Monday, January 31, 2005


We Cannot Forget That Beauty

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, chapter 13:
There is a story in the Russian Primary Chronicle of how Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, while still a pagan, desired to know which was the true religion, and therefore sent his followers to visit the various countries of the world in turn.

They went first to the Muslim Bulgars of the Volga, but observing that these when they prayed gazed around them like men possessed, the Russians continued on their way dissatisfied. 'There is no joy among them,' they reported to Vladimir, 'but mournfulness and a great smell; and there is nothing good about their system.'

Travelling next to Germany and Rome, they found the worship more satisfactory, but complained that here too it was without beauty.

Finally they journeyed to Constantinople, and here at last, as they attended the Divine Liturgy in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom, they discovered what they desired. 'We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.'
What would travellers on a similar quest find today?



From a column on journalistic objectivity by Fred Reed:
When people say that they want the press to be objective, they usually mean that they want reporters to cheerlead for their point of view. They do not want objectivity, however imagined, but concurring propaganda. Anything else, they believe, is bias.

Most of them seem to lack the sophistication to know that their particular prejudices are in fact prejudices. Since whatever they believe seems to them obviously true, they regard anything that does not support their cause as evidence of depraved indifference to truth or as outright lying.


Horace's Prayer

Horace, Epistles 1.18.105-112 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
What, think you, my friend, are my prayers? May I have my present store, or even less; may I live to myself for what remains of life, if the gods will that aught remains. May I have a goodly supply of books and of food to last the year; nor may I waver to and fro with the hopes of each uncertain hour. But 'tis enough to pray Jove, who gives and takes away, that he grant me life, and grant me means; a mind well-balanced I will myself provide.
Here is another translation, this one in verse, by John Conington:
What prayers are mine? "O may I yet possess
The goods I have, or, if Heaven pleases, less!
Let the few years that Fate may grant me still
Be all my own, not held at others' will!
Let me have books, and stores for one year hence,
Nor make my life one flutter of suspense!"

But I forbear: sufficient 'tis to pray
To Jove for what he gives and takes away:
Grant life, grant fortune, for myself I'll find
That best of blessings, a contented mind.
And finally here is the Latin original:
                         quid credis, amice, precari?
'sit mihi quod nunc est, etiam minus, et mihi vivam
quod superest aevi, si quid superesse volunt di;
sit bona librorum et provisae frugis in annum
copia, neu fluitem dubiae spe pendulus horae.'
sed satis est orare Iovem, qui ponit et aufert,
det vitam, det opes; aequum mi animum ipse parabo.


On Reading Commentaries

C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Arthur Greeves (January 9, 1930), describes the pleasure of reading a commentary on Chaucer:
What a glory-hole is the commentary of an old author. One minute you are puzzling out a quotation from a French medieval romance: the next, you are being carried back to Plato: then a scrap of medieval law: then something about geomancy: and manuscripts, and the signs of the Zodiac, and a modern proverb 'reported to Mr Snooks to be common in Derbyshire', and the precession of the equinoxes, and an Arabian optician (born at Balk in 1030), five smoking room stories, the origins of the doctrine of immaculate conception, and why St Cecilia is the patroness of organists. So one is swept from East to West, and from century to century, equally immersed in each oddity as it comes up.
A glory-hole is "an opening in the wall of a glass furnace, exposing the brilliant white light of the interior" (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1913), used by a glassmaker to reheat glass.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


Democritus and Heraclitus

Dennis Mangan's eloquent jeremiad on popular culture and the contemporary political scene is well worth reading.

There is a still life by Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (1565–1629) that shows two philosophers (top left and right), one laughing at a skull, the other weeping. The laughing philosopher is Democritus, the weeping philosopher Heraclitus. Confronted with the folly of mankind, one can either laugh or weep.

As for me, I hope I die laughing.


More on White Teeth

A few days ago I mentioned the ancient practice of using urine to whiten teeth. Now I read that United States Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is not satisfied with blow-dried hair -- he had his teeth straightened and whitened as well. An article in the Washington Post reports that St. Paul dentist Frank J. Milnar, a self-described "smile artist," did the work. Milnar got in trouble for posting before and after photos of Coleman's teeth on his web site.



Nausea originally meant seasickness. From an etymological standpoint it's shipsickness, from Greek naus = ship.

There are pitfalls associated with the word nausea and its derivatives. Adjectival forms in English are nauseated, nauseating, and nauseous. Concerning nauseous versus nauseated, the 4th edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style (2000) says:
The first means "sickening to contemplate"; the second means "sick at the stomach." Do not, therefore, say, "I feel nauseous," unless you are sure you have that effect on others.
In other words, Strunk and White would restrict nauseous to mean nauseating (causing nausea), not nauseated (feeling nausea). The distinction is disappearing. Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage (2000) cites numerous examples of nauseous meaning nauseated, to which may be added this sentence by John Grisham, from his novel The Street Lawyer (1998), chapter 4:
But the smell of fresh paint made me nauseous.
Purists would say that the smell of fresh paint was nauseous, and that the smell made the narrator nauseated. If you're in doubt, the simplest solution is to banish nauseous and use either nauseated or nauseating, as the context demands.

In Latin, the verb nauseo likewise can mean both be seasick and cause disgust, although the former meaning is the more common.

A second pitfall is the Latin phrase ad nauseam, frequently misspelled ad nauseum. The preposition ad takes the accusative case, and the accusative singular of nausea is nauseam, not nauseum. Google statistics are unreliable -- I see 162,000 occurrences of ad nauseam, 182,000 of ad nauseum, which would lead me to conclude that the erroneous form is winning out over the correct form. But when I click on some of the ad nauseum links, I find only ad nauseam. Apparently Google software is conflating the two. I find this nauseating.


Attention, Bill Gates!

My uncle is no slouch when it comes to gadgets or technology. He was awarded patents for his improvements to helicopter engines, and even in his 80s he's an avid and expert computer user. But he cannot cope with Microsoft's insecure operating system, and he writes in an email:
The computer problems of the past two months appear to have been resolved with the acquisition of an iMac 5 computer.

Friday, January 28, 2005



Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Journal (December 11, 1855):
It is only necessary to behold thus the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair's breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance. Only what we have touched and worn is trivial, -- our scurf, repetition, tradition, conformity. To perceive freshly, with fresh senses, is to be inspired.


The Spirit of Moderation

Learned Hand (1872-1961), The Spirit of Liberty, 3rd edition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), pp. 164-165:
What is the spirit of moderation? It is the temper which does not press a partisan advantage to its bitter end, which can understand and will respect the other side, which feels a unity between all citizens -- real and not the factitious product of propaganda -- which recognizes their common fate and their common aspirations -- in a word, which has faith in the sacredness of the individual. If you ask me how such a temper and such a faith are bred and fostered, I cannot answer. They are the last flowers of civilization, delicate and easily overrun by the weeds of our sinful human nature; we may even now be witnessing their uprooting and disappearance until in the progress of the ages their seeds can once more find some friendly soil.

Thursday, January 27, 2005



"The naturalist Sutherland," quoted by Joseph Wood Krutch, The Voice of the Desert (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1954), p. 71:
If the test of nobility is antiquity of family, then the cockroach that hides behind the kitchen sink is the true aristocrat. He does not date back merely to the three brothers that came over in 1640 or to William the Conquerer. Wherever there have been great epoch-making movements of people he has been with them heart and soul .... Since ever a ship turned a foamy furrow in the sea he has been a passenger, not a paying one certainly, but still a passenger. But man himself is but a creature of the last twenty minutes or so compared with the cockroach, for, from its crevice by the kitchen sink, it can point its antennae to the coal in the hod and say: 'When that was being made my family was already well-established.'


The Character of a People

St. Augustine, City of God 19.24 (tr. Marcus Dodds):
But if we discard this definition of a people, and, assuming another, say that a people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love, then, in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love. Yet whatever it loves, if only it is an assemblage of reasonable beings and not of beasts, and is bound together by an agreement as to the objects of love, it is reasonably called a people; and it will be a superior people in proportion as it is bound together by higher interests, inferior in proportion as it is bound together by lower.

Si autem populus non isto, sed alio definiatur modo, velut si dicatur: "Populus est coetus multitudinis rationalis rerum quas diligit concordi communione sociatus", profecto, ut videatur qualis quisque populus sit, illa sunt intuenda, quae diligit. Quaecumque tamen diligat, si coetus est multitudinis non pecorum, sed rationalium creaturarum et eorum quae diligit concordi communione sociatus est, non absurde populus nuncupatur; tanto utique melior, quanto in melioribus, tantoque deterior, quanto est in deterioribus concors.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Jefferson on Ancient Philosophy

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), letter to William Short (November 7, 1819):
As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace.

Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. These they fathered blasphemously on him whom they claimed as their founder, but who would disclaim them with the indignation which their caricatures of his religion so justly excite.

Of Socrates we have nothing genuine but in the Memorabilia of Xenophon; for Plato makes him one of his Collocutors merely to cover his own whimsies under the mantle of his name; a liberty of which we are told Socrates himself complained.

Seneca is indeed a fine moralist, disfiguring his work at times with some Stoicisms, and affecting too much of antithesis and point, yet giving us on the whole a great deal of sound and practical morality.

But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man; outlines which it is lamentable he did not live to fill up. Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others.

The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning. It would in time, it is to be hoped, effect a quiet euthanasia of the heresies of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally and deeply afflicted mankind; but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of his life.

I have sometimes thought of translating Epictetus (for he has never been tolerable translated into English) by adding the genuine doctrines of Epicurus from the Syntagma of Gassendi, and an abstract from the Evangelists of whatever has the stamp of the eloquence and fine imagination of Jesus. The last I attempted too hastily some twelve or fifteen years ago. It was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington, after getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day.

But with one foot in the grave, these are now idle projects for me. My business is to beguile the wearisomeness of declining life, as I endeavor to do, by the delights of classical reading and of mathematical truths, and by the consolations of a sound philosophy, equally indifferent to hope and fear.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005



Outer Life has some interesting things to say about the perils and pitfalls of teaching.



Acts of the Apostles 1:8:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
In his commentary on this verse, F.F. Bruce writes:
It has often been pointed out that the geographical terms of v. 8 provide a sort of "Index of Contents" for Acts. "Ye shall be my witnesses" might be regarded as the theme of the book; "in Jerusalem" covers the first seven chapters; "in all Judaea and Samaria" Chs. 8:1 to 11:18; and the remainder of the book deals with the progress of the gospel outside the frontiers of the Holy Land until at last it reaches Rome.
In other words, Luke first lists things briefly in the order ABC, and then he treats them at length in the same order. Cicero, De Inventione 1.23.33 (tr. H.M. Hubbell), makes this principle of organization explicit, using a passage from the first act of Terence's Andria (49-171) as an example:
Now that the rules for partition have been stated, it is necessary to remind the orator that throughout the speech he should bear in mind to complete the sections in order one after another as they have been planned in the partition, and that after all have been dispatched he should bring the speech to a close so that nothing be introduced after the conclusion. The old man in the Andria of Terence makes a brief and neat partition of what he wishes his freedman to know: "In this may you will learn my son's manner of life, my plan, and what I wish you to do in the matter." [49-50] And his narrative follows the plan laid down in the partition: first his son's manner of life,

"For after he had left the school of youth..." [51]

then his plan:

"And now I am anxious..." [157]

then what he wishes Sosia to do, which was the last point in the partition, is stated last:

"Now your task is..." [168]

Just as he turned his attention first to each point as it arose, and after dispatching them all stopped speaking, so I favour turning our attention to each topic and when all have been dispatched, winding up the speech.
Some ancient authors, however, reversed the order for artistic effect. Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 292, in an analysis of Horace, Ode 1.12, says:
With ancient writers it was a fairly common practice to announce the sections of their subject in terms such as 'I propose to deal with A and B' and then, in the execution, to let B come first. The arrangement of the ode Quem virum is a case in point. The announcement in the proem runs Quem virum aut heroa...quem deum?: in the execution the gods come first (triad II), then the heroes (triad III), and finally the men (triad IV).
In footnote 2 on the same page, Fraenkel cites another example from Vergil's Aeneid:
A large-scale instance of ABC being taken up by CBA occurs in Aen. VII, where the Fury first incites matres (392), then Turnus (445-74), and finally the herdsmen (483-510), but the description of the ensuing warlike action begins with the herdsmen (574), passes on to Turnus (577), and ends with the sons of those matres (580 ff.).

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Fighting Giant Ants

Michael C. LaBarbera is the author of a fascinating article on The Biology of B-Movie Monsters, which contains the following useful advice:
Here's the trick to defeating the giant ants. You don't want a rifle, you want a pile of bricks and a good pitching arm. One well-hurled brick hitting a leg and--plink!--the leg goes into local buckling and collapses, increasing the load on the remaining legs. Two more bricks and you've taken out all the legs on one side; all the bug can do is scrabble in circles. Three more bricks and the giant insect is completely immobilized.


White Teeth

Yesterday I saw financial guru Suze Orman for about 90 seconds on PBS. It was 90 seconds too long. Her teeth are preternaturally white, and I feared that prolonged viewing would burn my retinas. Orman's fangs remind me of James Carker's (Dickens, Dombey and Son, chapter XIII):
Mr Carker was a gentleman thirty-eight or forty years old, of a florid complexion, and with two unbroken rows of glistening teeth, whose regularity and whiteness were quite distressing. It was impossible to escape the observation of them, for he showed them whenever he spoke; and bore so wide a smile upon his countenance (a smile, however, very rarely, indeed, extending beyond his mouth), that there was something in it like the snarl of a cat.
Catullus wrote a naughty but clever poem on the subject of white teeth (39, tr. Roy Arthur Swanson):
Because Egnatius has white teeth, he smiles
without a stop. And should it come to trials
where lawyers move the court to tears, he smiles.
Suppose a mother mourns her only son,
he smiles. Whatever it is, whatever he's done,
wherever it is, he smiles. It's a disease,
not elegance, I think, nor does it please.
  So, good Egnatius, I must give you warning,
were you a Roman, Sabine, Tiburtine,
or frugal Umbrian, or fat Etruscan,
or dark Lanuvian with big buck teeth,
or Transpadane — to bring my people in —
or one of any group which cleans its teeth
with water, constant smiles would still displease:
nothing's as far from tact as tactless grins.
  But you're from Spain, and Spain's the spot
where teeth are scrubbed and red gums rubbed with what
is pissed the night before into a pot,
so that your tooth tells by its higher shine
how much you've drunk the dregs of bedroom wine.

Egnatius, quod candidos habet dentes,
renidet usque quaque. si ad rei ventum est
subsellium, cum orator excitat fletum,
renidet ille; si ad pii rogum fili
lugetur, orba cum flet unicum mater,
renidet ille. quidquid est, ubicumque est,
quodcumque agit, renidet: hunc habet morbum,
neque elegantem, ut arbitror, neque urbanum.
quare monendum est te mihi, bone Egnati.
si urbanus esses aut Sabinus aut Tiburs
aut pinguis Vmber aut obesus Etruscus
aut Lanuvinus ater atque dentatus
aut Transpadanus, ut meos quoque attingam,
aut quilubet, qui puriter lavit dentes,
tamen renidere usque quaque te nollem:
nam risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
nunc Celtiber es: Celtiberia in terra,
quod quisque minxit, hoc sibi solet mane
dentem atque russam defricare gingivam,
ut quo iste vester expolitior dens est,
hoc te amplius bibisse praedicet loti.
This is not just a figment of Catullus' filthy imagination. Strabo 3.4.16 (tr. Horace Leonard Jones) confirms the use of this dentifrice by the Iberians:
They have regard, not for rational living, but rather for satisfying their physical needs and bestial instincts — unless some one thinks those men have regard for rational living who bathe with urine which they have aged in cisterns, and wash their teeth with it, both they and their wives, as the Cantabrians and the neighbouring peoples are said to do. But both this custom and that of sleeping on the ground the Iberians share with the Celts.
You can buy teeth whiteners at the pharmacy. The whitening agent in them is peroxide. I don't know what it is in urine.


Tense and Voice

In his book On Writing: A Memoir (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2000), p. 93, novelist Stephen King gives the following advice:This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding. The adjective "passive" cannot modify the noun "tense." There is no such thing in grammar as the "passive tense."

Verbs have various attributes. Among them are tense and voice. The tense of a verb specifies the time when the action occurred. Examples of tenses are past, present, and future. The tense in "I came" is past; in "I come" it's present; and in "I will come" it's future. The voice of a verb indicates the relation between the subject and the action expressed by the verb. Possible voices are active, passive, and (in some languages) middle. In "I hit the ball," the verb is in the active voice; in "The ball was hit by me," it's in the passive voice.

It is correct to say "passive voice" or "passive verb." It is nonsense to say "passive tense," just as it would be to say "future voice." King's error is not uncommon. I recently heard the instructor in a legal writing class use the very same phrase, "passive tense," more than once. It hurt my ears, but I kept my mouth shut.

To be fair, I should point out that on the same page King also writes:He evidently regards "tense" and "voice" as synonyms.

Stephen King and I attended the same college, at the same time. He spent his college years honing his skills as a writer. I spent mine studying dead languages. Stephen King is a famous multi-millionaire today. I'm an impecunious nobody.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


An Introduction to Greek

Heinrich Schliemann, Ilios: The City and Country of the Trojans (New York: Harper, 1880), p. 7:
Dissatisfied with his lot, the young man gave himself up to drink, which, however, had not made him forget his Homer; for on the evening that he entered the shop he recited to us about a hundred lines of the poet, observing the rhythmic cadence of the verses. Although I did not understand a syllable, the melodious sound of the words made a deep impression upon me, and I wept bitter tears over my unhappy fate. Three times over did I get him to repeat to me those divine verses, rewarding his trouble with three glasses of whiskey, which I bought with the few pence that made up my whole fortune. From that moment I never ceased to pray God that by His grace I might yet have the happiness of learning Greek.


An Introduction to Latin

Edmund Gosse, Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments (1907), chapter VII:
My Father grudged the time, but he felt it a duty to do something to fill up these deficiencies, and we now started Latin, in a little eighteenth-century reading-book, out of which my Grandfather had been taught. It consisted of strings of words, and of grim arrangements of conjunction and declension, presented in a manner appallingly unattractive. I used to be set down in the study, under my Father's eye, to learn a solid page of this compilation, while he wrote or painted. The window would be open in summer, and my seat was close to it. Outside, a bee was shaking the clematis-blossom, or a red-admiral butterfly was opening and shutting his wings on the hot concrete of the verandah, or a blackbird was racing across the lawn. It was almost more than human nature could bear to have to sit holding up to my face the dreary little Latin book, with its sheepskin cover that smelt of mildewed paste.

But out of this strength there came an unexpected sudden sweetness. The exercise of hearing me repeat my strings of nouns and verbs had revived in my Father his memories of the classics. In the old solitary years, a long time ago, by the shores of Canadian rapids, on the edge of West Indian swamps, his Virgil had been an inestimable solace to him. To extremely devout persons, there is something objectionable in most of the great writers of antiquity. Horace, Lucretius, Terence, Catullus, Juvenal, -- in each there is one quality or another definitely repulsive to a reader who is determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. From time immemorial, however, it has been recognized in the Christian church that this objection does not apply to Virgil. He is the most evangelical of the classics; he is the one who can be enjoyed with least to explain away and least to excuse. One evening my Father took down his Virgil from an upper shelf, and his thoughts wandered away from surrounding things; he travelled in the past again. The book was a Delphin edition of 1798, which had followed him in all his wanderings; there was a great scratch on the sheep-skin cover that a thorn had made in a forest of Alabama. And then, in the twilight, as he shut the volume at last, oblivious of my presence, he began to murmur and to chant the adorable verses by memory.

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi,

he warbled; and I stopped my play, and listened as if to a nightingale, until he reached

                        tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

'Oh Papa, what is that?' I could not prevent myself from asking. He translated the verses, he explained their meaning, but his exposition gave me little interest. What to me was beautiful Amaryllis? She and her love-sick Tityrus awakened no image whatever in my mind. But a miracle had been revealed to me, the incalculable, the amazing beauty which could exist in the sound of verses. My prosodical instinct was awakened quite suddenly that dim evening, as my Father and I sat alone in the breakfast-room after tea, serenely accepting the hour, for once, with no idea of exhortation or profit. Verse, 'a breeze mid blossoms playing', as Coleridge says, descended from the roses as a moth might have done, and the magic of it took hold of my heart forever. I persuaded my Father, who was a little astonished at my insistence, to repeat the lines over and over again. At last my brain caught them, and as I walked in Benny's garden, or as I hung over the tidal pools at the edge of the sea, all my inner being used to ring out with the sound of

Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.
The verses come from the beginning of Vergil's first Eclogue.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


The Second Inaugural Address

Today President Bush will deliver his second inaugural address. It's questionable how appropriate the possessive pronoun is, since he probably wrote little or none of the speech himself.

The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, did write his own second inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1865, little more than a month before his death. The only photograph we have of Lincoln giving a speech is at his second inauguration. Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is also visible in the same photograph. A recent book on the speech, by Ronald C. White Jr., is entitled Lincoln's Greatest Speech (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). While the Gettysburg Address perhaps better deserves that superlative, Lincoln's second inaugural address is indeed a remarkable document. Here are some excerpts:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.


The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.


With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Classical Scholars

Alfred North Whitehead, quoted by Mark Van Doren, Liberal Education (1943), chapter IV:
Of all types of men today existing, classical scholars are the most remote from the Greeks of the Periclean times.


The Middle Ages

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (1848), chapter XXVII:
'Oh!' cried Mrs Skewton, with a faded little scream of rapture, 'the Castle is charming! - associations of the Middle Ages - and all that - which is so truly exquisite. Don't you dote upon the Middle Ages, Mr Carker?'

'Very much, indeed,' said Mr Carker.

'Such charming times!' cried Cleopatra. 'So full of faith! So vigorous and forcible! So picturesque! So perfectly removed from commonplace! Oh dear! If they would only leave us a little more of the poetry of existence in these terrible days!'


'Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,' said Cleopatra, 'with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!'

'Yes, we have fallen off deplorably,' said Mr Carker.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005



Something about the phrase "speak truth to power" irritates me. I'm inclined to stop reading or listening whenever I encounter it. It is one of those rare clichés whose origin is known -- the Quaker Milton Mayer first used it as the title of a pamphlet in the summer of 1954. He claimed that the phrase was an 18th century one, but no one has identified an 18th century source, and the phrase is probably the product of Mayer's own brain. It may have been fresh and vigorous once, but it is flat and insipid now.



Homer, Odyssey 6.182-185 (tr. S.H. Butcher and A. Lang):
There is nothing mightier and nobler than when man and wife are of one heart and mind in a house, a grief to their foes, and to their friends great joy, but their own hearts know it best.


An Unpardonable Sin

T.H. Huxley, Aphorisms and Reflections, CCLVI:
Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to presume to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Physician, Heal Thyself

Luke 4.23:
And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer in his commentary cites two parallels for the proverb:Here are some more parallels:

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Hope and Fear

T.H. Huxley, Aphorisms and Reflections, C:
Do what you can to do what you ought, and leave hoping and fearing alone.
This reminds me of a fragment of the Stoic philosopher Hecaton (as quoted by Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 5.7):
Desines timere, si sperare desieris.

You will stop fearing, if you stop hoping.



In Homer's Iliad, the Trojan Hector kills Achilles' friend Patroclus (book 16). Achilles in revenge slays Hector (book 22) and drags his corpse behind a chariot around the walls of Troy (book 24). In Ballad of Hector in Hades by Edwin Muir (1887-1959), the ghost of Hector remembers his last minutes of life:
Yes, this is where I stood that day,
  Beside this sunny mound.
The walls of Troy are far away,
  And outward comes no sound.

I wait. On all the empty plain
  A burnished stillness lies,
Save for the chariot's tinkling hum,
  And a few distant cries.

His helmet glitters near. The world
  Slowly turns around,
With some new sleight compels my feet
  From the fighting ground.

I run. If I turn back again
  The earth must turn with me,
The mountains planted on the plain,
  The sky clamped to the sea.

The grasses puff a little dust
  Where my footsteps fall.
I cast a shadow as I pass
  The little wayside wall.

The strip of grass on either hand
  Sparkles in the light;
I only see that little space
  To the left and to the right,

And in that space our shadows run,
  His shadow there and mine,
The little flowers, the tiny mounds,
  The grasses frail and fine.

But narrower still and narrower!
  My course is shrunk and small,
Yet vast as in a deadly dream,
  And faint the Trojan wall.
The sun up in the towering sky
  Turns like a spinning ball.

The sky with all its clustered eyes
  Grows still with watching me,
The flowers, the mounds, the flaunting weeds
  Wheel slowly round to see.

Two shadows racing on the grass,
  Silent and so near,
Until his shadow falls on mine.
  And I am rid of fear.

The race is ended. Far away
  I hang and do not care,
While round bright Troy Achilles whirls
  A corpse with streaming hair.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Need a Laugh?

Take a gander at these liturgical dancers, engaged in what Dickens (Dombey and Son, chapter XV) called the "rapturous performance of a sacred jig."


A Classical Family

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (1848), chapter XI:
In fact, Doctor Blimber's establishment was a great hot-house, in which there was a forcing apparatus incessantly at work. All the boys blew before their time. Mental green-peas were produced at Christmas, and intellectual asparagus all the year round. Mathematical gooseberries (very sour ones too) were common at untimely seasons, and from mere sprouts of bushes, under Doctor Blimber's cultivation. Every description of Greek and Latin vegetable was got off the driest twigs of boys, under the frostiest circumstances. Nature was of no consequence at all. No matter what a young gentleman was intended to bear, Doctor Blimber made him bear to pattern, somehow or other.


None of your live languages for Miss Blimber. They must be dead - stone dead - and then Miss Blimber dug them up like a Ghoul.

Mrs Blimber, her Mama, was not learned herself, but she pretended to be, and that did quite as well. She said at evening parties, that if she could have known Cicero, she thought she could have died contented. It was the steady joy of her life to see the Doctor's young gentlemen go out walking, unlike all other young gentlemen, in the largest possible shirt-collars, and the stiffest possible cravats. It was so classical, she said.


The young gentlemen were prematurely full of carking anxieties. They knew no rest from the pursuit of stony-hearted verbs, savage noun-substantives, inflexible syntactic passages, and ghosts of exercises that appeared to them in their dreams. Under the forcing system, a young gentleman usually took leave of his spirits in three weeks. He had all the cares of the world on his head in three months. He conceived bitter sentiments against his parents or guardians in four; he was an old misanthrope, in five; envied Curtius that blessed refuge in the earth, in six; and at the end of the first twelvemonth had arrived at the conclusion, from which he never afterwards departed, that all the fancies of the poets, and lessons of the sages, were a mere collection of words and grammar, and had no other meaning in the world.


'Like a bee, Sir,' said Mrs Blimber, with uplifted eyes, 'about to plunge into a garden of the choicest flowers, and sip the sweets for the first time. Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Terence, Plautus, Cicero. What a world of honey have we here.'


'But really,' pursued Mrs Blimber, 'I think if I could have known Cicero, and been his friend, and talked with him in his retirement at Tusculum (beau-ti-ful Tusculum!), I could have died contented.'

Thursday, January 13, 2005



It is beyond my comprehension how any sensible person could call this drunken lout a prince and think that he is fit to represent a nation.


Great Riches

Lucretius 5.1118-1119:
It is great riches for a man to live sparingly with a contented mind.

divitiae grandes homini sunt vivere parce / aequo animo.


Equal Justice

James Beattie (1735-1803):
Laws, as we read in ancient sages,
Have been like cobwebs in all ages.
Cobwebs for little flies are spread,
And laws for little folks are made;
But if an insect of renown,
Hornet or beetle, wasp or drone,
Be caught in quest of sport or plunder,
The flimsy fetter flies in sunder.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Proofreaders Needed

The list price for J. Shoshana Ehrlich, Family Law For Paralegals, third edition (New York: Aspen Publishers, 2005) is $85.95. On pages 29 and following there are excerpts from a case cited as GOODRICH v. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, 440 Mass. 309, 98 N.E.2d 941 (2003).

The first party is Goodridge, not Goodrich. The second party is Department of Public Health, not Department of Health. You'll find the case in volume 798 of N.E.2d, not in volume 98.

This reminds me of the Jewish expression: "He writes Noah with seven mistakes." Someone's getting rich from expensive textbooks, but it's not proofreaders or fact checkers.


Philoetius' Prayer

Homer, Odyssey 20.201-203 (tr. S.H. Butcher and A. Lang):
Father Zeus, none other god is more baneful than thou; thou hast no compassion on men, that are of thine own begetting, but makest them to have fellowship with evil and with bitter pains.


Allingham Paraphrased

William Allingham (1824-1889), Writing:
A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful -- then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fulness than of emptiness.
A man who keeps a weblog, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful -- then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most blogs, indeed, are records less
Of fulness than of emptiness.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Invitations to the White House

  1. Holocaust denier
  2. Foul-mouthed rock singers


A Fiction of the Law

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1839), chapter XLVI:
There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.



Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1839), chapter LVII:
'Measles, rheumatics, hooping-cough, fevers, agers, and lumbagers,' said Mr Squeers, 'is all philosophy together; that's what it is. The heavenly bodies is philosophy, and the earthly bodies is philosophy. If there's a screw loose in a heavenly body, that's philosophy; and if there's screw loose in a earthly body, that's philosophy too; or it may be that sometimes there's a little metaphysics in it, but that's not often. Philosophy's the chap for me. If a parent asks a question in the classical, commercial, or mathematical line, says I, gravely, "Why, sir, in the first place, are you a philosopher?" -- "No, Mr Squeers," he says, "I an't." "Then, sir," says I, "I am sorry for you, for I shan't be able to explain it." Naturally, the parent goes away and wishes he was a philosopher, and, equally naturally, thinks I'm one.'

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Siren Song

Circe warns Odysseus against the Sirens and their song (Homer, Odyssey 12.39-46, tr. S.H. Butcher and A. Lang):
To the Sirens first shalt thou come, who bewitch all men, whosoever shall come to them. Whoso draws nigh them unwittingly and hears the sound of the Sirens' voice, never doth he see wife or babes stand by him on his return, nor have they joy at his coming; but the Sirens enchant him with their clear song, sitting in the meadow, and all about is a great heap of bones of men, corrupt in death, and round the bones the skin is wasting.
This passage from Homer is the inspiration for a poem by Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886):
"Let us turn hitherward our bark," they cried,
   "And, 'mid the blisses of this happy isle,
Past toil forgetting and to come, abide
   In joyfulness awhile.

And then, refreshed, our tasks resume again,
   If other tasks we yet are bound unto,
Combing the hoary tresses of the main
   With sharp swift keel anew."

O heroes, that had once a nobler aim,
   O heroes, sprung from many a godlike line,
What will ye do, unmindful of your fame,
   And of your race divine?

But they, by these prevailing voices now
   Lured, evermore draw nearer to the land,
Nor saw the wrecks of many a goodly prow,
   That strewed that fatal strand;

Or seeing, feared not--warning taking none
   From the plain doom of all who went before,
Whose bones lay bleaching in the wind and sun,
   And whitened all the shore.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Reading List

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785):
An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second. It is time for you now to begin to be choice in your reading; to begin to pursue a regular course in it; and not to suffer yourself to be turned to the right or left by reading any thing out of that course. I have long ago digested a plan for you, suited to the circumstances in which you will be placed. This I will detail to you, from time to time, as you advance. For the present, I advise you to begin a course of antient history, reading every thing in the original and not in translations. First read Goldsmith's history of Greece. This will give you a digested view of that field. Then take up antient history in the detail, reading the following books, in the following order: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophontis Hellenica, Xenophontis Anabasis, Arrian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, Justin. This shall form the first stage of your historical reading, and is all I need mention to you now. The next, will be of Roman history (Livy, Sallust, Caesar, Cicero's epistles, Suetonius, Tacitus, Gibbon). From that we will come down to modern history. In Greek and Latin poetry, you have read or will read at school, Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripedes, Sophocles. Read also Milton's Paradise Lost, Shakspeare, Ossian, Pope's and Swift's works, in order to form your style in your own language. In morality, read Epictetus, Xenophontis Memorabilia, Plato's Socratic dialogues, Cicero's philosophies, Antoninus, and Seneca.

Friday, January 07, 2005


Party On

Homer, Odyssey 9.5-11 (tr. S.H. Butcher and A. Lang):
Nay, as for me, I say that there is no more gracious or perfect delight than when a whole people makes merry, and the men sit orderly at feast in the halls and listen to the singer, and the tables by them are laden with bread and flesh, and a wine-bearer drawing the wine serves it round and pours it into the cups. This seems to me well-nigh the fairest thing in the world.



H.L. Mencken:
The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not believe that he is making a prudent and productive investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him. He may be convinced that a police force, say, is necessary for the protection of his life and property, and that an army and navy safeguard him from being reduced to slavery by some vague foreign kaiser, but even so he views these things as extravagantly expensive -- he sees in even the most essential of them an agency for making it easier for the exploiters constituting the government to rob him. In those exploiters themselves he has no confidence whatever. He sees them as predatory and useless; he believes that he gets no more net benefit from their vast and costly operations than he gets from the money he lends to his wife's brother.
All that is needed to bring Mencken's words up to date is to substitute mullah or ayatollah for kaiser.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005



Dr. Peter Roland has written a hymn in Latin celebrating the European Union, to be sung to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Unfortunately the diversity that he lauds (line 3 of stanza 1, "unified in diversity," "una in diversitate") is proving to be to be the downfall of Europe as it degenerates into Eurabia.

The Latin word diversitas also had the meaning disagreement, contradiction, contrariety, e.g. at Tacitus, Histories 1.62:
Mira inter exercitum imperatoremque diversitas.

There was a surprising difference of opinion between the army and its commander.


Prosperity and Misfortune

Homer, Odyssey 18.130-137 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):

Of all creatures that breathe and walk on the earth there is nothing
more helpless than a man is, of all that the earth fosters;
for he thinks that he will never suffer misfortune in future
days, while the gods grant him courage, and his knees have spring
in them. But when the blessed gods bring sad days upon him,
against his will he must suffer it with enduring spirit.
For the mind in men upon earth goes according to the fortunes
the Father of Gods and Men, day by day, bestows upon them.


Dalrymple Watch

In the latest issue of The New Criterion there is an essay by Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) on Samuel Butler's 1903 novel The Way of All Flesh. Here is a sample:
The book is, or at least could be, a manifesto for virtually all the social pathology that I have seen in my medical practice in a British slum at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Every intellectual presupposition that has gone to the creation of misery in the midst of plenty is not only contained, but trumpeted, in The Way of All Flesh.
Some of these intellectual presuppositions are:

Monday, January 03, 2005


Insomniac's Prayer

Sophocles, Philoctetes 828-830 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Divine Sleep, god who knows no pain, Sleep, stranger to anguish, come in favor to us, come happy, and giving happiness, great King!


As Though To Breathe Were Life

In his poem Ulysses, Tennyson imagines the hero as an old man, recalling his past glories, bored by domestic tranquillity, planning new adventures now that his son Telemachus has taken over the family business. What old man has not had dreams like those of Ulysses?
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That lov'd me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vex'd the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known: cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life. Life pil'd on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is sav'd
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-lov'd of me, discerning to fulfil
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and oppos'd
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Mov'd earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


A Man of Honor

From an article by Richard A. Serrano and David G. Savage in the Los Angeles Times:
Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts since joining the U.S. Supreme Court, from $1,200 worth of tires to valuable historical items and a $5,000 personal check to help pay a relative's education expenses.

His activity contrasts sharply with that of Justice David Souter of New Hampshire, who reported turning down all gifts, trips and club memberships on his official disclosure forms.
Souter is the only one of the nine with clean hands. The others are of course acting within the letter of the law, but there is an older and better guide to conduct, which states (Proverbs 17.23):
A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
Bribes by John T. Noonan, Jr. (1984) is an excellent historical treatment of the subject.


The Best Life

Diogenes Laertius 7.2 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
It is stated by Hecato and by Apollonius of Tyre in his first book on Zeno that he consulted the oracle to know what he should do to attain the best life, and that the god's response was that he should take on the complexion of the dead. Whereupon, perceiving what this meant, he studied ancient authors.



Diogenes Laertius 7.181 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Apollodoros of Athens in his Collection of Doctrines, wishing to show that what Epicurus wrote with force and originality was far greater in amount than the books of Chrysippus, says, to quote his exact words, "If one were to strip the books of Chrysippus of all extraneous quotations, his pages would be left bare."
If one were to strip the posts of Laudator Temporis Acti of all extraneous quotations, his blog would be left bare.

Saturday, January 01, 2005



Andrew Lang, Death:
Of all Gods Death alone
Disdaineth sacrifice:
No man hath found or shown
The gift that Death would prize.
In vain are songs or sighs,
Paean, or praise, or moan,
Alone beneath the skies
Hath Death no altar-stone!

There is no head so dear
That men would grudge to Death;
Let Death but ask, we give
All gifts that we may live;
But though Death dwells so near,
We know not what he saith.
Lang's poem is inspired by Aeschylus, fragment 161 (from the play Niobe):
For alone of gods Death does not love gifts, nor by sacrificing or by pouring libations could you accomplish anything. He has no altar and the paean is not sung to him; of the gods, from him alone Persuasion stands apart.
Here are some other ancient expressions of the same sentiment:According to Pausanias (6.25.2-3), the Eleans were the only Greeks who worshipped Hades and had a temple dedicated to him. But even they opened the temple only once a year, and only the priest was allowed to enter.


Times Square on New Year's Eve

Chamfort (1741-1794):
Men shrink when they gather together in a crowd: they are Milton's devils, compelled to turn themselves into pygmies in order to enter into Pandemonium.

Les hommes deviennent petits en se rassemblant: ce sont les diables de Milton, obligés de se rendre pygmées, pour entrer dans le pandaemonion.
Chamfort is referring to Paradise Lost, 1.777-781:
Behold a wonder! They but now who seemed
In bigness to surpass Earth's giant sons,
Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless -- like that pygmean race
Beyond the Indian mount...

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