Monday, May 31, 2004


Readings for the Day

1. John McCrae, In Flanders Field
2. R.W. Lilliard, America's Answer
3. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address


An Odd Sentence

Surely this qualifies as one of the strangest sentences ever to appear in a scholarly work:
Heroes do not, in general, turn into anteaters, or make themselves buttocks out of mashed potatoes...
Jasper Griffin, Homer on Life and Death (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 177.


Nietzsche as Educator

R.J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 59:
He suggested the students might like to read the description of the Shield of Achilles in the Iliad during the summer vacation: at the beginning of the following semester he asked one of them if he had in fact read it. The student (his name has not been recorded) said he had, although this wasn't true. 'Good, then describe the shield of Achilles for us,' said Nietzsche. An embarrassed silence followed, which he allowed to continue for ten minutes -- the time he thought a description of Achilles' shield should have taken -- pacing up and down and appearing to be listening attentively. Then he said: 'Very well, X has described Achilles' shield for us, let us get on.'


Some Dichotomies

Society is made up of two great classes: those who have more dinners than appetite, and those who have more appetite than dinners.
The human race, from the individual on up, and even in its smallest units, is split into two camps: the bullies and the bullied.
Seen on a t-shirt:
There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't.


Puritan Guerrilla

Clayton Cramer says:
If I were to write a novel Puritan Guerrilla in which an angry father, grieving over the loss of his daughter to the hip-hop culture, decides to take revenge on the entertainment industry by assassinating record company executives, would that be criminal conduct? (I only have one chapter written so far.)
Keep writing. You have one reader waiting for it to be finished.


Dangers of Studying Latin

Thomas Love Peacock, Gryll Grange (1860), chapter XX:
ALGERNON. May I ask if you read Latin?
MORGANA. I do; sufficiently to derive great pleasure from it. Perhaps, after this confession, you will not wonder that I am a spinster.

Sunday, May 30, 2004



Bill Vallicella tells the true story of an unfortunate philosopher who published a paper entitled Creation Ex Deus, which should of course be Creation Ex Deo. This cautionary tale is a good illustration of the saying "vox missa nescit reverti" (Horace, Ars Poetica 390), "a word, having been sent forth, does not know how to return." Creation Ex Deus, now committed to print, is destined to live on forever, in the writer's own curriculum vitae, in bibliographies, in footnotes and citations. I've heard of authors who bought up and destroyed all copies of their juvenilia, but that seems impossible in this case. If it had taken form only in the shadowy bytes of cyberspace, rather than in indelible printer's ink, the solecism might easily have been corrected. But even in cyberspace, the Google cache awaits to trap and embalm the unwary, like a tar pit.

Rushing into print can have its advantages, for example if you're a journalist and want the credit for a scoop. But it also has its obvious disadvantages -- a hasty utterance is likely to be an inaccurate or an impolitic or an unwise one. Horace recommends that, if you've written anything, you keep it locked up in your desk for nine years (Ars Poetica 388-389: "nonumque prematur in annum / membranis intus positis"). If it still pleases you after that time, then submit it for publication. Advice fatal for bloggers, as well as for junior professors who must publish or perish, but advice worth considering nonetheless.

Vallicella also answers the query of a correspondent who asks how to say "Seize the world" in Latin, with the reasonable reply "Carpe mundum," after Horace's "Carpe diem." I understand well enough what Horace meant, when I read his words in context (Ode 1.11), but I don't understand what is meant by the expression "Seize the world," because I don't know its context. Is it advice for an up-and-coming conqueror like Alexander the Great? Or does it mean something quite different, like "Embrace the beauty of God's creation"? Is "world" the earth as opposed to heaven, with a meaning like "Forget about the hereafter, live to the fullest in the midst of the world around us here and now"? We have no way of telling.

Horace's use of the word "seize" (or "pluck," as one might pick a flower) is a bold poetic locution, since one cannot literally grasp with the hand something as insubstantial as time. The only one who's got the whole world in his hand is God, as the spiritual says. In addition to "mundus," there are other possible ways to translate "world" into Latin, depending on the shade of meaning desired. Meissner's Latin Phrase Book gives, e.g., rerum universitas or mundi universitas (the universe), rerum natura or just natura (creation, nature), haec omnia quae videmus (the visible world), etc.

Translation is a tricky business, but so is speaking and writing in one's own tongue. In the introduction to his Studies in Words, C.S. Lewis writes:
Prolonged thought about the words which we ordinarily use to think with can produce a momentary aphasia. I think it is to be welcomed. It is well that we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are.


What Is Hell?

Everyone has his own idea of hell. To Sartre it's "other people," whereas to poet Charles Bukowski it's the opposite ("hell is a lonely place"). General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, "War is hell," and St. Theresa called hell "the place that stinks and where no one loves."

The Baltimore Catechism, from which I was taught in my boyhood and to which I still go for guidance, answers the question "What is Hell?" as follows (Part 3, Lesson 7, Question 1379):
Hell is a state to which the wicked are condemned, and in which they are deprived of the sight of God for all eternity, and are in dreadful torments.
Dante devoted a third of his Divine Comedy to a description of the place.

Some have tried to narrow hell down to a particular spot. A film by R. Zane Rutledge is entitled Hell is Texas, and the October 13, 2003, cover of The National Review had a picture of a bucolic Vermont landscape with the word "Hell" scrawled over it, to illustrate the lead story by Jonah Goldberg. The Moon is Hell according to an article with that title by Stephen Baxter published in Astronomy Now (September, 1998), but I think it's a little closer to us than that.

Matt Groening wrote two books on the topic, one called Work Is Hell, the other called School Is Hell. If I had my druthers, I'd choose school over work any day. Pop singer Ryan Adams put out a couple of albums called Love Is Hell, but his music will forever remain unknown to me, to whom listening to any kind of rock 'n roll is hell on earth.

Milton (Paradise Lost, 1.254-255) sums it up best:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.



Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, chapter 35:
Lounging near the doors, and in remote corners, were various knots of silly young men, displaying various varieties of puppyism and stupidity; amusing all sensible people near them with their folly and conceit; and happily thinking themselves the object of general admiration. A wise and merciful dispensation which no good man will quarrel with.


That Presumptuous Little Nation

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, XV (tr. Francis Golfing):
Practically every era of Western civilization has at one time or another tried to liberate itself from the Greeks, in deep dissatisfaction because whatever they themselves achieved, seemingly quite original and sincerely admired, lost color and life when held against the Greek model and shrank to a botched copy, a caricature. Time and again a hearty anger has been felt against that presumptuous little nation which had the nerve to brand, for all time, whatever was not created on its own soil as "barbaric." Who are these people, whose historical splendor was ephemeral, their institutions ridiculously narrow, their mores dubious and sometimes objectionable, who yet pretend to the special place among the nations which genius claims among the crowd? None of the later detractors was fortunate enough to find the cup of hemlock with which such a being could be disposed of once and for all: all the poisons of envy, slander, and rage have proved insufficient to destroy that complacent magnificence.
To the poisons listed by Nietzsche add those of our time, indifference and ignorance.



Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 31:
Latin and Greek are great humbug; the more people know of them the more odious they generally are.

Saturday, May 29, 2004



Schiller said:
If only a man has lived to read the 23rd book of the Iliad, he cannot complain of his lot. (Wenn man auch nur gelebt hätte, um den 23. Gesang der Ilias zu lesen, so könnte man sich über sein Dasein nicht beschweren.)
Watching Brad Pitt play Achilles in the movie Troy doesn't count.


Herodotus on Gun Control

Herodotus 1.155.4 (speech of Croesus to Cyrus, tr. Aubrey de Selincourt):
As for the Lydians, forgive them -- but all the same, if you want to keep them loyal and to prevent any danger from them in future, I suggest that you put a veto upon their possession of arms. Make them wear tunics under their cloaks, and high boots, and tell them to teach their sons to play the zither and harp, and to start shopkeeping. If you do that, my lord, you will soon see them turn into women instead of men, and there will not be any more danger of them rebelling against you.


The Godless

Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind, chapter 2 (The Olympian Gods):
Those closest to the gods in Homer are not the poor and the meek, but the strong and the powerful; the godless one, i.e. the one who is shunned by the gods, upon whom they do not bestow any gifts, is Thersites.


What Sort of Life Is That?

Colin Thubron, Journey into Cyprus (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1976), p. 242 (quoting a Turkish soldier):
"I was four years in England," he said, "in a canning factory at Newton Abbot, twisting a knob day after day -- twist, twist, twist. In the end I got fed up and came back home. What sort of life is that for a man -- twist, twist, twist?"
What sort of life is it for a man, sitting in front of a computer, tapping away at the keys day after day -- tap, tap, tap?

Friday, May 28, 2004


Growth Hormone

St. Augustine, Contra Academicos 1.2.6:
Very great matters, when they are investigated by little men, tend to make those men great.
Maximae res, cum a parvis quaeruntur, magnos eos solent efficere.


Two Views on Clerical Celibacy

Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 5.358 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
He [Luther] gave back to the priest sexual intercourse with women; but three quarters of the reverence of which the common people, especially the women among the common people, are capable, rests on the faith that a person who is an exception at this point will be an exception in other respects as well.
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 26:
I have often thought that the Church of Rome does wisely in not allowing her priests to marry. Certainly it is a matter of common observation in England that the sons of clergymen are frequently unsatisfactory.


Marketing Gone Haywire

I was looking on for details about Milena Minkova's Introduction to Latin Prose Composition. The page I was on helpfully suggested that "Customers interested in this title might also be interested in" a sponsored link with the name "Date Sexy Latin Singles"!


How to Stay Awake in Church

Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1978), on classical scholar Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924):
A regular churchgoer, he kept himself awake during sermons by mentally translating them into Greek, sentence by sentence as uttered, a practice he recommended as "a peculiarly rewarding means of grace."



Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), II, 495-6 (tr. S.G.C. Middlemore):
In 1487, when Piacenza was visited with a violent and prolonged rainfall, it was said that there would be no dry weather until a certain usurer, who had been lately buried at S. Francesco, had ceased to rest in consecrated earth. As the bishop was not obliging enough to have the corpse dug up, the young fellows of the town took it by force, dragged it around the streets amid frightful confusion, offered it to be insulted and maltreated by former creditors, and at last threw it into the Po. Even Politian accepted this point of view in speaking of Giacomo Pazzi, one of the leaders of the conspiracy of 1478 in Florence which is called after his name. When he was put to death he devoted his soul to Satan with fearful words. Here, too, rain followed and threatened to ruin the harvest; here, too, a party of men, mostly peasants, dug up the body in the church, and immediately the clouds departed and the sun shone -- "so gracious was fortune to the opinion of the people," adds the great scholar. The corpse was first cast into unhallowed ground, the next day again dug up, and after a horrible procession through the city thrown into the Arno.
Burckhardt comments:
These facts and the like bear a popular character, and might have occurred in the tenth just as well as in the sixteenth century.
They might have occurred in the twenty-first century as well. According to a recent news story from Marotinu De Sus in southern Romania, vampire slayer Gheorghe Marinescu was arrested for exhuming the body of his brother-in-law, Toma Petre:
Marinescu's story goes like this: After Petre died, Marinescu's son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter fell ill. Marinescu knew the cause was his dead brother-in-law. So he went to the cemetery...

Thursday, May 27, 2004


Keeping Your Word

André Gide, Journals, February 8, 1902 (tr. Justin O'Brien):
Giving yourself your word to do something ought to be no less sacred than giving your word to others.


Live Unknown

Epicurus, fragment 551 Usener:
Live unknown.
Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis, 17:
I envy thee, old man, aye, and every man who leads a life secure, unknown and unrenowned.
Horace, Epistulae, 1.17.10:
Nor did he live badly who escaped notice when he was born and when he died. (nec vixit male qui natus moriensque fefellit.)
Ovid, Tristia 3.4.25:
He who hid well, lived well. (bene qui latuit bene vixit.)
S. Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, tr. R.G. Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 304:
Not to be recognized is my passion.


The Idea of a University

Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of Universities (1923; rpt. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), p. 59:
"A university," it has more than once been remarked by professors, "would be a very comfortable place were it not for the students."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


The Psychology of Blogging

A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Vintage Books, 1982), p. 466:
An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.
Substitute "a blogger" for "an author" and "in his blog" for "on paper".



It's annoying to hear someone say "I'm seventy years young," when he means "I'm seventy years old." Whenever I hear this expression, I'm reminded of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part II, 1.2.163-169:
Do you set down your name in the scroll of youth, that are written down old with all the characters of age? Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a yellow cheek? a white beard? a decreasing leg? an increasing belly? is not your voice broken? your wind short? your chin double? your wit single? and every part about you blasted with antiquity? and will you yet call yourself young?


Academic Reform

As a starting point for the reform of an existing educational institution, or as a blueprint for the formation of a new school or college, the Jesuits' Ratio Studiorum (1599) is worthy of consideration. Here are some of its rules:The translations are from the edition of Allan P. Farrell (Washington: Conference of Major Superiors of Jesuits, 1970).

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Shakespeare on the Presidential Race

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, 1.1.132:
There's small choice in rotten apples.


Ancient versus Modern

Frederic De Forest Allen, quoted by J.B. Greenough in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 9 (1898) 31:
We call the Romans ancient, but when they were alive they thought themselves as modern as anybody.


A Slippery Slope

William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, chapter 2:
It was at the close of the forenoon school, and Pen had been unnoticed all the previous part of the morning till now, when the Doctor put him on to construe in a Greek play. He did not know a word of it, though little Timmins, his form-fellow, was prompting him with all his might. Pen had made a sad blunder or two when the awful Chief broke out upon him.
"Pendennis, sir," he said, "your idleness is incorrigible and your stupidity beyond example. You are a disgrace to your school, and to your family, and I have no doubt will prove so in after-life to your country. If that vice, sir, which is described to us as the root of all evil, be really what moralists have represented (and I have no doubt of the correctness of their opinion), for what a prodigious quantity of future crime and wickedness are you, unhappy boy, laying the seed! Miserable trifler! A boy who construes de 'and', instead of de 'but', at sixteen years of age is guilty not merely of folly, and ignorance, and dulness inconceivable, but of crime, of deadly crime, of filial ingratitude, which I tremble to contemplate. A boy, sir, who does not learn his Greek play cheats the parent who spends money for his education. A boy who cheats his parent is not very far from robbing or forging upon his neighbour. A man who forges on his neighbour pays the penalty of his crime at the gallows. And it is not such a one that I pity (for he will be deservedly cut off), but his maddened and heart-broken parents, who are driven to a premature grave by his crimes, or, if they live, drag on a wretched and dishonoured old age. Go on, sir, and I warn you that the very next mistake that you make shall subject you to the punishment of the rod. Who's that laughing? What ill-conditioned boy is there that dares to laugh?" shouted the Doctor.

Monday, May 24, 2004


Academic Credentials

In response to the question "How is Ayn Rand regarded by professional philosophers?", Keith Burgess-Jackson answers, "Not very well," and proceeds to give five reasons why. Here is his first reason:
She was not credentialed. While she attended college, she did not receive a graduate degree....Credentials are the lifeblood of academia. They act as a qualitative filter. If all I know about X is that X has a Ph.D. degree from a reputable university, I will think highly of X and judge X’s work worth reading. Ideally, I would read X’s work and make an informed judgment based on its merits. But life is short; there is only so much that can be read. One cannot waste time reading inferior material. So filters--credentials--are important. Rand’s lack of credentials keeps her off philosophers’ reading lists.
I don't propose to come to Rand's defense, but I would like to contrast Burgess-Jackson's first reason with what some other philosophers have said on this topic. Schopenhauer in his Parerga and Paralipomena (tr. T. Bailey Saunders) writes:
Dilettanti, dilettanti! This is the slighting way in which those who pursue any branch of art or learning for the love and enjoyment of the thing, -- per il loro diletto, are spoken of by those who have taken it up for the sake of gain, attracted solely by the prospect of money. This contempt of theirs comes from the base belief that no man will seriously devote himself to a subject, unless he is spurred on to it by want, hunger, or else some form of greed. The public is of the same way of thinking; and hence its general respect for professionals and its distrust of dilettanti. But the truth is that the dilettante treats his subject as an end, whereas the professional, pure and simple, treats it merely as a means. He alone will be really in earnest about a matter, who has a direct interest therein, takes to it because he likes it, and pursues it con amore. It is these, and not hirelings, that have always done the greatest work.
But perhaps Schopenhauer's opinion is suspect. Although he did earn academic credentials in philosophy (doctorate at Jena in 1813), his career as a university lecturer was an utter failure -- no one attended his course of lectures in Berlin in 1820. His first book, The World as Will and Representation, published in 1818, was likewise a failure at first. Few bothered to read or review it, and Schopenhauer published nothing else for eighteen years. Not very impressive credentials for a philosopher nearing his fiftieth year.

But decades later, when Nietzsche was seeking a philosophical mentor, he did not look to the universities but to the now-deceased Schopenhauer. One of the major themes of Nietzsche's essay on Schopenhauer as Educator (1874, published in Untimely Meditations) is the intellectual bankruptcy of the academic philosophical establishment. This scathing recommendation appears towards the end of that essay (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
That is why I say that it is a demand of culture that philosophy should be deprived of any kind of official or academic recognition and that state and academy be relieved of the task, which they cannot encompass, of distinguishing between real and apparent philosophy. Let the philosophers grow untended, deny them all prospect of place and position within the bourgeois professions, cease to entice them with salaries, more, persecute them, show them disfavour -- you will behold miracles.
But perhaps this, too, was sour grapes on Nietzsche's part. Three years earlier, in 1871, he had applied for a chair of philosophy at the University of Basel, when Gustav Teichmüller resigned, but his application was rejected. After all, he did not have the proper academic credentials -- his degree was in classical philology, not philosophy.

Some might deny Thoreau the title of philosopher, but his words (in Walden, chapter 1) are worth considering, too:
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.
After all, what is said is the important thing to focus on, not by whom it is said. If what is said is new and true and vital, should it be ignored or neglected or disparaged merely because the author has not bothered to jump through the proper academic hoops?



Nearly two millennia ago, the Roman poet Juvenal in his fifteenth satire described the hatred that existed between two Egyptian villages, which culminated in a horrible incident of cannibalism in 127 A.D. Here are lines 33 to 38 of Juvenal's satire:
Between the neighbors Ombi and Tentyra, there is an old and deep-seated feud. Undying hatred and an incurable wound still rages. On either side, the mob's great fury arises from the fact that each place despises its neighbor's gods, since it believes that only those gods should be respected which it itself worships.
inter finitimos vetus atque antiqua simultas,
inmortale odium et numquam sanabile vulnus
ardet adhuc Ombos et Tentyra. summus utrimque
inde furor volgo, quod numina vicinorum
odit uterque locus, cum solos credat habendos
esse deos quos ipse colit.
It is depressing to reflect on how little things have changed since Juvenal's day. In fact, it could be argued that the ancients were in general more tolerant about such matters than we are today. Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (chapter 2) thought so, during the age of the Antonines at any rate:
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.
When religious hatred did break forth into open conflict, at least that conflict was minimally destructive. Juvenal's intolerant villagers fought at first with fists and stones, then with arrows and swords. Today's hate-filled fanatics crash airplanes loaded with flammable fuel into skyscrapers. Current events have made Gibbon's remarks (chapter 58) on Muslims obsolete:
A pernicious tenet has been imputed to the Mohammedans, the duty of extirpating all other religions by the sword. This charge of ignorance and bigotry is refuted by the Koran, by the history of the Musulman conquerors, and by their public and legal toleration of the Christian worship.
The practice of any religion except Islam is forbidden by law in the present-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in 2002 two Filipinos spent a month in jail, were given 150 lashes, and were deported for holding a Catholic prayer service in a private home.


Update -- In an email responding to my last point, Andrew Criddle writes:
I have no particular wish to defend the policies of Saudi Arabia but it has been long held by Muslims that the passages in the Quran which seem to require only Islam being permitted refer to Arabia strict sense, (the land of the two great Mosques), while the passages seeming to support peaceful coexistence with other 'Peoples of the Book' apply everywhere else.
Hence the policy of Saudi Arabia with respect to non-Islamic religion is not simply a result of the generally illiberal nature of that country, it does involve the special status of Arabia in Muslim thought.


Pollution of the Airwaves

In a 1946 letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, one of the fathers of radio, Lee De Forest (1873-1961), wrote:
What have you done with my child? He was conceived as a potent instrumentality for culture, fine music, the uplifting of America's mass intelligence. You have debased this child, you have sent him out into the streets in rags of ragtime, tatters of jive and boogie music, to collect money from all and sundry for hubba bubba and audio jitterbug. You have made of him a laughing stock of intelligence, surely a stench in the nostrils of the gods of the ionosphere; you have cut time into tiny cubelets called "spots" (more rightly stains), wherewith the occasional fine program is periodically smeared with impudent insistences to buy or try.
The stench is immeasurably more loathsome in 2004, especially when we add television's foul smells to radio's. If De Forest was shocked by ragtime, jive, boogie, and jitterbug, what would he have said about the assaults that hip-hop, heavy metal, punk, and rap make on our ears today? No wonder that John Derbyshire is driven to exclaim that "Pop culture is filth."



It's a dirty word and an unpopular idea these days, but it wasn't to the ancient Greeks. C.M. Bowra, The Greek Experience (New York: New American Library, c1957), p. 83, writes:
Their acquaintance with animals taught them the virtues of breeding, and they believed that their own descent was a guarantee of excellence and gave them a title to rule on the principle that 'it is natural that the best counsel should come from the best men.' [Herodotus 3.81.3]
The guarantee is not absolute. It happens exceptionally that degenerates spring from eminent forebears, just as good stock sometimes unexpectedly arises from unpromising antecedents. But as a general rule we would do well to follow the example of livestock breeders and pay closer attention to the qualities we choose in a mate. For more on the subject, read Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, volume 2, chapter 42 (The Hereditary Nature of Qualities).

Sunday, May 23, 2004



Bill Vallicella defines epochism as "the arbitrary denigration of entire historical epochs," and quotes Hegel's slanders against the medieval epoch. Here is what Owen Barfield, History in English Words (London: Faber, 1953), p. 164, has to say on the topic:
Possibly the Middle Ages would have been equally bewildered at the facility with which twentieth-century minds are brought to believe that, intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century.


Thoreau on the Study of the Classics

Henry D. Thoreau, Translations, ed. K.P. Van Anglen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 55-56:
We know of no studies so composing as those of the classical scholar. When we have sat down to them, life seems as still and serene as if it were very far off, and we believe it is not habitually seen from any common platform so truly and unexaggerated as in the light of literature. In serene hours we contemplate the tour of the Greek and Latin authors with more pleasure than the traveller does the fairest scenery of Greece or Italy. Where shall we find a more refined society? That highway down from Homer and Hesiod to Horace and Juvenal is more attractive than the Appian. Reading the classics, or conversing with those old Greeks and Latins in their surviving works, is like walking amid the stars and constellations, a high and by-way serene to travel. Indeed, the true scholar will be not a little of an astronomer in his habits. Distracting cares will not be allowed to obstruct the field of his vision, for the higher regions of literature, like astronomy, are above storm and darkness.


The Zeitgeist

St. Paul, Romans 12.2:
Be not conformed to this world.
Bronson Alcott, Journal, February 1837:
A great good is always done to a man when he shall be led to distrust the truth of the opinions and the fitness of the age in which he lives.
The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979), p. 229:
Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.

Saturday, May 22, 2004


Nietzsche on the Popularity of Cell Phones

Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen), IV (Richard Wagner in Bayreuth), section 5:
Alone with themselves! -- this idea troubles modern souls. (Mit sich selber! -- dieser Gedanke schüttelt die modernen Seelen).


Meaningful Work

In his essay Life Without Principle, Thoreau says:
Most men would be insulted, if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.
It is not just manual labor that Thoreau is talking about. Many so-called white-collar jobs are no less soul-deadening and mind-numbing. With some manual labor, at least the mind is free to wander unfettered.


On Reading Books Once Only

C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York: HBJ, 1967), p. 17:
An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare's Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he 'has read' them, meaning he has read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter?
J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (1903), II, 353:
Gladstone wrote in 1886 that he was reading the Iliad 'for the twenty-fifth or thirtieth time, and every time richer and more glorious than before.'
And he read it in the original Greek, mind you!


The Joy of Teaching

Franz Schubert, quoted in Maurice J.E. Brown, Schubert: A Critical Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1988), p. 233:
"I would rather eat dry bread than teach."
Ralph E. Hone, Dorothy L. Sayers: A Literary Biography (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1979), p. 24:
One of her own students had overheard her saying: "I would rather sweep the streets than teach children!"

Friday, May 21, 2004


An Unintended Double Entendre in Dickens

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 24:
She touched his organ, and from that bright epoch even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable as he had thought of elevation, began a new and deified existence.


Non Multa Sed Multum

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, February 17, 1853:
How learned one would be, if one knew well only five or six books! (Comme l'on serait savant si l'on connaissait bien seulment cinq à six livres!)
The question is, which five or six?

Thursday, May 20, 2004



Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. D. Magarshack, Book 11, chapter 9:
I tell you the old-fashioned doctor who used to cure you of all illnesses has quite disappeared. Now there are only specialists and they all advertise in the papers. If there's something wrong with your nose, they will send you to Paris: there's a European specialist there who cures noses. You go to Paris, he examines your nose. "I'm sorry," he tells you, "I can only cure your right nostril, for I don't cure left nostrils, it's not my specialty. You'd better go to Vienna. There's you'll find a special specialist who will cure your left nostril."
It just so happens that there was a famous nose specialist in Vienna a few years after Dostoyevsky wrote his novel -- Sigmund Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess, author of Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weibliche Geschlechtsorgnanen in ihrer biologischen Bedeutungen dargestellt (The Relations between the Nose and the Female Sexual Organs, presented in their Biological Aspects). Needless to say, Fliess was an utter quack. See Martin Gardner, Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981), pp. 131-139, for the story of the folie à deux which existed between Fliess and Freud.



Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, chapter 4:
General Booth of the Salvation Army came on board. I saw him walking backward in the dusk over the uneven wharf, his cloak blown upwards, tulip-fashion, over his grey head, while he beat a tambourine in the face of the singing, weeping, praying crowd who had come to see him off....I talked much with General Booth during that voyage. Like the young ass I was, I expressed my distaste at his appearance on Invercargill wharf. "Young feller," he replied, bending great brows at me, "if I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I'd -- I'd learn how."
The trouble, of course, is that such antics repel as many souls as they attract.


A Proposal for Electoral Reform

Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History (New York: Bantam Books, 1971), p. 137:
Lice have even been important in politics. Cowan tells the story of the custom prevailing in Hurdenburg in Sweden, where in the Middle Ages a mayor was elected in the following manner. The persons eligible sat around a table, with their heads bowed forward, allowing their beards to rest on the table. A louse was then put in the middle of the table. The one into whose beard the louse first adventured was the mayor for the ensuing year.


The Internet as a Research Tool

Number of Google hits for "ad nauseam": 70,500; number of Google hits for "ad nauseum": 85,300.

Woe betide the student who relies on the Internet for accurate information.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004



Albert Schweitzer, Reverence for Life (New York, 1969), p. 47:
We expect all kinds of salvation from meetings, congresses, and organized cooperation. But we deceive ourselves. The most blessed labors can only be accomplished alone, and that is just what we must learn -- to work independently. Even if several plowmen plow one field, each follows his own plow. They do not talk to one another; each sees his neighbor and senses the nearness of his fellow worker, all bound together in a common, wordless task.


Odium and Insults

In his Works and Days, line 24, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod says, "Potter is jealous of potter," and members of the learned professions are not immune from the same affliction.

Odium theologicum, or the hatred which exists among theologians, is evident from the brickbats they hurl at one another, despite their lip service to the commandment "Love one another" (John 13:34). Just look at the tracts of St. Jerome, especially those titles that start with the words "Contra" or "Adversus". David S. Wiesen, in St. Jerome as a Satirist (Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 1964), has collected many of St. Jerome's choicest insults in his chapter on "Personal Enemies" (pp. 200-246), from which I select just one:
"You say," writes Jerome to Riparius, "that Dormitianus has again opened his stinking mouth and emitted some foul putrescence against relics of the martyrs" (p. 221 = Letter 109.1).
Odium philologicum, or the hatred which exists among philologists, is no less virulent. A couple of years ago the fury of a cabal of scholars descended with full force on the head of a hapless reviewer of a translation of some epigrams from the Greek Anthology, because in his review he had the temerity to utter a politically incorrect opinion which offended their tender sensibilities. No one dared to come to the reviewer's defense. Academic careers and scholarly reputations these days depend on punctilious observation of the canons of political correctness. It is said that there are 613 precepts (365 prohibitions and 248 obligations) which the observant Jew must be careful to obey. There are at least that many groups of certified "victims" today which anyone who makes public pronouncements must take care not to offend.

I remember reading somewhere that the eminent Latinist A.E. Housman used to keep a notebook in which he recorded choice insults, until such time as he found a suitable opponent to direct them against. Whether that story is true or not, it's undeniable that his writings are full of venomous barbs, like these comments on Elias Stoeber:
If a man will comprehend the richness and variety of the universe, and inspire his mind with a due measure of wonder and of awe, he must contemplate the human intellect not only on its heights of genius but in its abysses of ineptitude; and it might be fruitlessly debated to the end of time whether Richard Bentley or Elias Stoeber was the more marvellous work of the Creator. Elias Stoeber, whose reprint of Bentley's text, with a commentary intended to confute it, saw the light in 1767 at Strasburg, a city still famous for its geese. This commentary is a performance in comparison with which the Aetna of Mr S. Sudhaus is a work of science and of genius. Stoeber's mind, though that is no name to call it by, was one which turned as unswervingly to the false, the meaningless, the unmetrical, and the ungrammatical, as the needle to the pole.
A Mencken Chestomathy (New York: Vintage Books, 1982) is a rich garden for those looking for good insults. In just the space of a few pages I encountered the following Schimpfwörter: balderdash, buffoon, cad, chicanery, mountebank, oaf, piffle, poltroon, and popinjay. One of Mencken's favorite words is "brummagem," meaning "tawdry". The budding theologian or philologist could do worse than to cull some flowers of invective from Mencken.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Omnia Mea Mecum Porto

There has been some discussion on the blog of my friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, about the origin of the Latin motto "omnia mea mecum porto," which means literally "all my things I carry with me" or "all my possessions I carry with me". Without a trip to the library, the following is the best I can do to throw some light on the sources.

In his Epistulae Morales 9.18-19, Seneca tells this story about the Greek philosopher Stilpon (c. 380-300 B.C.):
For when his homeland was captured, his children lost, his wife lost, and he was walking away from the public conflagration by himself and yet unconcerned, Demetrius (whose nickname was Poliorcetes, after his destruction of cities) asked him if he had lost anything. He said, "All my goods are with me." Behold a strong and stalwart man! He was victorious over the victory of his enemy. "I have lost nothing," he said: he made Demetrius doubt whether he had actually conquered. "All of my goods are with me": justice, virtue, prudence, the very fact that he considered nothing good that could be snatched away.
Hic enim capta patria, amissis liberis, amissa uxore, cum ex incendio publico solus et tamen beatus exiret, interroganti Demetrio, cui cognomen ab exitio urbium Poliorcetes fuit, num quid perdidisset, 'omnia' inquit 'bona mea mecum sunt'. Ecce vir fortis ac strenuus! ipsam hostis sui victoriam vicit. 'Nihil' inquit 'perdidi': dubitare illum coegit an vicisset. 'Omnia mea mecum sunt': iustitia, virtus, prudentia, hoc ipsum, nihil bonum putare quod eripi possit.
Cicero, in his Paradoxa Stoicorum 1.1.8, tells a very similar story about Bias, one of the "seven sages" of ancient Greece:
I shall also often praise that famous sage, Bias I think, who is included among the seven. When the enemy had captured his homeland and others were fleeing in such a way as to carry many of their possessions with them, and he was told by someone to do likewise, he said, "I am indeed doing it; for I am carrying all my things with me."
nec non saepe laudabo sapientem illum, Biantem, ut opinor, qui numeratur in septem; cuius quom patriam Prienam cepisset hostis ceterique ita fugerent, ut multa de suis rebus asportarent, cum esset admonitus a quodam, ut idem ipse faceret, 'Ego vero', inquit, 'facio; nam omnia mecum porto mea.'
Paul MacKendrick, The Philosophical Books of Cicero (London: Duckworth, 1989), pp. 92-93, mentions possible sources for the Paradoxa Stoicorum, but does not discuss this particular anecdote.

Valerius Maximus 7.2.ext.3 seems to follow and elaborate on Cicero:
When enemies had invaded his homeland Priene and all (at least those whom the savagery of war had permitted to get away safe) were fleeing loaded with the weight of their precious possessions, Bias was asked why he was carrying none of his goods with him. He said, "Indeed, all my goods I carry with me," for he was carrying them in his heart, not on his shoulders, things not to be seen by the eyes but to be valued by the spirit.
Bias autem, cum patriam eius Prienen hostes invasissent, omnibus, quos modo saevitia belli incolumes abire passa fuerat, pretiosarum rerum pondere onustis fugientibus interrogatus quid ita nihil ex bonis suis secum ferret 'ego vero' inquit 'bona <omnia> mea mecum porto': pectore enim illa gestabat, non humeris, nec oculis visenda, sed aestimanda animo.
The angle brackets around "omnia" indicate an editorial supplement, but I don't have a critical edition of Valerius Maximus handy, so I can't tell who made the supplement.


Stealing Fruit

St. Augustine describes a youthful transgression in his Confessions 2.4.9 (tr. E.B. Pusey):
A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them. And this, but to do what we liked only, because it was misliked. Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!
Nietzsche makes fun of Augustine's compunction in a letter to Franz Overbeck (March 31, 1885):
I just read during my vacation the Confessions of St. Augustine, with great regret that you weren't with me. Oh that old rhetorician! How false and eye-rolling! How I laughed! (e.g. about the theft in his youth).
There is a similar story in Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, tr. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1984), p. 136 (= Macarius, Apophthegma 37):
Abba Paphnutius, the disciple of Abba Macarius, repeated this saying of the old man, 'When I was small with the other children, I used to eat bilberries and they used to go and steal the little figs. As they were running away, they dropped one of the figs, and I picked it up and ate it. Every time I remember this, I sit down and weep.
The following verses by Scottish poet James Thomson (1834-1882) come to mind whenever I hear someone giving a "personal testimony" and bewailing his sins:
Once in a saintly passion
  I cried with desperate grief,
"O Lord, my heart is black with guile,
  Of sinners I am chief."
Then stooped my guardian angel
  And whispered from behind,
"Vanity, my little man,
  You're nothing of the kind."
The Catholic tradition of auricular confession has at least this advantage -- it is both private and anonymous. One needn't expose one's iniquities to the ridicule of the whole wide world.

Monday, May 17, 2004


On the Study of Ancient Languages

Martin Luther, quoted by Jean Héring in The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, tr. A.W. Heathcote and P.J. Allcock (London, 1962), p. vi:
In so far as we love the Gospel, to that extent let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the Gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. So although the Faith and the Gospel may be proclaimed by preachers without the knowledge of languages, the preaching will be feeble and ineffective. But where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the Scriptures will be searched, and the Faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.


A Remedy for Headache

Modern physicians realize that caffeine can help to mitigate the pain of headache, and most headache remedies contain some caffeine. But this is no new discovery, as this anecdote about Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in Johnson's Lives of the Poets shows:
His most frequent assailant was the headache, which he used to relieve by inhaling the steam of coffee, which he very frequently required.


Man the Pest

Edward Abbey called us that in his book The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West, and he wasn't too far off the mark. I'm reminded of the description as the cicadas start to swarm. Their swarming is short-lived, geographically isolated, and only minimally destructive. Ours is never-ending, ubiquitous, and lethal.


The Presidential Race

Thoreau, Journal, 18 June 1854:
Politicians! I have looked into the eyes of two or three of them, but I saw nothing there to satisfy me.
A century and a half later, in 2004, I have looked into the eyes of two or three presidential candidates, but I saw nothing there to satisfy me.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


Proof of God's Existence?

In his Autobiography Eric Gill says that he first became convinced of the existence of God when he heard monks chanting "Deus in adjutorium."


Standing Aloof

Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice 2.9.31-33:
I will not choose what many men desire,
Because I will not jump with common spirits
And rank me with the barbarous multitude.


From Benedict to Buddha, or From Buddha to Benedict?

The earlier works of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), such as The Seven Storey Mountain, The Waters of Siloe, and The Sign of Jonas, have always deeply interested and influenced me. I have no interest at all in his later works, such as Mystics and Zen Masters. What a sad end (dalliance with a nurse, electrocution in a seedy Bangkok hotel) to the life of this Trappist monk! He would have done better to have stayed within the walls of the Abbey of Gesthemani, instead of gallivanting around the world.

A spiritual journey in the opposite direction was made by Thaddeus Yang An-Yuen, O.S.B. (1905-1982), who tells his own story in From Buddha to Benedict and The Chinese Adventure of an Indonesian Monk.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Intellectual Honesty

In section 370 of Morgenröte, Nietzsche enjoins:
Never keep back or bury in silence that which can be thought against your thoughts! Give it praise! It is among the foremost requirements of honesty of thought. (tr. R.J. Hollingdale)
Nietzsche's recommendation is part and parcel of the method of scholastic disputation, as described by Josef Pieper in his book Guide to Thomas Aquinas (New York: New American Library, 1964), pp. 39-40:
It can happen to anyone reading, say, the Summa Against the Pagans, that he will come unsuspectingly upon a chapter in which Thomas expounds the arguments of the opposite camp; if theological matters are under discussion, these arguments may well be heretical; yet the reader will almost be inclined to consider the arguments irrefutable -- so entirely without bias does Thomas present them.
See also Pieper on p. 77:
There was one rule of the disputatio legitima which made this kind of listening mandatory: No one was permitted to answer directly to the interlocutor's objection; rather, he must first repeat the opposing objection in his own words, thus explicitly making sure that he understood what his opponent had in mind. Let us for a moment imagine that the same rule were put into effect again nowadays, with infraction of it resulting in automatic disqualification. How this would clear the air in public debate!


No Mumbling

Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1940), p. 325, on John Quincy Adams:
And every night, kneeling beside his bed, he repeated, "Now I lay me down to sleep," which he had learned from the lips of Abigail Adams. He had said it every night of his life, in Holland, Prussia, Russia, France and England, in Washington, Boston and Quincy. "I say it out loud always," he remarked, "and I don't mumble it either."


Insomniac's Prayer

Euripides, Orestes 211-214 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Sweet charm of sleep! saviour in sickness! how dear to me thy coming was! how needed! All hail, majestic power, oblivion of woe! How wise this goddess is, how earnestly invoked by every suffering soul!

Friday, May 14, 2004


Leopardi and Crates the Cynic

Leopardi, Pensieri VI, reads as follows (tr. W.S. Di Piero):
Death is not evil, for it frees man from all ills and takes away his desires along with desire's rewards. Old age is the supreme evil, for it deprives man of all pleasures while allowing his appetites to remain, and it brings with it every possible sorrow. Yet men fear death and desire old age.
I don't know if it's ever been noticed, but this passage in Leopardi recalls a poem by Crates the Theban, an ancient Greek Cynic philosopher, quoted by Stobaeus 115.9:
You cast my old age in my teeth, as a great evil.
Death is the penalty for him who does not reach old age.
We all desire old age. But when it arrives,
We are distressed. So ungrateful are we by nature.
Leopardi mentions Crates twice in his Zibaldone (501, 1316).



Montaigne, Essays III, 9 (tr. E.J. Trechmann):
As small letters hurt and tire the eyes the most, so do little matters most irritate us.


Tolstoy as Film Critic and Prophet

Henri Troyat, Tolstoy, tr. by N. Amphoux (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), p. 659:
But on the evening of his arrival he consented to go to a film showing in the Arbat district. It was his first experience of an event of this type and he marveled at the moving shapes on the screen. But the program was disappointing. "Views of places, a melodrama, and something comical at the end." Leaving the theater he said, "What a wonderful instrument this could be in the schools, for studying geography and the way people live. But it will be prostituted. Like everything else."

Thursday, May 13, 2004


A Good Rule

C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books," in Undeceptions (London, 1971), p. 162:
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.


The Cost of Health Care

The cost of health care is not a new concern, as this epigram by Euricius Cordus (1486-1535) shows:
Tres medicus facies habet: unam, quando rogatur,
  angelicam; mox est, cum iuvat, ipse Deus;
post, ubi curato poscit sua praemia morbo,
  horridus apparet terribilisque Satan.
A doctor has three guises: one, when he is asked for help,
  angelic; then, when he actually helps, he is God himself;
last, when he asks for his fee after curing the illness,
  he seems a fearsome and terrible Satan.


Camus on Turning Thirty

Albert Camus, The Plague (tr. S. Gilbert):
At thirty one's beginning to age, and one's got to squeeze all one can out of life.


Dostoyevsky on Turning Forty

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (tr. J. Coulson):
I am forty now, and forty years is a lifetime; it is extreme old age. To go on living after forty is unseemly, disgusting, immoral! Who goes on living after forty? Give me a sincere and honest answer! I'll tell you: fools and rogues.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004



Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 204:
"I've always had some sort of intuition," he once said, "that for every hour that you spend in the company of other human beings you need x number of hours alone."

Elie Wiesel, Somewhere a Master: Further Hasidic Portraits and Legends (New York: Summit, 1982)
"A man who does not keep an hour a day for himself is not human." (p. 113, Moshe-Leib of Sassov)

Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, for instance, demanded of his disciples that they live one hour every day in solitude and silence. (p. 198)


The Value of Studying Greek

Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana (New York, 1856), p. 300:
At the house of the same gentleman I introduced Cogan to Porson, saying, "This is Mr. Cogan, who is passionately fond of what you have devoted yourself to, -- Greek."

Porson replied, "If Mr. Cogan is passionately fond of Greek, he must be content to dine on bread and cheese for the rest of his life."


True Love

Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (New York: Penguin, 1975), p. 142:
The plain fact that my dog loves me more than I love him is undeniable and always fills me with a certain feeling of shame.

Jake Page, Pastorale: A Natural History of Sorts (New York: W.W. Norton, 1985), p. 48:
While dogs may arguably be man's best friend, the reverse is not necessarily the case.

Georgi Vladimov, Faithful Ruslan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 108:
A dog will never bite anyone who truly loves him .... Only man is capable of such a perverse act.


Teaching Evolution in School

Georges Simenon, Maigret's Boyhood Friend (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), p. 29:
Florentin was caught mimicking a teacher behind his back. "You won't allow us to forget that we are descended from the apes, I see, Master Florentin," the weedy little man who taught them Latin used to say.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Human Nature

Voltaire, Candide, chapter 21 (tr. T. Smollett, rev. J.C. Thornton):

"Do you think," said Candide, "that mankind always massacred one another as they do now? Were they always guilty of lies, fraud, treachery, ingratitude, inconstancy, envy, ambition, and cruelty? Were they always thieves, fools, cowards, gluttons, drunkards, misers, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, and hypocrites?"

"Do you believe," said Martin, "that hawks have always been accustomed to eat pigeons when they came in their way?"

"Doubtless," said Candide.

"Well then," replied Martin, "if hawks have always had the same nature, why should you pretend that mankind change theirs?"
One difference is this. Given the opportunity, all hawks will eat pigeons. But not all men are always thieves, fools, etc.



Gore Vidal, At Home: Essays 1982-1988 (New York: Random House, 1990), p. 51, on Tennessee Williams:
Years later, when confronted with the fact that he had been born in 1911 not 1914, he said, serenely, "I do not choose to count as part of my life the three years that I spent working for a shoe company."
Nowadays you would be hard-pressed to find a shoe company within the United States that has not outsourced most of its jobs.


Socrates on the Mall of America

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers II,25 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Often when he looked at the multitude of wares exposed for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I can do without!"


A Tale of Two Philosophers

Montaigne, Essays II,12 (tr. E.H. Trechmann):
Metrocles broke wind rather indiscreetly, while disputing in presence of his school, and kept his house for shame, until Crates went to see him, and, after consoling and reasoning with him, set him an example of license, urged him to a competition in wind-breaking, and so cured him of his scruples.

Monday, May 10, 2004


Dress Code

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People:
"You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for truth and freedom."


Commandments for Luddites

Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (New York: Ace, 1987)
1. "Never trust machinery more complicated than a knife and fork." (p. 155)

2. "Put not your faith in gadgets." (p. 361)
As for the first commandment, perhaps it would be possible to dispense with the fork.


Portrait of a Shy Man

Rabelais, The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, I, 16 (tr. J.M. Cohen):
It was no more possible to draw a word from him than a fart from a dead donkey.
A good description of me at most social gatherings.


Numquam minus solus quam cum solus

Henry David Thoreau, Journals, 25 November 1857:
I do not know if I am singular when I say that I believe there is no man with whom I can associate who will not, comparatively speaking, spoil my afternoon. That society or encounter may at last yield a fruit which I am not aware of, but I cannot help suspecting that I should have spent those hours more profitably alone.


W. Somerset Maugham on Politicians

In The Summing Up (1938), W. Somerset Maugham had this to say about politicians:
I have known in various countries a good many politicians who have attained high office. I have continued to be puzzled by what seemed to me the mediocrity of their minds. I have found them ill-informed upon the ordinary affairs of life, and I have not often discovered in them either subtlety of intellect or liveliness of imagination.
Things have not changed much, in this respect at least, since 1938.


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