Monday, February 26, 2024


Without Limits

Terence, Heauton Timorumenos 483-485 (tr. John Barsby):
We're all worse when there are no restraints.
Everyone wants whatever comes into his head;
he doesn't weigh whether it is good or bad, he goes after it.

nam deteriores omnes sumus licentia.
quod quoique quomque inciderit in mentem volet,
neque id putabit pravom an rectum sit; petet.        485

484-485 secl. Bentley
Literally, "Everyone will want..." and "he won't weigh whether it is good or bad, he'll go after it."

Sunday, February 25, 2024


Cooking Fish

Archestratus of Gela, fragment 37 Olson-Sens (p. 154), lines 7-9 (sc. θεράπευε; tr. Andrew Dalby):
When you have good fish, naturally soft, with rich flesh,
Just sprinkle it lightly with salt and moisten it with oil.
By itself, within itself, it has the faculty of pleasure.

τὸν δ᾿ ἀγαθὸν μαλακόν τε φύσει καὶ πίονα σάρκα
ἁλσὶ μόνον λεπτοῖς πάσας καὶ ἐλαίῳ ἀλείψας·
τὴν ἀρετὴν γὰρ ἔχει τῆς τέρψιος αὐτὸς ἐν αὑτῷ.


Thucydides' Style

Peter Green, From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), p. 71
Thucydides, on the other hand, has a dense, thorny, and infinitely complex prose style, loaded with difficult abstractions, offering whole Chinese boxes of subordination in enormously protracted, often page-long sentences that are made to balance on subtly rhetorical nuances involving clause and counter-clause, and straining at the same time to avoid any hint of repetition, whether verbal or constructional, in either his narrative or, more particularly, those elaborately wrought speeches on matters of political debate that he puts at intervals into the mouths of his leading public figures, and that have always proved so mind-numbing a hazard to students hacking their way through his text, for the first time, in the original Greek.

Rather like that sentence, in fact.

Saturday, February 24, 2024



William M. Brashear (1946-2000), "The Greek Magical Papyri: an Introduction and Survey; Annotated Bibliography (1928-1994)," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.18.5 (1995) 3380-3684 (at 3410):
The turn of the century witnessed a hotbed of activity in the research on ancient magic, despite the scornful sneers of WILAMOWITZ and his school who repudiated USENER, DIETERICH and their associates as „Verehrer des Aberglaubens“ and their research methods as „Βοtokudenphilologie“.119 DIETERICH, undaunted by WILAMOWITZ' barbs — but also by the great man's almost total neglect of his research (in his 'Glaube der Hellenen' WILAMOWITZ mentions DIETERICH, who after all had produced over 1000 pages of research on Greek religion, only three times) — decided to take a step towards realizing his corpus of magical texts by undertaking a complete re-edition of the great Paris magical papyrus (PGM IV).

119 Quoted by PFISTER in ARW 35 (1938) 183. I have not been able to locate this quote in WILAMOWITZ' œuvre itself, and know it only from PFISTER'S account. The Botocudes are a now extinct tribe of eastern Brazil. Cf. for example, C. NIMUENDAJU, Social Organization and Beliefs of the Botocudes of Eastern Brazil, Southwestern Jnl. of Anthropology 2.1 (1946); ELIADE, Naissances 158.
Cf. the comments made by G. MASPERO, Mémoire sur quelques papyrus du Louvre, Paris 1875, 122, referring to P.Louvre dem. E 3229 (= JOHNSON, Enchoria 7 (1977) 55ff.): «ce qui en reste suffit à montrer qu'il ... renferme des formules magiques sans grand intérêt pour la science». By LENORMANT, Catalogue d'une collection d'antiquités, Paris 1857, no. 1073: «fromage gnostique» (referring to PGM IV). By NILSSON, Religion 155: „elendes Zeug“.
Botocudo is a Portuguese word (from botoque = bung, plug) and refers to the wooden disks worn by tribal members in their lips and ears.


What Were We?

Augustine, Sermons 130.4 (Patrologia Latina, vol. 38, col. 728; tr. Edmund Hill, with his note):
I mean, God is surely able to make human beings into angels, seeing that he has made horrid, slimy seeds into human beings. What are we going to be? Angels. What were we? It's scarcely decent even to think about; I'm forced to think about it, and I blush to mention it.18 What were we? What has God made human beings out of?

18. This is Augustine at his least biblical, least attractive, and most typical of the respectable "advanced" opinion of his time.

Potens est enim Deus Angelos homines facere, qui semina terrena et horribilia homines fecit. Quid erimus? Angeli. Quid fuimus! Pudet recordari; cogor considerare, et erubesco dicere. Quid fuimus? Unde Deus homines fecit?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.48.2 (tr. Gregory Hays):
Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow, embalming fluid, ash.

ἐχθὲς μὲν μυξάριον, αὔριον δὲ τάριχος ἢ τέφρα.
For other expressions of the same opinion, see Whence We Come, and Whither We Go.

Friday, February 23, 2024


The Personality of Herodotus

Peter Green, From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), pp. 69-70:
It is Herodotus's personality that irritates a certain type of intellect: his sunny cosmopolitanism, his open-mindedness over questions of religion, his obvious enjoyment of women (and the large role allotted to them in the Histories), his addiction to anecdotes, his discursive digressions on anything from tribal couvade to the walls of Babylon, his refusal to take up any kind of ideological stance save in the pursuit of freedom (eleutheria), his preference for inductive as opposed to deductive reasoning—that is, amassing bits of evidence to see what, if any, pattern may emerge from them, rather than coming up with a theory first and trying to make the facts fit it.


Don't Jump to Conclusions

Terence, Heauton Timorumenos 237 (tr. John Barsby):
Do you insist on prejudging the situation before you know the truth?

pergin istuc prius diiudicare quam scis quid veri siet?


Man's Best Friend

Greek Anthology 6.176 (by Macedonius the Consul; my translation):
The dog, the sack, and the barbed spear
I dedicate to Pan and the tree nymphs,
but I will take the dog back alive to my hut,
to have a companion sharing in my dry morsels.

τὸν κύνα, τὰν πήραν τε καὶ ἀγκυλόδοντα σίγυνον,
    Πανί τε καὶ Νύμφαις ἀντίθεμαι Δρυάσιν·
τὸν κύνα δὲ ζώοντα πάλιν ποτὶ ταὔλιον ἄξω,
    ξηρὰς εἰς ἀκόλους ξυνὸν ἔχειν ἕταρον.
Terracotta relief of Pan with dog (4th century BC) from the Kabeirion, Thebes, at Athens, National Archaeological Museum (number 10400), in Theodora Kopestonsky, "The Greek Cult of The Nymphs at Corinth," Hesperia 85.4 (October-December, 2016) 711-777 (p. 756, fig. 25):

Thursday, February 22, 2024


Undying Fame

Homer, Iliad 9.412-416 (Achilles speaking; tr. A.T. Murray):
If I abide here and war about the city of the Trojans,
then lost is my home-return, but my renown shall be imperishable;
but if I return home to my dear native land,
lost then is my glorious renown, yet shall my life long
endure, neither shall the doom of death come soon upon me.

εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν        415
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.
Coulter H. George, How Dead Languages Work (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), pp. 34-35:
But, if we turn to the word kleos itself, we find our way into an even richer web of meaning. It goes back to a PIE root *kleu-, which formed words referring to hearing and fame in the various daughter languages, especially in their poetic traditions. As a basic verbal root, it meant “to hear”. But with the ending -os added to it (*kleuos, which—remember the equivalence of u and w—can also be represented *klewos), it was “that which is heard”: in other words, “that which is famous”, or simply “fame”. This form survives not only in Greek kleos but also in Sanskrit śravaḥ (the ś is pronounced like an English sh; the used to be an s, but it weakened at the end of a word to become a murmured h), and in both traditions it is also associated with an adjective meaning “imperishable” (aphthiton in Greek, akṣita- or akṣiti- in Sanskrit). While the attempt to work out the poetic language of the Indo-Europeans must inevitably be a tentative enterprise,18 something like ṇdhgwhitom klewos is very likely to have been a phrase that already existed in the parent language in reference to undying fame; it was then inherited as aphthiton kleos in Greek and akṣitam śravaḥ in Sanskrit.

Nor is the *kleu- root restricted to these two languages. It’s also prominent in the personal names found in several other branches as well. While it is most transparent in the numerous Greek names in -cles, such as Sophocles “wise-famous” or Pericles “very-famous”, it also occurs in Slavic languages as the -slav element in Bohuslav or Mstislav. (The change of k to s in Slavic parallels the change of k to ś in Sanskrit.) Further disguised by phonological change, it occurs in Germanic in the name Ludwig, itself a linguistic cousin of French Louis.19 This requires some further explanation. First, we have to start from a different form, in effect a past participle *klu‑tos or *klū-tos “that which is heard”, which survived in Greek klytos and Latin in-clutus, both “famous”. Second, in Germanic, the initial k sound weakened to an h, as also happened in English heart (whereas the original sound was preserved in Latin cor and Greek kardia), and in this particular phonetic context, the t would soften to a d.20 This means that the equivalent Germanic form ought to have ended up with the stem *hlūd-. In fact, Old English still has words that begin with hl-.21 But because the h- was comparatively difficult to articulate in this environment, it was soon lost, leaving just Lud- as the first element in Lud-wig. Within English, hlūd survived as an adjective in Old English, but with the loss of the h and the change of ū to ou in the Great Vowel Shift that occurred at the end of the Middle English period, it became our modern word loud.

18 For more on the Indo-European poetic tradition, see Chapter 5, as well as the convenient introductions in B.W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture (Malden, MA, 2010), pp. 32-7, and J. Clackson, Indo-European Linguistics (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 180-4.

19 For still more examples of Indo-European personal names built from words not only for “fame” but also for “god”, “battle”, and the like, see B.W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture (Malden, MA, 2010), pp. 38-9.

20 The change of k to h in Germanic will be discussed more in Chapter 4 in the section on Grimm’s Law.

21 Readers of Beowulf may recall the similar cluster hr- in the name of king Hrothgar.
Related post: Imperishable Fame.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Silver and Gold

Tacitus, Germania 5.3 (tr. Herbert W. Benario):
I do not know whether the gods in their kindness or anger have denied them silver and gold.

argentum et aurum propitiine an irati dii negaverint dubito.


The Canniest of Classics

Harry Eyres, Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 8:
Horace is the canniest of classics, able to survive in fragmentary form. He invented some of the pithiest phrases ever coined. Horace’s phrases, lines, and poems have lasted, I reckon, because they’re the opposite of prefabricated or glib. His words are put together with a carpentry or stonemasonry so cunning and precise that nothing can prize them apart. Syllables, sounds, rhythms are locked together with a force that even earthquakes could not budge.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols X.1 (tr. Duncan Large):
To this day I have never had the same artistic delight in any poet as I was given from the start by one of Horace's odes. In certain languages what is achieved here cannot even be desired. This mosaic of words, in which every word radiates its strength as sound, as place, as concept, to the right and to the left and over the whole, this minimum in the range and number of its signs, the maximum which this attains in the energy of the signs—all this is Roman and, if I am to be believed, noble par excellence. All the rest of poetry becomes, in comparison, something too popular—a mere emotional garrulousness ...

Bis heute habe ich an keinem Dichter dasselbe artistische Entzücken gehabt, das mir von Anfang an eine Horazische Ode gab. In gewissen Sprachen ist Das, was hier erreicht ist, nicht einmal zu wollen. Dies Mosaik von Worten, wo jedes Wort als Klang, als Ort, als Begriff, nach rechts und links und über das Ganze hin seine Kraft ausströmt, dies minimum in Umfang und Zahl der Zeichen, dies damit erzielte maximum in der Energie der Zeichen—das Alles ist römisch und, wenn man mir glauben will, vornehm par excellence. Der ganze Rest von Poesie wird dagegen etwas zu Populäres,—eine blosse Gefühls-Geschwätzigkeit ...



Xenophanes, fragment 18 (tr. G.S. Kirk):
Yet the gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning,
but by seeking men find out better in time.

οὔτοι ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητοῦντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024



Homer, Odyssey 8.479-481 (tr. Peter Green):
For among all men worldwide minstrels receive their share
of honor and reverence, since the Muse has taught them
the ways of song, and has love for the whole tribe of singers.

πᾶσι γὰρ ἀνθρώποισιν ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδοὶ
τιμῆς ἔμμοροί εἰσι καὶ αἰδοῦς, οὕνεκ᾽ ἄρα σφέας        480
οἴμας μοῦσ᾽ ἐδίδαξε, φίλησε δὲ φῦλον ἀοιδῶν.
A.F. Garvie ad loc.:


Fish Dish

Red-figured fish-plate (340-320 BC, Fasano, Apulia), in British Museum (number 1856,1226.102):
"Two striped perch, two-handed bream; three mussels" according to Ian McPhee and A.D. Trendall, Greek Red-figured Fish-plates (Basel: Vereinigung der Freunde Antiker Kunst, 1987), p. 129 (number IVA / 133), "Three perch and three limpets" according to


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