Saturday, March 28, 2020


The Safety of the Fatherland

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Discourses on Livy 3.41 (tr. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov):
[T]he fatherland is well defended in whatever mode one defends it, whether with ignominy or with glory....That advice deserves to be noted and observed by any citizen who finds himself counseling his fatherland, for where one deliberates entirely on the safety of his fatherland, there ought not to enter any consideration of either just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or ignominious; indeed every other concern put aside, one ought to follow entirely the policy that saves its life and maintains its liberty.

[L]a patria è bene difesa in qualunque modo la si difende, o con ignominia o con gloria....La quale cosa merita di essere notata ed osservata da qualunque cittadino si truova a consigliare la patria sua: perché dove si dilibera al tutto della salute della patria, non vi debbe cadere alcuna considerazione né di giusto né d'ingiusto, né di piatoso né di crudele, né di laudabile né d'ignominioso; anzi, posposto ogni altro rispetto, seguire al tutto quel partito che le salvi la vita e mantenghile la libertà.



Heraclitus, fragment 53 Diels-Kranz (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
War is the father of all and the king of all;
some he has marked out to be gods and some to be men,
some he has made slaves and some free.

πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς,
καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους,
τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους.

Friday, March 27, 2020


Obstacles to Truth

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books E.195 (tr. Norman Alliston):
Truth has a thousand obstacles to overcome in order to reach paper safe and sound, and a thousand more to travel back from paper to head. Liars are its feeblest enemies. The gushing writer who talks of everything under the sun, and views that everything like other honest people who happen to be slightly off their heads; the superfine, affected student of human nature, who, like angels in a monad, sees and intends to see his whole life reflected in every human action; the worthy, pious man, who believes everything out of respect, examines nothing that he learnt before his fifteenth year, and builds on unexamined ground the little that he has examined,—these are truth's dangerous enemies.

Die Wahrheit hat tausend Hindernisse zu überwinden, um unbeschädigt zu Papier zu kommen, und von Papier wieder zu Kopf. Die Lügner sind ihre schwächsten Feinde. Der enthusiastische Schriftsteller, der von allen Dingen spricht und alle Dinge ansieht, wie andere ehrliche Leute, wenn sie einen Hieb haben, ferner der superfeine erkünstelte Menschenkenner, der in jeder Handlung eines Mannes, wie Engel in einer Monade, sein ganzes Leben sich abspiegeln sieht, und sehen will, der gute fromme Mann, der überall aus Respekt glaubt, nichts untersucht, was er vor dem 15. Jahr gelernt hat, und sein bißgen Untersuchtes auf [un]untersuchten Grund baut, dieses sind Feinde der Wahrheit.


Castles In the Air

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), "The Counter-Enlightenment," Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: The Viking Press, 1980), pp. 1-24 (at 8):
Hamann took little interest in theories or speculations about the external world; he cared only for the inner personal life of the individual, and therefore only for art, religious experience, the senses, personal relationships, which the analytic truths of scientific reason seemed to him to reduce to meaningless ciphers. 'God is a poet, not a mathematician', and it is men who, like Kant, suffer from a 'gnostic hatred of matter' that provide us with endless verbal constructions — words that are taken for concepts, and worse still, concepts that are taken for real things. Scientists invent systems, philosophers rearrange reality into artificial patterns, shut their eyes to reality, and build castles in the air. 'When data are given you, why do you seek for ficta?' Systems are mere prisons of the spirit, and they lead not only to distortion in the sphere of knowledge, but to the erection of monstrous bureaucratic machines, built in accordance with the rules that ignore the teeming variety of the living world, the untidy and asymmetrical inner lives of men, and crush them into conformity for the sake of some ideological chimera unrelated to the union of spirit and flesh that constitutes the real world.
Id., p. 12 (on Herder):
To belong to a given community, to be connected with its members by indissoluble and impalpable ties of common language, historical memory, habit, tradition and feeling, is a basic human need no less natural than that for food or drink or security or procreation. One nation can understand and sympathise with the institutions of another only because it knows how much its own mean to itself. Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human, most oneself.
Id., p. 22:
The philosophes proposed to rationalise communication by inventing a universal language free from the irrational survivals, the idiosyncratic twists and turns, the capricious peculiarities of existing tongues; if they were to succeed, this would be disastrous, for it is precisely the individual historical development of a language that belongs to a people that absorbs, enshrines and encapsulates a vast wealth of half-conscious, half-remembered collective experience. What men call superstition and prejudice are but the crust of custom which by sheer survival has shown itself proof against the ravages and vicissitudes of its long life; to lose it is to lose the shield that protects men's national existence, their spirit, the habits, memories, faith that have made them what they are.



Lucian, Icaromenippus 30 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Worst of all, though they themselves do no good either in public or in private life but are useless and superfluous,
'Neither in war nor in council of any account,'1
nevertheless they accuse everyone else; they amass biting phrases and school themselves in novel terms of abuse, and then they censure and reproach their fellow-men; and whoever of them is the most noisy and impudent and reckless in calling names is held to be the champion.

1 Iliad 2, 202.

τὸ δὲ πάντων δεινότατον, ὅτι μηδὲν αὐτοὶ μήτε κοινὸν μήτε ἴδιον ἐπιτελοῦντες, ἀλλ᾽ ἀχρεῖοι καὶ περιττοὶ καθεστῶτες
οὔτε ποτ᾽ ἐν πολέμῳ ἐναρίθμιοι οὔτ᾽ ἐνὶ βουλῇ,
ὅμως τῶν ἄλλων κατηγοροῦσι καὶ λόγους τινὰς πικροὺς συμφορήσαντες καὶ λοιδορίας καινὰς ἐκμεμελετηκότες ἐπιτιμῶσι καὶ ὀνειδίζουσι τοῖς πλησίον, καὶ οὗτος αὐτῶν τὰ πρῶτα φέρεσθαι δοκεῖ ὃς ἂν μεγαλοφωνότατός τε ᾖ καὶ ἰταμώτατος καὶ πρὸς τὰς βλασφημίας θρασύτατος.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


The Veronese Riddle

Giulio Lepschy, "History of the Italian Language," in Gaetana Marrone, Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, Vol. 1: A-J (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 967-970 (at 967):
Frequently collections of Early Italian texts begin with documents for which it is difficult to say if they are in Latin or in Italian, such as the Indovinello veronese (Veronese Riddle), penned at the beginning of the ninth century (or possibly earlier) on a page of a prayer book prepared in the seventh or eighth century and now preserved in the Chapter Library at Verona. The text says: "se pareba boves alba pratalia araba & albo versorio teneba & negro semen seminaba" (He was driving oxen, ploughing white meadows and holding a white plough and sowing black seed. This is one of the many possible interpretations).

The riddle is apparently about oxen and ploughing and sowing, and the solution is the quill used for writing, leaving ink traces on the page. Linguistically, certain features are clearly Latin (b instead of v in the imperfect endings of pareba, araba, teneba, seminaba; the consonant endings in boves and semen; the voiceless t instead of d in pratalia). Others are, equally clearly, vernacular (the dropping of the consonantal endings in the -ba instead of –bat suffixes; the endings in –o instead of –um in albo, versorio, negro; the pronoun se instead of sibi).
See also Francesca Guerra D'Antoni, "A New Perspective on the Veronese Riddle," Romance Philology 36.2 (November, 1982) 185-200.

Related posts:


Freedom of Religion

Cassiodorus, Variae 10.26.4 (King Theodahad to Emperor Justinian, anno 535; tr. S.J.B. Barnish):
Indeed, I do not presume to exercise judgement in those cases where I have no special mandate. For, since the Deity allows various religions to exist, I do not dare to impose one alone.

earum siquidem rerum iudicium non praesumimus, unde mandatum specialiter non habemus. nam cum divinitas patiatur diversas religiones esse, nos unam non audemus imponere.


A Real Bonny Folk

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Catriona, chapter 30 (Alan Breck speaking):
'They're a real bonny folk, the French nation.'

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


The Elimination of the Best

Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987), "Declines and Falls," The American Scholar 49.1 (Winter, 1980) 37-50 (at 41-42):
"Die Ausrottung der Besten" ("The elimination of the best") by Otto Seeck ... produced a sensation when it appeared in the first volume of his monumental Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt in 1895 — the year, incidentally, in which Brooks Adams published his Law of Civilization and Decay — but the outlines had already been given in the Deutsche Rundschau of 1892. Seeck maintained that an inverted Darwinism could explain the decline of the ancient world in the sense that the political developments of antiquity had implied a continuous elimination of the best elements of society. Social struggles, external wars, and, later, religious persecutions ended regularly in the murder of the most able and morally serious opponents. As the elimination of rivals was in the nature of ancient political struggles, according to Seeck, it was almost a tautology to conclude that only opportunists saved their skins in defeat. Contrary to a widespread legend, there was no vulgar racism in Seeck, who was one of the very few Geman historians to recognize the high level of spiritual creativity of the Jews throughout the centuries.

Julius Beloch, who in 1900 undertook to refute Seeck in the Historische Zeitschrift, was in fact not so distant from him as he thought he was. Beloch too, in his own way, emphasized the elimination of the best, but put the responsibility for the elimination of the best squarely on the shoulders of the Romans. By destroying Greek liberty, the Romans destroyed the roots of ancient civilization. The Roman soldier who murdered Archimedes in Syracuse at the end of the third century B.C. was the symbol of Rome murdering Greece. Not ancient Rome but Renaissance Florence was the heir of Athens in the eyes of this German professor, transplanted to Rome. Both Seeck and Beloch, though purporting to explain the end of ancient civilization — that is, the end of the Roman Empire — discovered the causes in a process which started many centuries before the fall of the Western Empire and had its center in Greece rather than in Rome. By some sort of teleological projection, which Arnold Toynbee was later to share, Rome was made to fall in consequence of the decline of Greece.


Airborne Contagion

Lucretius 6.1128-1130 (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Or else this force remains poised in the air itself,
and, when we draw in these mingled airs as we breathe,
it must needs be that we suck in these plagues with them into our body.

aut etiam suspensa manet vis aere in ipso
et, cum spirantes mixtas hinc ducimus auras,
illa quoque in corpus pariter sorbere necessest.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Rereading Thucydides

K.J. Dover (1920-2010), Thucydides (1973; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 = Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, 7), p. 44:
It is the common experience of people who study Thucydides intensively over a long period that one goes on indefinitely noticing things in him which one has not noticed before. This could be said of other authors too, but in most cases the returns diminish; in the case of Thucydides there always seems to remain the possibility that something really important is still waiting to be noticed. The chief reason for this is the degree to which he manifests the Attic versatility which his Pericles praises in ii.41.1. He had the ambition to be scientific, to make human history intelligible, and also the ambition to be admired as an artist; the self-confidence of an aristocrat, a sense of intellectual superiority which did not allow him seriously to consider that his verdicts might need to be reconsidered by others, the strong reactions we would expect of a man brought up in a society which valued sensibility—and with all that, a genuine understanding of the difference between facts and values and of the intellectual and moral failures which can result from not understanding that difference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020



Lucretius 6.1226-1229 (tr. W.H.D. Rouse, rev. Martin F. Smith):
Nor was any kind of remedy general and certain; for what had given one the power to draw the breath of life into his lips and to behold the regions of heaven, this to others was poison and brought them death.

nec ratio remedii communis certa dabatur;
nam quod ali dederat vitalis aeris auras
volvere in ore licere et caeli templa tueri,
hoc aliis erat exitio letumque parabat.
Thucydides 2.51.2 (tr. Charles Forster Smith):
And no one remedy was found, I may say, which was sure to bring relief to those applying it — for what helped one man hurt another ...

ἕν τε οὐδὲν κατέστη ἴαμα ὡς εἰπεῖν ὅ τι χρῆν προσφέροντας ὠφελεῖν (τὸ γάρ τῳ ξυνενεγκὸν ἄλλον τοῦτο ἔβλαπτε) ...

Michael Sweerts (1618-1664), Plague in an Ancient City
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art, AC1997.10.1)

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Lucian, Icaromenippus 29 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
There is a class of men which made its appearance in the world not long ago, lazy, disputatious, vainglorious, quick-tempered, gluttonous, doltish, addle-pated, full of effrontery and to use the language of Homer, 'a useless load to the soil'.1 Well, these people, dividing themselves into schools and inventing various word-mazes, have called themselves Stoics, Academics, Epicureans, Peripatetics and other things much more laughable than these. Then, cloaking themselves in the high-sounding name of Virtue, elevating their eyebrows, wrinkling up their foreheads and letting their beards grow long, they go about hiding loathsome habits under a false garb, very like actors in tragedy; for if you take away from the latter their masks and their gold-embroidered robes, nothing is left but a comical little creature hired for the show at seven drachmas.

1 Iliad 18, 104.

γένος γάρ τι ἀνθρώπων ἐστὶν οὐ πρὸ πολλοῦ τῷ βίῳ ἐπιπολάσαν ἀργὸν φιλόνεικον κενόδοξον ὀξύχολον ὑπόλιχνον ὑπόμωρον τετυφωμένον ὕβρεως ἀνάπλεων καὶ ἵνα καθ᾿ Ὅμηρον εἴπω 'ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης.' οὗτοι τοίνυν εἰς συστήματα διαιρεθέντες καὶ διαφόρους λόγων λαβυρίνθους ἐπινοήσαντες οἱ μὲν Στωϊκοὺς ὠνομάκασιν ἑαυτούς, οἱ δὲ Ἀκαδημαϊκούς, οἱ δὲ Ἐπικουρείους, οἱ δὲ Περιπατητικοὺς καὶ ἄλλα πολλῷ γελοιότερα τούτων· ἔπειτα δὲ ὄνομα σεμνὸν τὴν ἀρετὴν περιθέμενοι καὶ τὰς ὀφρῦς ἐπάραντες καὶ τὰ μέτωπα ῥυτιδώσαντες1 καὶ τοὺς πώγωνας ἐπισπασάμενοι περιέρχονται ἐπιπλάστῳ σχήματι κατάπτυστα ἤθη περιστέλλοντες, ἐμφερεῖς μάλιστα τοῖς τραγικοῖς ἐκείνοις ὑποκριταῖς, ὧν ἢν ἀφέλῃ τις τὰ προσωπεῖα καὶ τὴν χρυσόπαστον ἐκείνην στολήν, τὸ καταλειπόμενόν ἐστι γελοῖον ἀνθρώπιον ἑπτὰ δραχμῶν ἐς τὸν ἀγῶνα μεμισθωμένον.


The Ptolemaic System of History

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson, Vol. I (London: George Allen Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 17-18:
The ground of West Europe is treated as a steady pole, a unique patch chosen on the surface of the sphere for no better reason, it seems, than because we live on it — and great histories of millennial duration and mighty far-away Cultures are made to revolve around this pole in all modesty. It is a quaintly conceived system of sun and planets! We select a single bit of ground as the natural centre of the historical system, and make it the central sun. From it all the events of history receive their real light, from it their importance is judged in perspective. But it is in our own West-European conceit alone that this phantom "world-history," which a breath of scepticism would dissipate, is acted out.

We have to thank that conceit for the immense optical illusion (become natural from long habit) whereby distant histories of thousands of years, such as those of China and Egypt, are made to shrink to the dimensions of mere episodes while in the neighbourhood of our own position the decades since Luther, and particularly since Napoleon, loom large as Brocken-spectres. We know quite well that the slowness with which a high cloud or a railway train in the distance seems to move is only apparent, yet we believe that the tempo of all early Indian, Babylonian or Egyptian history was really slower than that of our own recent past. And we think of them as less substantial, more damped-down, more diluted, because we have not learned to make the allowance for (inward and outward) distances.

It is self-evident that for the Cultures of the West the existence of Athens, Florence or Paris is more important than that of Lo-Yang or Pataliputra. But is it permissible to found a scheme of world-history on estimates of such a sort? If so, then the Chinese historian is quite entitled to frame a world-history in which the Crusades, the Renaissance, Caesar and Frederick the Great are passed over in silence as insignificant. How, from the morphological point of view, should our 18th Century be more important than any other of the sixty centuries that preceded it? Is it not ridiculous to oppose a "modern" history of a few centuries, and that history to all intents localized in West Europe, to an "ancient" history which covers as many millennia — incidentally dumping into that "ancient history" the whole mass of the pre-Hellenic cultures, unprobed and unordered, as mere appendix-matter? This is no exaggeration. Do we not, for the sake of keeping the hoary scheme, dispose of Egypt and Babylon — each as an individual and self-contained history quite equal in the balance to our so-called “world-history” from Charlemagne to the World-War and well beyond it — as a prelude to classical history? Do we not relegate the vast complexes of Indian and Chinese culture to foot-notes, with a gesture of embarrassment? As for the great American cultures, do we not, on the ground that they do not "fit in" (with what?), entirely ignore them?

The most appropriate designation for this current West-European scheme of history, in which the great Cultures are made to follow orbits round us as the presumed centre of all world-happenings, is the Ptolemaic system of history. The system that is put forward in this work in place of it I regard as the Copernican discovery in the historical sphere, in that it admits no sort of privileged position to the Classical or the Western Culture as against the Cultures of India, Babylon, China, Egypt, the Arabs, Mexico — separate worlds of dynamic being which in point of mass count for just as much in the general picture of history as the Classical, while frequently surpassing it in point of spiritual greatness and soaring power.
Id., p. 30:
The audacious descriptions of Aristophanes, Juvenal or Petronius of life in the Classical cities — the southern dirt and riff-raff, terrors and brutalities, pleasure-boys and Phrynes, phallus worship and imperial orgies — excite the enthusiasm of the student and the dilettante, who find the same realities in the world-cities of to-day too lamentable and repulsive to face. "In the cities life is bad; there are too many of the lustful." — also sprach Zarathustra. They commend the state-sense of the Romans, but despise the man of to-day who permits himself any contact with public affairs. There is a type of scholar whose clarity of vision comes under some irresistible spell when it turns from a frock-coat to a toga, from a British football-ground to a Byzantine circus, from a transcontinental railway to a Roman road in the Alps, from a thirty-knot destroyer to a trireme, from Prussian bayonets to Roman spears — nowadays, even, from a modern engineer's Suez Canal to that of a Pharaoh. He would admit a steam-engine as a symbol of human passion and an expression of intellectual force if it were Hero of Alexandria who invented it, not otherwise. To such it seems blasphemous to talk of Roman central-heating or book-keeping in preference to the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods.
Id., p. 32:
So, for the first time, we are enabled to understand the Romans as the successors of the Greeks, and light is projected into the deepest secrets of the late-Classical period. What, but this, can be the meaning of the fact — which can only be disputed by vain phrases — that the Romans were barbarians who did not precede but closed a great development? Unspiritual, unphilosophical, devoid of art, clannish to the point of brutality, aiming relentlessly at tangible successes, they stand between the Hellenic Culture and nothingness.
In place of a type-true people, born of and grown on the soil, there is a new sort of nomad, cohering unstably in fluid masses, the parasitical city dweller, traditionless, utterly matter-of-fact, religionless, clever, unfruitful, deeply contemptuous of the countryman and especially that highest form of countryman, the country gentleman.
Id., p. 33:
The world-city means cosmopolitanism in place of "home,"3 cold matter-of-fact in place of reverence for tradition and age, scientific irreligion as a fossil representative of the older religion of the heart, "society" in place of the state, natural instead of hard-earned rights.

3A profound word which obtains its significance as soon as the barbarian becomes a culture-man and loses it again as soon as the civilization-man takes up the motto "Ubi bene, ibi patria."

Monday, March 23, 2020



Joseph P. Byrne, Daily Life During the Black Death (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006), p. 41, with note on p. 62:
John of Gaddesden wrote The English Rose in Latin about 1314, and nearly two centuries later (1491) it became the first printed medical text by an English author. John wrote that
during pestilence everyone over seven should be made to vomit daily from an empty stomach, and twice a week, or more if necessary; he should lie well wrapped up in a warm bed and drink warm ale with ginger so that he sweats copiously ... And as soon as he feels an itch or prickling in his flesh he must use a goblet or cupping horn to let blood and draw down the blood from the heart.
Aiding evacuation was the heart of the apothecary's art: laxatives, purgatives, diuretics, and suppositories were literally his stock in trade. And it could be a stinky trade at that. In his fictional dialogue on plague time William Bullein has his greedy apothecary lie to keep a visitor away from his rich patient's house: "[H]e hath taken a purgation, which has cast such an air abroad that I was not able to abide in the chamber. I had forgotten my perfumes to make all well against your coming."5

5. Maria Kelly, The Great Dying (Stroud, Gloucs., England: Tempus, 2003), pp. 115–16; William Bullein, A dialogue against the fever pestilence (Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1987), p. 20.
I might be willing to try the ale with ginger.


The Hollow Men

Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645), "Desengaño de la exterior apariencia con el examen interior y verdadero" (tr. Eric Thomson):
Do you see this stout Giant
parading with haughty gravity?
Well, inside he's all rags and stuffing,
which some hireling holds aloft.

Alive and animate he moves about,
condescending where his mighty spirit wills,
yet examine his stiff demeanour
and you'll scorn his painted pomp.

Such are the grandiose appearances
of Tyrants and their vain illusions,
grotesque and preeminent dross.

See how they're ablaze in purple, their fingers gleaming
with diamonds and precious stones
while inside — nausea, filth and worms.

¿Miras este Gigante corpulento
que con soberbia y gravedad camina?
Pues por de dentro es trapos y fajina,
y un ganapán le sirve de cimiento.

Con su alma vive y tiene movimiento,
y adonde quiere su grandeza inclina,
Mas quien su aspecto rígido examina
desprecia su figura y ornamento.

Tales son las grandezas aparentes
de la vana ilusión de los tiranos,
fantásticas escorias eminentes.

¿Veslos arder en púrpura, y sus manos
en diamantes y piedras diferentes?
Pues asco dentro son, tierra y gusanos.
Another translation, by Willis Barnstone in Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993), p. 29:
Do you see this fat giant of a man
strolling along with haughty gravity?
Well, inside he's a mess of rags, a pan
of trash, a young brat keeps from anarchy.

He moves about, parading his live soul,
and aims his greatness anywhere he wants;
yet gaze astutely at this emerald mole,
you'll laugh at all the ornaments he flaunts.

Such are the grandiose and pretentious ways
of tyrants living by their vain illusions,
those eminent, fantastic bags of germs.

They burn in purple as their fingers blaze
with diamonds and hard gems in white profusion,
while inside they are nausea, earth, and worms.
See Tyler Fisher, "Giants on Parade, Tyrants Aflame in Quevedo's Sonnet 'Desengaño de la exterior apariencia'," in Aaron M. Kahn, ed., On Wolves and Sheep: Exploring the Expression of Political Thought in Golden Age Spain (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), pp. 197-211.


The Life of Man

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Catriona (Conclusion):
For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on ...

Sunday, March 22, 2020


The Arrows of Death

Nathaniel Hodges (1629-1688), Loimologia: Or, An Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665 (London: E. Bell, 1720), p. 31:
The Sacred Pages clearly and demonstratively prove, that the Almighty, by his Authority, and at his Pleasure, may draw the Sword, bend the Bow, or shoot the Arrows of Death ...



Martin L. West (1937-2015), Studies in Aeschylus (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1990), pp. 371-372:
More recently we have been advised by H. Neitzel:
Wer mit Dawes Sammlung von Konjekturen zu Aischylos (Leiden 1965) vertraut ist und die Geschichte der Kritik am Agamemnontext kennt, weiss, in welche Irrgänge sich die Interpreten zuweilen verloren haben. Sieht man von der Korrektur offensichtlicher Schreibfehler ab, so konvergiert die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Erwartung, durch Eingriffe in die Uberlieferung könne das Richtige getroffen werden, schon bei der Veränderung nur eines einzigen Buchstabens gegen Null.54
Here again we encounter the notion that once we have corrected a limited number of obvious copying errors, the text of Aeschylus lies before us as sound as we can expect to get it, wanting only sympathetic interpretation to disclose its secrets. Neitzel's argument, if I follow him correctly, seems to be that because tens of thousands of bad conjectures have been made and a relatively small number of good ones, the modern emender has an overwhelming statistical probability against him. This is like saying that because most violinists cannot play Paganini's Caprices adequately, no violinist should undertake to play them, as his chances of success are statistically very slight. The implied premise is that the violinist (or the textual critic) has no idea whether he is an expert practitioner of his art or an ill-equipped pretender. If a scholar is well attuned to Aeschylus and possesses an accurate knowledge of the poet's style and of all the relevant technicalities, and if he is able clearly to identify the nature of a given textual problem, and finds a solution which satisfies the three criteria for a true reading55, then his chances of success are at least fair, and not diminished in the least by the quantity of the rubbish that Wecklein and Dawe have raked together.

54) Gnomon 59 (1987) 481. He proceeds to illustrate his conclusion by arguing against the necessity for two particular conjectures that are widely accepted; as if this would indicate that conjectures in general are unnecessary.

55) I refer to those formulated in my Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, 48.
Martin L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1973), p. 48:
Sometimes this is a matter of choosing between transmitted variants, sometimes it is a matter of going beyond them and emending the text by conjecture, or adopting an emendation already proposed. We will consider these alternatives separately; the requirements which a satisfactory solution must fulfil are the same in both cases.

1. It must correspond in sense to what the author intended to say, so far as this can be determined from the context.

2. It must correspond in language, style, and any relevant technical points (metre, prose rhythm, avoidance of hiatus, etc.) to a way in which the author might naturally have expressed that sense.

3. It must be fully compatible with the fact that the surviving sources give what they do; in other words it must be clear how the presumed original reading could have been corrupted into any different reading that is transmitted.



Pliny the Elder, Natural History 3.39 (tr. H. Rackham):
I am well aware that I may with justice be considered ungrateful and lazy if I describe in this casual and cursory manner a land which is at once the nursling and the mother of all other lands, chosen by the providence of the gods to make heaven itself more glorious, to unite scattered empires, to make manners gentle, to draw together in converse by community of language the jarring and uncouth tongues of so many nations, to give mankind civilisation, and in a word to become throughout the world the single fatherland of all the races.

nec ignoro ingrati ac segnis animi existimari posse merito, si obiter atque in transcursu ad hunc modum dicatur terra omnium terrarum alumna eadem et parens, numine deum electa quae caelum ipsum clarius faceret, sparsa congregaret imperia ritusque molliret et tot populorum discordes ferasque linguas sermonis commercio contraheret ad colloquia et humanitatem homini daret breviterque una cunctarum gentium in toto orbe patria fieret.


Not Slaves

Aeschylus, Persians 241-242 (tr. Alan Sommerstein):
And who is the shepherd, master and commander over their host?
They are not called slaves or subjects to any man.

τίς δὲ ποιμάνωρ ἔπεστι κἀπιδεσπόζει στρατῷ;
οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ᾿ ὑπήκοοι.


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