Wednesday, April 14, 2021


An Avid Reader

Cicero, De Finibus 3.2.7 (tr. H. Rackham):
On my arrival, seated in the library I found Marcus Cato; I had not known he was there. He was surrounded by piles of books on Stoicism; for he possessed, as you are aware, a voracious appetite for reading, and could never have enough of it; indeed it was often his practice actually to brave the idle censure of the mob by reading in the senate-house itself, while waiting for the senate to assemble,—he did not steal any attention from public business. So it may well be believed that when I found him taking a complete holiday, with a vast supply of books at command, he had the air of indulging in a literary debauch, if the term may be applied to so honourable an occupation.

quo cum venissem, M. Catonem quem ibi esse nescieram vidi in bibliotheca sedentem, multis circumfusum Stoicorum libris. erat enim ut scis in eo aviditas legendi, nec satiari poterat; quippe qui ne reprensionem quidem vulgi inanem reformidans in ipsa curia soleret legere saepe dum senatus cogeretur, nihil operae rei publicae detrahens; quo magis tum in summo otio maximaque copia quasi helluari libris, si hoc verbo in tam clara re utendum est, videbatur.


They Pursued Physical Beauty Like a Drug

J.H. Plumb (1911-2001), The Italian Renaissance (1961; rpt. New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 42-44:
By the High Renaissance, art had come to pervade all aspects of life. From the arrangement of sweetmeats to the construction of fortifications — all were matters of moment upon which an artist's opinion might be needed or offered. And most of the great artists, too, regarded themselves as Jacks-of-all-trades. Leonardo did not think it beneath his dignity to design the costumes for the masques that his patrons loved or to fix the heating for a duchess' bath. And most of the great figures of the Renaissance displayed exceptional versatility. Michelangelo felt himself to be a man wholly dedicated to sculpture, yet after his reluctance had been overcome, he could paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. And, of course, he could, and did, turn to architecture with equal facility and, when the mood was upon him, express his deepest feelings in poetry. The versatility of a Leonardo or a Michelangelo was far from unusual. Princes and patrons wished their lives to be embellished richly, ostentatiously, beautifully, and they were willing to pour out their ducats and florins on all the arts and crafts that adorn the life of man. They pursued physical beauty like a drug. Their heightened sensibilities, due to the sudden turns of chance that threaded their days with light and shadow, lusted for color, richness, wanton display. This aristocratic spirit at large in a world of bourgeois delights had no use for pewter dishes, sober costume, modest feasting, or chaste jewelry. It reveled in gold, in silver, in bronze, in gaudy dishes of majolica, and in silks, in satins, and in damasks, in cunningly wrought pearls, in sapphires, in rubies, and in emeralds. And the pageantry, the masquerades, the feasts, the dancing, and the music provided the background to this peacock world. This pride, this ostentation could find expression in the intellectual world as well as in the senses, and collections of antique bronzes, marble statues, splendidly illuminated manuscripts, beautifully bound books from the new presses, ancient rings and seals, became a prince as much as his palace or his pictures. The mania for collecting, as a reflection of social grandeur, emerges during the Renaissance. This delight in the eye, this desire to impress, created a constant demand for the services of the great masters, even for the most trivial and most ephemeral commissions — the molding of pastry, the decoration of a table, the casting of a candlestick, the cutting of an intaglio, the design of a dagger — almost all of which have disappeared into limbo. The works of a few craftsmen of genius — the terra-cottas of della Robbia, the metalwork of Cellini, the bronzes of Riccio — survive. Those of nameless craftsmen who achieved high excellence are more plentiful. Their ornate cassoni, their haunting bronzes, their brightly patterned majolicas, and, above all, their exquisite jewelry, scattered about the museums of America and Western Europe, give a glimpse of the sumptuous world for which they worked.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


Come Unto Me, All Ye That Labour and Are Heavy Laden

Terracotta figurine, in Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines (Numéro catalogue: Myr 332, Numéro de collection: Myrina 379; 1st century AD):


Ancient Satire

Emily Gowers, The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature (1993; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 109-110:
Any ancient satire is, by virtue of its name, its author's own black and putrid offering, stuffed for the table with an acrid and dubious blend of spices, giving a sour or salty kind of pleasure to its recipients.


Truth on Earth Instead of in Heaven

J.H. Plumb (1911-2001), The Italian Renaissance (1961; rpt. New York: Harper &  Row, 1965), pp. 13-14:
It is a sobering thought that the great Italian achievements in almost every sphere of intellectual and artistic activity took place in a world of violence and war. Cities were torn by feud and vendetta: Milan warred against Venice, Florence against Pisa, Rome against Florence, Naples against Milan. Alliances were forged only to be broken, the countryside was constantly scarred by pillage, rapine, and battle, and in this maelstrom, the old bonds of society were broken and new ones forged. After a brief period of peace, in the second half of the fifteenth century, the confusion and carnage grew worse through the great French invasions of Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I, a time of agony that did not end till the dreadful sack of Rome in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Yet this violence worked like yeast in the thought of men, and profoundly influenced the way they were to regard problems of power and government for hundreds of years. They ceased to look for answers to the fate of man in the dogmas of the Church. They searched the histories of antiquity for precedents that might guide them to the truth, but they also sought to explain, as Machiavelli did, the world in which they lived by what they knew to be the nature of man. Indeed, it was during the Renaissance in Italy that many men came to feel that truth was elusive, a mood afterward strengthened by the discovery of the world beyond Europe. The old dogmatic certainties did not vanish at once, and the habit of trying to nail truth down by argument from fundamental principles was not lightly cast aside. Some of the most original minds, however, particularly Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci, sought truth not in argument but in observation. Machiavelli brooded on men and events, on the effects of political action and on the consequence of chance; Leonardo grew preoccupied with the flow of water, the flight of birds, the formation of rocks. The growth of ideas and the development of mental attitudes are difficult to pinpoint in the course of history, but this, at least, can be said: the men of the Renaissance, by the range of their inquiries, by the freshness of their skepticism, and by the sharpness of their observation, gave impetus to, and helped to acquire intellectual acceptance for, the search for truth on earth instead of in heaven.


Hypocrisy of a Laudator Temporis Acti

Horace, Satires 2.7.22-24 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
You praise the fortune and manners of the men of old; and yet, if on a sudden some god were for taking you back to those days, you would refuse every time...

fortunam et mores antiquae plebis, et idem,
si quis ad illa deus subito te agat, usque recuses...

Monday, April 12, 2021


The Prime Motivator

Aristophanes, Wealth 181-183 (Chremylus to Wealth; tr. Benjamin Bickley Rogers):
Aye, everything that's done is done for thee.
Thou art alone, thyself alone, the source
Of all our fortunes, good and bad alike.

τὰ δὲ πράγματ᾿ οὐχὶ διὰ σὲ πάντα πράττεται;
μονώτατος γὰρ εἶ σὺ πάντων αἴτιος
καὶ τῶν κακῶν καὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν, εὖ ἴσθ᾿ ὅτι.


Truth Overpowered

Sophocles, fragment 86, line 3 (tr. Hugh-Lloyd-Jones):
What people believe prevails over the truth.

τό τοι νομισθὲν τῆς ἀληθείας κρατεῖ.
A.C. Pearson ad loc.:

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Treasure Trove

Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), Athenaeum Fragments, no. 151 (tr. Peter Firchow):
Up to now everyone has managed to find in the ancients what he needed or wished for: especially himself.

Jeder hat noch in den Alten gefunden, was er brauchte oder wünschte, vorzüglich sich selbst.



Sophocles, fragment 84 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I do not know what I can say in reply to this, when good men are conquered by ignoble men. What city could put up with this?

κοὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅτι χρὴ πρὸς ταῦτα λέγειν,
ὅταν οἵ γ᾿ ἀγαθοὶ πρὸς τῶν ἀγενῶν
ποία πόλις ἂν τάδ᾿ ἐνέγκοι;

3 κατανικῶνται codd.: πολὐ νικῶνται Blaydes, μέγα νικῶνται Herwerden
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. κατανικάω:
strengthd. for νικάω, ὅταν οἵ γ᾽ ἀγαθοὶ πρὸς τῶν ἀγενῶν -νικῶνται S. Fr. 84, cf. J. AJ 3.2.2, PFlor. 338.11 (iii A. D.); ὑπὸ τῆς φθοροποιοῦ δυνάμεως Philum. Ven. 4.3.


Silence Has Many Beauties

Dear Mike,

Thanks for Silence (Wednesday 7/04), a subject dear to me — τι βαθὺ καὶ μυστηριῶδες ἡ σιγὴ saith Plutarch, in whose otherwise garrulous essay on prattlers appears the pleasingly succinct phrase: οὐδεὶς γὰρ οὕτω λόγος ὠφέλησε ῥηθεὶς ὡς πολλοὶ σιωπηθέντες (505F).

Here's another piece of Pindar:

Pindar, Nemean Odes 5.16-19 (tr. William H. Race):
I will halt, for not every exact truth
is better for showing its face,
and silence is often the wisest thing for a man to observe.

στάσομαι· οὔ τοι ἅπασα κερδίων
φαίνοισα πρόσωπον ἀλάθει᾿ ἀτρεκής·
καὶ τὸ σιγᾶν πολλάκις ἐστὶ σοφώτατον ἀνθρώπῳ νοῆσαι.
and a shard each from Aesch., Eur. and Soph.:

Aeschylus, fragment 188 (tr. A.H. Sommerstein):
For to many mortals silence is advantageous.

πολλοῖς γάρ ἐστι κέρδος ἡ σιγὴ βροτῶν.

Scholia (M B D) to Aelius Aristeides, Oration 3.97 (p. 190 Frommel; p. 501.17–18 Dindorf) (Αἰσχύλος . . . ἐν Προμηθεῖ δεσμώτῃ)
Euripides, fragment 219 (from Antiope; tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Silence is an ornament, a crown for a man without vice;
while chattering of this kind fastens upon pleasure,
and makes bad company, and is a weakness too for a city.

κόσμος δὲ σιγή, στέφανος ἀνδρὸς οὐ κακοῦ·
τὸ δ᾿ ἐκλαλοῦν τοῦθ᾿ ἡδονῆς μὲν ἅπτεται,
κακὸν δ᾿ ὁμίλημ᾿, ἀσθενὲς δὲ καὶ πόλει.

1 σιγή, στέφανος Ellis: σιγῆς στέφανος Stobaeus 3.36.10
Sophocles, fragment 81 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
My son, be silent! Silence has many beauties.

ὦ παῖ, σιώπα· πόλλ᾿ ἔχει σιγὴ καλά.

Stobaeus, Anthology 3, 33, 3 (3, 678, 10 Hense); Plutarch, Talkativeness 502E; Arsenius, Violarium, p. 488 Walz = Apostol. 18, 62a (CPG 2, 737, 9)

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Saturday, April 10, 2021


Books on Books

From a friend's collection (click once or twice to enlarge):
But for "on" meaning "on top of" see this photograph of another section of his flat:

Friday, April 09, 2021


Love Ye Therefore the Stranger, For Ye Were Strangers

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 562-568 (Theseus to Oedipus; tr. E.F. Watling):
I do not forget my own upbringing in exile,
like yours, and how many times I battled, alone,
with dangers to my life, in foreign lands.
I could not turn from any fellow-man,
coming as you come, or deny him help,
I know that I am man; in the day to come
my portion will be as yours, no more, no less.

... οἶδα γ᾽ αὐτὸς ὡς ἐπαιδεύθην ξένος,
ὥσπερ σύ, χὢς εἷς πλεῖστ᾽ ἀνὴρ ἐπὶ ξένης
ἤθλησα κινδυνεύματ᾽ ἐν τὠμῷ κάρᾳ·
ὥστε ξένον γ᾽ ἂν οὐδέν᾽ ὄνθ᾽, ὥσπερ σὺ νῦν,        565
ὑπεκτραποίμην μὴ οὐ συνεκσῴζειν· ἐπεὶ
ἔξοιδ᾽ ἀνὴρ ὢν χὤτι τῆς εἰς αὔριον
οὐδὲν πλέον μοι σοῦ μέτεστιν ἡμέρας.


Gods of the Hills

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Finding," The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 359-367 (at 364):
Some slackness of ritual, we are told, that hurt the feelings of the dii montes, the gnomes of the hills, allowed Rome to fall to the barbarians.
The phrase dii montes, two nominative plural nouns in apposition, looks odd to me. Did Davenport mean to write dii montium, as in 1 Kings 20.23?
dii montium sunt dii eorum. (Vulgate)

Their gods are gods of the hills. (KJV)
Or perhaps dii montani?

On the other hand cf. Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum 11, which is ambiguous:
erat mater eius deorum montium cultrix.
Update from Eric Thomson:
Another possibility, a little closer to Davenport's 'montes' (if it is his and not a kind of haplographic misprint), would be 'montenses', as in ILS 3051, discussed in Robert E.A. Palmer, "Jupiter Blaze, Gods of the Hills, and the Roman Topography of CIL VI 377," American Journal of Archaeology 80.1 (Winter, 1976) 43-56.


You Can't Stand to Be Alone with Yourself

Horace, Satires 2.7.111-115 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
And again, you cannot yourself bear to be in your own company, you cannot employ your leisure aright, you shun yourself, a runaway and vagabond, seeking now with wine, and now with sleep, to baffle Care. In vain: that black consort dogs and follows your flight.

                                         adde, quod idem
non horam tecum esse potes, non otia recte
ponere, teque ipsum vitas fugitivus et erro,
iam vino quaerens, iam somno fallere Curam;
frustra: nam comes atra premit sequiturque fugacem.
The translation omits horam — for an hour.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Satiren. Erklärt von Adolf Kiessling. 5. Auflage erneuert von Richard Heinze (Berlin: Weidmann, 1921), pp. 333-334:
111. adde quod idem: der Gipfel ist, daß er, der unter der Herrschaft fremder Menschen und Dinge leidet, nicht einmal mit sich selbst im Einvernehmen ist, sondern sich zu entfhehen sucht wie der Sklave dem harten Herrn. — ponere anwenden, häufig von Zeitbegriffen, wie tempus meridianum in . . . cogitatione ponere Cic. de orat. III 17, totum diem in consideranda causa Brut. 87; übertragen vom Kapital, das zinstragend angelegt wird, ponitur ep. 2, 70; a. p. 421. — teque ipsum vitas: hoc se quisque modo fugitat, quem scilicet ut fit effugere haud potis est Lucr. III 1066. — fugitivus et erro, Bezeichnung des Sklaven: erronem sic definimus, qui non quidem fugit, sed frequenter sine causa vagatur et temporibus in res nugatorias consumptis serius domum redit Ulpian Dig. XXI 1, 17, 14: dagegen quid sit fugitivus Ofilius sie definit: fugitivus est qui extra domini domum fugae causa quo se a domino celaret mansit ebd. 1. — premit sequiturque: sie heftet sich dir an die Seite als leidiger Weggenosse und folgt dir, wenn du ihr zu entfliehen versuchst. Der Gedanke ist das Motiv zu od. III I, 37 fg. und hat dem berühmten post equitem sedet atra cura seine Farbe geliehen.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, IV: Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, § 5 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Alone with themselves! — the idea of this makes modern souls quake, it is their kind of terror and fear of ghosts.

Mit sich selber! — dieser Gedanke schüttelt die modernen Seelen, das ist ihre Angst und Gespensterfurcht.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


A Flood of Noise

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Jonathan Williams," The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 180-189 (at 189):
Anything worth knowing passes from one person to another. The book is still a viable way of communicating, provided one has taught oneself to find the book one needs to read. It isn't easy. All the electronic media are a flood of noise.



Richard F. Thomas, "Past and Future in Classical Philology," Comparative Literature Studies 27.1 (1990) 66-74 (at 69, note omitted):
How then do we define philology? Perhaps we can do no more than define it by paraphrase of its constituent parts, that by philology is meant the conducting of a φιλία (philia) relationship (that is, in a relationship of "affection," "respect," and "close proximity") to the λόγος (logos) (that is, the "word," or the "text"). The end or goal of this relationship may be seen as the following: philology believes, or philologists believe, that there are historical, objective truths about language and literature, and that, however great the obstacles, these truths may be reached, or at least approached, through a wide variety of methods.


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