Monday, January 18, 2021
Foundations of Success
From beginning to end it provides a meditation on the nature of success — how its foundations are laid by gods, furthered by family predecessors who may not live to share directly in the victories of their offspring (Aiakos, Iphion, Kallimachos), aided by expert teaching, and finally realized in deed (cf. ἔργον at 19, 63, and 85).
My Work for a Day
"My Work For a day," was the title of John Quincy's letter to his father on March 16, 1780.
Explain Cicero, Erasmus
Learn Greek racines, Greek grammar
Spiritual and Physical Failures and Inferiors
We do not seek to alter and improve, but to destroy. In every society degenerate elements sink constantly to the bottom: exhausted families, downfallen members of generations of high breed, spiritual and physical failures and inferiors. One has only to glance at the figures in meetings, public-houses, processions, and riots; one way or another they are all abortions, men who, instead of having healthy instincts in their body, have only heads full of disputatiousness and revenge for their wasted life, and mouths as their most important organ. It is the dregs of the great cities, the genuine mob, the underworld in every sense, which everywhere constitute the opposition to the great and noble world and unite in their hatred of it: political and literary Bohemia, wastrel nobility (Catiline and Philippe Égalité, Duke of Orleans), shipwrecked academicians, adventurers and speculators, criminals and prostitutes, loiterers, and the feeble-minded, mixed with a few pathetic enthusiasts for some abstract ideal. A mushy desire for revenge for some bad luck that has spoilt their lives, the absence of any instinct of honour and duty, and an unlimited thirst for money without work and for rights without responsibilities bring them together. It is from this befogged milieu that the heroes of the moment of all popular movements and Radical parties arise. Here the word "Liberty" takes on the bloody significance that it has in the declining ages. What is meant is: liberation from all the bonds of civilization, from every kind of form and custom, from all the people whose mode of life they feel in their dull fury to be superior. Pride and quietly borne poverty, silent fulfilment of duty, renunciation for the sake of a task or conviction, greatness in enduring one's fate, loyalty, honour, responsibility, achievement: all this is a constant reproach to the "humiliated and insulted."
The Cultural Capacity of Elected or Appointed Officials
In the period of emerging musicology, those who contributed to it did not earn their living by it. Carl von Winterfeld was a high court judge. Carl Hermann Bitter (1813-85) was Prussian Minister of Finance (1879-82), appointed by Bismarck. That a Minister of Finance would write books on Bach, on Bach's sons and other musical subject matters, might give pause for comparative reflection on the cultural capacity of today's elected or appointed officials.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Hymn Written in Time of Plague
The opening, middle and last movements of Cantata 140 are based on the hymn text and melody, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, by Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608).Listen to Bach's cantata 140 on YouTube.The hymn is a reversed acrostic, the initial letters of its three stanzas, W.Z.G., standing for "Graf zu Waldeck" (Count of Waldeck), Nicolai's former pupil, who died in 1598, aged fifteen.1 The Hymn probably was written in 1597, during the pestilence at Unna in Westphalia, where Nicolai then was a pastor.2While 1,300 of Unna's inhabitants succumbed to the epidemic, Nicolai, expecting death himself, recorded his meditations. Having miraculously survived, he appended to the finished manuscript the two hymns, with their tunes, that were to assure for him some measure of immortality. He published the whole work under the name Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens (Mirror of joy of the eternal life) the following year (1599) in Frankfurt am Main.3
The two hymns became famous almost overnight. The many editions of the Freudenspiegel, and the early uses of the hymns by composers such as Praetorius and Scheidt, testify to this.
The poem Wachet auf ... recalls the Minnesinger time of Wolfram von Eschenbach, particularly the Morning Song (Tageweise), in which the watchman on the battlement of the knight's castle breaks the quiet of the night with his horn's call, warning the lovers that dawn approaches and they must part. These Morning Songs were still printed as broadsheets in the 16th century, the century that saw their transformation into sacred watchmens' songs. The last of them is Nicolai's magnificent hymn, which has been called the "King of Chorales." The warning call to the lovers became the watchmen's call to Zion. Nicolai subtitled his hymn "Of the Voice at Midnight, and (of) the Wise Virgins, who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom, Matthew 25,"4 thus describing precisely the portion of the Gospel (Matthew 25:1-7) that he selected for his hymn: the expectation of the Bridegroom, the ecstatic joy at his coming, and the union with him. The Foolish Virgins do not appear in his hymn.
1. The initial stanzas of Nicolai's other great hymn, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, spell—in correct order—Wihelm Ernst Graf Und Herr Zu Waldeck (Wilhelm Ernst Count and Lord of Waldeck).
2, C.S. Terry, Bach's Chorals [sic], 3 vols., London, 1915-21, II, p. 405.
3. See facsimile reprint, Soest, 1963, p. 409 ff. and 412 f. Cf. also W.S. Kelynack, The Fourth Century of Philipp Nicolai, in The Choir, XLVII (1956), 136.
4. Cf. Ludwig Kurtze, D. Philipp Nicolai's Leben und Lieder (Nach den Quellen), Halle, 1859, p. 126 ff.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
hang their shadows over men's minds. This thing passes wit to discover,
what is best now and at the end for a man to attain.
ἀμφὶ δ᾿ ἀνθρώπων φρασὶν ἀμπλακίαι
ἀναρίθμητοι κρέμανται· τοῦτο δ᾿ ἀμάχανον εὑρεῖν,
ὅ τι νῦν ἐν καὶ τελευτᾷ φέρτατον ἀνδρὶ τυχεῖν.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Hold fast, I beseech you, to that which your ancestors have bequeathed you, as it were an heirloom.
hanc retinete, quaeso, quam vobis tamquam hereditatem maiores vestri reliquerunt!
The Great Bulwark of Liberty
This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property; and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to publick traitors.Id.:
Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them.
Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.
Coat of Arms
We may talk what we please of lilies, and lions rampant, and spread-eagles, in fields d'or or d'argent; but, if heraldry were guided by reason, a plough in a field arable, would be the most noble and ancient arms.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Prayer to Zeus
Graciously preserve their ancestral land
for their children still to come.
εὔφρων ἄρουραν ἔτι πατρίαν σφίσιν κόμισον
I’ve never wept over the death of a loved one; those ties, says my wife, are in my case too deep for tears. Nor do I weep in response to literature that moves me profoundly.
Yet I cry unexpectedly and involuntarily on seeing (on DVD) or hearing certain passages of classical music. And twice, curiously enough, I’ve wept piteously over the circumstances surrounding great verse.
Let me deal straightaway with the second instance, which occurred several years ago when an American friend from Oxford days, Charles Calhoun, urged me to go on Youtube and type in “George Steiner: ‘I summon up remembrance of things past.’” I urge the reader to do the same.
It takes a bit longer to describe the first occasion. I should begin by confessing that as one of nature’s chicken-hearted souls I shrink from facing new circumstances. So when my wife Jean, a baby daughter, and I arrived in Oxford in October of 1971, I found plenty to complain about, moaning repeatedly to my wife that we should have chosen Harvard for graduate work in ancient Greek history instead of Oxford.
We had come from Charlottesville, Virginia, where a spring bout with thyroid cancer forced me to postpone finishing several UVa assignments until our arrival in Oxford. One of them was to trace the evolution of a single choral passage in a Sophoclean play from its Renaissance form to the present. I chose a passage from my favorite, Oedipus at Colonus.
A glance at the 1502 Florentine edition of Sophocles by Aldus Manutius reveals that the choral passages suffered far more than did the remainder of the text in the long transmission from their ancient form to the present. Choruses in the 1502 Aldine text are often an incoherent mess, worlds removed from the polished eloquence of the Sophoclean choruses one reads today. Has any scholarly achievement of the past half-millennium been more neglected than the labors of those who devoted their lives to editing and thus improving these texts? Who outside the circle of classical scholars recognizes names such as Scaliger, Causabon, Bentley, Hermann, Elmsley, or Jebb? Consider the formidable array of tools required for the task — an intimacy with the ancient author’s entire corpus and its manuscript history, an exquisite knowledge of tragic meter, and a first-rate poetic imagination.
Fortunately most of the important printed editions of Oedipus at Colonus since the Renaissance were readily available on the open shelves of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. But a crucial one was missing — a late 18th century edition by a German scholar, R.F.P. Brunck. This, I discovered, was among the Bodleian’s rare book holdings in the surpassingly beautiful reading room known as Duke Humfrey’s Library.
So I filled out a request to have the book fetched and handed it to a librarian, the first in a series of a distinct breed of Oxford lady librarians I encountered over the next six years — middle-aged, tall, pert, razor-thin, with a cultivated accent spoken rapidly in a high pitch that warbled tunefully in its uppermost register.
A week passed. No Brunck. How differently things would have been managed at Harvard, I mused to myself. Up I went to complain to that same librarian, whose tart response made one thing clear: My efforts to come across as a well-mannered southern gentleman had failed; she now viewed me as simply another querulous American.
Several days into the second week the same librarian appeared at my chair in the reading room, silently plopping down a small volume in wretched condition. It looked as if someone, reading in the bath, had let it drop into the water. My first thought was characteristically invidious: “I’ll wager that the Widener Library’s copy at Harvard wouldn’t be in such sad shape.”
Then I opened to the frontispiece and read, “This book was found on the body of Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822) when it floated ashore on the coast of Italy.”
I began weeping. I couldn’t stop! After a few minutes I rose and made my way to the men’s room to wash away the tears. Upon returning, I hurriedly copied out the relevant choral passage and, gingerly picking it up, carried the book back to the librarian at her desk. “Ah, finished so quickly, are we?” she said archly as she took it from my hand. Then she looked up, saw my reddened eyes, and asked, ever so gently and softly, “Would you like me to hold it for you till later?”
Related post: Shelley's Aeschylus.
The Kusunda are a little-known group of hunter-gatherers who may help us understand the pre-Hindu civilization in India. This tiny people somehow managed to hold onto their distinctiveness in the remote jungles of Nepal: their language is unrelated to any other. First mentioned in 1848, when a British envoy wrote that "amid the dense forests . . . dwell, in scanty numbers . . . two broken tribes having no apparent affinity with the civilized races . . . and seeming like fragments of an earlier population," by the late twentieth century the language was being declared extinct, disappearing almost without record. But Nepalese officials recently intensified efforts to locate speakers. In 2000 they discovered a man who could remember some of his parents' speech, and in 2004 they found a couple more Kusunda and brought them to Kathmandu to give them citizenship papers. One, Kamala (center) is only 30, and still speaks the language with her monolingual mother, who was too old to make the journey to Kathmandu. Her 60-something cousin Gyani Maiya (left) is also fluent, although she had not used the language for 20 years; the two knew of one another but had not met until both came out to Kathmandu. And these speakers know of a couple more, six days' walk into the jungles. Yogendra Prasad Yadav, David Watters, and Madhav Prasad Pokhrei have now been able to record and analyze a good part of the language. Amazingly for hunter-gatherers, this language has native words for domestic animals (horse, cow, sheep, goat, chicken), for 15 different castes of tribal groups, for king, police, gold, and money. All these words are completely unrelated to those found in other languages of the region. This suggests that the Kusunda, against first expectations, have not always been hunter-gatherers, but were once the bearers of a much more sophisticated civilization, predating the Indo-Aryans of Vedic times, from which they had to retreat into a marginalized hunter-gathering existence once more powerful groups encroached.
As Professor Katz has again pointed out to me, the reverse of Odysseus' obsession with recognition of his foot lurks behind a witticism in an anecdote about the classicist Maurice Bowra, recently retold by Bevis Hillier of his autobiography (Spectator, 17 December 2005). 'He liked to sun himself at Parsons' Pleasure, the (since abolished) nude bathing place for men on the river Cherwell. The story was much told of how, when an illicit punt-load of women floated past, all the other men covered their genitals, but Bowra threw a towel over his face with the words, "I don't know about you chaps, but I am known in the streets of Oxford by my face".'Tom Stoppard in Conversation, ed. Paul Delaney (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 151:
GOLLOB: Let's plunge in ... with a bathing anecdote. This is an apocryphal anecdote about A.J. Ayer going swimming with some other philosophy dons at a men only bathing area on the Cherwell. They are frolicking around starkers when all of a sudden these girls go by in a punt. All reach for their towels in a mad rush to cover their private parts except for Ayer who covers his head. Do you know the story?Hat tip: Kevin Muse.
STOPPARD: Yes, and the story is a lot older than Freddy Ayer.
GOLLOB: Is it?
STOPPARD: Yes, I mean I suppose it may have happened to somebody sometime but I'm not even sure that it did. It's a story told about Oxford dons, sometimes about a particular one and it's usually set in a sort of Edwardian England when I suppose naked men were even more shocking, but let's assume it happened to Freddy as well...
Reading the Encyclopedia
The library contained little other than the major French and German classics. […] A lean universe. But for me the Larousse Encyclopedia took the place of everything: I would pick a volume at random, behind the desk, on the next-to-last shelf, A-Bello, Belloc-Ch or Ci-D, Mele-Po or Pr-Z (these associations of syllables had become proper names which designated sectors of universal knowledge: there was the Ci-D region, the Pr-Z region, with their flora and fauna, cities, great men, and battles); I would set it down laboriously on my grand-father's blotter, I would open it. There I would take real birds from their nests, would chase real butterflies that alighted on real flowers. Men and animals were there in person: the engravings were their bodies, the texts were their souls, their individual essence. Beyond the walls, one encountered rough sketches which more or less approximated the archetypes without achieving their perfection: the monkeys in the zoo were less monkey, the men in the Luxembourg Gardens were less man. In Platonic fashion, I went from knowledge to its subject. I found more reality in the idea than in the thing because it was given to me first and because it was given as a thing. It was in books that I encountered the universe: assimilated, classified, labeled, pondered, still formidable; and I confused the disorder of my bookish experiences with the random course of real events. From that came the idealism which it took me thirty years to shake off.Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
La bibliothèque ne comprenait guère que les grands classiques de France et d'Allemagne. […] Maigre univers. Mais le Grand Larousse me tenait lieu de tout: j'en prenais un tome au hasard, derrière le bureau, sur l'avant-dernier rayon, A-Bello, Belloc-Ch ou Ci-D, Mele-Po ou Pr-Z (ces associations de syllabes étaient devenues des noms propres qui désignaient les secteurs du savoir universel: il y avait la région Ci-D, la région Pr-Z, avec leur faune et leur flore, leurs villes, leurs grands hommes et leurs batailles); je le déposais péniblement sur le sous-main de mon grand-père, je l'ouvrais, j'y dénichais les vrais oiseaux, j'y faisais la chasse aux vrais papillons posés sur de vraies fleurs. Hommes et bêtes étaient là, en personne: les gravures, c'étaient leurs corps, le texte, c'était leur âme, leur essence singulière; hors les murs, on rencontrait de vagues ébauches qui s'approchaient plus ou moins des archétypes sans atteindre à leur perfection: au Jardin d'Acclimatation, les singes étaient moins singes, au Jardin du Luxembourg, les hommes étaient moins hommes. Platonicien par état, j'allais du savoir à son objet; je trouvais à l'idée plus de réalité qu'à la chose, parce qu'elle se donnait à moi d'abord et parce qu'elle se donnait comme une chose. C'est dans les livres que j'ai rencontré l'univers: assimilé, classé, étiqueté, pensé, redoutable encore; et j'ai confondu le désordre de mes expériences livresques avec le cours hasardeux des événements réels. De là vint cet idéalisme dont j'ai mis trente ans à me défaire.
Related post: The Book of Books.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
It may initially be hard to believe, but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age. Southern Britain, in the years before the Roman conquest of AD 43, was importing quantities of Gaulish wine and Gaulish pottery; it had its own native pottery industries with regional distribution of their wares; it even had native silver coinages, which may well have been used to facilitate exchange, as well as for purposes of prestige and gift-giving. The settlement pattern of later iron-age Britain also reflects emerging economic complexity, with substantial coastal settlements, like Hengistbury in modern Hampshire, which were at least partly dependent on trade. None of these features can be found reliably in fifth- and sixth-century post-Roman Britain. It is really only in about AD 700, three centuries after the disintegration of the Romano-British economy, that southern Britain crawled back to the level of economic complexity found in the pre-Roman Iron Age, with evidence of pots imported from the Continent, the first substantial and wheel-turned Anglo-Saxon pottery industry (at Ipswich), the striking of silver coins, and the emergence of coastal trading towns, such as Hamwic (Saxon Southampton) and London. All these features were new, or only just beginning, in around AD 700; but all had existed in southern Britain during the pre-Roman Iron Age.
One aspect of the book was seriously off-putting to this reader, but may be less so for others: the flippant lecture-platform style. Many pages read as if they were taken from the lectures at Oxford on ancient history by Colonel Blimp's great-grandson addressing the grandchildren of Bertie Wooster. I recognize that tastes will differ, and so what is incurably vulgar to me may be witty to others, but I think that borrowing an analytical style from the language of television commentators has a more pernicious effect. When he says, for example (p. 230), "Augustine's immediate answer [to critics of Christianity worried by the sack of Rome in 410] was of the straightforward yah-boo-sucks variety", my taste is repelled, but my intellect regards the description of books 1-3 of City of God, a sophisticated reincarnation of Cicero with sly effect, as simply wrong. So too (p. 263), his words "For one thing, the Visigothic supergroup settled so recently in Aquitaine got uppity again, aspiring to a more grandiose role in the running of the Empire than the peace of 418 had allowed them" left me in the end baffled at just what event or events this referred to, while observing that "uppity" certainly makes it clear whose side Heather is on. (The regular use of "supergroup" for the Visigoths and others left this reader of mature years distractedly thinking with pleasure of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker more often than absolutely necessary.) Le mot injuste comes easily in such a style, leading to this ludicrous mischaracterization of Constantine Porphyrogenitus: 305, "He [Constantine Porphyrogenitus] conceived a maniacal project to preserve classical learning . . . ."I had a similar reaction to the slang and pop-culture references in a recent book with scholarly pretensions, viz., Brian C. Muraresku, The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2020):
Suddenly Praetextatus pops into my mind. Why did he schlep here, all the way from his lavish home in Rome? (p. 79)
He schlepped all over the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas, tracking down eyewitness accounts of spiritual gurus whose physical bodies were said to shrink or disappear after death, often transforming into radiant displays of multicolored light. (p. 173)
If you ever wondered why Jesus was the only Jewish man of first-century Galilee to get the Jim Morrison look, this is why. (p. 223)
Like some corporate gimmick by Amazon Prime, the Son of God from Nazareth had just made it perfectly respectable to order the Drug of Immortality straight to your front door. (p. 248)
Whoever he is, he's definitely rocking the long-haired Jesus look. (p. 269)
On their trip from Velia to Rome, some ideal pit stops appear on the map for the Campanian priestesses. (p. 324)
The Book of Books
India paper and photography have rendered possible the inclusion in a portable library of what in my opinion is the best traveller's book of all—a volume (any one of the thirty-two will do) of the twelfth, half-size edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It takes up very little room (eight and a half inches by six and a half by one is not excessive), it contains about a thousand pages and an almost countless number of curious and improbable facts. It can be dipped into anywhere, its component chapters are complete in themselves and not too long. For the traveller, disposing as he does only of brief half-hours, it is the perfect book, the more so, since I take it that, being a born traveller, he is likely also to be one of those desultory and self-indulgent readers to whom the Encyclopaedia, when not used for some practical purpose, must specially appeal. I never pass a day away from home without taking a volume with me. It is the book of books. Turning over its pages, rummaging among the stores of fantastically varied facts which the hazards of alphabetical arrangement bring together, I wallow in my mental vice. A stray volume of the Encyclopaedia is like the mind of a learned madman—stored with correct ideas, between which, however, there is no other connection than the fact that there is a B in both; from orach, or mountain spinach, one passes directly to oracles. That one does not oneself go mad, or become, in the process of reading the Encyclopaedia, a mine of useless and unrelated knowledge is due to the fact that one forgets. The mind has a vast capacity for oblivion. Providentially; otherwise, in the chaos of futile memories, it would be impossible to remember anything useful or coherent. In practice, we work with generalizations, abstracted out of the turmoil of realities. If we remembered everything perfectly, we should never be able to generalize at all; for there would appear before our minds nothing but individual images, precise and different. Without ignorance we could not generalize. Let us thank Heaven for our powers of forgetting. With regard to the Encyclopaedia, they are enormous. The mind only remembers that of which it has some need. Five minutes after reading about mountain spinach, the ordinary man, who is neither a botanist nor a cook, has forgotten all about it. Read for amusement, the Encyclopaedia serves only to distract for the moment; it does not instruct, it deposits nothing on the surface of the mind that will remain. It is a mere time-killer and momentary tickler of the mind. I use it only for amusement on my travels; I should be ashamed to indulge so wantonly in mere curiosity at home, during seasons of serious business.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Die Gedanken Sind Frei
Our thoughts and opinions are our own. We may say justly to any one, You shall not make me profess to think true what I believe to be false; you shall not make me do what I do not think just: but there our natural liberty ends. Others have as good a right to their opinion as we have to ours. To any one who holds what are called advanced views on serious subjects, I recommend a long suffering reticence and the reflection that, after all, he may possibly be wrong. Whether we are Radicals or Conservatives we require to be often reminded that truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, are no creatures of our own belief. We cannot make true things false, or false things true, by choosing to think them so. We cannot vote right into wrong or wrong into right. The eternal truths and rights of things exist, fortunately, independent of our thoughts or wishes, fixed as mathematics, inherent in the nature of man and the world. They are no more to be trifled with than gravitation. If we discover and obey them, it is well with us; but that is all we can do.
Clearly better to say nothing.
δηλαδὴ σιγᾶν ἄμεινον.