Wednesday, June 30, 2004



Democritus, Fragment 244 (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
Do not say or do what is base, even when you are alone. Learn to feel shame in your own eyes much more than before others.


Inner Retreat

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4 (tr. George Long):
Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.


Point of Honor

Dennis Mangan mentions a duel in a Spanish novel that occurred "because the one called the other 'Lordship' instead of 'Excellency', and the other called the one 'Your Grace' instead of 'Lordship'."

This reminds me of a few epigrams by the ancient Latin poet Martial (who was from Bilbilis in Spain, by the way), especially 6.88:
This morning, Caecilianus, I accidentally greeted you by your real name and I didn't say 'my Lord'. You ask me how much my excessive freedom of speech cost me? It took a hundred small coins from me.
Mane salutavi vero te nomine casu
  nec dixi dominum, Caeciliane, meum.
quanti libertas constet mihi tanta requiris?
  centum quadrantes abstulit illa mihi.
Martial is referring to the sportula, or gift which patrons gave to clients who attended the morning levee.

In the life of St. Teresa of Avila (also from Spain) written by herself we read about similar important nuances in forms of address (37.10, tr. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez):
But just for the titles of address in a letter there's need for a university chair, so to speak, to lecture on how it's to be done. For sometimes you have to leave a margin on this side of the page, sometimes on the other; and someone who's not usually addressed as magnifico must be addressed as illustrious.


Invitation to a Demolition

Karl Maurer (Vice President, Treasurer, Web Editor, Catholic Citizens of Illinois) extends an invitation to all members of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas:
Back in the 80's, a Chicago disk jockey set Comisky Park on fire and caused a riot by blowing up disco albums during a baseball game. It was dubbed "Disco Demolition." I would like to invite the members of this fine society to Chicago for Haugen Haas Demolition, at which thousands of vapid song texts would be blown to kingdom come. Any takers out there?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Political Thuggery

Baldilocks discusses two recent examples of political thuggery, one coming from the left side of the political spectrum and one from the right side.


A Taste of Juvenal

The Roman satirist Juvenal is not the easiest Latin author to read. A commentary is useful, often essential. But his poems are filled with clever sayings, crotchety opinions, nuggets of wisdom, and curious parallels to modern life which have interest even for those with little Latin. I've culled a few of these for your amusement.

There was an immigration problem in ancient Rome, and Juvenal opposed the influx of foreigners. He wrote (3.62): The Syrian Orontes has long since flowed into the Tiber. (iam pridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes.) We might paraphrase this in contemporary terms as: The Mexican Rio Grande has long since flowed into the Potomac.

Juvenal thought (10.80) that the degenerate Roman populace was concerned with two things only, bread and circuses (panem et circenses). A modern equivalent might be food stamps and reality TV shows.

The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison recalls Juvenal's question (6.347-348): Who will guard the guards themselves? (quis custodiet ipsos custodes?)

One of the best and pithiest statements of what we should pray for is Juvenal's phrase (10.356): a sound mind in a sound body (mens sana in corpore sano).

One could almost say that Juvenal predicted the modern craze for blogging in this sentence (7.51-52): An incurable itch to write takes hold of many people (tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes).

Surrounded by moral degeneracy, Juvenal exclaimed, "It's difficult not to write satire" (difficile est saturam non scribere, 1.30) and "Indignation creates my poetry" (facit indignatio versum, 1.79).

The corporate greed and rampant consumerism of our age are summed up in Juvenal's expression (3.183-184): Everything at Rome comes with a price tag. (omnia Romae cum pretio). Considering the power that lobbyists wield today, we might also paraphrase: Everything in Washington is for sale.

Juvenal even disapprovingly described a same-sex marriage, in a passage too long to quote (2.117-142). It wasn't an isolated incident, because his contemporaries Martial (12.42) and Tacitus (Annals 15.37) mentioned the same sort of thing.

So many modern parallels come to mind when reading Juvenal that we're almost forced to the conclusion that human nature hasn't changed all that much over the past couple of millennia.

In case this taste has whetted your appetite for more, I recommend the essay by Roger Kimball entitled Lessons from Juvenal, the lively translation of Juvenal's satires by Peter Green in the Penguin Classics series, and Gilbert Highet's book Juvenal the Satirist. And don't forget Dr. Johnson's imitations of two of the satires, the third (as London) and the tenth (as The Vanity of Human Wishes).


Dr. Johnson on the French

James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson:

1747 (aetat. 38):
ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.
1780 (aetat. 71):
A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows any thing of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say.


Support Groups

P.D. James, A Taste for Death (New York: Knopf, 1986), p. 55:
I have to endure it. But I don't have to talk about it.
Kobo Abe, The Ark Sakura, tr. J.W. Carpenter (New York: Knopf, 1988), p. 307:
The more you let others know how you really feel, the worse off you are.

Monday, June 28, 2004


The Last Expression of Democracy

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Philosophical Dialogues, quoted by Eric Hoffer in The Ordeal of Change (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 43-44:
It is much to be feared that the last expression of democracy may be a social state with a degenerate populace having no other aim than to indulge in the ignoble appetites of the vulgar.


Ordinate Love

St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana 1.27.28:
Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally.

Ille autem iuste et sancte vivit, qui rerum integer aestimator est. Ipse est autem qui ordinatam habet dilectionem, ne aut diligat quod non est diligendum, aut non diligat quod diligendum est, aut amplius diligat quod minus diligendum est, aut aeque diligat quod vel minus vel amplius diligendum est.



Goethe, Die Geheimnisse (The Mysteries):
The man who overcomes himself frees himself.

Befreit der Mensch sich, der sich überwindet.

Sunday, June 27, 2004


Men's Room Permutation

Leroy Quet posted the following query to the seqfan (fans of integer sequences) mailing list and also to sci.math:
Assume that the men in a men's-room wanting to relieve themselves are all rather modest about using the urinals.

They will, when other men are already using some of the urinals, each tend to use the urinal farthest from any other occupied urinal (or use one of these most-lonely urinals if there is a tie for loneliest urinal).

So, assuming we have a row of m urinals, which begin all unoccupied, how many ways are there for the men to line up at the urinals, assuming they WILL always follow the rule of using (one of) the most distant urinal(s)?

For simplicity, assume that each of the m men continues to occupy his urinal until all m urinals are occupied.

Now, mathematically, what we want is a permutation based on one of the 2 following rules:

1) Each urinal is chosen so that its closest occupied neighbor is at maximum distance.

2) Each urinal is chosen so that the product of (the distance to its left closest neighbor) and (the distance to its right closest neighbor) {or (the distance to its closest neighbor)^2
if the urinal is on the end of the row} is maximized.
Quet's post has generated much lively interest and discussion, and I'm glad that this fascinating topic is at last receiving from mathematicians the attention it deserves. Every man knows immediately what Quet is talking about. The behavior he describes is an unwritten law in men's rooms, rarely if ever violated.

Update: A correspondent draws my attention to an interactive game that tests your practical knowledge of this law. Thanks, Raymond.


The Soul of Our Culture

Nietzsche, Morgenröthe (Daybreak), III, 175 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Today we can see coming into existence the culture of a society in which commerce is as much the soul as personal contest was with the ancient Greeks and as war, victory and justice were for the Romans.
Man sieht jetzt mehrfach die Cultur einer Gesellschaft im Entstehen, für welche das Handeltreiben ebenso sehr die Seele ist, als der persönliche Wettkampf es für die älteren Griechen und als Krieg, Sieg und Recht es für die Römer waren.
In Nietzsche's day this culture was coming into existence. In ours it has triumphed completely.


Surrounded by History

I mentioned to Henry Verheggen that one of my ideas for a dream vacation was to visit Civil War battlefields. He replied:
I live outside a small 18th century town called Waterford where there was a skirmish near the Baptist church, still standing. I live on Loyalty Road, so-called because the Quakers of Waterford sided with the Union. On the other side of Catoctin Ridge from me is the site of the Balls Bluff, where Oliver Wendell Holmes was severely wounded. From my backyard, I look at the Blue Ridge mountains running in a straight line from horizon to horizon. To the north I can see the gap where the Potomac flows through at Harper's Ferry. Just north of the gap I see South Mountain, where General Garland was killed and is buried. (I am descended from the Garlands, who have been in VA since the mid 1600's.) On the other side of South Mountain is Antietam.

Saturday, June 26, 2004


Martial on Blogging

Martial 1.16:
There are good things, there are some mediocre things, there are more bad things which you read here: a book is not made in any other way, Avitus.
sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura
quae legis hic: aliter non fit, Avite, liber.
We could paraphrase this as:
There are good posts, there are some mediocre posts, there are more bad posts which you read here: a blog is not made in any other way, Avitus.


Xenophon's Anabasis

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), Summer IX:
But I am thinking of the Anabasis. Were this the sole book existing in Greek, it would be abundantly worth while to learn the language in order to read it.


God's Angry Man

Phyllis McGinley on St. Jerome:
God's angry man,
His crotchety scholar,
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller,
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of libel,
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.


Two Plus Two

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949):
A metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what by two, what by makes, and what by four. For asking such questions metaphysicians are supported in oriental luxury in the universities, and respected as educated and intelligent men.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799):
Doubt everything at least once, even the proposition that two times two equals four. (Zweifle an allem wenigstens einmal, und wäre es auch der Satz: zweimal 2 ist 4.)
Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Plague (1947):
There always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death. (Mais il vient toujours une heure dans l’histoire où celui qui ose dire que deux et deux font quatre est puni de mort.)

Friday, June 25, 2004


Baby Hercules

The June 24, 2004, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has an article by Dr. Markus Schuelke et al. entitled "Myostatin Mutation and Muscle Hypertrophy in a Child," about a German child born about four years ago with inactive myostatin genes. Myostatin inhibits muscle growth, and so its failure to function in this child resulted in big muscles and unusual strength. Since NEJM makes its articles available only to paid subscribers, here is a summary from another source.

This story makes me speculate, idly and wildly, whether a similar mutation might have been behind ancient Greek myths about Hercules, who as a baby killed two snakes with his bare hands. References in ancient literature to this episode abound. Two extended descriptions are:Some ancient art works depicting the incident which you can look at on the Web are:

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Reasons for Drinking

The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition) attributes the following little poem to Henry Aldrich (1647-1710):
Si bene quid memini, causae sunt quinque bibendi;
Hospitis adventus, praesens sitis atque futura,
Aut vini bonitas, aut quaelibet altera causa.
If on my theme I rightly think,
There are five reasons why men drink:
Good wine; a friend; because I'm dry;
Or lest I should be by and by;
Or any other reason why.



Sharon Cohen's Priceless life of a monk is a good portrait of life at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.

In my younger days I thought of becoming a monk and used to spend my vacations visiting monasteries. I finally decided against the calling. The vows of poverty and chastity I thought I could observe, but not the vow of obedience. Rebellion against authority is too deeply rooted in my sinful nature.

I am glad to see that monasticism is flourishing at St. Meinrad Archabbey, though. If ever any age needed the counterbalance of monasticism, it is ours.


Thoreau and Huckleberries

Bill Vallicella quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson's criticism of Henry David Thoreau's interest in huckleberries rather than engineering. In Emerson's eyes it showed a disgraceful lack of ambition.

Emerson's son Edward might have disagreed with his father about the relative merits of huckleberrying and engineering. Here is an account of a Concord huckleberrying party, from Moncure Daniel Conway's Autobiography (Boston, 1904), vol. 1, p. 148:
Then there were the huckleberrying parties. These were under the guidance of Thoreau, because he alone knew the precise locality of every variety of the berry. I recall an occasion when little Edward Emerson, carrying a basket of fine huckleberries, had a fall and spilt them all. Great was his distress, and our offers of berries could not console him for the loss of those gathered by himself. But Thoreau came, put his arm around the troubled child, and explained to him that if the crop of huckleberries was to continue, it was necessary that some should be scattered. Nature had provided that little boys should now and then stumble and sow the berries. We shall have a grand lot of bushes and berries in this spot and we shall owe them to you. Edward began to smile.
This is just one of many examples of the misanthropic Thoreau's kindness and tenderness toward children. Most grownups he had given up on, but children were not yet hardened in their ways and there was still hope for them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004



In The Sign of Jonas, Thomas Merton wrote:
The union of ceremonies and words in the Mass is the simplest and deepest and most fundamental and also the easiest and most perfectly satisfactory way of adoring God that could be imagined.
Of course he wrote this in 1953, before the rot set in.

One advantage of the old Latin Mass is that the priest was not likely to improvise, an advantage now lost in the vernacular Mass. A priest in my parish regularly injects into the Mass the words "God, source of all Father-Love and Mother-Love," a phrase of his own invention, nowhere to be found in Sacred Scripture or in the Mass as approved by liturgical norms.

In a piano concerto, there is a place for improvisation, and that is the cadenza. In the Mass there is a place for improvisation, and that is the homily.



American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962):



Walker Percy, Love In the Ruins (New York: Avon, 1981), p. 207:
Students are, if the truth be known, a bad lot. En masse they're as fickle as a mob, manipulable by any professor who'll stoop to it. They have, moreover, an infinite capacity for repeating dull truths and old lies with all the insistence of self-discovery. Nothing is drearier than the ideology of students, left or right.


Conductors on Modern Music

Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970):
Three farts and a raspberry, orchestrated.
Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), when asked if he had ever conducted music by Karlheinz Stockhausen:
No, but I have trodden in some.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Survey of Ancient Literature

Ben Jonson, Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman, Act 2:
SIR JOHN DAW: There's Aristotle, a mere common-place fellow; Plato, a discourser; Thucydides and Livy, tedious and dry; Tacitus, an entire knot: sometimes worth the untying, very seldom.

NED CLERIMONT: What do you think of the poets, Sir John?

SIR JOHN DAW: Not worthy to be named for authors. Homer, an old tedious, prolix ass, talks of curriers, and chines of beef. Virgil of dunging of land, and bees. Horace, of I know not what.
A 'currier' is one who curries (softens with fat) and dresses leather, after it is tanned.


A Prophecy Fulfilled

Seneca, Medea 375-379:
Ages will come, in later years,
When Ocean will loosen earth's chains
And a vast land will appear.
Tethys will uncover new worlds,
And Thule will not be earth's limit.
venient annis saecula seris,
quibus Oceanus vincula rerum
laxet et ingens pateat tellus
Tethysque novos detegat orbes
nec sit terris ultima Thule.
Ferdinand Columbus wrote in the margin of his copy of Seneca's Tragedies next to this passage:
This prophecy was fulfilled by my father Admiral Christopher Columbus in the year 1492. (Haec prophetia expleta est per patrem meum Christoforum Colon almirantem anno 1492.)
In Greek mythology Tethys is the wife of Ocean. Thule is first mentioned by the ancient Greek explorer Pytheas. Strabo (1.4.2) quotes him as saying that Thule "is a six days' sail north of Britain, and is near the frozen sea."


Trousered Apes

Erasmus, Praise of Folly:
An ape is always an ape, even if it's dressed in purple. (simia semper est simia, etiam si purpura vestiatur.)
The phrase 'trousered apes' comes from from C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man (1947), and was borrowed by Duncan Williams for the title of a book published in 1971.


A Cheerful Fellow

Joseph Hellmesberger on Johannes Brahms:
When Brahms is in good spirits, he sings "The grave is my joy."

Monday, June 21, 2004


The Spanish Inquisition

Dennis Mangan has some excellent remarks on the Spanish Inquisition. You may be surprised, as I was, to learn that some criminals committed blasphemy on purpose, in order to be transferred to the relatively milder jurisdiction of the Inquisition.


The Age of Noise

Aldous Huxley:
The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise, and noise of desire -- we hold history's record for all of them. And no wonder, for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. The most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which prefabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear-drums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions -- news items, mutually irrelevent bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but merely create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.



In his Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines happiness as "an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Lucretius, at the beginning of the second book of his De Rerum Natura, admits that it is sweet to contemplate others' misfortunes, not however from any fiendish pleasure in seeing our fellow men suffer, but because we ourselves are spared. Here is H.A.J. Munro's translation:
It is sweet, when on the great sea the winds trouble its waters, to behold from land another's deep distress; not that it is a pleasure and delight that any should be afflicted, but because it is sweet to see from what evils you yourself are exempt. It is sweet also to look upon the mighty struggles of war arrayed along the plains without sharing yourself in the danger. But nothing is more welcome than to hold the lofty positions well fortified by the learning of the wise, from which you may look down upon others and see them wandering all abroad and going astray in their search for the path of life, see the contest among them of intellect, the rivalry of birth, the striving night and day with surpassing effort to struggle up to the summit of power and be masters of the world.



The word 'verbicide' means 'murder of a word,' coined on the analogy of 'suicide' ('murder of one's self'), 'homicide' ('murder of one's fellow man'), etc. It can also mean 'murderer of a word,' in the same way that a 'suicide' can mean a 'murderer of one's self' and a 'homicide' can mean a 'murderer of one's fellow man'.

Some claim that C.S. Lewis invented the word 'verbicide'. He didn't; it existed for more than a century before he used it in his Studies in Words, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967). But his analysis is incisive. He distinguishes four different methods of verbicide (pp. 7-8):On p. 132, Lewis says, "We cannot stop the verbicides. The most we can do is not imitate them."

David Orr has written an essay on verbicide well worth reading, in which he laments:
In the past 50 years, by one reckoning, the working vocabulary of the average 14 year-old has declined from some 25,000 words to 10,000 words. This is not merely a decline in numbers of words but in the capacity to think. It also signifies that there has been a steep decline in the number of things that an adolescent needs to know and to name in order to get by in an increasingly homogenized and urbanized consumer society. This is a national tragedy virtually unnoticed in the media. It is no mere coincidence that in roughly the same half century the average person has come to recognize over 1000 corporate logos, but can now recognize fewer than 10 plants and animals native to his or her locality.
One might call this verbicide by mental starvation.

A combination of ignorance and political correctness has killed or at least wounded many a word, including the innocuous niggardly. David Howard, on the staff of Washington DC's mayor Anthony Williams, lost his job (temporarily) for saying the word in a staff meeting, and Amelia Rideau, an English major at the University of Wisconsin, was so upset at the use of the word by Professor Standish Henning that she "began to cry and stormed from the room," later demanding that the University ban the word from its classrooms.

Sunday, June 20, 2004



Henry David Thoreau, essay on Walking:
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least -- and it is commonly more than that -- sauntering through the woods.
Jane Thoreau (his aunt), letter dated 7 September 1848:
I wish he could find something better to do than walking off every now and then.


Presidential Audiences

Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The War Years, Vol. 2 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1939), p. 236, quoting words spoken by Lincoln to Major General Charles G. Halpine:
Men moving only in an official circle are apt to become merely official -- not to say arbitrary -- in their ideas, and are apter with each passing day, to forget that they only hold power in a representative capacity. Now this is all wrong. I go into these promiscuous receptions of all who claim to have business with me, twice each week, and every applicant for audience has to take his turn, as if waiting to be shaved in a barber shop. Many of the matters brought to my notice are utterly frivolous, but others are of more or less importance, and all serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage out of which I sprung.
One problem with the current blue-blooded, prep-schooled, Yale-educated crop of presidential candidates is that they did not spring from "that great popular assemblage," and consequently have little practical knowledge of the everyday difficulties faced by the ordinary folk they pretend to represent.


Between You and Me

I think I hear the solecism "between you and I" in everyday conversation just about as often as the correct "between you and me." Even Dickens made a similar mistake, in chapter 2 of The Old Curiosity Shop, where he wrote, "Leave Nell and I to toil and work."


For My Daughter

From "Girl's-Eye View of Relatives" by Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978):

The thing to remember about fathers is, they're men.
A girl has to keep it in mind.
They are dragon-seekers, bent on improbable rescues.
Scratch any father, you find
Someone chock-full of qualms and romantic terrors.
Believing change is a threat --
Like your first shoes with heels on, like your first bicycle
It took such months to get.

Walk in strange woods, they warn you about the snakes there.
Climb, and they fear you'll fall.
Books, angular boys, or swimming in deep water --
Fathers mistrust them all.
Men are the worriers. It is difficult for them
To learn what they must learn:
How you have a journey to take and very likely,
For a while, will not return.


Lost Books

Some people are under the mistaken impression that the corpus of ancient literature is fixed, that no books are ever added to it. As a matter of fact, we now have many ancient books that were unknown to scholars just a century ago, for example many fragmentary plays of the Greek comic poet Menander.

The stories of such discoveries make fascinating reading in their own right. In World War II, the British were building a munitions dump at Tura, outside Cairo, when native workers discovered a hidden cache of ancient manuscripts, including hitherto unknown works of Didymus the Blind. Roger Pearse has an interesting account of the discovery.

Only about 35 books survive of the 142 written by the ancient Roman historian Livy. Throughout the centuries there have been periodic and persistent rumors about the lost books of Livy coming to light. There's a witty and erudite essay on this subject by B.L. Ullman, entitled "The Post-Mortem Adventures of Livy," in his Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 2nd edition (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1973), pp. 53-77.

The most recent rumor was a false claim by Dr. Mario Di Martino Fusco in 1924 that he had discovered a copy of the lost books of Livy. The hoax was at first believed even by the eminent classical scholar R.S. Conway, but was finally exploded when A.E. Housman identified a printed facsimile purporting to be a few lines of one of the manuscripts as actually part of Sulpicius Severus' Life of Saint Martin of Tours.

Ullman hopes that the rumors and hoaxes continue, and ends his essay with the words:
When the Lost Books of Livy disappear into Lethe, the River of Oblivion, we shall know that the Renaissance has come to an end and another tombstone may be erected, inscribed on which will be the words: "Hic iacent studia humanitatis et spes librorum Livianorum reperiundorum; requiescant Livi manes in pace." "Here lie humanistic studies and the hopes of finding the books of Livy; may the shade of Livy rest in peace."

Saturday, June 19, 2004


Being Productive

Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann, March 28, 1827 (tr. John Oxenford):
What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.


Mark Twain on the Muslim Veil

Warning, warning! Politically incorrect passage coming up! The humorless are advised to read no further.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, chapter 9:
I have caught a glimpse of the faces of several Moorish women (for they are only human, and will expose their faces for the admiration of a Christian dog when no male Moor is by), and I am full of veneration for the wisdom that leads them to cover up such atrocious ugliness.


Dare To Be Wise

The Latin expression 'carpe diem' ('seize the day', from Horace, Odes 1.11.8) is familiar even to those without Latin. If you're looking for another simple Latin phrase to learn, I recommend 'sapere aude' ('dare to be wise', also from Horace, Epistles 1.2.40). The imperative 'aude' means 'dare' (cf. 'audacious'), and the infinitive 'sapere' means
'to be wise' (cf. 'homo sapiens' = 'wise man', an optimistic description if there ever was one).


Babbitt's College Education

Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922)

From Chapter 6:
"Course I'd never admit it publicly -- fellow like myself, a State. U. graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater -- but smatter of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent."
From Chapter 9:
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, shall we ask the guide to put us into communication with the spirit of some great one passed over?"

Mrs. Orville Jones begged, "Oh, let's talk to Dante! We studied him at the reading circle. You know who he was, Orvy."

"Certainly I know who he was! The Wop poet. Where do you think I was raised?" from her insulted husband.

"Sure -- the fellow that took the Cook's Tour to Hell. I've never waded through his po'try, but we learned about him at the U.," said Babbitt.
Nowadays you could get all the way through the U. without studying poetry or French or learning about Dante. Babbitt was an educated man compared to many of today's graduates.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Bentley's Method

R.C. Jebb, Bentley (London, 1909), p. 224:
Even with a Bentley's power, a Bentley could have been made only by his method, -- by his devoted and systematic study, not of books about the classics, but of the classical texts themselves; by testing, at each step, his comprehension of what he read; by not allowing the mere authority of tradition to supersede the free exercise of independent judgement; and by remembering that the very right of such judgement must rest on the patience, the intelligence, the completeness with which the tradition itself has been surveyed.
Bentley is the famous English classical scholar, Richard Bentley (1662-1742). Jebb's own devotion to this same ideal is evident on every page of his magisterial commentary on Sophocles.


Little Latin Lesson

Cicero, Pro Archia Poeta (In Defense of the Poet Archias) 7.16, on the study of literature:
For other relaxations of the mind aren't suitable for all times, all ages, all places. But these studies nourish youth, divert old age, charm us when things go well, offer a refuge and consolation when things go badly, delight us at home, are not a hindrance away from home, serve as our companions through the night, on journeys, in rural retreats.
nam ceterae neque temporum sunt neque aetatum omnium neque locorum: haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.
Don't skip over the Latin. Instead, linger over it and try to pick out words that look familiar to you. A paragraph of Latin like this has a familiar and comfortable look to it. Even if you can't read it yet, you can at least recognize many words that remind you of other words you already know:English speakers don't have the same feeling of familiarity looking at a paragraph of Russian, or Swahili, or Chinese, or Lakota. Students of Latin have a head start over the students of many other languages.


Uncharitable Contribution

When representatives of charities call me during supper or knock on my front door, I'm sorely tempted to give them the same contribution that Thomas gave the mendicant friar in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale, lines 480-491.

Thursday, June 17, 2004


The Curse of Babel

Michael Tweedie, Insect Life (London: Collins, 1977), p. 170:
The general use of Latin as a means of communication is now virtually confined to biological nomenclature. Failure to maintain its use as a language is the one great loss that science and culture have suffered during the last couple of centuries. If it had been retained people inclined towards learning and travel would have had to learn one language in addition to their own to enable them to go about the world largely unimpeded by the curse of Babel.


Merton on Gregorian Chant

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, Part 3, Chapter 4 (The Sweet Savor of Liberty):
It is an austere warmth, the warmth of Gregorian chant. It is deep beyond ordinary emotion, and that is one reason why you never get tired of it. It never wears you out by making a lot of cheap demands on your sensibilities. Instead of drawing you out into the open field of feelings where your enemies, the devil and your own imagination and the inherent vulgarity of your own corrupted nature can get at you with their blades and cut you to pieces, it draws you within, where you are lulled in peace and recollection and where you find God.


Blog Photo

I have a confession to make. That's not really Michael Gilleland in the blog photograph. It's part of Giovanni Bellini's late 15th century painting of St. Jerome Reading in the Countryside. Bellini painted another evocative picture of St. Jerome Reading.

If there were a patron saint of curmudgeons, St. Jerome would be chosen for the honor. It was E.K. Rand's chapter on "St. Jerome the Humanist" in Founders of the Middle Ages (1928) that first got me interested in this irascible, learned saint.


Publish or Perish

W.M. Calder on Benedict Einarson, in Gnomon 51 (1979) 207:
He told me aged 25 that I must write nothing until 40 for I would not know enough.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Steinbeck's Latin Motto

Dennis Mangan reminds us of John Steinbeck's Latin motto: 'Ad astra per alia porci' ('To the stars on the wings of a pig').

Most other sources on the Internet quote the motto the same way. I'm puzzled, though. The Latin word 'ala' (feminine singular) means 'wing' (although 'penna' is the more common Latin word for 'wing', I think). But to be the plural object of the preposition 'per', the correct form would be 'alas', not 'alia', i.e. 'Ad astra per alas porci'.

Steinbeck's motto is of course a take-off on the Latin motto 'Ad astra per aspera' ('To the stars through difficulties', the state motto of Kansas), with perhaps a glance at the English expression 'When pigs fly'.

'Ad astra per alas porci' is the motto of a Swedish fraternity, the Ordo Svejkalis.



C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.


St. Jerome on Wealth and Poverty

In all of the following passages, St. Jerome seems to assume that the amount of money in the world is a fixed quantity:

On Isaiah 33.13:
Monies are not heaped up for one man except with loss and damage to another man. (nisi cum alterius damno et malo, pecuniae alteri non coacervantur.)
Letters 120.1:
For all wealth is derived from wickedness, and unless one man has lost, another cannot find. (omnes enim divitiae de iniquitate descendunt, et nisi alter perdiderit, alter non potest invenire.)
Tractate on Psalm 8.24:
For whoever is rich, cannot be rich unless he has robbed a poor man. (quicumque enim dives est, nisi pauperem exspoliaverit, dives esse non potest.)


Slow to Publish

Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets: Alexander Pope:
His publications were for the same reason never hasty. He is said to have sent nothing to the press till it had lain two years under his inspection: it is at least certain that he ventured nothing without nice examination. He suffered the tumult of imagination to subside, and the novelties of invention to grow familiar. He knew that the mind is always enamoured of its own productions, and did not trust his first fondness. He consulted his friends, and listened with great willingness to criticism; and, what was of more importance, he consulted himself, and let nothing pass against his own judgement.


A Scholar's Reception

Molière, The Learned Women (Les Femmes Savantes), Act III, Scene 3 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
Good Heavens, Greek, Greek! Sister, he knows Greek!
My niece, Greek!
Greek! How lovely! How unique!
The gentleman knows Greek? Let each of us,
Sir, for the love of Greek, embrace you -- thus.

Du grec, Ô Ciel! du grec! Il sait du grec, ma sœur!
Ah, ma nièce, du grec!
Du grec! quelle douceur!
Quoi? Monsieur sait du grec? Ah! permettez, de grâce,
Que pour l'amour du grec, Monsieur, on vous embrasse.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Population Density

Rousseau, Émile, Book I (tr. Barbara Foxley):
Men are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together, the more corrupt they become. Disease and vice are the sure results of over-crowded cities. Of all creatures man is least fitted to live in herds. Huddled together like sheep, men would very soon die. Man's breath is fatal to his fellows. This is literally as well as figuratively true.
Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to pick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told -- in the English phrase -- to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need for warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.


What to Study

Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann, April 1, 1827 (tr. John Oxenford):
One should not study contemporaries and competitors, but the great men of antiquity, whose works have, for centuries, received equal homage and consideration. Indeed, a man of superior endowments will feel the necessity of this, and it is just this need for an intercourse with great predecessors, which is the sign of a higher talent. Let us study Molière, let us study Shakespeare, but above all things, the old Greeks, and always the Greeks.


Opponents of Telegraphy

Samuel F.B. Morse received a patent on the telegraph in 1844. Thoreau's criticism of the invention in the first chapter of Walden is well known:
We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey.
The first telegraph station in Texas opened on February 14, 1854, in Marshall, near the border with Louisiana. I do not know when or where the first telegraph office opened in Maine.

Thoreau's criticism of the telegraph was echoed in England a few years later, in Thomas Love Peacock's novel Gryll Grange, chapter XIX:
LORD CURRYFIN. Well, then, what say you to the electric telegraph, by which you converse at a distance of thousands of miles? Even across the Atlantic, as no doubt we shall yet do.

MR. GRYLL. Some of us have already heard the Doctor's opinion on that subject.

THE REVEREND DOCTOR OPIMIAN. I have no wish to expedite communication with the Americans. If we could apply the power of electrical repulsion to preserve us from ever hearing anything more of them, I should think that we had for once derived a benefit from science.
Between the time Thoreau's Walden was published (1854) and the time Peacock's Gryll Grange was published (1860), a telegraph message was transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean, on August 16, 1858, but within weeks of that transmission the underwater cable was damaged, and a new one was not completed until 1866.

Monday, June 14, 2004


A Blessing and a Curse

Charles Lamb, letter to Matilda Bentham (undated, probably early October 1815):
Oh, darling laziness! heaven of Epicurus! Saint's Everlasting Rest! that I could drink vast potations of thee thro' unmeasured Eternity -- Otium cum vel sine dignitate. Scandalous, dishonourable, any kind of repose. I stand not on the dignified sort. Accursed, damned desks, trade, commerce, business. Inventions of that old original busybody, Satan -- Sabbathless, restless Satan. A curse relieves; do you ever try it?
Lamb was chained to a desk at the East India House. In this letter he plays a variation on the Latin expression 'otium cum dignitate' (Cicero, De Oratore 1.1, leisure with dignity), saying that any kind of leisure, 'cum vel sine dignitate' (with or without dignity), would be a blessing.


The End of Music

William A. Henry III, In Defense of Elitism (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p. 182:
To me, music ended with Schubert.
To me, a few years later, with Brahms.



Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (1957; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 369, n. 1:
Scholars who, whether in Germany or in Britain, propagate such artificialities as 'Horatius', 'Akhilleus', 'Arkhilokhos' are guilty of widening the gulf between their countrymen and the classics.
Fraenkel preferred (in English) Horace, Achilles, Archilochus.


Dorothy Sayers on Education

In a lecture on The Lost Tools of Learning delivered at Oxford in 1947, Dorothy Sayers argued convincingly for the restoration of the trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) as the centerpiece of elementary (pre-university) education. Here is one of her recommendations:
Latin should be begun as early as possible -- at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world; and when the chanting of "amo, amas, amat" is as ritually agreeable to the feelings as the chanting of "eeny, meeny, miney, moe."


Sleep and Death

Both Homer and Hesiod call Sleep and Death (Hypnos and Thanatos) brothers:The passage from Homer's Iliad is portrayed on a famous red-figure calyx-krater of around 515 BC, signed by Euxitheos (potter) and Euphronios (painter), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Likewise the passage from Hesiod's Theogony is the inspiration for a carving on a cedar chest described by Pausanias 5.18.1 (tr. W.H.S. Jones) but no longer extant:
There is a figure of a woman holding on her right arm a white child asleep, and on her left she has a black child like one who is asleep. Each has his feet turned different ways. The inscriptions declare, as one could infer without inscriptions, that the figures are Death and Sleep, with Night the nurse of both.
It is easy to see how sleep and death were associated. A sleeper's breathing is often so shallow as to be hard to detect, and the sleeping body is motionless for long periods of time, like a corpse. On the one hand, poets liken death to sleep, e.g. Hesiod, Works and Days 116 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White), speaking of mortals of the Golden Age:
When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep.
On the other hand, they liken sleep to death, e.g. Homer, Odyssey 13.79-81 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Upon the eyes of Odysseus there fell a sleep, gentle, / the sweetest kind of sleep with no awakening, most like / death.
We find this idea among the ancient Romans as well, whether by borrowing from the Greeks, common Indo-European origin, or independent development, e.g.From this idea it is a small step to the notion of death as the sleep from which there is no awakening:Even now believers in life after death pray for their dear departed in these words: "Eternal rest grant unto them, Lord." (requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.)

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Corpus Christi

Today, on the feast of Corpus Christi, it's worth while taking a few moments to read Saint Thomas Aquinas' sublime hymn Pange lingua.


Bible Study

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, n.d.), p. 121:
What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces.


Pity and Cruelty

In the sixth book of the Iliad (lines 36-65), the Trojan Adrestus falls out of his chariot on the field of battle. The Greek hero Menelaus is on the verge of killing him when Adrestus clasps Menelaus' knees, begs for mercy, and promises ransom if he is spared. At first Menelaus is inclined to take pity on Adrestus, until Agamemnon persuades him otherwise, arguing that the Trojans should be destroyed root and branch. Menelaus kicks Adrestus away, and Agamemnon kills him with a spear thrust.

With nearly two thousand years of Christianity behind us, we are apt to regard cruelty as the temptation and pity as the virtue that overcomes the temptation. But in this passage from the Iliad, pity is a weak, unmanly impulse, and the unswerving resolve to destroy the enemy is seen as virtuous. Homer describes Agamemnon's advice to Menelaus as 'aisima,' proper or righteous.

The hero par excellence, Achilles, routinely rejects pleas for mercy (from Tros, 20.463-483, and Lycaon, 21.64-135). When Hector falls beneath Achilles' spear, he pleads not for his life, because he knows that his wound is fatal, but for his body to be released to his mother and father for burial (22.337-354). Achilles rejects his supplication and does his utmost to mistreat Hector's corpse, dragging it behind his chariot around the tomb of Patroclus (who was slain by Hector). Achilles finally relents, however, and gives up the body to Hector's aged father Priam in the final book of the Iliad. Pity has at last vanquished cruelty.


Walking versus Driving

Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), p. 88:
There is this to be said for walking: It's the one mode of human locomotion by which a man proceeds on his own two feet, upright, erect, as a man should be, not squatting on his rear haunches like a frog.


Paean to Sleep

Carmina Burana 62 = Dum Diane vitrea, tr. Helen Waddell:
Thrice happy sleep!
The antidote to care,
Thou dost allay the storm
Of grief and sore despair;
Through the fast-closed gates
Thou stealest light;
Thy coming gracious is
As Love's delight.

Sleep through the wearied brain
Breathes a soft wind
From fields of ripening grain,
The sound
Of running water over clearest sand,
A millwheel turning slowly round,
These steal the light
From eyes weary of sight.

O quam felix est
antidotum soporis,
quod curarum tempestates
sedat et doloris!
dum surrepit clausis
oculorum poris,
gaudio equiparat
dulcedini amoris.

Morpheus in mentem
trahit impellentem
ventum lenem
segetes maturas,
murmura rivorum
per arenas puras,
circulares ambitus
qui furantur somno
lumen oculorum.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


Attack on Latin

An unfortunately true story by blogger Retired Choir Director reveals the lengths to which some cretins will go to obliterate the cultural heritage of the West:
There in the sacristy was my "boss" the Liturgy Co-Ordinator/Pastoral Minister and her buddy the Senior Citizen Ministry Director. There's nothing odd about seeing them in the sacristy, what was odd was that they were RIPPING PAGES OUT OF A HYMNAL AND THROWING THEM INTO A LARGE GARBAGE CAN! The looks on their faces were priceless. They were terrified (I'm 6'6 and have been told I'm scary looking). They explained that they thought I had left and that they were just ripping out the songs they didn't want me to use anymore.

Now for those of you not familiar with the Pius X Hymnal, it has a good selection of English hymns as well as the normal Latin. As I reached into the garbage can and picked out the pages (luckily they'd only ripped pages out of 4 hymnals by the time I got there), I found that they were leaving all the English hymns (unless they had Latin on the back side of them) and were ripping out all the Latin.

When I asked them why they were doing this, they explained that they "didn't want me doing the Latin anymore" and that we had to "get the kids into the pews!"


Perspectives on the Past

Mark Pattison, Memoirs of an Oxford Don (1885; rpt. London, 1988), pp. 50-51:
A man who does not know what has been thought by those who have gone before him is sure to set an undue value upon his own ideas -- ideas which have perhaps been tried and found wanting.
Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, 2nd edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 156:
One of the best reasons for studying the past is to protect oneself against that insularity in time which restricts the uneducated and those who write to please them. The ordinary man feels superior to the men of ages past, whose technology was inferior to what he is used to and whose ethical and political beliefs were not those which he has been taught to consider as the right ones. When he condescends to pay any attention to the past, he looks at once for a resemblance to the present. If he believes that he has found any he may be willing to concede to the past some measure of patronising tolerance; but if he can find none, he will dismiss it with impatience. The educated man, however, will observe with interest both the resemblances and the differences between past and present.


Final Hours

In his tribute to Kurt Huber, Bill Vallicella reminds us that Huber spent the days before his execution by the Nazis working on a book about Leibniz. In like manner Boethius wrote his Consolation of Philosophy in prison before his execution, and Socrates, condemned to death, spent his final days in conversations with his friends, recorded in Plato's immortal dialogues Crito and Phaedo.

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (tr. Thomas P. Whitney), describes the last days of some prison camp inmates:
At the Samarka Camp in 1946 a group of intellectuals had reached the very brink of death: They were worn down by hunger, cold, and work beyond their powers. And they were even deprived of sleep. They had nowhere to lie down. Dugout barracks had not yet been built. Did they go and steal? Or squeal? Or whimper about their ruined lives? No! Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, this is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a "seminar," and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not -- they delivered their last lectures to each other.
In a letter from prison to his brother Carlo (December 19, 1929), Antonio Gramsci wrote:
Even if I were condemned to die, I think that I might be serene. The night before the execution I might even study a bit of Chinese!
Pascal, Pensees 203, exhorts:
That passion may not harm us, let us act as if we had only eight hours to live.
A question to ponder: If you knew your death was imminent, how would you spend your last eight hours on earth?



Eaton Stannard Barrett, Woman, a Poem (London: Henry Colburn, 1818):
Not she with trait'rous kiss her Saviour stung,
Not she denied him with unholy tongue;
She, while Apostles shrank, could danger brave,
Last at his cross and earliest at his grave.

Friday, June 11, 2004



Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, offers three reasons for staying home, the Emersonian ("travel does not deliver what it promises"), the Pascalian ("it delivers us into temptation and vexation"), and the Vallicellan ("it knocks us out of our natural orbit, to return to which wastes time").

Vallicella thinks that Emerson borrowed his conception of the "indifference of places" from Seneca. I can recall a couple of passages where Seneca talks about this:
Epistulae Morales 28.2: You ask why this flight of yours doesn't help you? You're taking yourself with you as you flee. (quaeris, quare te fuga ista non adiuvet? tecum fugis.)
De Tranquillitate Animi 2.14-15: One journey is undertaken after another, and sights are traded for sights. As Lucretius [cf. 3.1060] says, "In this way each person is fleeing from himself." But what good does it do unless each person escapes from himself? He accompanies himself and is troublesome, a most unwelcome companion. And so we ought to know that our suffering isn't the fault of places, but of our selves. (aliud ex alio iter suscipitur et spectacula spectaculis mutantur. Vt ait Lucretius, "hoc se quisque modo semper fugit." sed quid prodest, si non effugit? sequitur se ipse et urget gravissimus comes. itaque scire debemus non locorum vitium est quo laboramus, sed nostrum.)
The passage from Lucretius (3.1053-1069, tr. H.A.J. Munro) is interesting in its own right:
They would not spend their life as we see them now for the most part do, not knowing any one of them what he means and wanting ever change of place as though he might lay his burden down. The man who is sick of home often issues forth from his large mansion, and as suddenly comes back to it, finding as he does that he is no better off abroad. He races to his country-house, driving his jennets in headlong haste, as if hurrying to bring help to a house on fire: he yawns the moment he has reached the door of his house, or sinks heavily into sleep, or even in haste goes back again to town. In this way each man flies from himself (but self from whom, as you may be sure is commonly the case, he cannot escape, clings to him in his own despite), hates too himself.
The locus classicus for this commonplace is Horace, Epistulae 1.11.27:
They who run across the sea get a change of sky but not of mind. (caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.)



Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Problem I (tr. Walter Lowrie):
Every profound thinker and every serious artist is even in our day rejuvenated by the eternal youth of the Greek race.


Chinese Metaphysics

Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, chapter 51:
"They appeared in the form of a copious review of a work on Chinese metaphysics, Sir," said Pott.

"Oh," observed Mr. Pickwick; "from your pen, I hope?"

"From the pen of my critic, Sir," rejoined Pott, with dignity.

"An abstruse subject, I should conceive," said Mr. Pickwick.

"Very, Sir," responded Pott, looking intensely sage. "He CRAMMED for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject, at my desire, in the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.'"

"Indeed!" said Mr. Pickwick; "I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information respecting Chinese metaphysics."

"He read, Sir," rejoined Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's knee, and looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority -- "he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, Sir!"


Meaningful Work

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead, part 1, chapter 2 (tr. David McDuff):
The thought once occurred to me that if one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.

Sunday, June 06, 2004


Go Ye Into All the World, and Preach

Herman Melville, Typee (1846), chapter 17:
The term "savage" is, I conceive, often misapplied, and indeed, when I consider the vices, cruelties, and enormities of every kind that spring up in the tainted atmosphere of a feverish civilization, I am inclined to think that so far as the relative wickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five Marquesan Islanders sent to the United States as Missionaries might be quite as useful as an equal number of Americans despatched to the Islands in a similar capacity.



George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), Spring XXIII:
Every morning when I awake, I thank heaven for silence. This is my orison. I remember the London days when sleep was broken by clash and clang, by roar and shriek, and when my first sense of returning to consciousness was hatred of the life about me. Noises of wood and metal, clattering of wheels, banging of implements, jangling of bells -- all such things are bad enough, but worse still is the clamorous human voice. Nothing on earth is more irritating to me than a bellow or scream of idiot mirth, nothing more hateful than a shout or yell of brutal anger.



William Cowper, letter to William Unwin, July 1779:
But you think Margate more lively [than Ramsgate] -- So is a Cheshire Cheese full of Mites more Lively than a Sound one, but that very Liveliness only proves its Rottenness.



The ancient Latin poet Naevius (quoted by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 4.31.67) represented the Trojan hero Hector saying to his father Priam:
I am glad, father, to be praised by you, who are a praiseworthy man (laetus sum laudari me abs te, pater, a laudato viro).
A character in Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley (chapter 30) varies this:
On abuse, on reproach, on calumny, it is easy to smile; but painful indeed is the panegyric of those we contemn.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Legislation and Morality

Tacitus, Annals 3.27:
Where the commonwealth is most corrupt, the laws are most numerous. (corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.)
Horace, Odes 3.24.35-36:
What good are empty laws without morals? (quid leges sine moribus / vanae proficiunt?)



In his Émile, Rousseau asks:
How can a child be well educated by one who has not been well educated himself?
The easiest, most effective, and cheapest way to improve the public schools in the United States would be to remove, once and for all, the requirement for teacher certification. Open the classrooms to teachers who are well educated in their subject matter, and expel those whose education degrees were granted by teacher training mills, unless they can demonstrate mastery of something other than pedagogical theory.


Permanent Happiness

Thomas Love Peacock, Melincourt (1817), chapter XXIV:
SIR TELEGRAPH PAXARETT. What shall I do to kill time?

MR. FORESTER. Read ancient books, the only source of permanent happiness left in this degenerate world.

SIR TELEGRAPH PAXARETT. Read ancient books! That may be very good advice to some people: but you forget that I have been at college, and finished my education.



David Pellegrino has assembled a useful collection of mnemonics for learning Latin. In a speech to the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching, Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) mentions one that isn't yet in Pellegrino's collection:
Abstract nouns in -io call
Feminina one and all;
Masculine will only be
Things that you can touch or see,
As curculio, vespertilio,
Pugio, scipio, and papilio,
With the nouns that number show
Such as ternio, senio.
And neither Pellegrino's collection nor a Google search shows this mnemonic for feminine fourth declension nouns that I vaguely remember from my schooldays:
A woman of a Latin tribus sat on the porticus of her domus with an acus in her manus stringing ficus on the Idus.
That is,
A woman of a Latin tribe sat on the porch of her house with a needle in her hand stringing figs on the Ides.


Vatican's Top Latinist

The New York Times (May 29, 2004, registration required) has a portrait of the Vatican's top Latinist, Father Reginald Foster. Here are a few of his outspoken opinions:
To those who carp about the language's difficulty, he retorts, "Every prostitute and bum in Rome knew Latin."

"The fact that you don't have Latin, you are just sitting out there in left field," he said in an interview in his office. "You have no sense of history, no sense of continuity."

The pope, he said, "should stand up at the United Nations and speak Latin. And say, "If you don't understand this, it's too bad, jack!'"

Friday, June 04, 2004


The Eagle of the Rock

Elinor Wylie (1885-1928):
Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.
Read the rest here.


Horace on the Popularity of Cell Phones

Horace, Satires 2.7.112:
You're unable to spend an hour by yourself (non horam tecum esse potes).


Mental Exercise

Plato, Theaetetus 153b (tr. F.M. Cornford):
SOCRATES: Again, the healthy condition of the body is undermined by inactivity and indolence, and to a great extent preserved by exercise and motion, isn't it?

THEAETETUS: Assuredly.

SOCRATES: And so with the condition of the soul. The soul acquires knowledge and is kept going and improved by learning and practice, which are of the nature of movements. By inactivity, dullness, and neglect of exercise, it learns nothing and forgets what it has learned.


A Novel Approach to Teaching Homer

In This Trifling Distinction: Reminiscences from Down East (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978), pp. 149-150, John Gould tells about one of his classes at Bowdoin College. At the time Bowdoin admitted only men as students.
One of my great teachers was Thomas Means, and his superiority may be demonstrated by the way he introduced us to Homer. We came into the first class, he discharged the amenities like a shorted battery, and he said: "Gentlemen -- it would probably cause talk if the young ladies of the community came to the gymnasium after a football game and bathed the athletes. But in ancient times, it was customary for the handmaidens to wash a gentlemen after a hunt, games, or a battle. For next class, I want you to be able to cite instances of this in the Iliad. If you will count off, you will have the numbers of the books each man is to explore. Good day."

At our age, at that time, in a conservative college, there was a bawdiness to this that resulted in no "unprepareds" the next time. And in succeeding classes Professor Means had us look for similar things -- until each of us had read all the books and knew all the Iliad. Which is an excellent thing for a writer to know.



Alfred Noyes, Horace: A Portrait (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1947), p. ix:
It is said that when Robert Louis Stevenson lay seriously ill at Davos he asked that a Scottish minister who lived in the neighborhood should be summoned to his bedside. It was very early in the morning; but the good divine, fearing the worst, immediately dressed and and hastened to the chalet where his fellow-countryman lodged. He found Stevenson apparently in the article of death; but, as the kindly visitor leaned over the bed to whisper some word of ghostly consolation, the sick man opened his eyes and gasped faintly, "For God's sake, have you a Horace?"

Thursday, June 03, 2004


Derbyshire's Diary

There is a wealth of interesting material (as usual) in John Derbyshire's May Diary. I especially enjoyed the poem The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna by Charles Wolfe (1791-1823), which was new to me.


A Grotesque Word

We would find it difficult to carry on many a conversation in English without benefit of the word 'quality.' There are some words whose origins we can track down exactly, and this is one of them. In Theaetetus 182a Plato uses the noun 'poiotes' (meaning 'what-sort-ness,' from 'poios' = 'of what sort') and apologizes for the grotesque word ('allokoton onoma').

Cicero imported Plato's 'poiotes' from Greek into Latin, coining the equivalent 'qualitas' (from 'qualis' = 'of what sort'). See his Academica 1.6.24-1.7.25, where he says (tr. H. Rackham):
I will do my best to talk Latin, except in the case of words of the sort now in question, so as to employ the term 'philosophy' or 'rhetoric' or 'physics' or 'dialectic' [all loan words from Greek], which like many others are now habitually used as Latin words. I have therefore given the name of 'qualities' to the things that the Greeks call 'poiotetes'; even among the Greeks it is not a word in ordinary use, but belongs to the philosophers.
English 'quality' is derived from Latin 'qualitas,' but it has escaped from philosophical discourse into everyday use.


Mad as the Mist and Snow

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):
Bolt and bar the shutter,
For the foul winds blow:
Our minds are at their best this night,
And I seem to know
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist and snow.

Horace there by Homer stands,
Plato stands below,
And here is Tully's open page.
How many years ago
Were you and I unlettered lads
Mad as the mist and snow?

You ask what makes me sigh, old friend,
What makes me shudder so?
I shudder and I sigh to think
That even Cicero
And many-minded Homer were
Mad as the mist and snow.


One Advantage of Censorship

Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. C.W.E. Miller (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1930), p. 52: "Unregenerate boys are especially fond of looking up the lacunae in expurgated editions."

In the essay on Juvenal in his book Classical Bearings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), Peter Green tells about the great lengths to which he and some of his Sixth Form fellows at Charterhouse went to find out as much as they could about obscene passages omitted in bowdlerized school editions of the classics, for example Juvenal 1.39 (vetulae vesica beatae), much of Juvenal's sixth satire, all of Juvenal's second and ninth satires, etc.

They spent long hours of their free time in the well-stocked school library tracking down these naughty bits, poring over commentaries and lexicons, and trying to figure out what the censored passages meant. In the course of doing so they greatly improved their knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Green goes so far as to say (p. 242), "This was how I first acquired the basic techniques of scholarly research."


Seneca on Solitude

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 17.3:
But these two things should be mixed and alternated, solitude and company. The former will create a longing for other humans, the latter will create a longing for ourselves. And the one will be the remedy of the other -- solitude will cure our hatred of the crowd, the crowd will cure our disgust with solitude.
miscenda tamen ista et alternanda sunt, solitudo et frequentia: illa faciet hominum desiderium, haec nostri, et erit altera alterius remedium; odium turbae sanabit solitudo, taedium solitudinis turba.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Die Gedanken Sind Frei

A rousing German folk song, suitable for singing around the campfire, is Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts are free, i.e. unfettered). It was one of the favorite songs of Sophie Scholl, who was executed on February 22, 1943, at the age of 21, for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. You can find the tune and translation (by Arthur Kevess) in Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, edd. Songs of Work and Protest (New York: Dover, 1973), pp.178-179:
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power.
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

So I think as I please, and this gives me pleasure,
My conscience decrees this right I must treasure;
My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator,
No man can deny: Die Gedanken sind frei!

And if tyrants take me, and throw me in prison,
My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble, the structure will tumble,
And free men will cry: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Take the notes by Fowke and Glazer with a grain of salt, though. Most reliable sources date the song to the late eighteenth century, not the sixteenth as they do, and I can't find any play by Schiller that quotes the song, despite the claim of Fowke and Glazer that he did.

I put both tune and translation on a separate web page. Here are the gyrations I went through to get the tune into a viewable format -- I found a version in ABC notation by John Chambers, which I modified slightly. I then used Steve Havelka's excellent web-based ABC to Staff Notation Converter to convert from ABC notation to a .png file. Finally I used Adobe Photoshop to crop the image and convert it to a .jpg file, since older browsers don't handle .png. Maybe there was a simpler way to do this, but I don't know of one.


Modern Music

Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 86:
I would like modern music, if I could; I have been trying all my life to like it, but I succeed less and less the older I grow.


Interrogation of Prisoners

There's an interesting historical sidelight on the interrogation of prisoners in an oral history interview of Stephen J. Spingarn, who was with the 5th Army Counter Intelligence Corps from 1943 to 1945. The interview is transcribed here.

Spingarn describes the interrogation of spies Mario Martinelli and Carla Costa. Martinelli sang like a canary, but Costa was a hard nut to crack:
Carla Costa was subjected to nothing but psychological pressure.

Once for two days I did restrict her diet to coffee and toast on the theory that if she tired a little and got hungry she would talk. But I had two army nurses chaperoning her and I said, "Whenever you say I ought to start feeding her again, I will," and after two days of coffee and toast they said, "You better start feeding her again." And we did. But we tried all kinds of psychological pressure. My theory was no violence, but psychological pressure is o.k., and I'll admit I put a pretty liberal interpretation on what constitutes psychological pressure.
Costa was imprisoned but eventually released. Martinelli died in front of a firing squad. Spingarn says:

Personally, I would never shoot a spy, never.

The reason is not any softness of heart, but the reason is you can never know when you may need that spy for information about some subsequent suspect you receive and he may fill in a valuable piece of information for you that may identify a subsequent agent. We had a case like that, there was a fellow, I think his name was Lancelotti, whom we shot. And a year later I would have given my right arm, almost, to have had that fellow to interrogate him against another man who I thought had worked with him, you see. That sort of thing.

It's all right to pretend you're shooting them.
A czarist firing squad pretended to shoot the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. It psychologically scarred him for life.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Cultural Diversity

William A. Henry III, In Defense of Elitism (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p. 14:
It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.



It's the word used by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and others for what we call advertising. "Puffery" is shorter than "advertising," but more expressive. "Hype" is shorter than "puffery," but less expressive. "Puffery" calls to mind Aesop's fable (Perry 376) about the frog who wanted to become as big as an ox and inflated himself until he burst.



Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, chapter 16:
"You are quite a philosopher, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick.

"It runs in the family, I b'lieve, sir," replied Mr. Weller. "My father's wery much in that line now. If my mother-in-law blows him up, he whistles. She flies in a passion, and breaks his pipe; he steps out, and gets another. Then she screams wery loud, and falls into 'sterics; and he smokes wery comfortably till she comes to agin. That's philosophy, Sir, ain't it?"
"Mother-in-law" in Dickens is what we call stepmother.


The Growlery

At The Growlery this month:
1. Philanthropy
2. The Great Cabot Mill Robbery
3. Luddite Voices


Corruption Index

We are periodically bombarded with news about various economic indicators, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Producer Price Index (PPI), housing starts, unemployment rate, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), etc.

Another indicator which we never hear about in the news was defined by Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query XIX:
Generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any state to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good-enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption.
"Husbandmen" are of course farmers. We could call this indicator the Corruption Index (CI). It would be interesting to see a graph of it, from Jefferson's day to our own.

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