Thursday, October 29, 2020


Eugenics and Dysgenics

Plato, Menexenus 237 a (tr. Tom Griffith):
Why were they good? Because they were born of good ancestry.

ἀγαθοὶ δὲ ἐγένοντο διὰ τὸ φῦναι ἐξ ἀγαθῶν.
Shakespeare, Cymbeline 4.2.26:
Cowards father cowards and base things sire base.


What Shall I Do With Bob My Boy?

Martial 5.56, tr. in The Epigrams of Martial. Translated into English Prose. Each Accompanied by One or More Verse Translations, From the Works of English Poets, and Various Other Sources (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1890), p. 250:
To what master to entrust your son, Lupus, has been an anxious object of consideration with you for some time. Avoid, I advise you, all the grammarians and rhetoricians; let him have nothing to do with the books of Cicero or Virgil; let him leave Tutilius1 to his fame. If he makes verses, give him no encouragement to be a poet; if he wishes to study lucrative arts, make him learn to play on the guitar or flute. If he seems to be of a dull disposition, make him an auctioneer or an architect.

1 A rhetorician, whose daughter Quintilian married.

Cui tradas, Lupe, filium magistro,
quaeris sollicitus diu rogasque.
omnes grammaticosque rhetorasque
devites, moneo: nihil sit illi
cum libris Ciceronis aut Maronis,        5
famae Tutilium suae relinquat;
si versus facit, abdices poetam.
artes discere vult pecuniosas?
fac discat citharoedus aut choraules;
si duri puer ingeni videtur,        10
praeconem facias vel architectum.
Some translations of the same in verse (id.):
Whene'er I meet you, still you cry,
"What shall I do with Bob my boy?"
Since this affair you'd have me treat on,
Ne'er send the lad to Paul's or Eton.
The Muses let him not confide in,
But leave those jilts to fate or Dryden.
If with damn'd rhimes he racks his wits,
Send him to Mevis or St Kit's.
Would you with wealth his pockets store well?
Teach him to pimp or bolt a door well:
If he 'as a head not worth a stiver,
Make him a curate or hog-driver.         Tom Brown

You on one great concern your thoughts employ;
Still asking how to educate your boy.
First, carefully avoid, if you are wise,
All Greek and Latin masters, I advise.
Let him both Cicero and Virgil shun,
Unless you wish him to be quite undone.
Then, of a lad you never can have hope,
Who verses makes, or reads a line in Pope.
If he in gainful business would engage,
Teach him to sin or play upon the stage.
Or if he is too dull to be a player,
Teach him to job, and he may die a mayor.         [William] Hay
Peter Howell, Martial, The Epigrams: Book V: Edited with an Introduction, Translation & Commentary (1995; rpt. Warminster: Aris & Philips, 2007), pp. 139-140:
Hat tip: Alan Crease.

Cf. excerpts from a letter to Ted Turner from his father, in Ted Turner, Call Me Ted (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008), pp. 34-36:
My dear son:

I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today.


I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek?


I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron from Podunk, Iowa—and saying, "Well, what do you think of Leonidas?" He will turn to you and say, "Leonidas who?" You will turn to him and say, "Why, Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the twelfth century." He will, in turn, say to you, "Well, who the hell was he?" You will say, "Oh, you don’t know anything about Leonidas?" and dismiss him. And not discuss anything else with him for the rest of the evening. He will feel that you are a stupid snob and a fop, and you will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa.

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon William Faulkner.


I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.


Devotedly, DAD

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Exaggeration and Oversimplification

A.D. Nock, "Hellenistic Mysteries and Christian Sacraments," Mnemosyne 5.3 (1952) 177-213 (at 213):
Without exaggeration and oversimplification little progress is made in most fields of humanistic investigation. Hypotheses such as have been mentioned have served to stimulate a great amount of critical enquiry; they have liberated the study of Christian beginnings from an unwholesome isolation; they have freed us from an overemphasis on these aspects of early Christianity which commended themselves to reasonable votaries of progress at the beginning of this century. In reacting against them we must beware of exaggeration in the opposite direction and of any tendency to assume simple relations of cause and effect in an area in which they are very rare. We must, again, do justice to the high seriousness and continued vitality of ancient paganism and to the essential unity of much of man's behavior towards the unseen.


The Lack of Rewards for Learning

Stephen C. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985), p. 100, with note on p. 335:
In Missus sum in vineam, another satire on the lack of rewards for learning, the complaining scholar—this time a poet rather than a theologian—does actually choose to give up study rather than suffer the hardships of poverty. Lamenting his own inability to find patronage, the poet advises others of the uselessness of learning. Why honor books or spend time studying in Paris when even Homer, if he went to a court empty-handed, would be thrown out? No more of this learning, he exclaims. Why should he endure poverty and the miserable life of a scholar? It is far better to sleep in a soft bed with a woman than to endure long nights of study in a cold room alone. For him, life without wealth is no better than death, and besides, money is needed to support love. So why not quit? Learning only makes men proud and causes young men to boast. The poem ends with a call to others, too, to give up their studies and spend their time eating and drinking.14

14. Missus sum in vineam, ed. Strecker, no. 6, pp. 82-88.
The reference is to Karl Strecker, ed., Moralisch-Satirische Gedichte Walters von Chatillon (Heidelberg: Winter, 1929). The Latin text with an English translation by Robert Levine can be found here (scroll down to Poem 6).

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


What Is a Scholar?

Robert Graves (1895-1985), The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, 4th ed. (1997; rpt. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 21:
But, after all, what is a scholar? One who may not break bounds under pain of expulsion from the academy of which he is a member.


Keep Watch

Homer, Iliad 10.192-193 (Nestor to the sentinels; tr. A.T. Murray):
Even so now, dear children, keep your watch, neither let sleep
seize any man, lest we become a cause of rejoicing to our foes.

οὕτω νῦν, φίλα τέκνα, φυλάσσετε, μηδέ τιν᾽ ὕπνος
αἱρείτω, μὴ χάρμα γενώμεθα δυσμενέεσσιν.

Monday, October 26, 2020


Men Like Ourselves

Bertrand Russell, letter to the editor of The Nation (August 15, 1914):
A month ago, Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot, who has deserved well of his country. We scan the newspapers with greedy eyes for news of slaughter, and rejoice when we read of innocent young men, blindly obedient to the word of command, mown down in thousands by the machine-guns of Liège. Those who saw the London crowds, during the nights leading up to the Declaration of War, saw a whole population, hitherto peaceable and humane, precipitated in a few days down the steep slope to primitive barbarism, letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and blood-lust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised. "Patriots" in all countries acclaim this brutal orgy as a noble determination to vindicate the right; reason and mercy are swept away in one great flood of hatred; dim abstractions of unimaginable wickedness—Germany to us and the French, Russia to the Germans—conceal the simple fact that the enemy are men, like ourselves, neither better nor worse—men who love their homes and the sunshine, and all the simple pleasures of common lives; men now mad with terror in the thought of their wives, their sisters, their children, exposed, with our help, to the tender mercies of the conquering Cossack.


Self-Inflicted Wounds

Procopius, History of the Wars 2.26.36 (tr. H.B. Dewing):
For men, as a general thing, bring down upon their own heads the most of the misfortunes which are going to befall them.

οἱ γὰρ ἄνθρωποι τὰ πολλὰ τῶν ἀτυχημάτων σφίσιν αὐτοῖς ἐκ τοῦ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τῶν ξυμβησομένων προστρίβονται.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


Vergil, Georgics 1.22

Walter Savage Landor, "Second Conversation" between Samuel Johnson and John Horne Tooke, Imaginary Conversations, Vol. III (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1909), pp. 400-451 (at 427):
Johnson. Here, take the Georgics; I usually carry them about me.

Tooke. Has Ovid, has Lucan, has any other Latin poet, written such balderdash and bombast as the nineteen verses in the beginning, at the close of an invocation already much too prolix? Why all these additions to the modest prayer of Varro, which he has versified? Here let me suggest a new and a necessary reading just above these lines:—
"Quique novas alitis non ullo semine fruges."
It must be uno, to avoid nonsense,—which is always a benefit, even in poetry,—and so represent wheat, barley, oats, &c.; that is to say "not only one kind of grain." The lines of the letter n and the double l may have been much alike in manuscript, and may have easily misled transcribers. I will not dwell upon the verses after
"Tethys emat omnibus undis;"
but really those eight appear to me like an excrescence on the face of a beautiful boy.

Johnson. They are puerile, are they?—a blemish, a deformity!

Tooke. In honest truth I think so.
So far as I can tell, no editor of Vergil even mentions Landor's conjecture.


Little God of Small Things

Greek Anthology 9.334 (by Perses; tr. J.W. Mackail):
Even me the little god of small things if thou call upon in due season thou shalt find; but ask not for great things; since whatsoever a god of the commons can give to a labouring man, of this I, Tycho, have control.

κἀμὲ τὸν ἐν σμικροῖς ὀλίγον θεὸν ἢν ἐπιβώσῃς
    εὐκαίρως, τεύξῃ· μὴ μεγάλων δὲ γλίχου.
ὡς ὅτι δημοτέρων δύναται θεὸς ἀνδρὶ πενέστῃ
    δωρεῖσθαι, τούτων κύριός εἰμι Τύχων.

Πέρσου εἰς Σατύρου ἢ Πανὸς ἄγαλμα ἢ καὶ Πριήπου corrector cod. Palatini
3 ὅτι Stephanus: ὅτε codd.
δημοτέρων Hecker: δημογέρων codd.
4 Τύχων Reiske: τυχών vel τυχῶν codd.
Diodorus Siculus 4.6.4 (on Priapus; tr. C.H. Oldfather):
This god is also called by some Ithyphallus, by others Tychon.

τοῦτον δὲ τὸν θεὸν τινὲς μὲν Ἰθύφαλλον ὀνομάζουσι, τινὲς δὲ Τύχωνα.
See also Vladymir Borukhovich, "The God Tychon in a Graffito from the Island of Berezan," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 121 (1998) 165-166.

Friday, October 23, 2020


A Huckster

Procopius, History of the Wars 2.15.25 (tr. H.B. Dewing):
And there has been set over us as ruler a huckster who has made our destitution a kind of business by virtue of the authority of his office.

ἐφέστηκέ τε ἡμῖν ἄρχων κάπηλος, τὴν ἡμετέραν ἀπορίαν ἐργασίαν τινὰ τῇ τῆς ἀρχῆς ἐξουσίᾳ πεποιημένος.


Anglo-Saxon Language and Literature

Allen J. Frantzen, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), p. 2 (note omitted):
Many specialists in modern literatures regard medievalists, and especially Anglo-Saxonists, as "antiquaries," a term used in the past—and often used derisively—to denote those who studied the past for its own sake while willfully neglecting the present. Many modernists doubt that a subject so technical, philological, and remote as Anglo-Saxon still merits a place in the business of the undergraduate or graduate degree. Once again, bad pedagogy comes to mind. Many former doctoral candidates recall their graduate courses in Old English, and courses in Beowulf in particular, as a horror of monotonous grammar drills and tedious translation of words that were to be found only once or twice in a text but that still, for some reason, had to be looked up many times. To make matters worse, presiding over this philological busyness were proponents of a culture typified on the one hand by the machismo of carousing in beer halls, of treasure-giving, longing for exile, or complaining about being in exile, and, on the other hand, of piety and guilt, constant reminders of the need to repent in anticipation of the terrors of the Last Judgment. Thus, Anglo-Saxon language and literature recall both the oppression of philological discipline—translation and memorization—and the vague, violent primitivism that cliché has attached to Anglo-Saxon culture.



Walter Savage Landor, "Second Conversation" between Samuel Johnson and John Horne Tooke, Imaginary Conversations, Vol. III (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1909), pp. 400-451 (at 422-423, Tooke speaking):
I am a bad man, but exactly in the contrary of the word's original meaning, which I thank you for reminding me of. A bad man is a bade man, or bidden man; a slave in other words: and the same idea was attached to the expression by the Italians and the French (while their language and they had a character) in cattivo and chétif, and by us in caitiff, men in no other condition than that wherein they must do as they are bid. We should ourselves have been in no higher condition, if we had not resisted what, in palaces and churches and colleges, was called legitimate power; and indeed we should still be, rather than men, a pliant unsubstantial herbage, springing up from under the smoky, verminous, unconcocted doctrine of passive obedience, to be carted off by our kings amid their carols, and cocked and ricked and cut, and half-devoured, half-trampled, and wasted, in the pinfold of our priesthood.
On the uncertain etymology of bad see the following articles by Anatoly Liberman: Cf. Greek κακός — "Comme pour beaucoup de mots signifiant «mal», pas d'étymologie établie" (Pierre Chantraine), "No clear etymology" (Robert Beekes).

Thursday, October 22, 2020


A Hero

Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (London: Reaktion Books, 2018), p. 37:
A hero is defined not by victory but by defeat. Only in defeat can you show what you're really made of. Only in final defeat can you show that you will never give in. That's why the gods have to die as well. If they did not die, how could they show true courage? If they were really immortal and invulnerable, who would respect them?


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