Saturday, July 31, 2004



Read Michael Knox Beran's fine essay In Defense of Memorization.


Sir Ben

Actor Ben Kingsley chastised a German journalist who called him Mr. Kingsley: "It's Sir Ben. I've not been a Mister for two years."

Sir Ben is a member of that select company that includes such cultural luminaries as Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Elton John.

That members of the so-called "Royal Family" continue to receive recognition, respect, and huge amounts of cash in the supposedly enlightened twenty-first century astounds me. "Prince" Charles, "Queen" Elizabeth, and all the rest are nothing but a pack of worthless parasites. The "honors" they bestow deserve contempt. Sir Ben indeed!

And don't ask my opinion of Lady Di, the People's Princess. It might provoke an apoplectic seizure.


The Good Old Days

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.10.1:
Our ancestors made this complaint, we make this complaint, our descendants will make this complaint: that morals have been overturned, that wickedness reigns, and that human affairs are going downhill and to hell in a handbasket. But things are standing in the same place and will continue to do so, just shifted a bit in one direction or the other, as waves which the approaching tide has carried further in or the receding tide has held back on the inner part of the shoreline.

hoc maiores questi sunt, hoc nos querimur, hoc posteri nostri querentur: eversos mores, regnare nequitiam, in deterius res humanas et omne nefas labi. at ista eodem stant loco stabuntque, paulum dumtaxat ultra aut citra mota, ut fluctus, quos aestus accedens longius extulit, recedens interiore litorum vestigio tenuit.

Friday, July 30, 2004


The Debt of Our Reason

Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Religio Medici, I, 13:
The world was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and contemplated by man: 'tis the debt of our reason wee owe unto God, and the homage wee pay for not being beasts; without this the world is still as though it had not been, or as it was before the sixt day when as yet there was not a creature that could conceive, or say there was a world. The wisedome of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads, that rudely stare about, and with a grosse rusticity admire his workes; those highly magnifie him whose judicious enquiry into his acts, and deliberate research into his creatures, returne the duty of a devout and learned admiration.



Many people, especially students, are under the impression that typing a few words into Google qualifies as research. A good antidote to this foolish notion is a story about the scientist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) told by Ezra Pound in his ABC of Reading (London: Routledge, 1934):
A post-graduate equipped with honours and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-graduate student: 'That's only a sunfish.'

Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'

After a few minutes the student returned with a description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004


The Pleasures of Scholarship

Erasmus, Encomium Moriae (Praise of Folly), 49 (tr. John Wilson):
Add to this that other pleasure of theirs, that if any of them happen to find out who was Anchises' mother, or pick out of some worm-eaten manuscript a word not commonly known -- as suppose it bubsequa for a cowherd, bovinator for a wrangler, manticulator for a cutpurse -- or dig up the ruins of some ancient monument with the letters half eaten out; O Jupiter! what towerings! what triumphs! what commendations! as if they had conquered Africa or taken in Babylon.

iam adde et hoc voluptatis genus, quoties istorum aliquis Anchisae matrem, aut voculam vulgo incognitam, in putri quapiam charta deprehenderit, puta bubsequam, bovinatorem aut manticulatorem, aut si quis vetusti saxi fragmentum, mutilis notatum litteris, alicubi effoderit: O Iupiter, quae tum exsultatio, qui triumphi, quae encomia, perinde quasi vel Africam devicerint, vel Babylonas ceperint.



Seneca, Epistulae Morales 43.4-5:
I'll tell you a way to judge our character -- you'll find hardly anyone who could live with his door open. It's our guilt, not our haughtiness, that has stationed doormen on guard. We live in such a way that to be seen suddenly is to be caught in a crime. But what does it profit a man to conceal himself and avoid the eyes and ears of his fellows? A good conscience invites a crowd, but a guilty one is worried and troubled even in solitude. If the things you do are honorable, let everyone know; if they are shameful, what difference does it make if no one else knows, when you know? How wretched you are if you set a small value on this witness!

rem dicam ex qua mores aestimes nostros: vix quemquam invenies qui possit aperto ostio vivere. ianitores conscientia nostra, non superbia opposuit: sic vivimus ut deprendi sit subito aspici. quid autem prodest recondere se et oculos hominum auresque vitare? bona conscientia turbam advocat, mala etiam in solitudine anxia atque sollicita est. si honesta sunt quae facis, omnes sciant; si turpia, quid refert neminem scire cum tu scias? o te miserum si contemnis hunc testem!


What Passes Away and What Remains

Musonius, fragment 51 Hense, quoted by Aulus Gellius 16.1.2:
If you do something good with suffering, the suffering passes away, but the good remains. If you do something shameful with pleasure, the sweetness passes away, but the shame remains.


A High Standard

John Burnet (1863-1928), Humanism in Education, in Essays and Addresses (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), p. 109:
I would not give two straw for anyone's opinion on the criticism or interpretation of Plato's text unless he can write tolerable Greek prose.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004



Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Penitent (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983):
I bought a newspaper, and as I turned the pages I found everything there that I wanted to escape from: wars, glorification of revolution, murders, rapes, politicians' cynical promises, lying editorials, acclaim of stupid books, dirty plays and films. The newspaper paid tribute to every possible kind of idolatry and spat at truth. (p. 37)

One of modern man's most insane passions is reading newspapers in order to keep up with the latest news. The news is always bad and it poisons your life, but modern man can't live without this poison. He must know about all the murders, all the rapes. He must know about all the insanities and false theories. The newspaper isn't enough for him. He seeks additional news on the radio or on television. Magazines are published that sum up all the news of the week, and the people reread what crime this or that evildoer has committed and what every idiot has said. (p. 160)


The Shyness of Scholars

Excerpts from William Hazlitt's essay The Shyness of Scholars, first published in The New Monthly Magazine, December 1827:
That a life of privacy and obscurity should render its votaries bashful and awkward, or unfit them for the routine of society, from the want both of a habit of going into society and from ignorance of its usages, is obvious to remark.


The scholar having to encounter doubts and difficulties on all hands, and indeed to apply by way of preference to those subjects which are most beset with mystery, becomes hesitating, sceptical, irresolute, absent, dull. All the processes of his mind are slow, cautious, circuitous, instead of being prompt, heedless, straightforward.


The inquirer after truth learns to take nothing for granted; least of all, to make an assumption of his own superior merits. He would have nothing proceed without proper proofs and an exact scrutiny; and would neither be imposed upon himself, nor impose upon others by shallow and hasty appearances. It takes years of patient toil and devoted enthusiasm to master any art or science; and after all, the success is doubtful. He infers that other triumphs must be prepared in like manner at an humble distance: he cannot conceive that any object worth seizing on or deserving of regard, can be carried by a coup de main. So far from being proud or puffed up by them, he would be ashamed and degraded in his own opinion by any advantages that were to be obtained by such cheap and vulgar means as putting a good face on the matter, as strutting and vapouring about his own pretensions.


It never once enters his head (till it is too late) that impudence is the current coin in the affairs of life; that he who doubts his own merit, never has credit given him by others; that Fortune does not stay to have her overtures canvassed; that he who neglects opportunity, can seldom command it a second time; that the world judge by appearances, not by realities; and that they sympathize more readily with those who are prompt to do themselves justice, and to show off their various qualifications or enforce their pretensions to the utmost, than those who wait for others to award their claims, and carry their fastidious refinement into helplessness and imbecility.


He who has spent the best part of his time and wasted his best powers in endeavouring to answer the question -- 'What is truth?' -- scorns a lie, and every thing making the smallest approach to one. His mind by habit has become tenacious of, devoted to the truth. The grossness and vulgarity of falsehood shock the delicacy of his perceptions, as much as it would shock the finest artist to be obliged to daub in a sign-post, or scrawl a caricature. He cannot make up his mind to derive any benefit from so pitiful and disgusting a source.


Character Witness

Pundit Mark Shields said early last evening that in his speech to the Democratic Convention Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy would serve as a "character witness" for presidential candidate John Kerry. This was a singularly unfortunate choice of words.

First, a character witness is usually summoned by the defense to testify on behalf of someone accused of a crime. Second, if I were on trial, I would want my character witnesses themselves to be individuals of sterling character, something which Kennedy manifestly is not.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Effects of Excessive Reading

Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."


Ancient Greek Religion

Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. 41 (tr. T.G. Rosenmeyer):
We find it difficult to understand how the gods of one's faith could be subjected to Aristophanic jests. But laughter is part of the meaning, the fruitfulness, the positive side of life, and it is therefore, in the eyes of the Greeks, more godlike than the sour solemnity which we associate with piety.
Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, 2nd edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 133:
The occasional fun poked at the gods in comedy is no evidence against the religious conservatism of the common man; it is when religion is sure of itself that such amusement is permitted.
David Kovacs, The Heroic Muse (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1987), p. 75:
Archaic Greek paganism is by no means a contemptible religion. There are, to be sure, some comforts available to Jews and Christians which it does not provide. But the reverse is true as well.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


Educational Reform in Minnesota

The issue of education standards in Minnesota is a political landmine. The state's Profile of Learning, adopted in 1998, was jettisoned in 2003, and the legislature rejected the governor's choice for education commissioner, Cheri Pierson Yecke, in 2004.

It is with some trepidation, therefore, that I offer my own controversial proposal for educational reform in Minnesota -- all students should be required to demonstrate proficiency in accordion playing and polka dancing before they are allowed to graduate from high school.

If this rule had been in effect earlier, perhaps the Gibbon Ballroom in Gibbon, Minnesota, home to polka lovers for decades, would not now be closing its doors.


Dalrymple Watch

For connoisseurs of the inimitable Theodore Dalrymple, here are some recent essays:



Tolstoy's wife Sonya did not approve of his study of ancient languages. Henri Troyat, Tolstoy, tr. N. Amphoux (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), quotes her as follows:
"It's not for nothing that Greek is a dead language; it puts the mind in a coma." (p. 345)
He had become infatuated with Hebrew, which was to help him to a better understanding of the Gospels, and was taking lessons from Rabbi Minor. "Leo is learning the Hebraic language, to my intense regret," said Sonya. "He is wasting his energy on foolishness." (p. 451)


Another Reading List

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, October 1842:
Thou shalt read Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plato, Proclus, Jamblichus, Porphyry, Aristotle, Virgil, Plutarch, Apuleius, Chaucer, Dante, Rabelais, Montaigne, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Jonson, Ford, Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, Bacon, Marvell, More, Milton, Molière, Swedenborg, Goethe.

Saturday, July 24, 2004


Political Correctness in Arts Grants

Cronaca reports on the Heritage Lottery Fund's decision not to assist Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum in acquiring the Macclesfield Psalter ("the most important medieval illuminated manuscript found in Britain in living memory") at a Sotheby's auction:
Even worse, my source reports that the Lottery Fund's decision not to give the grant was ultimately based on reasons of extreme political correctness. To wit, that the Psalter would not be meaningful to non-Christians, and that its small size would make it too difficult to view by the wheelchair-bound (not to mention, one supposes, the blind -- or would that be, "differently sighted"?).
Apparently, the decision last year to fund the acquisition of Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks was "in part because [it was felt that] young single mothers could relate to the experience of suddenly finding themselves pregnant like the Virgin Mary".
England's loss is America's gain. The John P. Getty Museum of Los Angeles successfully bid for the Psalter.


The Value of Translating

Pliny, Letters 7.9.2-3 (tr. William Melmoth):
In the first place, then, I look upon it as a very advantageous practice (and it is what many recommend) to translate either from Greek into Latin or from Latin into Greek. By this means you acquire propriety and dignity of expression, and a variety of beautiful figures, and an ease and strength of exposition, and in the imitation of the best models a facility of creating such models for yourself. Besides, those things which you may possibly have overlooked in an ordinary reading over cannot escape you in translating: and this method will also enlarge your knowledge, and improve your judgment.
utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. quo genere exercitationis proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. intellegentia ex hoc et iudicium acquiritur.



Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (1740-1810), quoted by Harry M. Rabinowicz, Hasidism: The Movement and Its Masters (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1988), p. 67:
When a man craves wealth or fame, he should reason thus: "If I have such a strong desire for things that are ephemeral, how much stronger should be my desire for God, who is eternal and the source of everlasting joy?"


A Schoolboy Opposes the Classics

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, X, 5 (tr. David Magarshack):
"The classical languages, if you want to know what I really think of them, are nothing but a police measure. That's the only reason why they have been introduced," Kolya was beginning to get breathless again. "They were introduced because they are boring and because they stunt one's intellectual abilities. It was boring before, so what could they do to make it even more boring? It was senseless before, so what could they do to make things even more senseless? So they thought of classical languages. That's my frank opinion of them and, I hope, I shall never alter it," Kolya concluded sharply, two red spots appearing on his cheeks.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Reading List

John Cheke (1514-1557), quoted by Roger Ascham in The Scholemaster (Don Mills, Ontario: J.M. Dent, 1966), p. 111:
He that will dwell in these few books only: first, in God's Holy Bible, and then join with it Tully in Latin, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Isocrates, and Demosthenes in Greek, must needs prove an excellent man.


Bible Study

St. Augustine, Letters 137.1.3 (to Volusianus):
For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would still be finding profit in them every day.
Tanta est enim christianarum profunditas litterarum, ut in eis quotidie proficerem, si eas solas ab ineunte pueritia usque ad decrepitam senectutem maximo otio, summo studio, meliore ingenio conarer addiscere.


Pleasure in Work

Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science), I, 42 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Looking for work in order to be paid: in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work.
Sich Arbeit suchen um des Lohnes willen -- darin sind sich in den Ländern der Civilisation jetzt fast alle Menschen gleich; ihnen allen ist Arbeit ein Mittel, und nicht selber das Ziel; wesshalb sie in der Wahl der Arbeit wenig fein sind, vorausgesetzt, dass sie einen reichlichen Gewinn abwirft. Nun giebt es seltenere Menschen, welche lieber zu Grunde gehen wollen, als ohne Lust an der Arbeit arbeiten.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Hatred and Fear

Some people have pointed out that one answer to the fatuous post-9/11 question "Why do they hate us?" is "Oderint, dum metuant" (Let them hate, so long as they fear). This comes from Accius' lost play Atreus, and is quoted by Cicero in his first Philippic (34). It was a favorite expression of the tyrannical Roman emperor Caligula, according to Suetonius (Life of Caligula 30). Neither Cicero nor Suetonius approves of the sentiment.

Nor does Seneca. In De Ira (On Anger) 1.20.4, he says:
The phrase "Let them hate, so long as they fear" is cruel and to be rejected. You could tell it was written in the time of Sulla. (illa dira et abominanda [vox] "oderint, dum metuant." Sullano scias saeculo scriptam.)
Likewise in De Clementia (On Mercy) 1.12.3-4 he writes:
Mercy brings it about that there is a big difference between the king and the tyrant, although both are equally protected by weapons. But the former has weapons which he uses in defence of peace, the latter to quell great hatred by means of great fear. Nor is the tyrant secure when he looks at those very troops to which he has entrusted himself. There is a movement to opposites by means of opposites -- for since he is hated because he is feared, he wishes to be feared because he is hated, and he employs that accursed verse which has destroyed many: "Let them hate, so long as they fear," not knowing what madness arises when hatred has grown beyond bound.
clementia efficit, ut magnum inter regem tyrannumque discrimen sit, uterque licet non minus armis valletur; sed alter arma habet, quibus in munimentum pacis utitur, alter, ut magno timore magna odia compescat, nec illas ipsas manus, quibus se commisit, securus adspicit. Contrariis in contraria agitur; nam cum invisus sit, quia timetur, timeri vult, quia invisus est, et illo exsecrabili versu, qui multos praecipites dedit, utitur: 'Oderint, dum metuant' --ignarus, quanta rabies oriatur, ubi supra modum odia creverunt.
In Seneca's tragedy Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women), the brothers Polynices and Eteocles argue about this very point (653-660):
Reign, so long as you are hated by your subjects.
He does not wish to reign who fears to be hated:
God who created the world made these two together,
Hatred and power: I consider it the mark of a great king
To crush these hatreds. His subjects' affection constrains
The wide-ruling king; more is allowed against the angry.
He rules with a weak hand who wishes to be loved.
Hated kingdoms never last a long time.
Regna, dummodo invisus tuis.
regnare non vult, esse qui invisus timet:
simul ista mundi conditor posuit deus,
odium atque regnum: regis hoc magni reor
odia ipsa premere. multa dominantem vetat
amor suorum; plus in iratos licet.
qui vult amari, languida regnat manu.
Invisa numquam imperia retinentur diu.
Lines 654 and 660 appear in Thomas Legge's Ricardus Tertius (1579), as lines 2858-2859.


Arithmetic Lesson

Søren Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, tr. R.G. Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1968):

XI¹ A 384 (p. 141):
These millions, the law of whose existence is 'first be like the rest', this mass of aping -- materially they look as if they were something, something great, something immensely powerful. And materially they are indeed something; but ideally this mass, these millions are zero, they are less than zero, they are wasted and forfeited existences.
XI² A 90 (pp. 230-231):
One hundred thousand million men, of which each is like the rest = one. Only when one turns up who is different from these millions or this one, do we have two.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Pride and Humility

Bill Keezer has an excellent discussion of pride and humility, in which he argues that they are complementary, not opposites.

The title of Richard Chenevix Trench's book Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948) is too limiting. Trench travels freely throughout classical literature and illuminates Latin words no less than Greek ones.

Pages 98-105 of Trench's book deal with the Greek words alazon, hyperephanos, and hybristes ("the boastful in words, the proud and overbearing in thoughts, the insolent and overbearing in acts"). Humility (tapeinophrosyne) is covered on pages 148-151. Since Trench quotes most of his examples in the original languages, it might be useful to present two key passages from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in H. Rackham's translation. I have added Greek words in brackets. Central to Aristotle's analysis is the notion that virtue is located midway between extremes.

In respect of truth [to alethes] then, the middle character may be called truthful [alethes], and the observance of the mean Truthfulness [aletheia]; pretence in the form of exaggeration is Boastfulness [alazoneia], and its possessor a boaster [alazon]; in the form of understatement, Self-depreciation [eironeia], and its possessor the self-depreciator [eiron].
Now a person is thought to be great-souled [megalopsychos] if he claims much and deserves much; he who claims much without deserving it is foolish [elithios], but no one of moral excellence is foolish or senseless. The great-souled man is then as we have described. He who deserves little and claims little is modest or temperate [sophron], but not great-souled, since to be great-souled involves greatness just as handsomeness involves size: small people may be neat and well-made, but not handsome [kalos]. He that claims much but does not deserve much is vain [chaunos]; though not everybody who claims more than he deserves is vain. He that claims less than he deserves is small-souled [micropsychos], whether his deserts be great or only moderate, or even though he deserves little, if he claims still less. The most small-souled of all would seem to be the man who claims less than he deserves when his deserts are great; for what would he have done had he not deserved so much? Though therefore in regard to the greatness of his claim the great-souled man is an extreme, by reason of its rightness he stands at the mean point, for he claims what he deserves; while the vain and the small-souled err by excess and defect respectively.

Monday, July 19, 2004


Thoreau on the Iliad

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Monday:
There are few books which are fit to be remembered in our wisest hours, but the Iliad is brightest in the serenest days, and embodies still all the sunlight that fell on Asia Minor. No modern joy or ecstasy of ours can lower its height or dim its lustre, but there it lies in the east of literature, as it were the earliest and latest production of the mind. The ruins of Egypt oppress and stifle us with their dust, foulness preserved in cassia and pitch, and swathed in linen; the death of that which never lived. But the rays of Greek poetry struggle down to us, and mingle with the sunbeams of the recent day. The statue of Memnon is cast down, but the shaft of the Iliad still meets the sun in his rising.
The statue of Memnon (which survives in damaged condition but is not "cast down") was said to emit a sound when the morning sun's rays first struck it (Tacitus, Annals 2.61, etc.).

Thoreau did not look favorably on the ancient Egyptians. In Walden, chapter 1 (Economy) he dismissed them with these words:
As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


What Do Women Really Want?

Hesiod, Works and Days 373-374 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
Do not let a flaunting woman coax and cozen and deceive you: she is after your barn.


Life Imitates Art

Joy of Knitting comments on the Cap Anamur incident. This surrender and others like it remind me of Jean Raspail's prophetic 1973 novel Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints). When we lose the will to defend our borders against illegal immigration, the inevitable consequence is invasion.


On the Study of Ancient Languages

From a sermon by Thomas Gaisford (1779-1855), quoted by Hugh Lloyd-Jones in Blood for the Ghosts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 82:
And in conclusion, let me urge upon you the study of the ancient tongues, which not only refines the intellect and elevates above the common herd, but also leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.


Schadenfreude Again

Aesop, Fable 144 Halm (tr. L.W. Daly):
Two personal enemies were sailing on the same ship, and because they wished to keep as far away from each other as possible, one of them took his stand in the bow of the ship and the other in the stern. When a severe storm arose and the ship was sinking, the man in the stern asked the helmsman what part of the ship was likely to go down first, and on being told that it was the bow, he exclaimed, "Death then is no longer grievous to me, if I am to have the pleasure of seeing my enemy drowned first."

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Removing God from Our Midst

William Vallicella argues that those who object to the public display of the Ten Commandments should also object to the public display of the Declaration of Independence, since it also mentions God. It wouldn't surprise me at all one of these days to see a bowdlerized, politically correct version of the Declaration of Independence in circulation, with all references to God removed.


Life Outdoors

Plutarch tells an interesting anecdote in his Life of Agesilaus 9 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert):
On another occasion Agesilaus gave orders that before his prisoners were put up to be auctioned by the dealers in the spoils of war, they would first be stripped of their clothes. The clothes found plenty of buyers, but the spectators burst out laughing at the sight of the men and their naked bodies, for these were white and tender as they had never been exposed to sun or wind, and were regarded as useless and worthless.
Ancient Greeks males spent much of their time outdoors, normally returning home only to sleep or eat. Even their public buildings (temples, theaters, colonnades) were open to the elements. In Xenophon's Oeconomicus (7.3), one of the interlocutors, Ischomachus, says, "I certainly don't spend my time indoors."

Not only did they spend much of their time outdoors, but they often wore little clothing as well. The Greek word 'gymnos' (whence our gymnastics, gymnasium, etc.) means either 'naked' or 'lightly clad'. In his poem Works and Days (391-392), farmer-poet Hesiod recommends, "Sow naked, plough naked, reap naked." It is well-known that Greek athletes competed either totally nude or wearing only a loincloth (diazoma, perizoma) -- see Waldo E. Sweet, Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), chapter 19 (Nudity in Greek Athletics).

I sometimes wonder what an ancient Greek, transported through time, would think of us, cooped up indoors as we are much of the time, hunched over a computer keyboard or staring slack-jawed at a television screen. I suspect he would laugh at our pale, puffy bodies, never exposed to wind or sun, and would regard us as useless and pathetic specimens of humanity.

Friday, July 16, 2004


Open for Business 365/24/7

Vergil, Aeneid 6.127:
Every night and every day the gate of gloomy Dis stands open. (noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis.)
Dis is Pluto, the god of Hades.


War on Terror

Demosthenes, Against Androtion 16 (tr. J.H. Vince):
For it is the safety of the whole state that must be ensured for the people before everything.



The first thing that Dante notices when he enters the gates of hell is the noise (Inferno 3.22-30, tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow):
There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
  Resounded through the air without a star,
  Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
  Accents of anger, words of agony,
  And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
  For ever in that air for ever black,
  Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

Quivi sospiri, pianti e alti guai
risonavan per l'aere sanza stelle,
per ch'io al cominciar ne lagrimai.
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
parole di dolore, accenti d'ira,
voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle
facevano un tumulto, il qual s'aggira
sempre in quell'aura sanza tempo tinta,
come la rena quando turbo spira.
Charles Singleton explains "sound of hands" thus: "The damned smite themselves and each other with their hands."

Milton coined the word "Pandemonium" to mean "the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers" (Paradise Lost, 1.756-757). Its meaning soon shifted from that particular noisy place to any noisy place, and is now used of noise pure and simple. The etymology of this word is an apt reminder of the hellish, diabolical nature of noise.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Laudator Temporis Acti

In the Horatian passage from which I borrowed the title for this blog, the praiser of time past is not viewed favorably:
Hard to get along with, a complainer, a praiser of time past / when he was a boy, a blamer and critic of the younger generation. (difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti / se puero, castigator censorque minorum.)



Arnold Schoenberg, Letters, ed. E. Stein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 279:
It is not the professional musician, the musician who lives by his art, who is needed to keep musical culture alive; it is the amateur, and it has always been the amateur who has really promoted and encouraged art.



William B. Ober, Boswell's Clap and Other Essays: Medical Analyses of Literary Men's Afflictions (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), pp. 141-142:
One must avoid the pitfall of the archer whose accuracy was achieved by shooting his arrows, then drawing a circle around the place they hit.


Choosing A Mate

George Eliot, Middlemarch, chapter 86:
"I should never like scolding any one else so well; and that is a point to be thought of in a husband."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Latest World News in Ancient Greek

I recently discovered J. Coderch's quixotic Akropolis World News, a web site intended "to offer in Ancient Greek a summary of the latest world news." The site also includes ancient Greek equivalents of modern vocabulary, modern examples of verse composition in ancient Greek, and useful links.

A Latin counterpart is Nuntii Latini.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Dollar Bill

Bret Mulligan has an interesting page on The Classical Elements of the One-Dollar Bill (PDF format).


The Historical Point of View

C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters 27:
The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man's own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the "present state of the question." To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge -- to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behavior -- this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.


Old Books

James G. Frazer:
The oldest books are the best, witness, for example, the Bible and Homer. And why should the oldest books be the best? The reason, I take it, is simple. The principle of the survival of the fittest applies to books as well as to men. Bad books perish, but good books survive, because the world will not willingly let them die. Therefore the older a book, the stronger the testimony of men to its excellence. If men have taken the trouble to reproduce a book again and again and to hand it on from generation to generation, depend on it there is something in that book that deserves to live.


Sallust on Current Events

On the presidential campaign (De Catilinae Coniuratione 38.3):
While professing concern for the public good, they were each struggling for personal power. (bonum publicum simulantes pro sua quisque potentia certabant.)
On the Red/Blue divide (Bellum Jugurthinum 31.24):
Can peace or friendship exist in such antagonistic minds? (potestne in tam divorsis mentibus pax aut amicitia esse?)

Monday, July 12, 2004



Dennis Mangan quotes from an article by Taki Theodoracopulos entitled Sloppy Clothes, Shabby Manners.

There is something to be said on the other side, and Thoreau says it best in the first chapter of Walden, from which the following excerpts come:On at least one occasion Thoreau did buy a new pair of trousers, but apparently he did not cut a dashing figure in them (Journal, May 8, 1857):
Within a week I have had made a pair of corduroy pants, which cost when done $1.60. They are of that peculiar clay-color, reflecting the light from portions of their surface. They have this advantage, that, being very strong, they will look about as well three months hence as now -- or, as ill, some would say. Most of my friends are disturbed by my wearing them.
Taki says, "At the G8 summit on Sea Island, Ga., the only man who dressed properly was -- dare I say it? -- the president of France." In other words, the most duplicitous scoundrel there was also the most nattily dressed.

Sunday, July 11, 2004



Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I confess that it warmed the cockles of my heart to see Enron's Kenneth "Kenny-Boy" Lay do the perp walk in handcuffs.

In English we borrow the German word 'Schadenfreude' to describe the emotion of joy at seeing someone else's misfortune. It's one of those compound words whose meaning you can almost figure out if you know the roots, in this case 'Schaden' (harm, damage) and 'Freude' (joy).

In his Parerga and Paralipomena, volume II, chapter VIII (On Ethics), section 114, Schopenhauer criticizes the emotion in the strongest terms (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
But it is Schadenfreude, a mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others, which remains the worst trait in human nature. It is a feeling which is closely akin to cruelty, and differs from it, to say the truth, only as theory from practice. In general, it may be said that it takes the place which pity ought to take -- pity which is its opposite, and the true source of all real justice and charity....Envy, although it is a reprehensible feeling, still admits of some excuse, and is, in general, a very human quality; whereas the delight in mischief [Schadenfreude] is diabolical, and its taunts are the laughter of hell.
Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human, II (The History of the Moral Sentiments), 103 (The Harmlessness of Malice), refers to this passage when he asks, "Is Schadenfreude diabolical, as Schopenhauer says?" He argues that it isn't.

The ancient Greek word for Schadenfreude is also a compound, 'epichairekakia', from the preposition 'epi' (upon, over), the verb 'chairo' (rejoice), and the noun 'kakia' (disgrace). Diogenes Laertius (Lives of the Philosophers 7.114) defines it as 'pleasure at another's ills', and Aristotle (Art of Rhetoric 2.9.5, tr. John Henry Freese) connects it with envy ('phthonos'):
He who is malicious [epichairekakos] is also envious (phthoneros], since if the envious man is pained at another's possession or acquisition of good fortune, he is bound to rejoice at the destruction or non-acquisition of the same. Wherefore all these emotions are a hindrance to pity [eleos], although they differ for the reasons stated; so that they are all equally useful for preventing any feeling of pity.
The parallels between Aristotle and Schopenhauer are obvious. But there were some ancient Greeks who did not regard the emotion as sinful. In Sophocles' Ajax (79), the goddess Athena asks the question, "Is not laughter at one's enemies the sweetest laughter?"

In Latin, Schadenfreude is 'malevolentia' (ill-will), defined by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations (4.9.20) as 'pleasure at another's misfortune, without any gain of one's own' ('voluptas ex malo alterius sine emolumento suo').


Books for a Desert Island

One of my favorite modern essayists, Kihm Winship, compiled a list entitled If I Could Only Take One Library to a Desert Island..., which contains the charming admission "Kihm Winship, because I would be lying if I told you I did not love the sound of my own voice." I always like to hear about such lists, in the same way that I enjoy looking at the contents of bookshelves when I visit someone's home.

The June 6, 1962 issue of The Christian Century magazine contains C.S. Lewis' answer to the question, "What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?" Here is Lewis' list:
  1. Phantastes by George MacDonald
  2. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
  3. The Aeneid by Virgil
  4. The Temple by George Herbert
  5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth
  6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
  7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
  9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
  10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour
Probably the Bible was too close to Lewis' heart even to need mention.

In the essay on Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment in his Essays in Criticism, Matthew Arnold makes a surprising choice:
People talk of this or that work which they would choose, if they were to pass their life with only one; for my part I think I would choose the Abbé Migne's collection.
He is referring to Patrologiae Cursus Completus, the voluminous works of the Greek and Latin Church Fathers edited by Migne.

Among the favorite books of former President William Clinton is Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton. A chivalrous gesture, but an insincere one, I suspect.

One question that exercises me: Should you take to the desert island books you've already read, or those you've never read? When I go on vacation, I sometimes bring a book I've never been able to get through, so that lack of anything else will force me to read what I couldn't before.

My short list of books for a desert island would probably contain:
  1. Bible (King James version)
  2. Homer
  3. Horace
  4. Rabelais
  5. Montaigne
  6. Shakespeare
  7. Boswell's Life of Johnson
  8. Schopenhauer
  9. Thoreau
  10. Dickens
But it would pain me to part with almost any book in my collection. I sometimes consider winnowing my bookshelves, but I find little chaff among the wheat.

Saturday, July 10, 2004



C.S. Lewis, letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB:
I sometimes wonder if an interest in liturgiology is not rather a snare. Some people talk as if it were itself the Christian faith.


Mere People

Daniel E. Whitney, in IEEE Spectrum (May 1987), p. 47:
Manual assembly is rapidly disappearing as an option in high-tech products because mere people are inadequate in terms of quality, documentation, and cleanliness.
To paraphrase Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of the machine."


A Raging and Savage Beast

In the first book of Plato's Republic (329 b-c, tr. Paul Shorey), Cephalus is talking about old age. He says, "I remember hearing Sophocles the poet greeted by a fellow who asked, How about your service of Aphrodite, Sophocles -- is your natural force still unabated? And he replied, Hush, man, most gladly have I escaped this thing you talk of, as if I had run away from a raging and savage beast of a master."

One wonders what Sophocles would have thought of the modern pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars from a product (sildenafil citrate) designed to unleash that raging and savage beast.



The National Endowment for the Arts just released a report documenting a precipitous drop in the number of adults in the United States who read literature, with the steepest decline occurring among young adults, those aged 18 to 34. The full report, 60 pages in PDF format, is available here.

As I see it, there are at least a couple of possible explanations. Perhaps Americans are at last taking to heart Schopenhauer's strictures against reading (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
Reading is thinking with some one else's head instead of one's own. To think with one's own head is always to aim at developing a coherent whole -- a system, even though it be not a strictly complete one; and nothing hinders this so much as too strong a current of others' thoughts, as comes of continual reading.
In other words, Americans might be reading less because they are thinking more.

Or, perhaps Americans are becoming like the Smallweeds in chapter XXI of Dickens' Bleak House:
"Don't you read, or get read to?"

The old man shakes his head with sharp sly triumph. "No, no. We have never been readers in our family. It don't pay. Stuff. Idleness. Folly. No, no!"
Maybe Americans have realized that reading just doesn't pay.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Perpetual Insomnia

Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), p. 221:
Some marine animals never sleep, although they may rest. Most sharks, for example, have to keep moving all their lives, or the flow of water through their gills will cease and lack of oxygen will kill them. The dolphins are confronted with an even worse dilemma: they must return to the surface every two or three minutes to breathe, and so can never allow themselves a moment's unconsciousness.


Ern Malley

If you appreciate a good hoax, you'll love this essay by David Lehman on The Ern Malley Poetry Hoax.


Christianity, Then and Now

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (1964), p. 19:
Christians today stand far closer to the early Church than their grandparents did. Christianity began as the religion of a small minority existing in a predominantly non-Christian society, and such it is becoming once more.


Ordinate Love

St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (The City of God) 15.22:
And thus beauty, which is indeed God's handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately....So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love.
Sic enim corporis pulchritudo, a Deo quidem factum, sed temporale carnale infimum bonum, male amatur postposito Deo, aeterno interno sempiterno bono, quem ad modum iustitia deserta et aurum amatur ab avaris, nullo peccato auri, sed hominis. Ita se habet omnis creatura. Cum enim bona sit, et bene amari potest et male: bene scilicet ordine custodito, male ordine perturbato....Unde mihi videtur, quod definitio brevis et vera virtutis ordo est amoris.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004



Samuel Johnson, Life of John Dryden:
There are men whose powers operate only at leisure and in retirement, and whose intellectual vigour deserts them in conversation; whom merriment confuses, and objection disconcerts; whose bashfulness restrains their exertion, and suffers them not to speak till the time of speaking is past; or whose attention to their own character makes them unwilling to utter at hazard what has not been considered, and cannot be recalled.
George Eliot, Felix Holt the Radical (1866), chapter 16:
Comprehensive talkers are apt to be tiresome when we are not athirst for information, but, to be quite fair, we must admit that superior reticence is a good deal due to the lack of matter. Speech is often barren; but silence also does not necessarily brood over a full nest. Your still fowl, blinking at you without remark, may all the while be sitting on one addled nest-egg; and when it takes to cackling, will have nothing to announce but that addled delusion.
I like to think my reticence resembles the former type, but I fear it really resembles the latter.


Evolution in Reverse

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies: A Love Story (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972), p. 163:
My theory is that the human species is getting worse, not better. I believe, so to speak, in an evolution in reverse. The last man on earth will be both a criminal and a madman.


Inner Riches

Phaedrus 4.23.1:
A learned man always has riches within himself. (Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet.)



Chamfort, Maximes et Pensées:
The most wasted of all days is that one on which we have not laughed. (La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l'on n'a pas ri.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004



St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 1.14.2:
Now, in considering the divine substance, we should especially make use of the method of remotion. For, by its immensity, the divine substance surpasses every form that our intellect reaches: and so we cannot apprehend it by knowing what it is. But we have some knowledge of it by knowing what it is not. And the more things we can remove from God through our intellect, the closer we approach to knowledge of Him.

Est autem via remotionis utendum praecipue in consideratione divinae substantiae. Nam divina substantia omnem formam quam intellectus noster attingit, sua immensitate excedit: et sic ipsam apprehendere non possumus cognoscendo quid est. Sed aliqualem eius habemus notitiam cognoscendo quid non est. Tantoque eius notitiae magis appropinquamus, quanto plura per intellectum nostrum ab eo poterimus removere.


Thoreau on Blogging

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 16, 1851:
Thinkers and writers are in foolish haste to come before the world with crude works.


Nel Mezzo del Cammin di Nostra Vita

Bronson Alcott, Journal, November 2,1829:
The idea that half my life is gone and so little is accomplished worthy a mind and heart destined for such noble activities and acquisitions, overpowers me. But I soon rise and again plod on my way, hoping and regretting.

Monday, July 05, 2004


The Growlery

At The Growlery this month:

1. Newspapers
2. On the Abolition of Certain Words


Rock Music

Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), p. 72:
"Rock" is the music of slaves. Of adolescents pursuing the illusion of freedom and protest while the steel chains of technology bind them ever tighter.



The motto of Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655) was "Quantum est quod nescimus," "How much there is that we don't know."


The Underground Grammarian

I was pleased to find that many of the writings of Richard Mitchell (1929-2002), otherwise known as the Underground Grammarian, are available on the Web.



In his biography of Thomas More (1935; rpt, London: Jonathan Cape, 1976), p. 164, R.W. Chambers writes:
But the English long-bow was still a terrible weapon in the hands of men long trained to use it from childhood; and Englishmen, from the King downward, were so trained. Everyone learned 'how to lay his body in his bow, and not to draw with strength of arms as other nations do, but with strength of the body'. Scholars like Ascham, lawyers like Rastell, preachers like Latimer -- they were all expert bowmen. Archery was a fashion and a passion; the modern craze for golf affords only a faint parallel.
I've been reading Roger Ascham's treatise on archery, Toxophilus (1545). The title comes from Greek roots (toxon, philos) and means 'Bow Lover', but the book itself is in English. Although I haven't read all of it yet, one odd thing struck me -- the words 'arrow' and 'target' don't seem to appear anywhere. Ascham uses 'shaft' instead of 'arrow', 'mark' or 'prick' instead of 'target'. I don't have a historical English dictionary available, but I'm curious about when the modern terms replaced the older ones.


The Contemporary Scene

C.S. Lewis, letter to Ruth Pitter:
What is the point of keeping in touch with the contemporary scene? Why should one read authors one doesn't like because they happen to be alive at the same time as oneself? One might as well read everyone who had the same job or the same coloured hair or the same income or the same chest measurement, so far as I can see.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


More Catholic than the Pope?

From an article by Sandro Magister in L'Espresso:
On January 6, 2001, at the concluding mass of the Jubilee, John Paul II personally gave communion to Francesco Rutelli, a practicing Catholic and a premier center-left candidate for this year's planned elections in Italy.

Rutelli had been, as a member of the Radical Party, one of the most active supporters of Italy's abortion law, which is among the most permissive in the world. And he continued, as a Catholic, to maintain publicly "pro-choice" positions.

In Italy during the 1970's, other left-wing politicians even more closely connected than Rutelli with the Catholic sector, such as Piero Pratesi and Raniero La Valle, had given strong support to the introduction of the abortion law. But they were never denied communion. It was never even discussed.


Blog Comments

Like a few other bloggers, I've disabled the blog comments feature. In English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 168, C.S. Lewis wrote: "Every man is a dictator in his own book." So too every man is a dictator in his own blog.


Pet Peeve

This month I'm peeved about college students who disfigure their text books with sophomoric jottings in ink, or with those hideous yellow highlighter markers, then sell the books back to bookstores.

I recently bought William Langland's Piers the Plowman with notes by W.W. Skeat. It's a good, sturdy copy, and I got it for only two dollars, but the first eighty lines have interlinear and marginal notes in ink. Obviously the original owner didn't read more than three pages of the text before giving up. I find this very often with secondhand school editions of Greek and Latin texts -- English definitions of practically every word, scrawled all over the first few pages, then nothing.

If you're going to mark up a book, do it lightly, in pencil. The next owner of the book will thank you for it.

Many students are quick to discard their college text books. Sometimes it's understandable. One of my college buddies, after two frustrating semesters of calculus, went home, balanced his calculus book on top of a fence post in his back yard, then blew the book to smithereens with a shotgun. But here's what Thoreau has to say on the subject in his journal (February 19, 1854):
Many college text books, which were a stumbling-block when studied, I have since read a little in with pleasure and profit.


Nature Worship

William Vallicella quotes an entry in Edward Abbey's journal (January 11, 1968) to make the point that worship of nature is ultimately unsatisfying.

Simone Weil says something similar in Waiting for God (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 171:
The love we feel for the splendor of the heavens, the plains, the seas, and the mountains, for the silence of nature which is borne in upon us by thousands of tiny sounds, for the breath of the winds or the warmth of the sun, this love of which every human being has at least an inkling, is an incomplete, painful love, because it is felt for things incapable of responding, that is to say for matter. Men want to turn this same love toward a being who is like themselves and capable of answering to their love.
Like ourselves, in that He shared fully in our human nature, but infinitely greater than us in His divine nature. St. Augustine sums it up at the beginning of his Confessions: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee" (fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te).


Domestic Tranquillity

Charles Lamb, A Quaker's Meeting:
What is so pleasant as to be reading a book through a long winter evening, with a friend sitting by -- say a wife -- he, or she, too (if that be probable), reading another, without interruption, or oral communication? -- can there be no sympathy without the gabble of words?

Saturday, July 03, 2004



Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, chapter 14:
"He is a nice-looking boy, is he not?" inquired Mr. Brownlow.

"I don't know, said Mr. Grimwig, pettishly.

"Don't know?"

"No. I don't know. I never see any difference in boys. I only know two sorts of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys."
Charles Lamb, The Old and the New Schoolmaster:
Boys are capital fellows in their own way, among their mates; but they are unwholesome companions for grown people.
Likewise, grownups are capital people in their own way, among their own kind; but they are unwholesome companions for boys.



In The Four Loves C.S. Lewis called Ovid "that cheery old reprobate." He was cheery enough in his younger days when he wrote Amores, Ars amatoria, Remedia amoris, etc. But his tone changed when he was exiled. Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto show us the opposite of a cheery man.


Heather and Don

Heather and Don Whelan, of Toronto, Ontario, discuss their feelings about the United States of America over breakfast at McDonald's:
"Exactly," said Heather. "The scariest part for me about him [Conservative Party candidate Stephen Harper] is that he wanted to cosy up to the Americans. Can you believe it? The bloody Americans. I hate the Americans."

What do you hate about them?

"They're warmongers," said Don. "They're out to take over the world. They remind me of the Germans in World War II."

"They're not our best friends, they're our worst enemies," said Heather. "You can't trust them. I wish we had some other country as our neighbour, not those bullies. They're ignorant. They don't know anything about any other country. They'd just love to take us over if they could."
This is a real interview, not a caricature. Read more in this column by Earl McRae. Sentiments like these (and they are widespread among Canadians) don't exactly make me eager to go spend my tourist dollars north of the border.


Hatred of One's Own Race

Whenever I visit the blog The Joy of Knitting, I find food for thought, and so it is with the series of posts dated July 1, 2004, where the word 'Islamophobia-phobia' is defined as "fear of saying or doing anything that might be construed as an insult to the most hypersensitive bunch of people that ever walked the earth." Joy goes on to discuss "the disgust of whites felt by whites," for which she considers, but rejects, the word 'leukophobia' (fear of the color white), because it refers primarily to objects rather than people.

The tendency to hate one's own race is of course not restricted to whites, and a more general term might be useful. I have seen the word 'auto-racism' used in this connection, but it does not strike me as satisfactory. The usual dictionary definition of 'racism' is "the notion that one's own racial stock is superior" (The American Heritage Dictionary). Therefore 'auto-racism' is little more than a tautology, since the prefix 'auto' comes from the Greek pronoun 'autos,' meaning 'one's self,' and adds nothing to the meaning of 'racism.'

In attempting to coin a word meaning "hatred of one's own race," we might instead start out with the prefix 'miso,' from the Greek verb meaning 'hate.' English words incorporating this root are 'misogyny' (hatred of women), 'misanthropy' (hatred of humankind), 'misology' (hatred of reason), 'misogamy' (hatred of marriage), 'misoneism' (hatred of change or innovation), etc.

For 'one's own,' the root 'auto' is good. It appears in many English words, for example 'automobile,' which is a self-propelled vehicle.

Since 'miso' and 'auto' are Greek roots, let's pick another classical root meaning 'race.' Greek 'genos' and Latin 'gens' are related, and they are familiar to English speakers from their presence in words like 'genetics,' 'genotype,' 'progeny,' etc.

Putting these three roots all together, we arrive at the neologism 'misautogeny' as a possible word meaning "hatred of one's own race." I'm not entirely happy with it, because 'autogeny' is already a technical term in biology, but I offer it as one possibility. The phenomenon is a widespread one nowadays, and it calls for its own word.

Friday, July 02, 2004



In an interview, Natan Sharansky talks about his interrogation by the KGB in prison:
It's very important not to take anything seriously, to be able to laugh at everything, at the absurdity of this regime, at this KGB prison, and even at yourself. That's what helps you to stand aside and to enjoy this play. I remember how I loved to tell to my interrogators anti-Soviet jokes, because there were many anti-Soviet jokes, which, of course, were all underground, and telling them openly. And they're so funny that you are laughing. They would almost explode from desire to laugh, but they could not, they had to be angry. They had to show one another how loyal they were. And you're laughing, and so you say, "You see, you are saying to me that you are free and I am a prisoner. You can't even afford to laugh when you want to laugh! So you're the real prisoner."


Thomas Jefferson on the Classics

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV:
The learning Greek and Latin, I am told, is going into disuse in Europe. I know not what their manners and occupations may call for: but it would be very ill-judged in us to follow their example in this instance. There is a certain period of life, say from eight to fifteen or sixteen years of age, when the mind, like the body, is not yet firm enough for laborious and close operations. If applied to such, it falls an early victim to premature exertion; exhibiting indeed at first, in these young and tender subjects, the flattering appearance of their being men while they are yet children, but ending in reducing them to be children when they should be men. The memory is then most susceptible and tenacious of impressions; and the learning of languages being chiefly a work of memory, it seems precisely fitted to the powers of this period, which is long enough too for acquiring the most useful languages antient and modern.
Letter to John Brazier, August 24, 1819:
Among the values of classical learning, I estimate the luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals. And why should not this innocent and elegant luxury take its preeminent stand ahead of all those addressed merely to the senses? I think myself more indebted to my father for this than for all the other luxuries his cares and affections have placed within my reach; and more now than when younger, and more susceptible of delights from other sources. When the decays of age have enfeebled the useful energies of the mind, the classic pages fill up the vacuum of ennui, and become sweet composers to that rest of the grave into which we are all sooner or later to descend.


Study Tips

In The Pirke Avos Treasury. Ethics of the Fathers. Chapters 1-2 by Rabbi Moshe Lieber, edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1996), p. 44, there are some practical tips on Torah study by the 19th century Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz of Danzig. They are really applicable to any type of study. Here is an abridgement:
  1. One should not study while lying down nor in a very warm place, for this induces drowsiness and disturbs concentration. Nor should one eat or involve oneself in any other activity while studying.
  2. One should avoid intellectual distraction. By studying out loud, one can concentrate and implant the ideas firmly in one's mind.
  3. A comfortable and quiet learning atmosphere provides the proper state of mind for learning. One should study in a well-lit airy room, using books printed on fine paper.
  4. Too much variety of subject matter tends to leave one's mind unfocused.
  5. One should make efforts to reach a firm and clear understanding of what he studies. Then, through careful review, he will remember what he learns. Young people especially should be encouraged to memorize their studies.


Remembering and Forgetting

In the second circle of Hell, Francesca da Rimini laments (Dante, Inferno 5.121-123), "There is no greater pain than remembering past happiness in the midst of present misery" (nessun maggiore dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / nella miseria), especially when there is no prospect of any future happiness on the horizon.

The commentators on this passage cite Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae (On the Consolation of Philosophy) 2.4.2: "But this is what especially vexes me when I remember. For in every adversity of fortune it is the most unhappy kind of misfortune to have been happy once upon a time." (sed hoc est quod recolentem vehementius coquit. nam in omni adversitate fortunae infelicissimum est genus infortunii fuisse felicem.)

We might turn Francesca's statement on its head and say, "There is no greater pain than remembering past misery in the midst of present happiness". It makes your sunny day suddenly overcast. In Vergil's Aeneid, Dido asks Aeneas to describe the fall of Troy, and Aeneas says (2.3), "You're asking me, Queen, to renew an unspeakable sorrow" (infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem).

The ability to forget is a powerful medicine for our psychological health. In Funes, the Memorious, a story by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), the hero remembers everything, and it is a curse for him rather than a blessing.

Thursday, July 01, 2004



Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), p. 28:
Counterpart to the knee-jerk liberal is the knee-pad conservative, always grovelling before the rich and the powerful.



Thoreau, letter to Parker Pillsbury, April 1861:
Blessed are they who never read a newspaper, for they shall see Nature, and, through her, God.


The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows 34 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit. Only thoughts reached by walking have value.
Das Sitzfleisch ist gerade die Sünde wider den heiligen Geist. Nur die ergangenen Gedanken haben Werth.


Dickens on Turning Eighty

Another idea for a Hallmark birthday card, this one from Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 11:
Why a man with any feeling ought to be ashamed of being eighty, let alone more. Where's his religion, I should like to know, when he goes flying in the face of the Bible like that? Three-score-and-ten's the mark; and no man with a conscience, and a proper sense of what's expected of him, has any business to live longer.

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