Thursday, September 30, 2004


Questions and Answers

If you want to be depressed, read these answers by Saudis to a TV interviewer's questions "Would you, as a human being, be willing to shake hands with a Jew?" and "If a child asks you 'Who are the Jews?' what would you answer?"

I'm sure the answers would be quite different if Jews were asked "Would you, as a human being, be willing to shake hands with an Arab?" and "If a child asks you 'Who are the Arabs?' what would you answer?"

Thanks to my old and dear friend Jim K. for the link.


War and Peace

The Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, says, "If I remember my Latin, Si vis pacem, bellum paratum: if you want peace be prepared for war." It's rare to catch Homer nodding or Bill forgetting, but the usual form of the quotation is si vis pacem, para bellum. The Web is full of claims that Vegetius said this, but what Vegetius actually said (book 3, preface) was qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (who wishes peace, let him prepare for war). Similar expressions are:The Maverick Philosopher's excellent post ends with a clever twist on the hippie mantra "Give peace a chance" -- "Sometimes we need to give war a chance."


The Word Expedite

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 284, gives the following explanation of the origin of the word expedite:
An old story that no one has been able to prove or disprove holds that the Latin word expedire, the ancestor of expedite, derives from the name of St. Expeditus, a soldier in the Roman Army before being martyred at Melitene, Armenia, in the fourth century. St. Expeditus, it seems, was the advocate of urgent causes. The O.E.D. merely says that the Latin word expedire means "to free a person's feet (ped) from fetters, to help forward, to dispatch, send off."
It's quite easy to prove that Latin expedire does not derive from the name of a fourth century A.D. St. Expeditus. The word occurs in the earliest Latin writers, for example in numerous passages of Plautus, a writer who died in the second century B.C. I don't know where Hendrickson got his old story, but it's arrant nonsense.


Animal Sounds

In Liddell and Scott's Greek lexicon you can find the following onomatopoeic words:They are not so different from English bow-wow, baa, grunt.

One Greek animal sound that doesn't sound familiar, at least to my ear, is brekekekex koax koax, from Aristophanes' Frogs (line 209 and elsewhere). K.J. Dover in his commentary says that "initial br- appears in many Greek words denoting the production of sound" and also that final -x is "a Greek spelling convention for the representation of sounds." He concludes that "brekekekex seems thus to embody two non-representational conventions." Apparently the Marsh Frog, Rana ridibunda, does make a sound somewhat like brekekekex with br- and -x removed.

One wishes that the notes of the Roman emperor Geta (died 212 A.D.) on animal sounds had survived. Aelius Spartianus, Life of Geta 5.4-5, in the Historia Augusta (tr. Anthony Birley), says:
He made a habit of propounding problems to grammarians, asking them to say what sounds different animals make, for example: lambs bleat, pigs grunt, doves coo, bears growl, lions roar, leopards snarl, elephants trumpet, frogs croak, horses neigh, bulls bellow -- and he would confirm these from old writers.

familiare illi fuit has quaestiones grammaticis proponere, ut dicerent, singula animalia quomodo vocem emitterent, velut: agni balant, porcelli grunniunt, palumbes minurriunt, ursi saeviunt, leones rugiunt, leopardi rictant, elefanti barriunt, ranae coaxant, equi hinniunt, asini rudunt, tauri mugiunt, easque de veteribus adprobare.
Here are a few bibliographical references on Greek and Latin animal sounds that I've collected over the years:

David Rohrbacher comments:
I say with regret that Geta's work on animal sounds almost certainly never existed, but is a joke by the scampy author of the largely-fraudulent Historia Augusta (see Ronald Syme, Emperors and Biography, page 62; on the fraudulence of the HA, see Peter White, The Authorship of the Historia Augusta, Journal of Roman Studies 57 (1967) 115-33, and fuller and up-to-date treatment in Andre Chastagnol, Histoire Auguste (1994)). The (single) author of the HA, writing in the late fourth century, was probably a grammarian, and the point of the passage is a parody of the kind of nit-picking questions with which grammarians grappled (as seen, e.g., in Aulus Gellius.)
He also adds some more articles:

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Fashion Models

Isaiah 3.16-23:
[16] Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: [17] Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts. [18] In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, [19] The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, [20] The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, [21] The rings, and nose jewels, [22] The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, [23] The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.
One would think that Isaiah had observed modern-day fashion models on the runway, "with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go." Or maybe in verse 16 he was using the prophetic present tense, and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he actually foresaw the contestants on America's Next Top Model. The only details he omits are the pouts and scowls. Zion could be Paris or Milan or New York, the capitals of the fashion industry.

The round tires in verse 18 aren't of the Firestone variety, but hats, and the cauls in the same verse are cowls. Likewise the glasses in verse 23 aren't Gianfranco Ferré shades at $300 per pair, but mirrors. Tablets in verse 20 are probably amulets.


Leisure and Solitude

Cicero, De Officiis 3.1.1 (tr. Walter Miller):
Cato, who was of about the same years, Marcus, my son, as that Publius Scipio who first bore the surname of Africanus, has given us the statement that Scipio used to say that he was never less idle than when he had nothing to do and never less lonely than when he was alone.

P. Scipionem, Marce fili, eum, qui primus Africanus appellatus est, dicere solitum scripsit Cato, qui fuit eius fere aequalis, numquam se minus otiosum esse, quam cum otiosus, nec minus solum, quam cum solus esset.


Intoxication as a Defense

Some states by law allow intoxication as a defense to a criminal charge, although there seems to be a recent trend among legislatures to repeal such statutes where they are on the books.

At least one ancient Greek lawmaker would have viewed such a defense as ludicrous. Diogenes Laertius 1.4.76 (tr. R.D. Hicks) writes about Pittacus:
Among the laws which he made is one providing that for any offence committed in a state of intoxication the penalty should be doubled; his object was to discourage drunkenness, wine being abundant in the island [Mitylene].

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Ivy League Rot

A conference entitled "Regarding Michael Jackson: Performing Racial, Gender, and Sexual Difference Center Stage" was held last week at Yale University. Tenured professors who pretend to be scholars actually write papers on that freak and sit around in their tweed suits on panels solemnly discussing his oeuvre and influence.


Loving or Hating Enemies

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.43-46) Jesus said:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
Most ancient Greeks before the time of Christ would have regarded this notion as utterly preposterous. Among them it was a commonplace of morality, indeed almost the very essence of justice, that one should benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies. Denys L. Page, in his commentary on Euripides' Medea 809-810, quotes Lessing:
Moral excellence in ancient Greece consisted no less in unremitting hatred of your foes than in unalterable love toward your friends.
Here is a selection of passages from Greek literature on the topic:Polybius 1.14.4-5 (tr. W. R. Paton) allows an exception to the rule only in the person of the historian who is bound to be impartial:
In other relations of life we should not perhaps exclude all such favouritism; for a good man should love his friends and his country, he should share the hatreds and attachments of his friends; but he who assumes the character of a historian must ignore everything of the sort, and often, if their actions demand this, speak good of his enemies and honour them with the highest praises while criticizing and even reproaching roundly his closest friends, should the errors of their conduct impose this duty on him.

Monday, September 27, 2004


Carlyle on Elections

Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (1843), II, 7 (The Canvassing):
Besides it [an election] is a most important social act; nay, at bottom, the one important social act. Given the men a People choose, the People itself, in its exact worth and worthlessness, is given. A heroic people chooses heroes, and is happy; a valet or flunkey people chooses sham-heroes, what are called quacks, thinking them heroes, and is not happy.
Past and Present and Future might be a better title for Carlyle's prescient book.


A Reason to Study the Classics

Hesiod, Theogony, 98-103 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
For though a man have sorrow and grief in his newly-troubled soul and live in dread because his heart is distressed, yet, when a singer, the servant of the Muses, chants the glorious deeds of men of old and the blessed gods who inhabit Olympus, at once he forgets his heaviness and remembers not his sorrows at all; but the gifts of the goddesses soon turn him away from these.



Eric Gill, The Lord's Song: A Sermon (1934):
But sin is an unpopular word among us. We have thrown away free will. We do not like to be held responsible. We like to be treated as animals, as automatons. When the psychologist says, "it is heredity, it is early environment, it is a complex," we applaud. When Augustine says "it is sin," we deride.

Sunday, September 26, 2004



William Scott Ferguson, Greek Imperialism (1913), lecture 2 (Athens: An Imperial Democracy), reminds us about the extent of citizen participation in dramatic performances in ancient Athens:
In the hundred years of the empire close to two thousand plays of picked quality were written and staged in Athens, while during the same time from five to six thousand new musical compositions were made and presented. It is estimated that upwards of two thousand Athenians had to memorize the words and practice the music and dance figures of a lyric or dramatic chorus every year. Hence, a normal Athenian audience must have been composed in large part of ex-performers, a fact which students of Sophocles and Aristophanes would do well to bear constantly in mind.
This memorization later proved useful to some Athenians, as we read in this passage from Plutarch's Life of Nicias (tr. J. Dryden) which describes the fate of Athenian captives after the disastrous Sicilian Expedition:
Several were saved for the sake of Euripides, whose poetry, it appears, was in request among the Sicilians more than among any of the settlers out of Greece. And when any travellers arrived that could tell them some passage, or give them any specimen of his verses, they were delighted to be able to communicate them to one another. Many of the captives who got safe back to Athens are said, after they reached home, to have gone and made their acknowledgments to Euripides, relating how that some of them had been released from their slavery by teaching what they could remember of his poems, and others, when straggling after the fight, been relieved with meat and drink for repeating some of his lyrics. Nor need this be any wonder, for it is told that a ship of Caunus fleeing into one of their harbours for protection, pursued by pirates, was not received, but forced back, till one asked if they knew any of Euripides's verses, and on their saying they did, they were admitted, and their ship brought into harbour.
Xenophon, Symposium 3.5 (tr. O.J. Todd), mentions another feat of memorization:
"My father was anxious to see me develop into a good man," said Niceratus, "and as a means to this end he compelled me to memorize all of Homer; and so even now I can repeat the whole Iliad and the Odyssey by heart."
Ancient Greeks memorized Euripides and Homer. Modern Americans memorize the lyrics to Gilligan's Island.


Montaigne on Blogging

Montaigne, Essais III, 13:
We dignify our stupidities when we put them in print.

Nous mettons en dignité nos sottises, quand nous les mettons en moule.
To paraphrase:
We dignify our stupidities when we hit the Publish Post button in Blogger.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


Breeches or Breaches?

In this week's issue of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, there is an article about a former employee who embezzled money from the newspaper. The following sentence appears in the article:
Such instances come as startling breeches of trust, legal authorities acknowledge.
The only startling breeches of trust (or startling breeches you can trust) known to me are these, which help to conceal breaches of decorum.

Did the newspaper lose so much money to the embezzler that it can't afford a proofreader? Most computerized spell-checkers won't correct a breach of orthography like that committed by The Catholic Spirit.



Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.


Mutton Dressed as Lamb

Tertullian, De Cultu Feminarum (How Women Should Dress) 2.6.3:
The more old age strives to be concealed, the more it will be exposed.

senectus cum plus occultari studuerit, plus detegetur.
Tertullian's words apply equally to men, who can be every bit as vain about their appearance as women.


Following the Crowd

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 123.6:
Among the reasons for our misfortunes is the fact that we live in imitation of others. We are not formed by reason, but led astray by custom. If only a few people did a thing, we would not wish to imitate it, but when more people start to do it, we follow suit, as if the act were more honorable because more popular. An error, when it has become common, has the status of something proper with us.

inter causas malorum nostrorum est quod vivimus ad exempla, nec ratione componimur sed consuetudine abducimur. quod si pauci facerent nollemus imitari, cum plures facere coeperunt quasi honestius sit quia frequentius, sequimur; et recti apud nos locum tenet error ubi publicus factus est.
One of the strengths of Seneca as a moral teacher is that he so often includes himself in the indictment of folly and wrongdoing, by using the first person plural (we, us, our) rather than the second person (you, your). If this passage started out "Among the reasons for your misfortunes is the fact that you live in imitation of others" and continued in the same vein, it would sound too much like preaching and carping.

Friday, September 24, 2004


Politics and Religion

Anthony Burgess, The Kingdom of the Wicked (New York: Arbor House, 1985), p. 355:
When God enters politics he turns into his opposite. Always has. Always will.
Perhaps Burgess should have said, "When God is dragged into politics." Here are two recent examples, one from the left and the other from the right.

James C. Moore, author of Bush's Brain, said at a Texas Faith Network conference:
If ever there were a bleeding-heart liberal, it was Jesus Christ. I think the carpenter from Galilee was the original Democrat.
Rick Blauvelt (not a teen-ager), announcing the formation of a Teen-Age Republicans chapter in Renville County, Minnesota, wrote these words, published in the Bird Island Union newspaper:
This group will be a grass-roots movement to learn about how America got started, the difference between Republicans and Democrats, why the nation is split, why God is detested by our opponents and will be a force for the Republican Party in Renville County, not to be ignored.
Examples could be multiplied on either side. It's almost enough to make one want to sign the Sojourners' God Is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat. petition. Although I don't endorse everything in the petition, I do agree with this statement:
We believe that sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry - for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.
I'm also sick of hearing thinly disguised political sermons at Mass on Sunday. Ronald C. White, Jr., Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), pp. 138-139, quotes Lincoln as saying about Phineas Densmore Gurley (minister of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church):
I like Gurley. He don't preach politics. I get enough of that through the week, and when I go to church, I like to hear the gospel.
Amen, Brother Lincoln!

Thursday, September 23, 2004


Parodies of the Decalogue

Some might find these clever parodies of the Ten Commandments blasphemous, but I don't. To those who profess to be Christians, they're salutary reminders of the dangers of hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861), The Latest Decalogue:
Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would tax himself to worship two?
God's image nowhere shalt thou see,
Save haply in the currency.
Swear not at all; since for thy curse
Thine enemy is not the worse.
At church on Sunday to attend
Will help to keep the world thy friend.
Honor thy parents; that is, all
From whom promotion may befall.
Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive
Officiously to keep alive.
Adultery it is not fit
Or safe, for women, to commit.
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When 'tis so lucrative to cheat.
False witness not to bear be strict;
And cautious, ere you contradict.
Thou shalt not covet; but tradition
Sanctions the keenest competition.
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), The New Decalogue:
Have but one God: thy knees were sore
If bent in prayer to three or four.
Adore no images save those
The coinage of thy country shows.
Take not the Name in vain. Direct
Thy swearing unto some effect.
Thy hand from Sunday work be held --
Work not at all unless compelled.
Honor thy parents, and perchance
Their wills thy fortunes may advance.
Kill not -- death liberates thy foe
From persecution's constant woe.
Kiss not thy neighbor's wife. Of course
There's no objection to divorce.
To steal were folly, for 'tis plain
In cheating there is greater pain.
Bear not false witness. Shake your head
And say that you have "heard it said."
Who stays to covet ne'er will catch
An opportunity to snatch.



Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Warning to the West (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), p. 125:
How is it that people who have been crushed by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit can nevertheless find the strength to rise up and free themselves, first in spirit and then in body; while those who soar unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly lose the taste for freedom, lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost begin to crave slavery?


Dr. Matrix on the Bible

Martin Gardner, The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1985), p. 187:
Hundreds of Dr. Matrix's notes give anagrams on biblical names and phrases. "Naomi" (Ruth 1), widowed and bereft of her sons, becomes "I moan." For "ten commandments" the anagram is "Can't mend most men." For "silver and gold" (Deut. 17:17) it is "grand old evils." For "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) it is "High fees owed Satanist."

There are even notes on puns. "And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him" (1 Kings 13:27). Dr. Matrix professes to find a defense of cigarette smoking in "Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel" (Gen. 24:64).


Dalrymple on Tattoos

It's a few years old, but this essay on tattoos by Theodore Dalrymple is still worth reading. A sample:
One cannot but feel sorrow for people who think that by permanently disfiguring themselves they are somehow declaring their independence or expressing their individuality. The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man's existence.
Anthony Daniels is the real name of the pseudonymous Theodore Dalrymple, a fact useful in tracking down the scattered online essays of this extraordinary doctor and writer.


Wall and Desk Mottoes

Words to live by, by Don Marquis (1878-1937), suitable for framing. Hang one on your cubicle wall at work, for the edification of passers-by.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


The Groves of Academe

Mark Pattison, Memoirs of an Oxford Don (1885; rpt. London: Cassell, 1988), p. 40:
Such was my simplicity that I believed that no one went to college but those who were qualified, and anxious, to study.


Father Dowling on Praying in Latin

Ralph McInerny, Lying Three (New York: Vanguard, 1979), pp. 33-34:
He continued to read the daily office in Latin, hoping it was not prideful eccentricity. Latin provided a connective thread in his priesthood, enabling him to track back through the years to the young subdeacon who had taken on the obligation to recite the breviary every day, reading from its seasonal compilations of psalms, passages from the Old and New Testaments, and the Fathers. And the beautiful hymns. He loved it. He derived an aesthetic as well as a spiritual satisfaction from mumbling the familiar words. Latin words. In English they lost something, something not merely aesthetic and sentimental. Roger Dowling had no objections to the new vernacular liturgy. It was right for people to pray in their own language. Latin was known by only a few and had perhaps constituted a legal barrier. But, dear God, the caliber of the English now used was itself a barrier. Ah, well. He himself could continue to pray in Latin.
The Latin Mass was never as much of a barrier as people now pretend. My grandmother, who didn't go to school beyond eighth grade, had no problem following the priest's and altar boys' words in her missal, which had Latin and French on facing pages. She knew exactly what they were mumbling up there.


The Importance of Punctuation

Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, 5.4.8-12:
"Edwardum occidere nolite timere, bonum est:
Fear not to kill the King; 'tis good he die."
But read it thus, and that's another sense:
"Edwardum occidere nolite, timere bonum est:
Kill not the King; 'tis good to fear the worst."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004



In his treatise on the Athenian Constitution (55.3), Aristotle lists the questions posed to prospective archons during their official scrutiny (dokimasia):I suppose none of these questions will be asked during the presidential debates this year, except perhaps the last one.


I Wish

Walter A. Raleigh (1861-1922), Wishes of an Elderly Man Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914:
I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;
And when I'm introduced to one,
I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!


Sartor Resartus

Enoch Soames, Esq., has favored us with his Guide to Dressing Like an Adult. Unfortunately, I doubt that my manservant will be able to find a muted glenurquhart plaid, a foulard, and a straw boater at my church's upcoming jumble sale.

Monday, September 20, 2004


Work of Love

Dennis Mangan's moving tribute to his great-grandparents put me in mind of these words from Kierkegaard's Works of Love: Some Christians Reflections in the Form of Discourses, II, 9 (tr. Howard and Edna Hong):
The work of love in remembering the dead is thus a work of the most disinterested, the freest, the most faithful love. Therefore go out and practise it; remember one dead and learn in just this way to love the living disinterestedly, freely, faithfully.


Sentiments for a Hallmark Birthday Card

From T.S. Eliot's poem Little Gidding:
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
  To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
  First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
  But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
  As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
  At human folly, and the laceration
  Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
  Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
  Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
  Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
  Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.


The Law of Lazy Repetition

Arno Karlen, Napoleon's Glands and Other Essays in Biohistory (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1984), p. 45:
The law of lazy repetition lies behind much inherited error, and it flourishes when specialists reach into other specialties. A historian, trained to question even firsthand accounts with a trial lawyer's skepticism, may worshipfully buy what any doctor says on a medical point. A doctor, trained to demand laboratory proofs, may regurgitate the silliest historical summary he finds because its author had an advanced degree. Each knows the complex rigors of his own field; yet his very respect for expertise may make him credulous in other fields. Instead of rechecking and seeking verifications, he repeats the first "authority" he reads or even off-the-cuff opinions and second-hand summaries.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Last Words

In his record of Socrates' trial (Apology 39c, tr. B. Jowett), Plato records how the philosopher, condemned to death, referred to the common belief that the final words of someone about to die had special meaning:
And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power.
We see a similar belief in other ancient writings, for example at Homer, Iliad 24.743-745 (tr. R. Lattimore), where Andromache in her lament for her husband Hector, killed in battle, says:
You did not die in bed, and stretch your arms to me, nor tell me some intimate word that I could remember always, all the nights and days of my weeping for you.
Andromache's lament is not all that different from Tacitus' words about his father-in-law (Agricola 45.4-5):
In addition to the grief at a lost parent, this increased the sorrow of me and his daughter, the fact that we were not able to sit by him in his sickness, to care for him in his decline, to get our fill of looking at him and embracing him. We would surely have received his last wishes and words to fix deeply in our hearts.

sed mihi filiaeque eius praeter acerbitatem parentis erepti auget maestitiam, quod adsidere valetudini, fovere deficientem, satiari vultu complexuque non contigit. excepissemus certe mandata vocesque, quas penitus animo figeremus.
We actually have the very last words of Socrates, recorded by Plato (Phaedo 118a, tr. B. Jowett):
Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?
These last words, commanding animal sacrifice, are disappointing to some. Asclepius was a Greek god of medicine and healing. In his commentary on this passage, John Burnet says, "Socrates hopes to awake cured like those who are healed by enkoimesis (incubatio) in the Asklepieion at Epidaurus." In other words, Socrates hoped that death would cure him of what Alexander Pope called "this long Disease, my Life." The temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus was the Lourdes of antiquity. Those wishing to be cured slept overnight in the sanctuary. In his very useful Database of Greek Animal Sacrifice, Robert Simms (a former classmate of mine) lists sacrifices to Asclepius recorded in ancient inscriptions. Roosters aren't among them, but in his fourth Mime Herondas has a woman say that she sacrificed a rooster to Asclepius because she couldn't afford the customary cow or sow.

But back to famous last words. The seven last words (actually seven last utterances) of Christ are these:
  1. Luke 23.34: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
  2. Luke 23.43: "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
  3. John 19.26-27: "Woman, behold thy son...Behold thy mother."
  4. Mark 15.34 (Matthew 27.46): "God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
  5. John 19.28: "I thirst."
  6. John 19.30: "It is finished."
  7. Luke 23.46: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
Composers have often set these seven last words of Christ, in Latin, to music.

In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Suetonius records some famous last words, of which the most notable are:Pliny the Younger, Letters 3.16, tells the story of Caecinius Paetus, guilty of a failed conspiracy against the emperor Claudius. His wife Arria plunged a dagger into her breast and handed it to her husband with the words, "It doesn't hurt, Paetus" (Paete, non dolet).

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Avarice and Dropsy

Many ancient Greek and Roman writers remarked on the insatiable nature of greed. Other desires can be satisfied, but no matter how much the greedy man acquires, it is never enough.

Theognis 227-229 = Solon, fragment 13.71-73 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
And as for wealth, there's no end set clearly down; for such as have to-day the greatest riches among us, these have twice the eagerness that others have, and who can satisfy all?
Theognis 1157-1160 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
Riches and skill are ever the most irresistible of things to man; for thou canst not surfeit thy heart with riches, and in like manner he that is most skilled shunneth not skill, but desireth it and cannot have his fill.
Aristotle, Politics 2.4.11 (1267b, tr. H. Rackham):
The baseness of human beings is a thing insatiable, and though at the first a dole of two obols is enough, yet when this has now become an established custom, they always want more, until they get to an unlimited amount; for appetite is in its nature unlimited, and the majority of mankind live for the satisfaction of appetite.
Theocritus 16.64-65:
Farewell, whoever is such, and may his supply of money be endless, and may desire for more ever take hold of him.
Cicero, Paradoxes of the Stoics 1.6:
For the thirst of desire is never filled or satisfied, but those who have these luxuries are tortured not only by the wish to get more but also by the fear of losing what they already have.

neque enim umquam expletur nec satiatur cupiditatis sitis, neque solum ea qui habent libidine augendi cruciantur sed etiam amittendi metu.
Sallust, On the Conspiracy of Catiline 11.3:
Greed involves the pursuit of money, which no wise man has desired. As if dipped in evil poisons it weakens the body and the manly soul. It is always without limit, insatiable, and it is diminished neither by excess or deficit.

avaritia pecuniae studium habet, quam nemo sapiens concupivit: ea quasi venenis malis inbuta corpus animumque virilem effeminat, semper infinita, insatiabilis est, neque copia neque inopia minuitur.
Horace, Odes 3.16.17-18:
Worry and hunger for greater things accompany money as it grows.

crescentem sequitur cura pecuniam / maiorumque fames.
Horace, Epistles 2.2.147-148:
The more you've amassed, the more you desire.

quanto plura parasti, / tanto plura cupis.
Seneca, On Benefits 2.27.3 (tr. John Basore):
Nor does greed suffer any man to be grateful; for incontinent hope is never satisfied with what is given and, the more we get, the more we covet; and just as the greater the conflagration from which the flame springs, the more fiercer and more unbounded is its fury, so greed becomes much more active when it is employeed in accumulating great riches.

non patitur aviditas quemquam esse gratum; nunquam enim improbae spei, quod datur, satis est. et maiora cupimus, quo maiora venerunt, multoque concitatior est avaritia in magnarum opum congestu collocata, ut flammae infinito acrior vis est, quo ex maiore incendio emicuit.
Juvenal 14.139:
The love of money grows in proportion as one's income.

crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crevit.

The English word dropsy comes from Greek hydrops, itself from hydor = water. The medical term edema is more commonly used nowadays for this affliction, which consists of swelling due to accumulation of excess fluid. Jesus cured a man suffering from dropsy, according to Luke 14.1-6:
And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.
The view was prevalent in ancient medicine that sufferers from dropsy were always thirsty, and that drinking did nothing to alleviate their thirst and in fact made their condition worse. Naturally this led to a comparison between avarice (a disease of the soul) and dropsy (a disease of the body). In both cases, what the sufferer wanted (more water or more possessions) only aggravated the problem.

Aristippus, quoted by Plutarch, On Love of Wealth 524b (tr. Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson):
If a man eats and drinks a great deal, but is never filled, he sees a physician, inquires what ails him, what is wrong with his system, and how to rid himself of the disorder; but if the owner of five couches goes looking for ten, and the owner of ten tables buys up as many again, and though he has lands and money in plenty is not satisfied but is bent on more, losing sleep and never sated by any amount, does he imagine that he does not need someone who will prescribe for him and point out the cause of his distress?
Stobaeus 3.10.45 (on Diogenes the Cynic):
He used to liken greedy men to those suffering from dropsy. For the latter, although filled with liquid, still desired to drink.
Teles, On Poverty and Wealth (p. 39 Hense):
If anyone wishes to free himself or another from want and poverty, let him not seek possessions for himself. For, as Bion says, it is as if someone wishing to stop a dropsy patient's thirst, were not to cure the dropsy but furnish the patient with fountains and rivers.
Polybius 13.2.2 (concerning Scopas the Aetolian, tr. W.R. Paton):
He was unaware that as in the case of a dropsy the thirst of the sufferer never ceases and is never allayed by the administration of liquids from without, unless we cure the morbid condition of the body itself, so it is impossible to satiate the greed for gain, unless we correct by reasoning the vice inherent in the soul.
Horace, Odes 2.2.13-16:
Who curbs a greedy soul may boast
More power than if his broad-based throne
Bridged Libya's sea, and either coast
  Were all his own.

Indulgence bids the dropsy grow;
Who fain would quench the palate's flame
Must rescue from the watery foe
  The pale weak frame.

latius regnes avidum domando
spiritum quam si Libyam remotis
Gadibus iungas et uterque Poenus
  serviat uni.

crescit indulgens sibi dirus hydrops
nec sitim pellit, nisi causa morbi
fugerit venis et aquosus albo
  corpore languor.
Ovid, Fasti 1.211-216 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
Riches have grown and with them the frantic lust for wealth, and they who have the most possessions still crave for more. They strive to gain that they may waste, and then to repair their wasted fortunes, and thus they feed their vices by ringing the changes on them. So he whose belly swells with dropsy, the more he drinks, the thirstier he grows.

creverunt et opes et opum furiosa cupido,
  et, cum possideant plurima, plura petunt.
quaerere ut absumant, absumpta requirere certant,
  atque ipsae vitiis sunt alimenta vices:
sic quibus intumuit suffusa venter ab unda,
  quo plus sunt potae, plus sitiuntur aquae.
Seneca, Consolation to His Mother Helvia 11.3:
But the exiled man desires a table setting gleaming with golden bowls, silver famous for being crafted by ancient smiths, bronze that is precious in the crazed imagination of a few people, a crowd of slaves that would bankrupt even a wealthy establishment, bloated livestock forced to grow even fatter, and precious stones from all over the world. Even if all these things are heaped up, they will never fill a soul incapable of being filled, no more than any amount of liquid will be enough to satisfy him whose desire arises not from any lack but from the heat of his blazing innards. For that is not thirst but rather a disease.

sed desiderat aureis fulgentem vasis supellectilem et antiquis nominibus artificum argentum nobile, aes paucorum insania pretiosum et servorum turbam quae quamvis magnam domum angustet, iumentorum corpora differta et coacta pinguescere et nationum omnium lapides: ista congerantur licet, numquam explebunt inexplebilem animum, non magis quam ullus sufficiet umor ad satiandum eum cuius desiderium non ex inopia sed ex aestu ardentium viscerum oritur; non enim sitis illa sed morbus est.

Friday, September 17, 2004


A Rule of Conduct

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1949; rpt. New York: Dover, 1983), p. 78:
It went against the grain with me to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public.


Peer Pressure

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861), chapter 27:
Throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
Throughout high school, at any rate.


The Charm of History

Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun (1952; rpt. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1986), p. 259:
The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different. In the personages of other times and alien cultures we recognize our all too human selves and yet are aware, as we do so, that the frame of reference within which we do our living has changed, since their day, out of all recognition, that propositions which seemed axiomatic then are now untenable and that what we regard as the most self-evident postulates could not, at an earlier period, find entrance into even the most boldly speculative mind.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Bumper Stickers

In Incorrectness Is Dangerous, John Ray cites some examples of liberal intolerance of conservative bumper stickers. If this story is accurate, it's a shocking example of conservative intolerance of liberal bumper stickers:
Lynne Gobbell never imagined the cost of a John Kerry-John Edwards bumper sticker could run so high. Gobbell of Moulton didn't pay a cent for the sticker that she proudly displays on the rear windshield of her Chevrolet Lumina, but said it cost her job at a local factory after it angered her boss, Phil Gaddis.
In the immortal words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

Note: Apparently Gaddis' name is really Geddes.


Is Latin a Dead Language?

Some wag composed this doggerel, which Latin students are fond of chanting:
Latin is a language,
Dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans,
Now it's killing me.
Marc Antoine Muret (1526-1585), aka Muretus, thought differently. In his Orationes, vol. 2, no. 22, included in A. Springhetti, Selecta Latinitatis Scripta (saec. xv-xx) (Rome, 1951), he wrote:
Therefore those languages that depend on the whim of the ignorant multitude die each day, and are born each day. But those languages that the usage of learned men has rescued from the slavery of the crowd not only are alive, but have in a certain way achieved immortality and immutability.

Illae igitur linguae quotidie moriuntur, quotidie nascuntur, quae pendent ex libidine imperitae multitudinis: quas autem ex populi servitute eruditorum usus vindicavit, illae non vivunt tantum, sed immortalitatem quodammodo et immutabilitatem adeptae sunt.



St. Augustine, On the Trinity (De Trinitate) 1.5.8:
We are caught up by the love of seeking out the truth.

rapimur amore indagandae veritatis.


Chekhov on Turning Forty

Henri Troyat, Chekhov, tr. M.H. Heim (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1986), p. 288:
When we're young, we all chirp fervently like sparrows on a dung-heap, but we're old by the time we reach forty, and we start thinking of death.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Military Service

Beowulf 581-588, tr. Seamus Heaney:
Now I cannot recall any fight you entered, Unferth, that bears comparison. I don't boast when I say that neither you nor Breca were ever much celebrated for swordsmanship or for facing danger on the field of battle.


Secret Writing

David Kahn, The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing (New York: Scribner, 1996), mentions some techniques of cryptography used by the ancient Greeks and Romans in chapter 2 (The First 3,000 Years), especially pp. 80-84 and notes on p. 1003. We'll look at some primary sources for three of these techniques:

Suetonius describes Julius Caesar's simple cipher in his Life of Julius Caesar 56 (tr. J. C. Rolfe):
There are also letters of his to Cicero, as well as to his intimates on private affairs, and in the latter, if he had anything confidential to say, he wrote it in cipher, that is, by so changing the order of the letters of the alphabet, that not a word could be made out. If anyone wishes to decipher these, and get at their meaning, he must substitute the fourth letter of the alphabet, namely D, for A, and so with the others.

extant et ad Ciceronem, item ad familiares domesticis de rebus, in quibus, si qua occultius perferenda erant, per notas scripsit, id est sic structo litterarum ordine, ut nullum verbum effici posset: quae si qui investigare et persequi velit, quartam elementorum litteram, id est D pro A et perinde reliquas commutet.
Here's how Caesar's cipher works with our modern alphabet:


If you want to encrypt a message, you substitute the letters in the bottom row for the ones in the top row (D for A, E for B, etc.), and when you want to decrypt a message, you substitute the letters in the top row for those in the bottom row (A for D, B for E, etc.). MIKE encoded would be PLNH.

Aulus Gellius (17.9.1-5) gives some further details:
There are books of epistles of Gaius Caesar to Gaius Oppius and Balbus Cornelius, who administered Caesar's affairs in his absence. In some passages in these epistles are found single letters of the alphabet not joined together into syllables, letters which you might suppose were arranged randomly; for no words can be formed from these letters. However there was a secret agreement among these men concerning a change in the placement of letters of the alphabet, in such a way that one letter took the place and name of another in what was written, but in reading each position and meaning was restored; which letter was written for which was agreed upon ahead of time among those who devised this cipher. There is even a rather ingeniously written treatise by the grammarian Probus concerning the secret meaning of letters in the composition of Caesar's epistles.

libri sunt epistularum C. Caesaris ad C. Oppium et Balbum Cornelium, qui res eius absentis curabant. in his epistulis quibusdam in locis inveniuntur litterae singulariae sine coagmentis syllabarum, quas tu putes positas incondite; nam verba ex his litteris confici nulla possunt. erat autem conventum inter eos clandestinum de commutando situ litterarum, ut in scripto quidem alia aliae locum et nomen teneret, sed in legendo locus cuique suus et potestas restitueretur; quaenam vero littera pro qua scriberetur, ante is, sicuti dixi, conplacebat, qui hanc scribendi latebram parabant. est adeo Probi grammatici commentarius satis curiose factus de occulta litterarum significatione in epistularum C. Caesaris scriptura.
Caesar's successor Augustus used a similar cipher, according to Suetonius, Life of Augustus 88 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Whenever he wrote in cipher, he wrote B for A, C for B, and the rest of the letters on the same principle, using AA for X.

quotiens autem per notas scribit, B pro A, C pro B ac deinceps eadem ratione sequentis litteras ponit; pro X autem duplex A.

The Spartans had a clever method of secret writing known as a skytale. Plutarch gives a clear description of it in his Life of Lysander 19.4-7 (tr. John Dryden):
When the Ephors send an admiral or general on his way, they take two round pieces of wood, both exactly of a length and thickness, and cut even to one another; they keep one themselves, and the other they give to the person they send forth; and these pieces of wood they call Scytales. When, therefore, they have occasion to communicate any secret or important matter, making a scroll of parchment long and narrow like a leathern thong, they roll it about their own staff of wood, leaving no space void between, but covering the surface of the staff with the scroll all over. When they have done this, they write what they please on the scroll, as it is wrapped about the staff; and when they have written, they take off the scroll, and send it to the general without the wood. He, when he has received it, can read nothing of the writing, because the words and letters are not connected, but all broken up; but taking his own staff, he winds the slip of the scroll about it, so that this folding, restoring all the parts into the same order that they were in before, and putting what comes first into connection with what follows, brings the whole consecutive contents to view round the outside.
Aulus Gellius also describes the skytale at 17.9.6-15, but he adds nothing new, so there is no point in translating or transcribing his description. He uses the Latin word surculus (shoot, branch) for the Greek skytale. Thucydides (1.131.1, talking about the Spartan Pausanias, who was a contemporary of Themistocles) mentions the skytale in passing, so we know that it was in use as early as the 480s B.C.

Polybius' square or checkerboard is actually a cryptographic modification of a semaphore signalling system. Since Polybius' description is somewhat convoluted, it's advantageous to look at the adaptation before the original. In the following square we use our modern alphabet and combine I and J. In a similar scheme, we could add the 10 digits and use a 6 by 6 square. Polybius had one slot left over, since the Greek alphabet has only 24 letters.

If we want to encrypt a word, we select its coordinates in the square. For example, MIKE becomes 32 24 25 15. One advantage of this cipher is that it uses only 5 different symbols (in pairs) to encode 25 characters. Prisoners have sometimes used the Polybius square to communicate by knocking on walls.

Now Polybius' description of his semaphore system of signalling by fire (10.45.6-10.47.1, tr. W.R. Paton) might be easier to understand:
The most recent method, devised by Cleoxenus and Democleitus and perfected by myself, is quite definite and capable of dispatching with accuracy every kind of urgent messages, but in practice it requires care and exact attention. It is as follows: We take the alphabet and divide it into five parts, each consisting of five letters. There is one letter less in the last division, but this makes no practical difference. Each of the two parties who are about signal to each other must now get ready five tablets and write one division of the alphabet on each tablet, and then come to an agreement that the man who is going to signal is in the first place to raise two torches and wait until the other replies by doing the same. This is for the purpose of conveying to each other that they are both at attention. These torches having been lowered the dispatcher of the message will now raise the first set of torches on the left side indicating which tablet is to be consulted, i.e. one torch if it is the first, two if it is the second, and so on. Next he will raise the second set on the right on the same principle to indicate what letter of the tablet the receiver should write down.

Upon their separating after coming to this understanding each of them must first have on the spot a telescope with two tubes, so that with the one he can observe the space on the right of the man who is going to signal back and with the other that on the left. The tablets must be set straight up in order next the telescope, and there must be a screen before both spaces, as well the right as the left, ten feet in length and of the height of a man so that by this means the torches may be seen distinctly when raised and disappear when lowered. When all has been thus got ready on both sides, if the signaller wants to convey, for instance, that about a hundred of the soldiers have deserted to the enemy, he must first of all choose words which will convey what he means in the smallest number of letters, e.g. instead of the above "Cretans a hundred deserted us," for thus the letters are less than one half in number, but the same sense is conveyed. Having jotted this down on a writing-tablet he will communicate it by the torches as follows: The first letter is kappa. This being in the second division is on tablet number two, and, therefore, he must raise two torches on the left, so that the receiver may know that he had to consult the second tablet. He will now raise five torches on the right, to indicate that it is kappa, this being the fifth letter in the second division, and the receiver of the signal will note this down on his writing tablet. The dispatcher will then raise four torches on the left as rho belongs to the fourth division, and then two on the right, rho being the second letter in this division. The receiver writes down rho and so forth. This device enables any news to be definitely conveyed.

Many torches, of course, are required, as the signal for each letter is a double one.

These techniques of secret writing are of course rudimentary compared to the sophisticated methods in use today, but they nonetheless cast an interesting light on the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


A Refuge

Walter Pater, Essay on Style:
Different classes of persons, at different times, make, of course, very various demands upon literature. Still, scholars, I suppose, and not only scholars, but all disinterested lovers of books, will always look to it, as to all other fine art, for a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from a certain vulgarity in the actual world.



Sebastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Products of the Perfected Civilization. Selected Writings, tr. W.S. Merwin (New York: Macmillan, 1969), p. 231:
M. de Lassay, a very gentle man but with a great knowledge of society, said that one must swallow a toad every morning, when one had to go out into the world, so as not to find anything more disgusting during the day.


Greek Antiquity

Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's, ed. & tr. Daniel Breazeale (1979; rpt. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1991), p. 127:
Greek antiquity provides the classical set of examples for the interpretation of our entire culture and its development. It is a means for understanding ourselves, a means for regulating our age -- and thereby a means for overcoming it.

Monday, September 13, 2004


To Students of French

Charlotte Brontë, Shirley (1849)

Chapter 10:
She must give up taking French lessons. The language, he observed, was a bad and frivolous one at the best, and most of the works it boasted were bad and frivolous, highly injurious in their tendency to weak female minds.
Chapter 31:
You read French. Your mind is poisoned with French novels. You have imbibed French principles.



Isocrates, To Demonicus 18:
If you are a lover of learning [philomathes], you will be very learned [polymathes].
The quotation in Greek is inscribed over the portal to Shrewsbury School.

From my own experience, I know that the protasis of Isocrates' sentence can be true and the apodosis false.


Happiness and Joy

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), chapter 5:
But what were even gold and silver, precious stones and clockwork, to the bookshops, whence a pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed came issuing forth, awakening instant recollections of some new grammar had at school, long time ago, with "Master Pinch, Grove House Academy," inscribed in faultless writing on the fly-leaf! That whiff of russia leather, too, and all those rows on rows of volumes neatly ranged within -- what happiness did they suggest!
George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), Spring XVII:
It is a joy to go through booksellers' catalogues, ticking here and there a possible purchase.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Plagosus Orbilius

The Latin adjective plagosus comes from the noun plaga (blow, strike) and the suffix -osus (full of, abounding in). Plagosus Orbilius ("Whacker" or "Flogger" Orbilius) was Horace's affectionate nickname for his old schoolmaster (Epistles 2.1.70-71).

At a recent family gathering, a relative who teaches in a junior high school mentioned a popular modern technique of discipline. School authorities telephone the parents of the offending students at work and tell them to come pick up their children from school immediately. I said that, if I were a student, I would prefer the instant application of some mild form of corporal punishment by the teacher or principal, without parental involvement.

I didn't have the good fortune to attend parochial school, but a friend who did used to tell how students in Latin class had their knuckles rapped with a ruler if they couldn't recite their conjugations and declensions properly. It was more perfunctory, ceremonial, and embarrassing than painful, he said. But to this day he can rattle off his conjugations and declensions perfectly.

This is a tried and true method of Latin instruction. In Boswell's Life of Johnson, we read:
He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school, 'a man (said he) very skilful in his little way.' With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the headmaster, who, according to his account, 'was very severe, and wrong-headedly severe. He used (said he) to beat us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question; and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for a candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, Sir, if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him.'


Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, he was exceeded by no man of his time; he said, 'My master whipt me very well. Without that, Sir, I should have done nothing.' He told Mr. Langton, that while Hunter was flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, 'And this I do to save you from the gallows.' Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by means of the rod. 'I would rather (said he) have the rod to be the general terrour to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other.'
Elsewhere (1775, aetat. 66) Boswell quotes Dr. Johnson as saying:
There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.
Nowadays, of course, Johnson's teacher Mr. Hunter would be sued in a New York minute. What's more, in some jurisdictions he might even be guilty of a criminal offense (cf. Minnesota Statute 121A.58).

Throughout much of human history, education and punishment went hand in hand. Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (1897; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), pp. 224-225, lists a dozen Hebrew words related to teaching. Here are two of them (with Hebrew characters omitted):From the verb yasar is derived the noun musar, which also has the meanings chastisement or correction, as at Proverbs 3.11-12:
My son, despise not the chastening [musar] of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
Rapped knuckles were not uncommon in Roman primary schools. When Juvenal meant to say, "I'm no dummy, I went to school, I'm educated," he wrote (1.15):
Well then, I too stretched out my hand beneath the cane.

et nos ergo manum ferulae subduximus.
Likewise Ovid (Amores 1.13.17) addresses Dawn as follows:
You cheat boys of their sleep and hand them over to teachers, so that their tender hands undergo cruel whips.

tu pueros somno fraudas tradisque magistris,
  ut subeant tenerae verbera saeva manus.
A teacher wouldn't slap or strike a student with the bare hand, because that might hurt the teacher just as much as the student. Some preferred instruments of punishment in ancient times included:although the flagellum was too painful, a punishment of criminals rather than schoolboys. Horace mentions all three together (Satires, 1.3.119-121).

Saint Augustine seems especially to have felt the pain and injustice of corporal punishment at school. He speaks about it in heartfelt terms in several passages. In his Confessions (1.9.14) he remembered his own schooldays:
If I was lazy at learning, I was beaten. For this custom was approved by our ancestors, and many who lived before us had mapped out these sorrowful paths, over which we were compelled to pass, with additional pain and sorrow to the sons of Adam. But, Lord, we found men praying to you and we learned from them, perceiving (insofar as we were able) that you were someone great, and that even if you couldn't be detected by our senses you could still hear and help us. For as a child I began to pray to you, my help and my refuge, and in calling upon you I broke my tongue's bands, and although I was small I asked you, with emotion that wasn't small, that I not be beaten at school. And when you didn't grant my prayer, which wasn't to be attributed to my folly, my elders laughed at my bruises (a great and serious affliction to me then) and even my parents followed suit, although they wished no harm to befall me.

si segnis in discendo essem, vapulabam. laudabatur enim hoc a maioribus, et multi ante nos vitam istam agentes praestruxerant aerumnosas vias, per quas transire cogebamur multiplicato labore et dolore filiis Adam. invenimus autem, Domine, homines rogantes te et didicimus ab eis, sentientes te, ut poteramus, esse magnum aliquem, qui posses etiam non apparens sensibus nostris exaudire nos et subvenire nobis. nam puer coepi rogare te, auxilium et refugium meum, et in tuam invocationem rumpebam nodos linguae meae et rogabam te parvus non parvo affectu, ne in schola vapularem. et cum me non exaudiebas, quod non erat ad insipientiam mihi, ridebantur a maioribus hominibus usque ab ipsis parentibus, qui mihi accidere mali nihil volebant, plagae meae, magnum tunc et grave malum meum.
In his sermon On Christian Discipline (De Disciplina Christiana 11.12) he asked and answered:
Why were you beaten? Why did you endure such suffering in your childhood? To learn. To learn what? Reading and writing. Why? So that money could be obtained, or so that a position could be gained, and high rank be held.

quare vapulasti? quare tanta mala in pueritia pertulisti? ut disceres. quid disceres? litteras. quare? ut haberetur pecunia aut ut compararetur honor, et teneatur sublimitas dignitatis.
Twice in De Civitate Dei (City of God, tr. Marcus Dodds) Augustine mentions corporal punishment in schools.

For ignorance is itself no slight punishment, or want of culture, which it is with justice thought so necessary to escape, that boys are compelled, under pain of severe punishment, to learn trades or letters; and the learning to which they are driven by punishment is itself so much of a punishment to them, that they sometimes prefer the pain that drives them to the pain to which they are driven by it. And who would not shrink from the alternative, and elect to die, if it were proposed to him either to suffer death or to be again an infant?

non enim parva poena est ipsa insipientia vel imperitia, quae usque adeo fugienda merito iudicatur, ut per poenas doloribus plenas pueri cogantur quaeque artificia vel litteras discere; ipsumque discere, ad quod poenis adiguntur, tam poenale est eis, ut nonnumquam ipsas poenas, per quas compelluntur discere, malint ferre quam discere. quis autem non exhorreat et mori eligat, si ei proponatur aut mors perpetienda aut rursus infantia?
What mean pedagogues, masters, the birch, the strap, the cane, the schooling which Scripture says must be given a child, "beating him on the sides lest he wax stubborn" [Sirach 30:12], and it be hardly possible or not possible at all to subdue him? Why all these punishments, save to overcome ignorance and bridle evil desires -- these evils with which we come into the world? For why is it that we remember with difficulty, and without difficulty forget? learn with difficulty, and without difficulty remain ignorant? are diligent with difficulty, and without difficulty are indolent? Does not this show what vitiated nature inclines and tends to by its own weight, and what succor it needs if it is to be delivered? Inactivity, sloth, laziness, negligence, are vices which shun labor, since labor, though useful, is itself a punishment.

quid paedagogi, quid magistri, quid ferulae, quid lora, quid virgae, quid disciplina illa, qua Scriptura sancta dicit dilecti filii latera esse tundenda, ne crescat indomitus domarique iam durus aut vix possit aut fortasse nec possit? quid agitur his poenis omnibus, nisi ut debelletur imperitia et prava cupiditas infrenetur, cum quibus malis in hoc saeculum venimus? quid est enim, quod cum labore meminimus, sine labore obliviscimur; cum labore discimus, sine labore nescimus; cum labore strenui, sine labore inertes sumus? nonne hinc apparet, in quid velut pondere suo proclivis et prona sit vitiosa natura et quanta ope, ut hinc liberetur, indigeat? desidia, segnitia, pigritia, neglegentia, vitia sunt utique quibus labor fugitur, cum labor ipse, etiam qui est utilis, poena sit.
Although corporal punishment was a sad fact of life for most Roman schoolboys, a few authorities raised their voices in opposition to the practice. Prominent among these was Quintilian (1.3.14-17, tr. H. E. Butler):
I disapprove of flogging, although it is the regular custom and meets with the acquiescence of Chrysippus, because in the first place it is a disgraceful form of punishment and fit only for slaves, and is in any case an insult, as you will realise if you imagine its infliction at a later age. Secondly if a boy is so insensible to instruction that reproof is useless, he will, like the worst type of slave, merely become hardened to blows. Finally there will be absolutely no need of such punishment if the master is a thorough disciplinarian. As it is, we try to make amends for the negligence of the boy's paedagogus, not by forcing him to do what is right, but by punishing him for not doing what is right. And though you may compel a child with blows, what are you to do with him when he is a young man no longer amenable to such threats and confronted with tasks of far greater difficulty? Moreover when children are beaten, pain or fear frequently have results of which it is not pleasant to speak and which are likely subsequently to be a source of shame, a shame which unnerves and depresses the mind and leads the child to shun and loathe the light. Further if inadequate care is taken in the choices of respectable governors and instructors, I blush to mention the shameful abuse which scoundrels sometimes make of their right to administer corporal punishment or the opportunity not infrequently offered to others by the fear thus caused in the victims. I will not linger on this subject; it is more than enough if I have made my meaning clear. I will content myself with saying that children are helpless and easily victimised, and that therefore no one should be given unlimited power over them.

caedi vero discentis, quamlibet id receptum sit et Chrysippus non improbet, minime velim, primum quia deforme atque servile est et certe (quod convenit si aetatem mutes) iniuria: deinde quod, si cui tam est mens inliberalis ut obiurgatione non corrigatur, is etiam ad plagas ut pessima quaeque mancipia durabitur: postremo quod ne opus erit quidem hac castigatione si adsiduus studiorum exactor adstiterit. nunc fere neglegentia paedagogorum sic emendari videtur ut pueri non facere quae recta sunt cogantur, sed cur non fecerint puniantur. denique cum parvolum verberibus coegeris, quid iuveni facias, cui nec adhiberi potest hic metus et maiora discenda sunt? adde quod multa vapulantibus dictu deformia et mox verecundiae futura saepe dolore vel metu acciderunt, qui pudor frangit animum et abicit atque ipsius lucis fugam et taedium dictat. iam si minor in eligendis custodum et praeceptorum moribus fuit cura, pudet dicere in quae probra nefandi homines isto caedendi iure abutantur, quam det aliis quoque nonnumquam occasionem hic miserorum metus. non morabor in parte hac: nimium est quod intellegitur. quare hoc dixisse satis est: in aetatem infirmam et iniuriae obnoxiam nemini debet nimium licere.

Saturday, September 11, 2004



Robert Fulghum quotes a woman at a Greek wedding who said to him:
If you do not join the dancing, you will feel foolish. If you dance, you will also feel foolish. So, why not dance? And I will tell you a secret: If you do not join the dance, we will know you are a fool. But if you dance, we will think well of you for trying. And if you dance badly to begin and we laugh, what's the sin in that? We all begin there. Come on.
I don't buy the opening premise of that argument, and I prefer Kierkegaard (preface to Philosophical Fragments):
Let no one invite me, for I do not dance.

Friday, September 10, 2004


Scholarly Puzzles

In an email the Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, asked about the origin of the proverb "A long beard and a shabby cloak do not a philosopher make." I can't find an English source. The closest I can come is the Latin "Barba non facit philosophum, neque vile gerere pallium" (A beard doesn't make a philosopher, nor does wearing a shabby cloak), cited by Henerik Kocher, who gives the source as Bento Pereira, Florilégio dos modos de falar e adágios da língua portuguesa (Lisboa: Paulo Craesbeeck & Cia, 1655), p. 115. All of Epictetus 4.8 ("To those who hastily assume the guise of philosophers") is relevant, especially 4.8.15 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
But even those who are styled philosophers pursue their calling with means which are sometimes good and sometimes bad. For example, when they have taken a rough cloak and let their beards grow, they say, "I am a philosopher."
Also relevant is Aulus Gellius 9.2.1-4:
While we were present a certain fellow, dressed in a cloak with long hair and a beard extending all the way to his waist, approached Herodes Atticus, who was a gentlemen of consular rank, well-known for his pleasing character and eloquence in Greek. The fellow asked him for money for food. Then Herodes asked him what his profession was. With a quarrelsome look and tone of voice the fellow said that he was a philosopher and added that he was surprised why Herodes thought the question needed to be asked, since he could see with his own eyes. Herodes said, 'I see a beard and a cloak, but I don't yet see a philosopher.'

ad Herodem Atticum, consularem virum ingenioque amoeno et Graeca facundia celebrem, adiit nobis praesentibus palliatus quispiam et crinitus barbaque prope ad pubem usque porrecta ac petit aes sibi dari eis artous. tum Herodes interrogat, quisnam esset. atque ille vultu sonituque vocis obiurgatorio philosophum sese esse dicit et mirari quoque addit, cur quaerendum putasset, quod videret. 'video' inquit Herodes 'barbam et pallium, philosophum nondum video.'
E.K. Rand, in Founders of the Middle Ages (1928; rpt. New York: Dover Publications, 1957), posed another puzzle about philosophers and beards. On page 115 he quoted St. Jerome:
If there is any holiness in a beard, nobody is more holy than a goat. (si ulla in barba sanctitas est, nullus sanctior est hirco.)
But in a footnote (21) on page 306 he confessed:
After having had this bon mot of St. Jerome's in my notes for years, I cannot now find it in his writings (nor, what is more, can President A.S. Pease).
Rand went on to cite:Google doesn't disclose the source of the mystery quotation from St. Jerome. Academicians at universities have access to expensive tools (e.g. the digital Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, CDs containing all of Patrologia Latina, etc.) unavailable to us poor independent scholars. Maybe one of them could solve Rand's mystery with a few clicks of the mouse.

Since writing about Barbarians and Beards, I've discovered that the article on beards by Alexander Allen in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: John Murray, 1875), pp. 196‑198, is available online. It contains many references I missed.

Over at Hypotyposeis you can read about another scholarly conundrum, the source of the so-called sausage factoid, that is, the claim that:
Both the early Church and the emperor Constantine banned sausages because they were employed -- in both obvious and more creative ways -- in the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Stephen C. Carlson tracked the factoid back to Charles Panati, Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (New York: Perennial Library, 1989), p. 396, but no further, since Panati eschewed documentation.

None of these little puzzles has even the slightest practical value. For me, that is an essential part of their attraction.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


Our Little Platoon

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.



Carlo Carretto, Letters From the Desert (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1972), pp. 59-60:
If God were attainable with the intelligence, how unjust it would be! It would have made easy the task of the wise and the great of this world, and would have made knowledge of God all but impossible for the little ones, the poor, and the ignorant. But God himself has found the way to be equally accessible to everybody. His revelation comes in love, in that faculty which we can all share.
I've been trying to find this quotation for several weeks, since one Sunday at Mass when I sat near a man who appeared mentally retarded. When the time came for the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, he said it loudly, fervently, and enthusiastically, the few scattered words of it that he could remember. The Psalmist (141:2) said, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense." I don't know how God viewed it, but to me that man's prayer had the savor of finest incense.


Temporal Provincialism

Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1972), p. 81:
Contemporary ideas need to be weighed not against others of the same period but against those of the past, and it is here that the average, modern student is defenceless. His interests and leisure reading are confined to an alarming extent to contemporary writers and thinkers who, despite their apparent individualism, are all really working in the same direction. It is ironic that the current demand at universities is for more relevance (that is to say, contemporaneity) in the curriculum. If acceded to, this will result in a still larger degree of temporal provincialism and an even more profound ignorance of the history of ideas than now prevails.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Barbarians and Beards

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), has this to say about the origin of the word barbarian (p. 53):
Barba means "beard" in Latin, and when the Romans called hirsute foreigners barbarians they were strictly calling them "bearded men," though the word shortly came to mean, rightly or wrongly, "rude, uncivilized people." A barber was, of course, one who cut beards or hair. The barber pole outside barber shops today has its origins in the ancient barber's duties as a surgeon and dentist as well as a hair cutter. It was first the symbol of these professions -- a blood-smeared white rag. However, barbarian may have Greek origins.
This is misleading and incorrect. The derivation of barbarian from Latin barba is totally bogus, a folk etymology. The word barbarian is indubitably (not just possibly) Greek in origin, preceding even Homer (cf. barbarophonos at Iliad 2.867). Anyone who didn't speak Greek sounded like they were saying bar-bar, and by definition any non-Greek was a barbarian. The protest by the Stranger in Plato, Statesman 262c-d (tr. Benjamin Jowett), against this classification only shows how widespread it was:
The error was just as if some one who wanted to divide the human race, were to divide them after the fashion which prevails in this part of the world; here they cut off the Hellenes as one species, and all the other species of mankind, which are innumerable, they include under the single name of 'barbarians,' and because they have one name they are supposed to be of one species also.
The Romans adopted the word barbarus directly from Greek barbaros, and applied it by extension to anyone who was not a Greek or Roman, although every Greek worth his salt probably felt in his heart of hearts that the Romans were barbarians, too, just as today supposedly cultivated Europeans look down their noses at upstart, boorish Americans.

The Romans wore beards during certain historical periods and were clean-shaven in others. In general, they wore beards before the second century B.C. and after the 2nd century A.D. Between those two periods, a smooth chin was the rule, although younger, foppish men sometimes went bearded, and poor men often couldn't afford the two bits for a shave and a haircut.

Varro, On Agriculture 2.11, writes:
To be sure, it is said that barbers first came to Italy from Sicily in the 453rd year after the founding of Rome, as a public inscription at Ardea testifies, and that Publius Titinius Mena imported them. The statues of men of old prove that once upon a time there were no barbers, because those statues usually have long hair and beards.

omnino tonsores in Italiam primum venisse ex Sicilia dicuntur p. R. c. a. CCCCLIII, ut scriptum in publico Ardeae in litteris exstat, eosque adduxisse Publium Titinium Menam. olim tonsores non fuisse adsignificant antiquorum statuae, quod pleraeque habent capillum et barbam magnam.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.59.211, gives much the same information:
The next agreement between the two races [Greek and Roman] was in the area of barbers, but it came later to the Romans. They came to Italy from Sicily in the 454th year after the City's foundation, brought by Publius Titinius Mena, as Varro says. Before that the Romans were unshaven. Africanus the Younger first started the custom of being shaved daily. The deified Augustus always used razors.

sequens gentium consensus in tonsoribus fuit, sed Romanis tardior. in Italiam ex Sicilia venere post Romam conditam anno CCCCLIIII adducente P. Titinio Mena, ut auctor est Varro; antea intonsi fuere. primus omnium radi cotidie instituit Africanus sequens; divus Augustus cultris semper usus est.
The prolix antiquarian Aulus Gellius gives more background in that chapter of his Attic Nights (3.4) which deals with the fact "that it was the custom for Publius Africanus and other patricians of his day to shave their chin and cheeks before reaching old age:"
In the books which we read concerning the life of Publius Scipio Africanus (adopted son of Paulus), we note that, after he had celebrated a triumph over the Carthaginians and had been censor, when he was charged before the people by the tribune Claudius Asellus (whom Scipio had removed from the ranks of knights when he was censor), he didn't stop shaving his beard or wearing white, and he didn't assume the normal costume of defendants even though he was charged with a crime. But since at that time it is a fact that Scipio the Younger was less than forty years old, we were surprised that the story of the shaved beard had been recorded thus. However we learn that other patricians of that period, of the same age, also were accustomed to shave their beards, and for that reason we see many statues of the ancients fashioned thus, not only of old men but middle-aged ones as well.

Quod P. Africano et aliis tunc viris nobilibus ante aetatem senectam barbam et genas radere mos patrius fuit. In libris, quos de vita P. Scipionis Africani compositos legimus, scriptum esse animadvertimus P. Scipioni, Pauli filio, postquam de Poenis triumphaverat censorque fuerat, diem dictum esse ad populum a Claudio Asello tribuno plebis, cui equum in censura ademerat, eumque, cum esset reus, neque barbam desisse radi neque non candida veste uti neque fuisse cultu solito reorum. Sed cum in eo tempore Scipionem minorem quadraginta annorum fuisse constaret, quod de barba rasa ita scriptum esset, mirabamur. Comperimus autem ceteros quoque in isdem temporibus nobiles viros barbam in eiusmodi aetate rasitavisse, idcircoque plerasque imagines veterum, non admodum senum, sed in medio aetatis, ita factas videmus.
The beardless fashion lasted from the time of Scipio Africanus Minor (2nd century B.C.) to the reign of the emperor Hadrian (2nd century A.D.). During this era, the day when a young Roman first shaved his beard was a day of celebration, but some carried the celebration to extreme lengths. Dio Cassius
(48.34.3, tr. E. Cary) reports:
When Caesar now for the first time shaved off his beard, he held a magnificent entertainment himself besides granting all the other citizens a festival at public expense.
Dio Cassius tells a similar story about Nero (61.19, tr. E. Cary):
Later he instituted a new kind of festival called Juvenalia, or Games of Youth. It was celebrated in honour of his beard, which he now shaved for the first time; the hairs he placed in a small golden globe and offered to Jupiter Capitolinus.
In the Life of Hadrian (26.1) attributed to Aelius Spartianus in the Historia Augusta, we learn why beards became popular once again:
He was tall in stature and elegant in appearance. His hair was curled with a comb. He grew a full beard to cover natural blemishes on his face, and he had a rugged build.

statura fuit procerus, forma comptus, flexo ad pectinem capillo, promissa barba, ut vulnera, quae in facie naturalia erant, tegeret, habitudine robusta.
Philosophers were the exception to this ebb and flow of fashion. They always sported beards. It was almost part of their uniform. Pliny the Younger in his Letters (1.10.6) describes the philosopher Euphrates thus:
Add his stature, handsome face, long hair, full white beard -- although these things are accidental and empty, yet they win much reverence for him.

ad hoc proceritas corporis, decora facies, demissus capillus, ingens et cana barba; quae licet fortuita et inania putentur, illi tamen plurimum venerationis acquirunt.
The philosopher Epictetus was inordinately fond of his beard, if we can judge from the following exchange (1.2.29, tr. W.A. Oldfather):
"Come, then, Epictetus, shave off your beard." If I am a philosopher, I answer, "I will not shave it off." "But I will take off your neck." If that will do you any good, take it off.
Lucian in The Fisherman 31 (tr. Lionel Casson) points out the shallowness of this fad among philosophers for beards:
On the other hand, I noticed many who were not philosophers for the love of it but simply hungered for the public acclaim they could get out of it. In what was obvious and common and easy for anyone to ape -- I mean length of beard, impressiveness of gait, and cut of clothes -- they were a very good facsimile of men of virtue.
What these passages amply demonstrate is that the Romans did not regard a beard as a characteristic of barbarians. They recognized that growing a beard was a matter of taste, in favor during certain periods, out of favor at other times. At all times there were some who, for one reason or another, bucked the trend.

If you still suspect that there must be an etymological connection between barbarians and beards, I suggest you consult Calvert Watkins' Indo-European Roots, published as an appendix to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, under the roots baba and bhardha.


Lawn Signs and Bumper Stickers

I've noticed that some of my neighbors are keeping their presidential campaign signs inside the front window, rather than out on the lawn, probably because they don't want them removed. I've even heard of bumper stickers being scraped off by those who disagree with the point of view they express.

Human nature being what it is, it shouldn't surprise us that these low, sneaking tactics are thousands of years old. A campaign poster in ancient Pompeii (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 4.3775, tr. Jo-Ann Shelton) said:
His neighbors urge you to elect Lucius Statius Receptus duovir with judicial power. He deserves the position. Aemilius Celer, his neighbor, wrote this. If you spitefully deface this, may you become very ill.
Although I myself never put up lawn signs or attach stickers to my car's bumper, I heartily approve of Aemilius Celer's curse.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Euripides, Alcestis 782-789 (tr. Moses Hadas and John McLean):
All men have to pay the debt of death, and there is not a mortal who knows whether he is going to be alive on the morrow. The outcome of things that depend on fortune cannot be foreseen; they can neither be learnt nor discovered by any art. Hearken to this and learn of me, cheer up, drink, reckon the days yours as you live them; the rest belongs to fortune.


One or Many?

Thoreau, Journals, October 19, 1855:
Talking with Bellew this evening about Fourierism and communities, I said that I suspected any enterprise in which two were engaged together. "But," said he, "it is difficult to make a stick stand unless you slant two or more against it." "Oh, no," answered I, "you may split its lower end into three, or drive it single into the ground, which is the best way; but most men, when they start on a new enterprise, not only figuratively, but really, pull up stakes. When the sticks prop one another, none, or only one, stands erect."
I wonder if Bellew could possibly be Adin Ballou (1803-1890), who founded the Hopedale utopian community in Massachusetts.


The Pleasures of Books

Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 5:
Lord Macaulay has a passage in which he contrasts the pleasures which a man may derive from books with the inconveniences to which he may be put by his acquaintances. "Plato," he says, "is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet."
The passage from Macaulay is in his essay on Francis Bacon, in Critical and Historical Essays.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?