themselves, on all with whom he has dealings, whether terrestrial or celestial, on his brother man, as on God. Your correspondent, therefore, is your dear sir, and you are your correspondent's most obedient, humble servant, at the very moment you are reprimanding or cashiering him. If a police officer, you touch your hat as you are making an arrest; a judge, you weep when you are passing sentence of death; a hangman, you beg pardon of the culprit about whose neck you are putting the rope. Unworthy to stand before your God, you kneel, and from a crimson velvet cushion pour forth your regularly returning tide of devotion, your unmeasured praise of him, your equally unmeasured dispraise of yourself. Your unaffected contrition, humiliation, nothingness; your love, hope, faith, and gratitude, all fresh gushing from your heart every Sunday at least, if not every day of the year, at precisely the same hour, precisely the same moment, or precisely the same spot, unaffected, unstudied, unpremeditated, in the ready cut and dry words of the printed formularies read or intoned for you by a paid substitute.
In Aeneas's introduction of himself to Venus there is none of this paltry double-dealing, of this vile compound of ours, of verbal humility and real pride, of this our so fashionable seasoning of insolence with compliment. Without any even the least prevarication, he presents himself in his real and true character, the character in which he is so often, so invariably, presented to the reader by the author, viz., as Aeneas, the tender-hearted (the gentle knight of chivalrous times), seeking with his Penates, and surviving compatriots, a new land in place of that out of which he had been expelled by a victorious invader.
Now there come together
both those who felt fierce hatred for the tyrant
and those who felt harsh fear.
conveniunt quibus aut odium crudele tyranni
aut metus acer erat.
Paean to Health
Health, most cherished of gods for men, with youThe Greek, from Furley and Bremer, Vol. II: Greek Texts and Commentary, pp. 175-176:
I pray to live the remainder of my life, and you be kind to me!
If there is any joy in wealth or children
or in kingly power which elevates men to gods, or in desires
which we pursue with all the subterfuge of Aphrodite,
or if the gods grant humans any other pleasures
or relief from miseries,
in your presence, blessed Health,
they thrive and shine, endowed with charm.
But without you no one's life is happy.
Ὑγεία βροτοῖσι πρεσβίστα μακάρων, μετὰ σεῦBesides Furley and Bremer, Vol. I, pp. 224-227, and Vol. II, pp. 175-180, and the works there cited, see now Pauline A. LeVen, The Many-Headed Muse: Tradition and Innovation in Late Classical Greek Lyric Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 277-282.
ναίοιμι τὸ λειπόμενον βιοτᾶς, σὺ δέ μοι πρόφρων ξυνείης.
εἰ γάρ τις ἢ πλούτου χάρις ἢ τεκέων
ἢ τᾶς ἰσοδαίμονος ἀνθρώποις βασιληΐδος ἀρχᾶς ἢ πόθων
οὓς κρυφίοις Ἀφροδίτας ἕρκεσιν θηρεύομεν,
ἢ εἴ τις ἄλλα θεόθεν ἀνθρώποισι τέρψις ἢ πόνων
μετὰ σεῖο, μάκαιρ' Ὑγίεια,
τέθαλε καὶ λάμπει Χαρίτων ὀάροις.
σέθεν δὲ χωρὶς οὔτις εὐδαίμων ἔφυ.
The Fashion of Today
It was with these nursery rhymes, songs, and tales that our parents in those days taught us the good Provençal tongue. But at present, vanity having got the upper hand in most families, it is with the system of the worthy Monsieur Dumas that children are taught, and little nincompoops are turned out who have no more attachment or root in their country than foundlings, for it's the fashion of to-day to abjure all that belongs to tradition.
Monday, November 21, 2022
[I]t would be a great mistake to imagine that conjectures serve no good purpose, even when they are demonstrably futile. There is no better means of solving a crucial passage than by clearing and narrowing the issue through the cross-examination of contending emendations. Such discussion has always been the means of rubbing rusty bits of text bright.
I Wish It Were True
Nor does creeping old age weaken our strength of spirit or abate our force.
nec tarda senectus
debilitat viris animi mutatque vigorem.
610 'sera, in aliis tarda' Servius
For just as the flora has left its ghostly imprint embedded in so much fossilized matter, so, too, its memory has been sprinkled across the surface of innumerable church cartularies, bullaria, monastic records; been buried within the archival wealth of countless wills and testaments, marriage contracts, notarized deeds; or, occasionally, been inscribed across the surface of cadastral survey maps, outlining the limits of given properties. Within such documents, a stray phytotoponym—an oblique reference, say, to some olive grove offered up as part of a medieval dowry—gives researchers, on occasion, an invaluable aperçu of the floral environment of a particular locale at a given historical moment.
Fagus sylvatica, or common beech, is a perfect example in point. For the expanse that that tree once occupied can still be measured today, either by the lingering presence of ancient place-names in current usage or by the detection of such names in medieval records. In toponymic form, the tree appears under a variety of synonyms: Fage, Fau, Fagette, Fageas, Fayard, and so on. In each and every case, these place-names testify to a vanished environment. Infallibly, they indicate the exact location of forests that—in retracting—have left nothing for memento but their own estranged vocables. Among the many eloquent examples cited by Aline Durand, one in particular—drawn from a medieval cartulary— refers to a certain Faja oscura located in the Causse du Larzac. Faja signifies the tree itself, with all the nutritive oils inherent in its woody fruit, whereas oscura evokes the darkness, and thus the density, of those once-flourishing beeches. Long since converted into pastureland, that arboreal stand endures in a lone microtoponym: Lou Fagals. Mnemonic marker, it designates little more than a tiny ramshackle hamlet in the commune of Les Rives (Hérault).
The word—along with its residual counterpart, the fossil—bears witness to those vanished landscapes. Properly interpreted, its seemingly inconsequential particles, buried in so much somnolent documentation, allow one a glimpse—at least—of that lost ecology. It's as if the word, as a token of human consciousness, had withstood the retraction and ultimate disappearance of that dense sylvatic canopy—that Faja oscura—in order to preserve the wood's very memory. Even more, it serves to preserve our very own. For in that retraction and ultimate disappearance, the interface between culture and nature—cultum and incultum—has vanished as well. Only the word, it would seem, has withstood that spoliation. Having done so, it reminds us of a time in which the woods—the earth itself—hadn't yet been sacrificed, alas, for the sake of ourselves alone.
Epitaph of Philokynegos the Gladiator
ὁ τὸ πάλαι παίζων, πᾶσιν δὲ λέγων τὰ γελοῖαNet fighter = Latin retiarius.
δεῦρ' ἴδε πῶς κατάκειμαι μόνος μόνος· ἄλλο γὰρ οὐδέν·
Φιλοκύνηγος ἐγὼ Μακεδών ῥητιάρις ἄλειπτος
τῷ χαλκεῖ στεφάνῳ μοῖραν ἴσην ἔλαχον.
Ἀνατολὴ Φιλοκυνήγῳ ἀνδρὶ ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων αὐτοῦ μνήμης χάριν.
The one who formerly played and told jokes to everyone,
see how I lie down here alone, alone, for (there is) nothing else;
I, Philokynegos, a Macedonian, undefeated net fighter,
obtained by chance the same fate as the bronze ring.
Anatole (set up this monument for her) husband Philokynegos from his own (funds), in honor of his memory.
Merkelbach and Stauber explain the bronze ring as follows:
Es ist anscheinend die Rede von dem Bronzereif, an welchem das Netz des Retiarius befestigt war; entweder fing der Netzkämpfer den Gegner mit seinem Netz, oder der Gegner demolierte den Ring. So wie der Ring zerstört wurde, so jetzt die ganze Person des Retiarius.I.e.:
The reference is apparently to the bronze ring attached to the net of the net fighter; either the net fighter caught his opponent with his net, or the opponent demolished the ring. As the ring was destroyed, so now the whole person of the net fighter is destroyed.For a joke told by a net fighter, see Roger Dunkle, Gladiators: Violence and Spectacle in Ancient Rome (2008; rpt. London: Routledge, 2013), p. 105 (footnote omitted):
Festus ... quotes a humorous song sung (or recited) by a retiarius to a Gaul (the gladiator type): 'I do not attack you, I attack a fish. Why do you flee me, Gaul?' Festus explains that the murmillo was an offshoot of the Gaul, whose helmet was decorated with the image of a fish.Pauli Festus p. 359 Lindsay:
Retiario pugnanti adversus murmillonem cantatur: "Non te peto, piscem peto, quid me fugis, Galle?" quia murmilionicum genus armaturae Gallicum est, ipsique murmillones ante Galli appellabantur; in quorum galeis piscis effigies inerat.
Names are signposts in a child's imagination and thereafter in an adult's memory: my mental map of childhood London is not a visible map at all, but remains an elaborate tissue of homes, aunts, toyshops, dentists, friends' homes, favourite walks, cinemas. These private gazetteers of ours are perforce idiosyncratic and disorderly; they interrupt unpredictably and inconveniently those slightly more disciplined maps-in-the-mind which we acquire at school, and, if we are very lucky, from parents who read or, better still, recite to us the poetry they love. For that poetry (and all I say is just as true of song) will prove to contain names: 'silent on a peak in Darien', 'down in Demerara', 'at Flores in the Azores', 'silently rowed to the Charlestown shore', which will, many of them, sink into the mire of the not-explained and not-understood, only to emerge, many years on, gleaming, and weighed down with some relevant information.Id., p. 478:
Nor should we neglect the place's very name, viewed not only as a key, but as a real, sounding word; for now, I defy a reader to find beauty or poetic merit in the names Didcot, Casalpusterlengo, Schweinfurth, or Hazebrouck.Id., pp. 481-482:
And it might also be worthwhile to recall, before we consider some more serious aspects of the poetic qualities of toponyms, a brilliant game invented by Paul Jennings:¹⁵ suppose that toponyms were—well, common nouns, then what might they mean? What, after all, might a denver, a houston, a utah actually be, let alone do, once deprived of its capital letter? Naturally, the same game can be played with Italian, German, or French toponyms. The case of the letters leads the reader to concentrate upon letters and sounds, much as in trad. anon.'s 'In Peckham Rye did Alfie Biggs / A stately Hippodrome decree, / where Fred the bread-delivery man' with all due apologies to Coleridge.Related posts:
¹⁵ In Oddly ad Lib (London 1965) 24ff., and in The Jenguin Pennings (Harmondsworth 1963) 15ff.; the parallel invention, of toponyms that become personal names (Oddly ad Lib, 28ff.), is less grandly felicitous.