Wednesday, August 05, 2020


Making a Summary

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books F.1222 (tr. Steven Tester):
One rule in reading is to condense the intention and main thoughts of the author into a few words and in this way to make them one's own. Whoever reads in this way is occupied and gains something. When one reads without comparison with one's own inventory of knowledge or without synthesizing it with one's own system of thought, the mind gains nothing and loses much.

Eine Regel beim Lesen ist die Absicht des Verfassers, und den Hauptgedanken sich auf wenig Worte zu bringen und sich unter dieser Gestalt eigen zu machen. Wer so liest ist beschäftigt, und gewinnt, es gibt eine Art von Lektüre wobei der Geist gar nichts gewinnt, und viel mehr verliert, es ist das Lesen ohne Vergleichung mit seinem eigenen Vorrat und ohne Vereinigung mit seinem Meinungs-System.


The Greeks

John Stuart Mill, "Early Grecian History and Legend," Dissertations and Discussions: Political, Philosophical, and Historical, Vol. II (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1882), pp. 363-415 (at 363-365):
The interest of Grecian history is unexhausted and inexhaustible. As a mere story, hardly any other portion of authentic history can compete with it. Its characters, its situations, the very march of its incidents, are epic. It is a heroic poem, of which the personages are peoples. It is also, of all histories of which we know so much, the most abounding in consequences to us who now live. The true ancestors of the European nations (it has been well said) are not those from whose blood they are sprung, but those from whom they derive the richest portion of their inheritance. The battle of Marathon, even as an event in English history, is more important than the battle of Hastings. If the issue of that day had been different, the Britons and the Saxons might still have been wandering in the woods.

The Greeks are also the most remarkable people who have yet existed; not, indeed, if by this be meant those who have approached nearest (if such an expression may be used where all are at so immeasurable a distance) to the perfection of social arrangements or of human character. Their institutions, their way of life, even that which is their greatest distinction, the cast of their sentiments, and development of their faculties, were radically inferior to the best (we wish it could be said to the collective) products of modern civilization. It is not the results achieved, but the powers and efforts required to make the achievement, that measure their greatness as a people. They were the beginners of nearly every thing, Christianity excepted, of which the modern world makes its boast. If, in several things, they were but few removes from harbarism, they alone among nations, so far as is known to us, emerged from barbarism by their own efforts, not following in the track of any more advanced people. If with them, as in all antiquity, slavery existed as an institution, they were not the less the originators of political freedom, and the grand exemplars and sources of it to modern Europe. If their discords, jealousies, and wars between city and city, caused the ruin of their national independence, yet the arts of war and government evolved in those intestine contests made them the first who united great empires under civilized rule; the first who broke down those barriers of petty nationality, which had been so fatal to themselves; and, by making Greek ideas and language common to large regions of the earth, commenced that general fusion of races and nations, which, followed up by the Romans, prepared the way for the cosmopolitism of modern times.

They were the first people who had a historical literature; as perfect of its kind (though not the highest kind) as their oratory, their poetry, their sculpture, and their architecture. They were the founders of mathematics; of physics; of the inductive study of polities, so early exemplified in Aristotle; of the philosophy of human nature and life. In each they made the indispensable first steps, which are the foundation of all the rest,—steps such as could only have been made by minds intrinsically capable of every thing which has since been accomplished. With a religious creed eminently unfavorable to speculation, because affording a ready supernatural solution of all natural phenomena, they yet originated freedom of thought. They, the first, questioned nature and the universe by their rational faculties, and brought forth answers not suggested by any established system of priestcraft; and their free and bold spirit of speculation it was, which, surviving in its results, broke the yoke of another inthralling system of popular religion, sixteen hundred years after they had ceased to exist as a people. These things were effected in two centuries of national existence: twenty and upwards have since elapsed; and it is sad to think how little, comparatively, has been accomplished.


Effects of a Diet of Raw Vegetables

Apuleius, Metamorphoses 4.1 (tr. E.J. Kenney):
However, just behind the stable I saw a kitchen-garden, and this, as I was now perishing with hunger, I boldly invaded. Having stuffed myself with vegetables, raw as they were, I invoked the whole company of heaven and began to prospect the surrounding area to see if I could find roses in bloom anywhere in the neighbouring gardens.

sed plane pone stabulum prospectum hortulum iam fame perditus fidenter invado et quamvis crudis holeribus, affatim tamen ventrem sagino deosque comprecatus omnes cuncta prospectabam loca, sicubi forte conterminis in hortulis candens repperirem rosarium.
Id., 4.3:
However, the villagers, having with some difficulty restrained their dogs, seized me and tied me to a ring with a stout rope; and would undoubtedly have finished me off with the beating which they proceeded to inflict, had not my belly, stuffed as it was with raw vegetables and so in a highly liquid state, contracted under the pain of the blows and shot out a jet of dung at them. Showered with this noisome fluid and repelled by the stench, my tormentors were driven off.

at illi canibus iam aegre cohibitis adreptum me loro quam valido ad ansulam quandam destinatum rursum caedendo confecissent profecto, nisi dolore plagarum alvus artata crudisque illis oleribus abundans et lubrico fluxu saucia, fimo fistulatim excusso quosdam extremi liquoris aspergine, alios putore nidoris faetidi a meis iam quassis scapulis abegisset.
My brother tells me that a diet of rabbit meat has a similar effect:
When I worked at St. Johnsbury Trucking Co. there was a fellow employee, [name withheld]. He and his wife raised rabbits and that's about all they ate for protein. It was not uncommon for him to shit his pants before he could make it to the bathroom, which was a bit of a hike from our office. I believe he always kept a change of clothing in his vehicle.
Cf. Susan A. Stephens and John J. Winkler, edd., Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Commentary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), p. 323 (on Lollianos' Phoinikia):
There may also be a scatological parallel: the episode of the ass distracting his attackers by spattering them with noxious feces (Apuleius 4.3.10) shows linguistic similarities with Androtimos's complaint that he is overwhelmed by the smell of belching and flatulence (B.1 verso 10-11)...
Id., pp. 340-341:

Id., p. 352:
After the sacrifice, there is a meal in which the bandits, at least, partake. At this point, Androtimos publicly complains about the belching and flatulence, and attributes it to a failure to cook the food properly.


Tuesday, August 04, 2020


A Voyage of Discovery

Winston S. Churchill, Thoughts and Adventures (London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1932), pp. 300-301:
'What shall I do with all my books?' was the question; and the answer, 'Read them,' sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.

It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young. A man once told me that he had read all the books that mattered. Cross-questioned, he appeared to have read a great many, but they seemed to have made only a slight impression. How many had he understood? How many had entered into his mental composition? How many had been hammered on the anvils of his mind and afterwards ranged in an armoury of bright weapons ready to hand?

It is a great pity to read a book too soon in life. The first impression is the one that counts; and if it is a slight one, it may be all that can be hoped for. A later and second perusal may recoil from a surface already hardened by premature contact. Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well.

Since change is an essential element in diversion of all kinds, it is naturally more restful and refreshing to read in a different language from that in which one's ordinary daily work is done. To have a second language at your disposal, even if you only know it enough to read it with pleasure, is a sensible advantage. Our educationists are too often anxious to teach children so many different languages that they never get far enough in any one to derive any use or enjoyment from their study. The boy learns enough Latin to detest it; enough Greek to pass an examination; enough French to get from Calais to Paris; enough German to exhibit a diploma; enough Spanish or Italian to tell which is which; but not enough of any to secure the enormous boon of access to a second literature.

Choose well, choose wisely, and choose one. Concentrate upon that one. Do not be content until you find yourself reading in it with real enjoyment. The process of reading for pleasure in another language rests the mental muscles; it enlivens the mind by a different sequence and emphasis of ideas. The mere form of speech excites the activity of separate brain-cells, relieving in the most effective manner the fatigue of those in hackneyed use. One may imagine that a man who blew the trumpet for his living would be glad to play the violin for his amusement. So it is with reading in another language than your own.



Euripides, Medea 119-130 (tr. Moses Hadas and John McLean):
The souls of royalty are vindictive; they do not easily forget their resentment, possibly because being used to command they are seldom checked. It is better to be used to living among equals. For myself, at any rate, I ask not greatness but a safe old age. Moderation! Firstly, the very name of it is excellent; to practise it is easily the best thing for mortals. Excess avails to no good purpose for men, and if the gods are provoked, brings greater ruin on a house.

δεινὰ τυράννων λήματα καί πως
ὀλίγ᾿ ἀρχόμενοι, πολλὰ κρατοῦντες        120
χαλεπῶς ὀργὰς μεταβάλλουσιν.
τὸ γὰρ εἰθίσθαι ζῆν ἐπ᾿ ἴσοισιν
κρεῖσσον· ἐμοὶ γοῦν ἐπὶ μὴ μεγάλοις
ὀχυρῶς τ᾿ εἴη καταγηράσκειν.
τῶν γὰρ μετρίων πρῶτα μὲν εἰπεῖν        125
τοὔνομα νικᾷ, χρῆσθαί τε μακρῷ
λῷστα βροτοῖσιν· τὰ δ᾿ ὑπερβάλλοντ᾿
οὐδένα καιρὸν δύναται θνητοῖς,
μείζους δ᾿ ἄτας, ὅταν ὀργισθῇ
δαίμων οἴκοις, ἀπέδωκεν.        130

123 ἐπὶ μὴ μεγάλοις Barthold: εἰ μὴ μεγάλως codd.
124 τ᾿ codd.: γ᾿ Reiske
130 οἴκοις codd.: ὄγκοις Jacobs
Denys L. Page ad loc.:


A Beaker Full

John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale," lines 11-20:
O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
    Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
    Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
        With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
            And purple-stainèd mouth;
    That I might drink and leave the world unseen,
        And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

Monday, August 03, 2020


Extravagant Legends

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XVI:
But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe. The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion.179 Such an acknowledgment will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fundamental laws of history has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his contemporaries.

179 Such is the fair deduction from two remarkable passages in Eusebius, [H.E.] l. viii. c. 2, and de Martyr. Palestin. c. 12. The prudence of the historian has exposed his own character to censure and suspicion. It was well known that he himself had been thrown into prison; and it was suggested that he had purchased his deliverance by some dishonorable compliance. The reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his presence, at the council of Tyre. See Tillemont, Mémoires Ecclésiastiques, tom. viii. part i. p. 67.
After the church had triumphed over all her enemies, the interest as well as vanity of the captives prompted them to magnify the merit of their respective suffering. A convenient distance of time or place gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction; and the frequent instances which might be alleged of holy martyrs, whose wounds had been instantly healed, whose strength had been renewed, and whose lost members had miraculously been restored, were extremely convenient for the purpose of removing every difficulty and of silencing every objection. The most extravagant legends, as they conduced to the honour of the church, were applauded by the credulous multitude, countenanced by the power of the clergy, and attested by the suspicious evidence of ecclesiastical history.
We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy truth which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind; that even admitting, without hesitation or inquiry, all that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknowledged that the Christians, in the course of their intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other than they had experienced from the zeal of infidels.


Eyes of Faith

Euripides, Bacchae 501-502 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Why, where is he? To my eyes he is invisible.
He is by my side; thou art a godless man and therefore dost not see him.

καὶ ποῦ ᾽στιν; οὐ γὰρ φανερὸς ὄμμασίν γ᾽ ἐμοῖς.
παρ᾽ ἐμοί· σὺ δ᾽ ἀσεβὴς αὐτὸς ὢν οὐκ εἰσορᾷς.
E.R. Dodds ad loc.:
Vision demands not only an objective condition—the god's presence—but a subjective one—the percipient must himself be in a state of grace.
Valdis Leinieks, The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides' Bakchai (Stuttgart: Β.G. Teubner, 1996), pp. 251-252 (footnote omitted):
Although Dionysos is standing in front of him, Pentheus is not able to observe him. Ability to observe requires respect for that which is observed. Pentheus, however, has no respect for anyone or anything. He respects only himself. Hence he is able to observe only what corresponds to his already established perceptions and perceive only what corresponds to his expectations. His expectations, in turn, are based on already established perceptions. Since according to Pentheus' established perception Dionysos does not exist, he is not able to observe him.

Sunday, August 02, 2020



Sculpture by Samuel P. Dinsmoor in the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas (click to enlarge):

Samuel P. Dinsmoor, quoted in Jennie A. Chin, "The 'Second Adam' and His Garden," in Daniel Franklin Ward, ed., Personal Places: Perspectives on Informal Art Environments (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State Uiversity Popular Press, 1984), pp. 83-97 (at p. 91, with note on p. 97):
I believe Labor has been crucified between a thousand grafters ever since Labor begun, but I could not put them all up, so I have put up the leaders—Lawyer, Doctor, Preacher and Banker. I do not say they are all grafters, but I do say they are the leaders of all who eat cake by the sweat of the other fellow's face.27

27 Dinsmoor, Pictorial History [of the Cabin Home in the Garden of Eden (Lucas: By the Author, 1927)], p. 47.
Hat tip: Jim K.


The Reverend Melchisedech Howler

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son, Chapter XV:
Mrs. MacStinger resorted to a great distance every Sunday morning, to attend the ministry of the Reverend Melchisedech Howler, who, having been one day discharged from the West India Docks on a false suspicion (got up expressly against him by the general enemy) of screwing gimlets into puncheons, and applying his lips to the orifice, had announced the destruction of the world for that day two years, at ten in the morning, and opened a front parlour for the reception of ladies and gentlemen of the Ranting persuasion, upon whom, on the first occasion of their assemblage, the admonitions of the Reverend Melchisedech had produced so powerful an effect, that, in their rapturous performance of a sacred jig, which closed the service, the whole flock broke through into a kitchen below, and disabled a mangle belonging to one of the fold.
A puncheon is a wine cask, and a mangle is a "machine for squeezing water from and pressing linen, clothing, etc., after washing" (Oxford English Dictionary).

Friday, July 31, 2020


Goodbye to Google

My friend and fellow blogger Andrew Rickard jumped ship.

I may soon follow.


The Gates Are Open

Nahum 3:13 (NIV):
Look at your troops — they are all weaklings. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has consumed the bars of your gates.


The Detritus of Alien Ideas

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books B.264 (tr. Steven Tester):
In our premature and often all too extensive reading, by which we acquire numerous materials without constructing anything from them and which accustoms our memory to keep house for sensibility and taste, a profound philosophy is often required to restore to our feelings their initial state of innocence: to extricate one's self from the detritus of alien ideas, to begin to feel for oneself, to speak for oneself, and, I might almost say, to exist for oneself.

Bei unsrem frühzeitigen und oft gar zu häufigen Lesen, wodurch wir so viele Materialien erhalten ohne sie zu verbauen, wodurch unser Gedächtnis gewöhnt wird die Haushaltung für Empfindung und Geschmack zu führen, da bedarf es oft einer tiefen Philosophie unserm Gefühl den ersten Stand der Unschuld wiederzugeben, sich aus dem Schutt fremder Dinge herauszufinden, selbst anfangen zu fühlen, und selbst zu sprechen und ich mögte fast sagen auch einmal selbst zu existieren.


The Example of Our Ancestors

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Reflections on the Revolution in France, in his Works, Vol. IV (London: Francis & John Rivington, 1852), pp. 354-355:
Our people will find employment enough for a truly patriotic, free, and independent spirit, in guarding what they possess from violation. I would not exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building. A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity, were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct. Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He that had made them thus fallible, rewarded them for having in their conduct attended to their nature. Let us imitate their caution, if we wish to deserve their fortune, or to retain their bequests.


Battle Cry

Douglas Brinkley, "Introduction" to Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (New York: Perennial Classics, 2000), pp. xv-xxiv (at xx):
Their battle cry is "Keep it like it was."
"Keep it like it was" occurs in Chapters 2 (p. 20) and 6 (p. 82).

Thursday, July 30, 2020


Disaster and Disgrace

[Euripides,] Rhesus 756-761 (tr. David Kovacs):
Disaster has struck, and over and above disaster disgrace: that makes disaster twice as bad. To die gloriously, if die one must, though it is of course painful for him who dies, is a source of magnificence for the survivors and a glory to their houses. But we perished foolishly and ingloriously.

κακῶς πέπρακται κἀπὶ τοῖς κακοῖσι πρὸς
αἴσχιστα· καίτοι δὶς τόσον κακὸν τόδε·
θανεῖν γὰρ εὐκλεῶς μέν, εἰ θανεῖν χρεών,
λυπρὸν μὲν οἶμαι τῷ θανόντι—πῶς γὰρ οὔ;—
τοῖς ζῶσι δ᾿ ὄγκος καὶ δόμων εὐδοξία.        760
ἡμεῖς δ᾿ ἀβούλως κἀκλεῶς ὀλώλαμεν.
The same, tr. Richmond Lattimore:
There has been wickedness done here. More than wickedness:
shame too, which makes the evil double its own bulk.
To die with glory, if one has to die at all,
is still, I think, pain for the dier, surely so,
yet grandeur left for his survivors, honor for his house.
But death to us came senseless and inglorious.



Berthold L. Ullman, "The Ph.D. Degree in the Classics," Classical Journal 41.8 (May, 1946) 363-366 (at 366):
I know of no easier way to elicit a laugh than to cite the names of a few doctoral dissertations.


Church Fathers

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ § 59 (tr. Judith Norman):
Just read any Christian agitator, Saint Augustine, for example, and you will realize, you will smell the sort of unclean people this brought to the top. You would be lying to yourself if you thought that the leaders of the Christian movement were lacking in intelligence: — oh, they are shrewd, shrewd to the point of holiness, these dear Mr Church Fathers! What they lack is something entirely different. Nature neglected them, — it forgot to give them a modest dowry of respectable, decent, cleanly instincts ... Just between us, they are not even men.

Man lese nur irgend einen christlichen Agitator, den heiligen Augustin zum Beispiel, um zu begreifen, um zu riechen, was für unsaubere Gesellen damit obenauf gekommen sind. Man würde sich ganz und gar betrügen, wenn man irgendwelchen Mangel an Verstand bei den Führern der christlichen Bewegung voraussetzte: — oh sie sind klug, klug bis zur Heiligkeit, diese Herrn Kirchenväter! Was ihnen abgeht, ist etwas ganz Anderes. Die Natur hat sie vernachlässigt, — sie vergass, ihnen eine bescheidne Mitgift von achtbaren, von anständigen, von reinlichen Instinkten mitzugeben ... Unter uns, es sind nicht einmal Männer.



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books A.137 (tr. Steven Tester):
Growing wiser means becoming increasingly acquainted with the errors to which our instrument of feeling and judging may be subject. Today, cautiousness in judgment is to be recommended to each and every one.

Weiser werden heißt immer mehr und mehr die Fehler kennen lernen, denen dieses Instrument, womit wir empfinden und urteilen, unterworfen sein kann. Vorsichtigkeit im Urteilen ist was heutzutage allen und jeden zu empfehlen ist.


A Translation From the French

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils, tr. David Magarshack (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 66:
'Isn't that a translation from the French?' he laughed, tapping the book with his fingers.

'No, that's not a translation from the French!' Liputin cried spitefully, jumping up from his chair. 'That's a translation from the universal language of mankind, and not only from the French! From the language of the universal social republic and universal harmony — that's what it is, sir! And not only from the French!'

'Dear me,' Nicholas went on, laughing; 'but there isn't such a language, is there?'

Wednesday, July 29, 2020



Euripides, Bacchae 480 (my translation):
To an uneducated man someone speaking wisely will seem to be thinking foolishly.

δόξει τις ἀμαθεῖ σοφὰ λέγων οὐκ εὖ φρονεῖν.


The Cream of the Crop

James Hankins, "Cultural Revolution in the Renaissance?" Quillette (July 29, 2020):
I remember some years ago, well-launched into the introductory lecture of my course on Renaissance Florence, being stopped by a student in the first row, vigorously waving her hand. "Please, professor, I'm trying to remember: which comes first, the Renaissance or the Enlightenment?" This from a Harvard undergraduate, supposedly the cream of America's high school crop.


A Scholar

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils, tr. David Magarshack (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), p. 23:
And yet he was undoubtedly a highly intelligent and talented man, a man who was, as it were, even a scholar, though so far as his scholarship was concerned ... well, he did not really make any important contribution to scholarship, indeed none at all, I believe.


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