Tuesday, August 31, 2004



Plutarch, Life of Marius 7 (tr. John Dryden):
Any voluntary partaking with people in their labour is felt as an easing of that labour, as it seems to take away the constraint and necessity of it. It is the most obliging sight in the world to the Roman soldier to see a commander eat the same bread as himself, or lie upon an ordinary bed, or assist the work in the drawing a trench and raising a bulwark. For they do not so much admire those that confer honours and riches upon them, as those that partake of the same labour and danger with themselves; but love them better that will vouchsafe to join in their work, than those that encourage their idleness.


Writing and Thinking

Hugh Blair (1718-1800):
For we may rest assured that whenever we express ourselves ill, there is, besides the mismanagement of language, some mistake in our manner of conceiving the subject. Embarrassed, obscure, and feeble sentences are generally, if not always, the result of embarrassed, obscure, and feeble thought. Thought and language act and react upon each other mutually. Logic and rhetoric have here, as in many other cases, a strict connect; and he that is learning to arrange his sentences with accuracy and order is learning, at the same time, to think with accuracy and order.


Home Again

Catullus 31.7-10:
What is more blessed than release from cares, when the mind puts aside its burden, and weary from exertion abroad we arrive home and lie down to rest on the bed we have longed for?

o quid solutis est beatius curis,
cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrina
labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum
desideratoque adquiescimus lecto?

Monday, August 30, 2004


Argumentum Ad Hominem

Keith Burgess-Jackson discusses the phrases in virtue of/by virtue of and in contrast/by contrast, and concludes that either alternative is acceptable in these pairs. I have no quarrel with that conclusion.

But let's look at his reasoning:
A moment ago, I did a Google search for "in contrast." I used quotation marks so as to get the exact expression. I got 3.72 million hits. "By contrast," by contrast, got 1.84 million hits. This shows that both expressions are widely used.

Then I searched for "in virtue of" and "by virtue of." The former garnered 113,000 hits, the latter 1.06 million hits. I suppose someone could claim that this shows that "in virtue of" is incorrect, unidiomatic, or archaic. I would draw the opposite conclusion. It's correct, idiomatic, and current, just not as popular. In virtue of these results, feel free to use "in virtue of."
Consider the solecism "argumentum ad hominum" versus the correct "argumentum ad hominem." The Latin preposition "ad" takes the accusative case. "Hominum" is genitive plural, "hominem" is accusative singular of "homo" (man, person). Therefore "argumentum ad hominem" is correct, "argumentum ad hominum" is not. Mutatis mutandis we could rewrite Burgess-Jackson's second paragraph as follows:
Then I searched for "argumentum ad hominum" and "argumentum ad hominem." The former garnered 499 hits, the latter 5,830 hits. I suppose someone could claim that this shows that "argumentum ad hominum" is incorrect, unidiomatic, or archaic. I would draw the opposite conclusion. It's correct, idiomatic, and current, just not as popular. In virtue of these results, feel free to use "argumentum ad hominum."
You could use similar reasoning to support the use of the ungrammatical "between you and I" (20,200 hits) versus the proper "between you and me" (87,900 hits). Agreement with or against Google is not the arbiter of correct usage, either in English or Latin. As I have pointed out elsewhere, there are more Google hits for the incorrect "ad nauseum" than for the correct "ad nauseam." Google measures popularity, but does not determine correctness. As the legal maxim says, "Testimonia ponderanda sunt, non numeranda" (witnesses should be weighed, not counted).

But perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, Burgess-Jackson was discussing a case where the choice is unclear between two acceptable alternatives, not a case where one phrase is obviously correct, the other incorrect. My rule of thumb, when faced with a doubtful choice between alternatives like "by virtue of" and "in virtue of," is to ask someone who has read widely and who writes well which they would use. Someone, that is, like Keith Burgess-Jackson.

Returning to "ad hominum" and "ad hominem," I'm well aware that you can find expressions like "ad hominum milia decem" (about ten thousand men) in good Latin authors such as Caesar, and that "ad Cereris" (at Ceres', i.e. at Ceres' temple) is idiomatic Latin. The fact remains that "ad" always takes an accusative, expressed or implied.

On a lighter note -- any Latin teacher can tell you about the giggles that erupt in the classroom the first time the vocabulary word "homo" is introduced. The same thing happens in German class with "fahrt."

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Light and Darkness

Jasper Griffin, Homer on Life and Death (1980; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 162:
The gods are at home in the radiant brightness of Olympus, the dead in the eternal darkness; men live between them in a world in which light and darkness succeed each other.


Philosophy Lecture

The following quotation comes at second or third hand. John Alexander Smith (1863-1939), Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford, gave a lecture sometime before WWI, attended by Harold Macmillan. Macmillan reported Smith's words to Isaiah Berlin, and Isaiah Berlin told them to Ramin Jahanbegloo, who reproduced them in Conversations with Isaiah Berlin (London: Phoenix Press, 1993), p. 29:
All of you, gentlemen, will have different careers -- some of you will be lawyers, some of you will be soldiers, some will be doctors or engineers, some will be government servants, some will be landowners or politicians. Let me tell you at once that nothing I say during these lectures will be of the slightest use to you in any of the fields in which you will attempt to exercise your skills. But one thing I can promise you: if you continue with this course of lectures to the end, you will always be able to know when men are talking rot.

Saturday, August 28, 2004



Assault your foes with these choice insults from Gilbert and Sullivan. The first is from Ruddigore, Act II:
Coward, poltroon, shaker, squeamer,
Blockhead, sluggard, dullard, dreamer,
Shirker, shuffler, crawler, creeper,
Sniffler, snuffler, wailer, weeper,
Earthworm, maggot, tadpole, weevil!
The second is from The Grand Duke, Act I:
You booby dense --
You oaf immense,
With no pretence
To common sense!
A stupid muff
Who's made of stuff
Not worth a puff
Of candle-snuff!


An Audience of One

A few days ago, blogger Verbum Ipsum wrote:
Apologies to my three readers for the gap in blogging this week.
I'm one of three, since I read his well-written, thought-provoking blog every day.

I write my own blog for an audience of one -- myself.



The Roman comic playwright Plautus coined this triple compound in his Trinummus, line 100:
Your fellow-citizens call you greedy for filthy lucre.

turpilucricupidum te vocant cives tui.
Turpilucricupidus comes from turpis (shameful, filthy, cf. turpitude), lucrum (profit, cf. lucre), cupidus (desirous, greedy, cf. cupidity).

The word is a hapax legomenon ("once said"), that is, a word that doesn't occur elsewhere in Latin literature, although perhaps it should be read in St. Jerome's Vulgate translation of St. Paul's letter to Titus 1:7 (turpilucricupidum instead of turpis lucri cupidum):
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre.

Oportet enim episcopum sine crimine esse, sicut Dei dispensatorem: non superbum, non iracundum, non vinolentum, non percussorem, non turpis lucri cupidum.
St. Jerome was an avid reader of Plautus, as he confesses in a famous letter to Eustochium (22.30.1, tr. W.H. Fremantle):
Many years ago, when for the kingdom of heaven's sake I had cut myself off from home, parents, sister, relations, and -- harder still -- from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed; and when I was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, I still could not bring myself to forego the library which I had formed for myself at Rome with great care and toil. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus.
The Greek adjective in Titus 1:7 is aischrokerdes, and the corresponding noun is aischrokerdeia, from aischros (shameful) plus kerdos (gain). Probably the same adjective was in the Greek play by Philemon (Thesauros = Treasure) which Plautus adapted in his Trinummus (see line 19).

Demosthenes charges the guardian who cheated him out of his inheritance with aischrokerdeia (Against Aphobus 3.4). The Greek comic poet Diphilus (fr. 99, tr. J.M. Edmonds) says about it:
Avarice is a fatuous thing; the mind
That's given to getting, to all else is blind.
Polybius (6.46.2-3, tr. W.R. Paton) claimed that the inhabitants of Crete were especially afflicted with this vice:
Money is held in such high honour among them that its acquisition is not only regarded as necessary, but as most honourable. So much in fact do sordid gain [aischrokerdeia] and lust for wealth [pleonexia] prevail among them that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.
In his Characters, Theophrastus devotes an entire chapter (30) to aischrokerdeia. Here is a translation by R.C. Jebb (revised by J.E. Sandys):
Avarice is excessive desire of base gain.

The Avaricious man is one who, when he entertains, will not set enough bread on the table. He will borrow from a guest staying in his house. When he makes a distribution, he will say that the distributor is entitled to a double share, and thereupon will help himself. When he sells wine, he will sell it watered to his own friend. He will seize the opportunity of taking his boys to the play, when the lessees of the theatre grant free admission. If he travels on the public service, he will leave at home the money allowed to him by the State, and will borrow of his colleagues in the embassy; he will load his servant with more baggage than he can carry, and give him shorter rations than any other master does; he will demand, too, his strict share of the presents, -- and sell it. When he is anointing himself at the bath, he will say to the slave-boy, 'Why, this oil that you have bought is rancid' -- and will use someone else's. He is apt to claim his part of the halfpence found by his servants in the streets, and to cry 'Shares in the luck!' Having sent his cloak to be scoured he will borrow another from an acquaintance, and delay to restore it for several days, until it is demanded back.

These, again, are traits of his. He will weigh out their rations to his household with his own hands, using 'the measure of the frugal king,' with the bottom dinted inward, and carefully brushing the rim. He will buy a thing privately, when a friend seems ready to sell it on reasonable terms, and will dispose of it at a raised price. It is just like him, too, when he is paying a debt of thirty minas, to withhold four drachmas. Then, if his sons, through ill-health, do not attend the school throughout the month, he will make a proportionate deduction from the payment; and all through Anthesterion he will not send them to their lessons because there are so many festivals, and he does not wish to pay the fees. When he is receiving rent from a slave, he will demand in addition the discount charged on the copper money; also, in going through the account of the manager <he will challenge small items>. Entertaining his clansmen, he will beg a dish from the common table for his own servants; and will register the half-radishes left over from the repast, in order that the attendants may not get them. Again, when he travels with acquaintances, he will make use of their servants, but will let his own slave out for hire; nor will he place the proceeds to the common account. It is just like him, too, when a club-dinner is held at his house, to secrete some of the fire-wood, lentils, vinegar, salt, and lamp-oil placed at his disposal. If a friend, or a friend's daughter, is to be married, he will go abroad a little while before, in order to avoid giving a wedding present. And he will borrow from his acquaintances things of a kind that no one would ask back, -- or readily take back, if it were proposed to restore them.

Friday, August 27, 2004



Thomas More, Utopia, tr. Gilbert Burnet:
They eat and drink out of vessels of earth or glass, which make an agreeable appearance, though formed of brittle materials; while they make their chamber-pots and close-stools of gold and silver, and that not only in their public halls but in their private houses. Of the same metals they likewise make chains and fetters for their slaves, to some of which, as a badge of infamy, they hang an earring of gold, and make others wear a chain or a coronet of the same metal; and thus they take care by all possible means to render gold and silver of no esteem.
Thomas More was probably inspired in one detail by an epigram of Martial (1.37):
You capture your bowels' load in unfortunate gold, Bassus, nor does it shame you. You drink from glass. Therefore it costs you more to crap.

Ventris onus misero, nec te pudet, excipis auro,
  Basse, bibis vitro: carius ergo cacas.
Bassus has his modern imitators.


Baby Showers and Funerals

Herodotus 5.4.2 (tr. George Rawlinson), concerning the Trausi, a Thracian tribe:
When a child is born all its kindred sit round about it in a circle and weep for the woes it will have to undergo now that it is come into the world, making mention of every ill that falls to the lot of humankind; when, on the other hand, a man has died, they bury him with laughter and rejoicings, and say that now he is free from a host of sufferings, and enjoys the completest happiness.



The phrase "dulce est desipere in loco" comes from Horace, Odes 4.12.28, and means "It's pleasant to act crazy on occasion." Herodotus puts these words into the mouth of the Egyptian king Amasis (2.173.3-4, tr. George Rawlinson):
Bowmen bend their bows when they wish to shoot; unbrace them when the shooting is over. Were they kept always strung they would break, and fail the archer in time of need. So it is with men. If they give themselves constantly to serious work, and never indulge awhile in pastime or sport, they lose their senses, and become mad or moody. Knowing this, I divide my life between pastime and business.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Pliny the Elder on the Swift Boat Controversy

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8.34.82:
There's no lie so outrageous but that someone can be found to swear it's true.

nullum tam impudens mendacium est, ut teste careat.
Interpret that however you wish.



In one of his letters to Atticus (1.16.12) Cicero quotes a saying of Philip of Macedon, who was Alexander the Great's father:
He used to say that all fortresses could be captured into which only a donkey laden with gold could climb.

omnia castella expugnari posse dicebat in quae modo asellus onustus auro posset ascendere.
This could be paraphrased and modified as follows:
Every legislature can be corrupted into which a lobbyist carrying a briefcase full of cash can walk.


Use It Or Lose It

Cato, quoted by Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 11.2.6:
Human life is sort of like iron. If you use iron, it wears out. But if you don't use it, rust nevertheless ruins it. Likewise we see men worn out by use. But if you don't use your body, laziness and inactivity exact a worse toll than use.

vita humana prope uti ferrum est; si exerceas, conteritur. si non exerceas, tamen rubigo interfecit. item homines exercendo videmus conteri. si nihil exerceas, inertia atque torpedo plus detrimenti facit quam exercitio.



Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), tr. Willard R. Trask, p. 20:
The substance of ancient culture was never destroyed. The fallow period of decline which extended from 425 to 775 affected only the Frankish kingdom and was later made good. A new period of decline begins in the nineteenth century and reaches the dimensions of catastrophe in the twentieth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Rural Retreat

Horace, Satires 2.6.60-62:
O countryside, when will I see you again? When will I be permitted to imbibe sweet forgetfulness of trouble, now amidst books by ancient authors, now with sleep and lazy hours?

o rus, quando ego te adspiciam quandoque licebit
nunc veterum libris, nunc somno et inertibus horis
ducere sollicitae iucunda oblivia vitae?



Pliny, Letters 9.17.4:
Let us forgive others their pleasures, that we might receive forgiveness for our own.

demus igitur alienis oblectationibus veniam, ut nostris impetremus.


Questions and Answers

St. Augustine, Confessions 10.6.9 (tr. E.B. Pusey):
I asked the earth, and it answered me, "I am not He;" and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, "We are not Thy God, seek above us." I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, "Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God." I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, "Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seekest." And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh: "Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him." And they cried out with a loud voice, "He made us."

interrogavi terram, et dixit, 'non sum.' et quaecumque in eadem sunt, idem confessa sunt. interrogavi mare et abyssos et reptilia animarum vivarum, et responderunt, 'non sumus deus tuus; quaere super nos.' interrogavi auras flabiles, et inquit universus aer cum incolis suis, 'fallitur Anaximenes; non sum deus.' interrogavi caelum, solem, lunam, stellas: 'neque nos sumus deus, quem quaeris,' inquiunt. et dixi omnibus his quae circumstant fores carnis meae, 'dicite mihi de deo meo, quod vos non estis, dicite mihi de illo aliquid,' et exclamaverunt voce magna, 'ipse fecit nos.'
On Anaximenes see e.g. Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.10.26: Anaximenes thought that air is god (Anaximenes aera deum statuit).

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Czeslaw Milosz

I recommend the moving eulogy of Czeslaw Milosz by David Warren. Here's a sample:
Replying to Karl Marx's old saw that religion is the "opium of the people", Milosz once said: "A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death -- the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged."


Back to School Thoughts

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Götzen-Dämmerung), What the Germans Lack (Was den Deutschen abgeht), 5 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
"Higher education" and huge numbers -- that is a contradiction to start with. All higher education belongs only to the exception: one must be privileged to have a right to so high a privilege. All great, all beautiful things can never be common property: pulchrum est paucorum hominum.

"Höhere Erziehung" und Unzahl - das widerspricht sich von vornherein. Jede höhere Erziehung gehört nur der Ausnahme: man muss privilegirt sein, um ein Recht auf ein so hohes Privilegium zu haben. Alle grossen, alle schönen Dinge können nie Gemeingut sein: pulchrum est paucorum hominum.
The Latin quotation means "What is beautiful belongs to a few." Some give the source as Horace, Satires 1.9.44, but this is incorrect, and I can't track down the origin of the phrase.

For more back to school thoughts, see this week's hilarious postings by the crack young staff at The Hatemonger's Quarterly entitled Official Back-to-School Week. So far:


Torch Relays and Races

There is no evidence that a torch relay was ever part of the ancient Olympic games. Carl Diem (1882-1962) first introduced it as part of the modern Olympics in the 1936 games in Berlin.

However, the ancient Greeks were fond of both simple torch races and torch relay races. Pausanias (1.30.2, tr. W.H.S. Jones) describes a torch race that was not a relay race:
In the Academy is an altar to Prometheus, and from it they run to the city [Athens] carrying burning torches. The contest is while running to keep the torch still alight; if the torch of the first runner goes out, he has no longer any claim to victory, but the second runner has. If his torch also goes out, then the third man is victor. If all the torches go out, no one is left to be winner.
Plutarch (Life of Solon 1.4, tr. Bernadotte Perrin) gives a further detail about this race:
And it is said that Peisistratus also had a boy lover, Charmus, and that he dedicated the statue of Love [Eros] in the Academy, where the runners in the sacred torch race light their torches.
Herodotus (8.98.2, tr. Aubrey de Selincourt) compares horse-riding Persian mail couriers to Greek torch racers:
The first, at the end of his stage, passes the dispatch to the second, the second to the third, and so on along the line, as in the Greek torch-race [lampadephorie] which is held in honour of Hephaestus.
Obviously this was a torch relay race.

Herodotus also (6.105.1-3) mentions the origin of torch races in honor of the god Pan:
Before they left the city, the Athenian generals sent off a message to Sparta. The messenger was an Athenian named Pheidippides, a trained runner still in the practice of his profession. According to the account he gave the Athenians on his return, Pheidippides met the god Pan on Mount Parthenium, above Tegea. Pan, he said, called him by name and told him to ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, in spite of his friendliness towards them and the fact that he had been useful to them in the past, and would be so again in the future. The Athenians believed Pheidippides' story, and when their affairs were once more in a prosperous state, they built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis, and from the time his message was received they have held an annual ceremony, with a torch-race and sacrifices, to court his protection.
At the beginning of the Republic (1.328a, tr. Paul Shorey), Plato describes a torch relay race in honor of the Thracian goddess Bendis, with an added twist. The racers were on horseback:
Do you mean to say, interposed Adimantus, that you haven't heard that there is to be a torchlight race this evening on horseback in honor of the goddess?

On horseback? said I. That is a new idea. Will they carry torches and pass them along to one another as they race with the horses, or how do you mean?

That's the way of it, said Polemarchus, and besides, there is to be a night festival which will be worth seeing.
Plato also uses the metaphor of a torch relay race in Laws 6.776b (tr. A.E. Taylor):
They will pay visits to the old home and receive visits from it, beget children and bring them up, and thus hand the torch of life on from one generation to another and perpetuate that service of God which our laws demand.
Lucretius imitates the same metaphor when he writes (2.79) "like runners they pass on the torch of life" (quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt).

According to Aristophanes, Frogs 1089-1098 (tr. Gilbert Murray), the Athenians also ran torch races in honor of Athena:
Not a doubt of it! Why, I laughed fit to cry
At the Panathenaea, a man to espy,
  Pale, flabby, and fat,
  And bent double at that,
Puffing feebly behind, with a tear in his eye;

Till there in their place, with cord and with brace,
Were the Potters assembled to quicken his pace;
  And down they came, whack!
  On sides, belly, and back,
Till he blew out his torch and just fled from the race!
Aristotle says (Athenian Constitution 57.1) that all of the torch races at Athens were under control of the archon basileus, the king archon. A red-figure krater of 430 B.C. (Harvard University Art Museums 1960.344) shows torch race runners plus the archon basileus.

The modern Olympic torch relay is not a race, but all of the ancient Greek examples just cited were. The agon, or contest, was a central feature of ancient Greek life. Nietzsche's friend Jacob Burckhardt emphasized this in his lectures on Greek cultural history -- see the selections from these lectures published as The Greeks and Greek Civilization, tr. Sheila Stern (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), pp. 160-213 (The Agonal Age).

Monday, August 23, 2004


A Penny for Your Thoughts

Shakespeare, Othello 3.3.136-141:
Utter my thoughts? Why, say they are vile and false;
As where's that palace whereinto foul things
Sometimes intrude not? Who has a breast so pure,
But some uncleanly apprehensions
Keep leets and law-days, and in session sit
With meditations lawful?


Lost in Translation

Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), p. 184:
He [C.S. Lewis] remained lifelong friends with Sister Penelope, and it was to her and her fellow nuns that Perelandra was dedicated in the words 'To some ladies at Wantage'. The translator of the Portuguese edition delighted the sisters by mistranslating this 'To some wanton ladies'.



Cicero, Brutus 58:
For nowadays certain orators bark rather than speak. (latrant enim iam quidam oratores, non loquuntur.)
This is true in our day especially of some politicians (e.g. Senator Edward Kennedy), sportscasters, and preachers in certain denominations.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Three Poets

Tennyson, sonnet entitled Poets and Their Bibliographies:
Old poets foster'd under friendlier skies,
Old Virgil who would write ten lines, they say,
At dawn, and lavish all the golden day
To make them wealthier in his readers' eyes;
And you, old popular Horace, you the wise
Adviser of the nine-years-ponder'd lay,
And you, that wear a wreath of sweeter bay,
Catullus, whose dead songster never dies;
If, glancing downward on the kindly sphere
That once had roll'd you round and round the sun,
You see your Art still shrined in human shelves,
You should be jubilant that you flourish'd here
Before the Love of Letters, overdone,
Had swampt the sacred poets with themselves.
Suetonius in his life of Vergil (22, tr. J.C. Rolfe) describes the poet's method of composition thus:
When he was writing the Georgics, it is said to have been his custom to dictate each day a large number of verses which he had composed in the morning, and then to spend the rest of the day in reducing them to a very small number, wittily remarking that he fashioned his poem after the manner of a she-bear, and gradually licked it into shape.
Suetonius also says (op. cit. 25) that it took Vergil 7 years to complete his Georgics. Since the Georgics contain 2188 lines, Vergil's rate of composition for this poem works out to less than a line per day.

In his Ars Poetica (386-390, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), Horace "the wise adviser of the nine-years-ponder'd lay" wrote:
Yet if ever you do write anything, let it enter the ears of some critical Maecius, and your father's and my own; then put your parchment in the closet and keep it back till the ninth year. What you have not published you can destroy; the word once sent forth can never come back.
The "dead songster" who "never dies" is a reference to the third poem in Catullus' collection, a dirge for his mistress' dead pet sparrow (tr. F.W. Cornish):
Mourn, ye Graces and Loves, and all you whom the Graces love. My lady's sparrow is dead, the sparrow my lady's pet, whom she loved more than her very eyes; for honey-sweet he was, and knew his mistress as well as a girl knows her own mother. Nor would he stir from her lap, but hopping now here, now there, would still chirp to his mistress alone. Now he goes along the dark road, thither whence they say no one returns. But curse upon you, cursed shades of Orcus, which devour all pretty things! My pretty sparrow, you have taken away. Ah, cruel! Ah, poor little bird! All because of you my lady's darling eyes are heavy and red with weeping.
The dead songster never dies because Catullus has conferred immortality on it through his verses.



W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938):
I have always wondered at the passion many people have to meet the celebrated. The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends that you know famous men proves only that you are yourself of small account.
Ordinarily I don't put much stock in the pseudo-science of psychology. But in identifying Celebrity Worship Syndrome perhaps the psychologists are on to something.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Historia Bush

Historia Augusta is the name given by Isaac Casaubon to a pseudonymous compilation of biographies of Roman emperors who reigned from 117 to 284 A.D. Marguerite Yourcenar in her essay "Faces of History in the Historia Augusta" writes:
The evils by which a civilization dies are more specific, more complex, more deliberate, sometimes, more difficult to discover or to define. But we have learned to recognize that gigantism which is merely the morbid mimetism of growth, that waste which makes a pretense of wealth in states already bankrupt, that plethora so quickly replaced by dearth at the first crisis, those entertainments for the people provided from the upper levels of the hierarchy, that atmosphere of inertia and panic, of authoritarianism and of anarchy, those pompous reaffirmations of a great past amid present mediocrity and immediate disorder, those reforms which are merely palliatives and those outbursts of virtue which are manifested only by purges, those unacknowledged men of genius lost in the crowd of unscrupulous gangsters, of violent lunatics, of honest men who are inept and wise men who are helpless. The modern reader is at home in the Historia Augusta.
Taking as his starting point this quotation from Marguerite Yourcenar, Michael Doliner finds evidence of most of these ills (gigantism, waste, panic, authoritarianism, mediocrity, purges, gangsters, etc.) in the George W. Bush presidency, in a recent article entitled Historia Bush.

Humanist scholars were fond of inventing classical appellations for themselves. Thus Luther's friend Philipp Schwarzerd (1497-1560) called himself Melanchthon, since German schwarz (black) is Greek melas (genitive melanos, cf. English melanin, melancholy) and German Erde (earth) is Greek chthon. Adapting this custom we could perhaps devise the following Latin moniker for George Walker Bush -- Agricola Ambulator Arbuscula. Triple A instead of Dubya, for the president whose fondness for inventing nicknames for others is well known. George comes from the Greek georgos (farmer), whose Latin equivalent is agricola. Walker in Latin is ambulator (cf. English perambulate), and a Latin word for shrub or bush is arbuscula.

I can't find offhand a Latin adjective meaning shrub-like, but arbusculanus seems like it might do the trick (cf. Africanus from Africa). Then, instead of the hybrid Latin/English title Historia Bush, we could rename Doliner's article Historia Arbusculana.


The Man with the Palindromic Name

If you omit his middle name or use his middle initial rather than his middle name, classical scholar Revilo Pendleton Oliver (1910-1994) has a palindromic name (Revilo Oliver, Revilo P. Oliver), one that reads the same backwards as forwards.

Oliver, who taught for many years at the University of Illinois, did some solid work in classics, e.g.Unfortunately, his enduring legacy is not likely to be his classical scholarship, but the racist, anti-Semitic essays that he penned in his later years. I won't dignify them by linking to them.


Old Pete and Mr. Paul

In a discussion of 1 Peter 3:7, Greg Krehbiel affectionately calls Saint Peter 'old Pete.' This reminds me of a story told by G.K. Chesterton:
A bishop is said to have complained of a Non-conformist saying Paul instead of Saint Paul; and to have added, "He might at least have called him Mr. Paul."
Unfortunately I've lost the source of this Chestertonian quotation.


Secular Psalter

In his essay on "The Odes of Horace" in Classical Studies (New York: Macmillan, 1926), J.W. Mackail compares Horace to Malherbe, Tennyson, and Gray, and then says (pp. 148-149):
But none of these poets, or of others, has given to the world, as Horace has, a secular Psalter for daily and yearly and age-long use.

As with the Psalter itself, the Odes have in them repetitions, inequalities, faults of matter and manner. Some of their contents seem unworthy of their place; mannered, uninspired, questionable in their use and actual present value. Some we may think (but we had better think twice and thrice) we could do well without. We have to make allowances in both for religious or literary conventions; for Jewish narrowness and vindictiveness, for Roman coarseness. But both volumes have been taken to the heart of the world, and have become part of ourselves. It is interesting to remark that both have this note of intimacy, that the Psalms and the Odes, or at least the most familiar among them, are habitually referred to, not by their titles (for they have none), nor by their number in the series, but simply by their opening words. We do not usually speak of the 95th or 114th, the 127th or 130th Psalms, if we wish to be understood, but of the Venite, the In exitu Israel, the Nisi Dominus, the De Profundis. And so with Horace one speaks familiarly of the Integer vitae, the Aequam memento, the Eheu fugaces, the Otium divos. This secular Psalter, like its religious analogue, has to be supplemented, enlarged, re-interpreted, possibly even cut, for actual use, for application to our own daily life. But both, in their enormously different ways, are central and fundamental; permanent lights on life and aids to living.
At my web site devoted to some of the Odes of Horace, you will find synopses, original texts, more or less literal translations, notes, and a collection of paraphrases, parodies, imitations, and translations of Horatian odes by English writers. It's my own version of the secular Psalter.

Friday, August 20, 2004


Girlie Men

One ancient Greek approximation for the Schwarzeneggerian insult 'girlie man' is 'androgynos,' whence our English adjective 'androgynous.' In Greek it is a compound, formed from 'aner' (genitive 'andros,' meaning 'man') plus 'gyne' (meaning 'woman').

Herodotus (4.67.2) uses the word to describe a class of Scythian soothsayers:
The effeminate (androgynoi) Enarees say that Aphrodite granted prophecy to them.
In the famous speech attributed to Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium we read (189e, tr. Benjamin Jowett):
In the first place, let me treat of the nature of man and what has happened to it; for the original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word 'Androgynous' is only preserved as a term of reproach.
An alternative title for Eupolis' comedy Astrateutoi (Draft Dodgers) was Androgynoi (Girlie Men). The word is also found in the works of the Greek comic playwright Menander. In his Aspis (The Shield, lines 241-244), two slaves have the following altercation:
What's your nationality?
Nothing good. A girlie man (androgynos). We Thracians alone are real men, a masculine bunch.
Likewise in Menander's Samia (The Woman from Samos, line 66), one slave insults another with the vocative 'androgyne.'

English is richer than Greek in synonyms for 'girlie man' ('nancy boy,' 'pantywaist,' 'wuss,' etc.). But one Greek synonym is 'hermaphroditos' (cf. English 'hermaphrodite') from the mythological son of Hermes and Aphrodite, whose name was Hermaphroditus. In Metamorphoses 4.285-388, Ovid tells how he became half man, half woman when the amorous nymph Salmacis refused to release him from her embrace. The passage is too long to quote in full, but the following excerpt well illustrates Ovid's playful love of paradox (lines 378-379):
They are not two, yet their appearance is twofold, so that neither female nor male could it be called, and they seem neither of the two yet both. (nec duo sunt et forma duplex, nec femina dici / nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.)


Ancient Coins

There are some superb photographs of ancient coins at HobbyBlog, together with much useful background information on these miniature works of art. It is possible to acquire some ancient coins for very little expense. Over the years I have purchased a few coins from Guy Clark, a reputable and fair dealer. In his Bargain Boxes he sells Greek and Roman coins for as little as five dollars each. Holding one of these coins in your hand brings the ancient world to life in a way that books do not.


The Sower and the Seed

Matthew 13:3-8:
Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Seneca, Epistulae Morales 73.15-16:
The gods are not disdainful, not ill-disposed: they let us in and extend a hand to those striving upwards. You're surprised that man advances towards the gods? God comes to men, nay rather, what is more intimate, he comes into men: no mind is good without God. Divine seeds have been sown in human bodies. If a good farmer receives the seeds, they spring forth similar to their origin and rise up like unto those from which they were born. But if a bad farmer receives the seeds, not unlike an unfertile and swampy piece of ground he kills them and creates from them weeds instead of fruits.
non sunt dii fastidiosi, non invidi: admittunt et ascendentibus manum porrigunt. miraris hominem ad deos ire? deus ad homines venit, immo quod est propius, in homines venit: nulla sine deo mens bona est. semina in corporibus humanis divina dispersa sunt, quae si bonus cultor excipit, similia origini prodeunt et paria iis ex quibus orta sunt surgunt: si malus, non aliter quam humus sterilis ac palustris necat ac deinde creat purgamenta pro frugibus.

Thursday, August 19, 2004



Mark 1:4, as rendered by John Henson, Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures (New Alresford, Hampshire: O Books, 2004), a new translation recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury:
John, nicknamed 'The Dipper,' was 'The Voice.' He was in the desert, inviting people to be dipped, to show they were determined to change their ways and wanted to be forgiven.
The same in the King James version:
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.



Charles Lamb, Letters (January 28, 1798, to Coleridge):
Any society, almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone.


Maxima Reverentia

The theme of Juvenal's fourteenth satire is the importance of parental example in raising a child. The poet wisely advises 'nil dictu foedum visuque haec limina tangat' (line 44, 'let nothing disgusting to say or see enter your house'). In order to obey this injunction literally today, one would be forced to smash the television set and radio to bits.

Friday, August 06, 2004


The Root of All Evil

Bill Vallicella has an interesting discussion of 1 Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas). In answer to his question, the Greek word translated by 'cupiditas' is 'philargyria'. Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), discusses 'philargyria' and its synonym 'pleonexia' on pp. 81-84. The component parts of the compound noun 'philargyria' survive in English words starting with 'philo' (such as 'philosophy' = love of wisdom) and in the French word 'argent' (money).


Baseball Caps Worn Backwards

Keith Burgess-Jackson rails against baseball caps worn backwards. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this custom has a long pedigree. The first stanza of "The Preacher's Boy" by American poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) contains a description of a preacher's wayward son that includes the phrase "his cap-rim turned behind" (line 7). See The Complete Poetical Works of James Whitcomb Riley (Garden City: Garden City Publishing Co., 1941), p. 284.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Tree Hugging

There will be little or no blogging here for the next couple of weeks. I'm going to hug some trees in the Maine woods:

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Students and Teachers

Geitner Simmons reports on complaints by students at a state university:
The students claimed they were entitled to challenge the professor because they were paying for the course, hence they supposedly had standing to direct how it should be taught. Specifically, the students complained that they ought to be allowed to take multiple-choice tests rather than essay exams. Many of them also refused to study a series of maps on which the instructor had marked various items that would later be the focus of a test; too boring, they said.
Keith Burgess-Jackson's essay You Are Not My Customer is a devastating critique of this mistaken notion that students are customers and like customers are "always right".

None of this is new, of course. In his account of the martyrdom of St. Cassian of Imola, Prudentius wrote (Peristephanon 9.27-28, tr. E.K. Rand):
For teachers ever are a bitter pill
To college youth, nor any serious course
Is ever sweet to infants.

doctor amarus enim discenti semper ephebo
  nec dulcis ulli disciplina infantiae est.
Cassian was stabbed to death by the pens of his pupils.

Other ancient worthies met the same fate. One of these was the priest Marcus of Arethusa, whose death was described by Gregory Nazianzen in his first invective against the emperor Julian = Oration 4.89 (tr. C.W. King):
He was tossed in the air from one set of school-boys to another, who caught that noble body on the points of their writing-styles, and made a game out of a tragedy.
Evagrius Scholasticus, in his Ecclesiastical History 3.10 (tr. E. Walford), wrote:
Next to Peter, Stephen succeeds to the see of Antioch, whom the sons of the Antiochenes dispatched with reeds sharpened like lances, as is recorded by John the Rhetorician.
Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend, tr. William Caxton) told a similar story about St. Felix:
Felix was surnamed Inpincis, and is said of the place where he resteth, or of the pointelles of greffes. A greffe is properly called a pointel to write in tables of wax, by which he suffered death. And some say that he was a schoolmaster and taught children, and was to them much rigorous. After he was known of the paynims, and because he confessed plainly that he was christian and believed in Jesu Christ he was delivered to be tormented into the hands of the children his scholars, whom he had taught and learned, which scholars slew him with their pointelles, pricks, and greffes.
An illustration from Cod. Pal. germ. 144 shows the gruesome death of St. Felix.


Learning and Ignorance

Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), book 8, chapter 13:
For men of true learning, and almost universal knowledge, always compassionate the ignorance of others; but fellows who excel in some little, low, contemptible art, are always certain to despise those who are unacquainted with that art.



A character in Plautus' Stichus (687) says, "Whoever will come, let him come with his own wine" (quisquis veniet veniat cum vino suo), a classy way of saying BYOB (bring your own bottle) on your next party invitation.

In ancient Greek, a potluck was an 'eranos', and the individual contributions were 'symbolai'. The guest who arrived without a contribution was said to be 'asymbolos' (Latin 'immunis').

Here is a poem from the Greek Anthology (11.35, tr. W.R. Paton) by Philodemus giving orders to his slave for a potluck:
Artemidorus gave us a cabbage, Aristarchus caviare, Athenagoras little onions, Philodemus a small liver, and Apollophanes two pounds of pork, and there were three pounds still left over from yesterday. Go and buy us an egg and garlands and sandals and scent, and I wish them to be here at four o'clock sharp.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Diabolical Architecture

Dante calls some of the buildings in Hell mosques (meschite, Inferno 8.70). No less hellish and diabolical are those contemporary mosques in which you can hear sermons advocating the annihilation of the Jews. See for example Steven Stalinsky, Palestinian Authority Sermons 2000-2003.


Postmodernism Generator

Andrew C. Bulhak's Postmodernism Generator is a clever piece of software that automatically produces essays with a postmodernist flavor. If you're on the page and you want a new one, just hit your browser's refresh button. The essays are amusing to read, and each includes the disclaimer "The essay you have just seen is completely meaningless and was randomly generated by the Postmodernism Generator." I suspect, however, that if you were a student in some university English departments, you could turn in one of the Postmodernism Generator's essays and receive an A+.

Monday, August 02, 2004



Martial, 5.58:
You say you'll live tomorrow, Postumus, always tomorrow: tell me, Postumus, when does that tomorrow of yours arrive? How far away that tomorrow of yours is! Where is it? Or whence is it to be sought? Is it hiding among the Parthians and Armenians? That tomorrow of yours is already as old as Priam or Nestor. That tomorrow of yours, tell me, for how much could it be purchased? You'll live tomorrow? It's too late to live even today, Postumus: the wise man is the one who lived yesterday.

Cras te victurum, cras dicis, Postume, semper:
  dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando venit?
Quam longe cras istud! ubi est? aut unde petendum?
  Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami vel Nestoris annos.
  Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras vives? Hodie iam vivere, Postume, serum est:
  ille sapit quisquis, Postume, vixit heri.


Definition of Religion

Arthur Darby Nock (1902-1963), quoted by W.M. Calder III, Men in Their Books: Studies in the Modern History of Classical Scholarship (Hildesheim: Olms, 1998), pp. 234, 284:
Religion is that active attitude of man towards those factors, real or imaginary, in his environment or makeup, which he of himself cannot fully comprehend or control, and what he does, says and thinks in virtue of that active attitude.


Admitting One's Mistakes

St. Augustine, Letters, 143.2 (to Marcellinus):
Hence I confess that I try to be one of those who write in order to make progress, and who make progress by writing. If therefore I've said anything somewhat rash or stupid, which deserves blame not only by others who are able to detect it but also by myself (since I at least ought to see my mistake afterwards, if I'm making progress), that is no cause for surprise or sorrow. Rather it is cause for pardon and congratulation, not because a mistake has been made but because it has been renounced. For that man loves himself in an excessively bad way who wishes others to be mistaken too, in order that his own mistake might remain undiscovered.

Ego proinde fateor me ex eorum numero esse conari, qui proficiendo scribunt, et scribendo proficiunt. Unde si aliquid vel incautius, vel indoctius a me positum est, quod non solum ab aliis qui videre id possunt, merito reprehendatur, verum etiam a meipso, quia et ego saltem postea videre debeo, si proficio; nec mirandum est, nec dolendum: sed potius ignoscendum atque gratulandum; non quia erratum est, sed quia improbatum. Nam nimis perverse seipsum amat qui et alios vult errare, ut error suus lateat.
St. Augustine's last work was his Retractationes (Reconsiderations), a catalogue of errors and inaccuracies which he thought he had made in his other works. In the history of ideas there haven't been many other thinkers with the intellectual honesty to follow his example.

Sunday, August 01, 2004



Thoreau, Journals, August 7, 1853:
How trivial and uninteresting and wearisome and unsatisfactory are all employments for which men will pay you money! The ways by which you may get money all lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle. If the laborer gets no more than the money his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself. Those services which the world will most readily pay for, it is most disagreeable to render. You are paid for being something less than a man.


Vacation Thoughts

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 28.1-2:
Do you think you're the only one this has happened to? Do you wonder at it as though it's something surprising, that despite your long trip and change of scenery you didn't shake off your sadness and heaviness of mind? You need to change your soul, not the sky overhead. Although you cross the wide sea, although (as our Vergil says) "lands and cities disappear into the distance," your faults will accompany you wherever you go. To someone who was whining about this very thing Socrates said, "Why does it surprise you that your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? The same cause that drove you to travel still oppresses you." How do strange lands help? And acquaintance with cities and tourist spots? This restlessness of yours has been in vain. You ask why your flight doesn't help you? You're fleeing in company with yourself. Your soul's burden must be cast off: until this happens, no other spot will please you.

Hoc tibi soli putas accidisse et admiraris quasi rem novam quod peregrinatione tam longa et tot locorum varietatibus non discussisti tristitiam gravitatemque mentis? Animum debes mutare, non caelum. Licet vastum traieceris mare, licet, ut ait Vergilius noster, 'terraeque urbesque recedant', sequentur te quocumque perveneris vitia. Hoc idem querenti cuidam Socrates ait, 'quid miraris nihil tibi peregrinationes prodesse, cum te circumferas? premit te eadem causa quae expulit'. Quid terrarum iuvare novitas potest? quid cognitio urbium aut locorum? in irritum cedit ista iactatio. Quaeris quare te fuga ista non adiuvet? tecum fugis. Onus animi deponendum est: non ante tibi ullus placebit locus.

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