Thursday, March 31, 2005



I've been too busy to blog. Go read:

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The Emperor of Bad Taste

Gary Hartenburg draws my attention to an entry in Manolo's Shoe Blog comparing Donald Trump to the Roman emperor Nero (with an apt quotation from Suetonius). Is it just my imagination, or does The Donald in the photograph look like he's watching a gladiatorial contest, about to give the thumb down signal?


The Bed of Procrustes, or the Erineus Handsaw Massacre

Friedrich Hölderlin, Hyperion, volume 2, book 2 (tr. Willard R. Trask):
The time in which I live is like the raging Procrustes who, capturing men, put them in a child's cradle and, to make them fit into that little bed, hacked off their limbs!
Procrustes' name means Stretcher and comes from Greek prokrouo (stretch out). Like many criminals, he had aliases, being also known as Damastes (Subduer) or Polypemon (Harming Much). Theseus finally killed him, as Apollodorus, Epitome 1.4 (tr. James G. Frazer) relates:
Sixth, he slew Damastes, whom some call Polypemon. He had his dwelling beside the road, and made up two beds, one small and the other big; and offering hospitality to the passers-by, he laid the short men on the big bed and hammered them, to make them fit the bed; but the tall men he laid on the little bed and sawed off the portions of the body that projected beyond it.
Plutarch, Life of Theseus 11.1 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin), tells how Theseus killed Procrustes:
At Erineus, he killed Damastes, surnamed Procrustes, by compelling him to make his own body fit his bed, as he had been wont to do with those of strangers.
Pausanias 1.38.5 (tr. W.H.S. Jones) gives details about the location of Erineus:
At Eleusis flows a Cephisus which is more violent than the Cephisus I mentioned above, and by the side of it is the place they call Erineus, saying that Pluto descended there to the lower world after carrying off the Maid. Near this Cephisus Theseus killed a brigand named Polypemon and surnamed Procrustes.


Telephony Tales

Joy of Knitting tells a tale of woe (scroll down to the second paragraph) about switching telephone service in Italy. That reminds me of a few phone stories.

It used to be the case, in certain states at least, that the phone company was required by law to give a party line to anyone who asked for one. For those too young to remember, a party line was a shared line, with a distinctive ring for each customer sharing the line. When you heard your neighbor's ring, you could surreptitiously pick up the phone and eavesdrop on private conversations. Also, the monthly rate for a party line used to be less than the rate for an ordinary line. Party lines are nearly obsolete these days, and hardly anyone has one. A few years ago a friend in Georgia heard about the state regulation and demanded a party line, to save a few bucks on his phone bill every month. The phone company had to gave him one, at the lower rate. Of course there were no other parties on my friend's line, so he had the benefit of a single connection for the lower price of a party line. The phone company probably wasn't happy, because I'd wager that the cost of a party line card at the central office was greater than the cost of an ordinary line card.

On television nowadays, whenever an actor pronounces a telephone number, it starts with 555. In real life there are no such 555 phone numbers assigned to customers. This is done so that the viewing audience doesn't get through to a real number when they dial the number they hear on TV. Apparently many, many viewers actually dial these numbers, maybe in hopes of speaking to a Hollywood star on the other end.

Some vehicles owned by trucking companies sport a bumper sticker asking the question "How's my driving?" and giving an 800 number to call. A wag started selling bumper stickers for ordinary vehicles that said "Don't like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT." That happens to be a real phone number of a real company, although the receptionist will be surprised if you call and start complaining about someone's bad driving. She was when I called.

Before the days of caller ID and draconian laws, children sometimes picked a number at random out of the phone book, dialled it, and said something like "Hello. I'm doing a survey. Is your refrigerator running?" When the other party answered yes, the retort would be, "You'd better go catch it" or something equally amusing. A friend of mine used to do this occasionally on rainy afternoons, when we were in grammar school together. But whenever he handed me the phone to give me a turn, I could never get past the "Hello," because I would dissolve into giggles first.

Most kids these days have never seen a rotary dial phone. When I was growing up, all phones were owned by the phone company, and all had rotary dials. I pine for those good old days. It was touch tone that gave rise to those automated phone systems we all love to hate. "Press 1 if you have a question about your bill, press 2 if you wish to place an order, be prepared to wait on hold for at least half an hour, your call is important to us, etc."

Phone numbers in the small town of my youth had four digits only. Today you must dial ten digits to call from St. Paul to Minneapolis, because the proliferation of cell phones makes more and more numbers necessary. You'd think that the solution would be to give numbers starting with a special prefix to all cell phone subscribers. But there's a law against it.

Don't get me started on cell phones. Ambrose Bierce in his Devil's Dictionary defines telephone as "An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance." If the devil invented the telephone, then surely the high prince of all demons invented the cell phone.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Latin Literature

Arthur Christopher Benson, From a College Window (1906), chapter 9 (Education):
I do not think highly of Latin literature. There are very few writers of the first rank. Virgil is, of course, one; and Horace is a splendid craftsman, but not a high master of literature. There is hardly any prose in Latin fit for boys to read. Cicero is diffuse, and often affords little more than small-talk on abstract topics; Tacitus a brilliant but affected prosateur, Caesar a dull and uninspiring author.


Conservative and Liberal

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary:
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.



Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, chapter 32:
I commenced a deliberate system of time-killing, which united some profit with a cheering up of the heavy hours. As soon as I came on deck, and took my place and regular walk, I began with repeating over to myself a string of matters which I had in my memory, in regular order. First, the multiplication table and the tables of weights and measures; then the states of the union, with their capitals; the counties of England, with their shire towns; the kings of England in their order; and a large part of the peerage, which I committed from an almanac that we had on board; and then the Kanaka numerals. This carried me through my facts, and, being repeated deliberately, with long intervals, often eked out the two first bells. Then came the ten commandments; the thirty-ninth chapter of Job, and a few other passages from Scripture. The next in the order, that I never varied from, came Cowper's Castaway, which was a great favorite with me; the solemn measure and gloomy character of which, as well as the incident that it was founded upon, made it well suited to a lonely watch at sea. Then his lines to Mary, his address to the Jackdaw, and a short extract from Table Talk; (I abounded in Cowper, for I happened to have a volume of his poems in my chest;) "Ille et nefasto" from Horace, and Goethe's Erl König. After I had got through these, I allowed myself a more general range among everything that I could remember, both in prose and verse. In this way, with an occasional break by relieving the wheel, heaving the log, and going to the scuttle-butt for a drink of water, the longest watch was passed away; and I was so regular in my silent recitations, that if there was no interruption by ship's duty, I could tell very nearly the number of bells by my progress.

Sunday, March 27, 2005



O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit, scire tempus, et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit! Haec nox est, de qua scriptum est: Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur: Et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis. Hujus igitur sanctificatio noctis fugat scelera, culpas lavat: et reddit innocentiam lapsis, et maestis laetitiam. Fugat odia, concordiam parat, et curvat imperia.

O truly blessed night, which alone deserves to know the time and hour when Christ rose again from hell. This is the night of which it is written: And the night shall be as light as the day, and the night is my illumination in my delights. Therefore the sanctification of this night blots out crimes, washes away sins, and restores innocence to sinners, and joy to the sorrowful. It banishes enmities, produces concord, and humbles empires. (tr. Dom Fernand Cabrol, OSB)

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Latin and Greek

Henry David Thoreau, Journals, August 7, 1852:
When I think of the thorough drilling in which young men are subjected in the English universities, acquiring a minute knowledge of Latin prosody and of Greek particles and accents, so that they can not only turn a passage of Homer into English prose or verse, but readily a passage of Shakespeare into Latin hexameters or elegaics -- that this and the like of this is to be liberally educated -- I an reminded how different was the education of the actual Homer and Shakespeare. The worthies of the world and liberally educated have always, in this sense, got along with little Latin and less Greek.
Thoreau is recalling a line from Ben Jonson's poem To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare:
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Thoreau on Society

Journals, April 24, 1852:
Society, man, has no prize to offer me that can tempt me; not one. That which interests a town or city or any large number of men is always something trivial, as politics. It is impossible for me to be interested in what interests men generally. Their pursuits and interests seem to me frivolous. When I am most myself and see the clearest, men are least to be seen; they are like muscae volitantes, and that they are seen at all is the proof of imperfect vision.
Journals, October 23, 1852:
What men call social virtues, good fellowship, is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter, which lie close together to keep each other warm. It brings men together in crowds and mobs in barrooms and elsewhere, but it does not deserve the name of virtue.


Seven Last Words

The Latin is from Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam. Nova Editio ... Quarta Editio (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1965). The English is from the King James version.
  1. Luke 23.34: Pater, dimitte illis: non enim sciunt quid faciunt. (Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.)
  2. Luke 23.43: Amen dico tibi: Hodie mecum eris in Paradiso. (Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.)
  3. John 19.26-27: Mulier, ecce filius tuus ... Ecce mater tua. (Woman, behold thy son! ... Behold thy mother!)
  4. Mark 15.34 (Matthew 27.46): Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)
  5. John 19.28: Sitio. (I thirst.)
  6. John 19.30: Consummatum est. (It is finished.)
  7. Luke 23.46: Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum. (Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.)
No matter where you stand on the tragic Schiavo case, the fifth word is especially poignant today.

Thursday, March 24, 2005



Planet of the Apes (1968):
Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death.
Dr. Zaius is reading from the Sacred Scrolls, 29:6.

Whenever I hear these words, I wonder if "the Devil's pawn" is a mistake for "the Devil's spawn," by haplography. Perhaps the answer lies in the novel on which the movie is based, Pierre Boule's La planète des singes, which I've never read.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Outer Life

It's always a pleasure to read Outer Life. His paean to the beauties of the female form is especially good. And to anyone who's ever worked for a corporation or government agency, his horror stories of office politics have the ring of truth:



Henry David Thoreau, Journals, December 12, 1851:
Ah, dear nature, the mere remembrance, after a short forgetfulness, of the pine woods! I come to it as a hungry man to a crust of bread.


Geographical Distribution of Surnames

Here is an interesting web page where you can enter a last name and get a map of the United States showing how common the name is, state by state.

It only works if the surname is among the 50,000 most common in the United States. My last name (Gilleland), though relatively uncommon, still produces a map. But my mother's maiden name (Paiement) is too rare.



An antonym is a word of opposite meaning. An auto-antonym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself. There is a list of auto-antonyms here. A couple of auto-antonyms which I haven't seen on any list are the Latin adjective sacer and the English noun wold.

E.A. Andrew's Copious and Critical Latin-English Lexicon (1870) gives these contrasting definitions of sacer:
  1. Dedicated or consecrated to a divinity, holy, sacred.
  2. Devoted to a divinity for destruction, forfeited; and absol., accursed, criminal, impious, wicked.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) defines wold as:
  1. A wood; a forest.
  2. A plain, or low hill; a country without wood, whether hilly or not.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Bid for Sympathy

It was a well-known tactic in ancient courtrooms for the accused to show up unshaven, dressed in mourning, or accompanied by weeping children, in a blatant attempt to win the sympathy of the jurors.

See, for example, Aristophanes, Wasps 563-574 (tr. anonymous):
Oh! what tricks to secure acquittal! Ah! there is no form of flattery that is not addressed to the Heliast! Some groan over their poverty and exaggerate it. Others tell us anecdotes or some comic story from Aesop. Others, again, cut jokes; they fancy I shall be appeased if I laugh. If we are not even then won over, why, then they drag forward their young children by the hand, both boys and girls, who prostrate themselves and whine with one accord, and then the father, trembling as if before a god, beseeches me not to condemn him out of pity for them, "If you love the voice of the lamb, have pity on my sons;" and because I am fond of little sows, I must yield to his daughter's prayers. Then we relax the heat of our wrath a little for him.
But nothing in ancient times equals the modern-day antics of Jacko the Wacko, on trial for committing lewd acts upon a child:
Michael Jackson shuffled into court late again yesterday - disheveled, visibly shaky and accompanied by a doctor in hospital scrubs - as testimony resumed in his child molestation trial.

Wearing a rumpled charcoal suit, striped vest and sunglasses and with his hair mussed, Jackson hobbled slowly into the courtroom five minutes late, supported by aides who held his arms as he made his way to the defense table and eased into a seat.


Soul Music

Rick Brannan finds analogues to Biblical passages in the titles of songs by James Brown, and Ed Cook writes a fascinating and learned note on the connection between a Bob Dylan album and a passage in the book of Genesis.

I can sort of follow the Biblical part of these discussions, but the musical parts go over my head. For me, popular music ends with Bing Crosby or perhaps Mel Tormé. I was a teenager in the 1960s, but when I hear my coevals talk about "our music," I tune out. It was never "my music."


Ducks, Hawks, and Geese

Dennis Mangan defends himself against the charge that he's fonder of ducks than of his fellow humans, which brings to mind a line from Robinson Jeffer's poem Hurt Hawks:
I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk.
I can easily imagine circumstances, such as self-defense, in which I'd kill a man. I can't picture myself ever killing a hawk, though.

But as for those Canadian geese which will soon start fouling the footpaths in Minnesota, sometimes I catch myself wishing that their natural predators, like foxes, were more numerous.

Monday, March 21, 2005


What's My Line?

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, chapter 43:
"Oh, I dare say about that, yer know," observed Noah, backing towards the door, and shaking his head with a kind of sober alarm. "No, no -- none of that. It's not in my department, it ain't."

"Wot department has he got, Fagin?" inquired Master Bates, surveying Noah's lank form with much disgust. "The cutting away when there's anything wrong, and the eating all the wittles when there's everything right; is that his branch?"


Aubrey de Grey

Here are two interesting portraits of biologist Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey, who studies longevity:


The Knight of Faith

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (tr. Walter Lowrie), Problem II:
The sectaries deafen one another by their noise and racket, hold the dread off by their shrieks, and such a hallooing company of sportsmen think they are storming heaven and think they are on the same path as the knight of faith who in the solitude of the universe never hears any human voice but walks alone with his dreadful responsibility.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Maugham on Reading

W. Somerset Maugham:
To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.
It goes against the grain for me to quote something without chapter and verse, but I haven't been able to find the exact source of this quotation, one of my favorites.

A high-school classmate of mine, who later went on to Yale and a successful career in banking, once told me that he never read a book for pleasure. Without the refuge of reading, I'd be dead or in the looney bin.



Homer, Odyssey 11.538-540 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
So I spoke, and the soul of the swift-footed scion of Aiakos
stalked away in long strides across the meadows of asphodel,
happy for what I had said of his son, and how he was famous.
The scion of Aiakos is Achilles, and Achilles' son is Neoptolemus. Odysseus, during his visit to the underworld, has been talking with the shade of Achilles.

It's not just fame that gives rise to that emotion. I'm lucky enough to feel that way about my children. I hope my father occasionally has the same feeling about me, and walks with an extra spring in his step across the meadows of asphodel.


The Blastopore

From Pharyngula:
During gastrulation, animals form a structure called the blastopore, which is where migrating tissues tuck themselves inward to establish the three germ layers of the embryo. In deuterostomes, the blastopore will eventually become the anus. In the complementary category, the protostomes, which includes annelids and arthropods, the blastopore develops into the mouth.
When I read that, my twisted mind thought of Catullus' attack on a sufferer from halitosis (97.1-3):
I did not (so may the gods love me) think it made any difference whether I smelled Aemilius' mouth or his anus. The latter is not a bit cleaner, nor the former a bit dirtier.

Non (ita me di ament) quicquam referre putavi,
utrumne os an culum olfacerem Aemilio.
nilo mundius hoc, nihiloque immundius illud.
The rest of Catullus' poem is too filthy to quote in this family-friendly blog.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


The Bible in Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad

Song of Solomon 2.12:
The voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Innocents Abroad, chapter 47:
He was just in the act of throwing a clod at a mud-turtle which was sunning itself on a small log in the brook. We said:

"Don't do that, Jack. What do you want to harm him for? What has he done?"

"Well, then, I won't kill him, but I ought to, because he is a fraud."

We asked him why, but he said it was no matter. We asked him why, once or twice, as we walked back to the camp but he still said it was no matter. But late at night, when he was sitting in a thoughtful mood on the bed, we asked him again and he said:

"Well, it don't matter; I don't mind it now, but I did not like it today, you know, because I don't tell any thing that isn't so, and I don't think the Colonel ought to, either. But he did; he told us at prayers in the Pilgrims' tent, last night, and he seemed as if he was reading it out of the Bible, too, about this country flowing with milk and honey, and about the voice of the turtle being heard in the land. I thought that was drawing it a little strong, about the turtles, any how, but I asked Mr. Church if it was so, and he said it was, and what Mr. Church tells me, I believe. But I sat there and watched that turtle nearly an hour today, and I almost burned up in the sun; but I never heard him sing. I believe I sweated a double handful of sweat -- I know I did -- because it got in my eyes, and it was running down over my nose all the time; and you know my pants are tighter than any body else's -- Paris foolishness -- and the buckskin seat of them got wet with sweat, and then got dry again and began to draw up and pinch and tear loose -- it was awful -- but I never heard him sing. Finally I said, This is a fraud -- that is what it is, it is a fraud -- and if I had had any sense I might have known a cursed mud-turtle couldn't sing. And then I said, I don't wish to be hard on this fellow, and I will just give him ten minutes to commence; ten minutes -- and then if he don't, down goes his building. But he didn't commence, you know. I had staid there all that time, thinking may be he might, pretty soon, because he kept on raising his head up and letting it down, and drawing the skin over his eyes for a minute and then opening them out again, as if he was trying to study up something to sing, but just as the ten minutes were up and I was all beat out and blistered, he laid his blamed head down on a knot and went fast asleep."

"It was a little hard, after you had waited so long."

"I should think so. I said, Well, if you won't sing, you shan't sleep, any way; and if you fellows had let me alone I would have made him shin out of Galilee quicker than any turtle ever did yet. But it isn't any matter now -- let it go. The skin is all off the back of my neck."
The Biblical turtle was of course the turtle-dove.

Isaiah 55.1:
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Innocents Abroad, chapter 50:
At Nazareth we camped in an olive grove near the Virgin Mary's fountain, and that wonderful Arab "guard" came to collect some bucksheesh for his "services" in following us from Tiberias and warding off invisible dangers with the terrors of his armament. The dragoman had paid his master, but that counted as nothing -- if you hire a man to sneeze for you, here, and another man chooses to help him, you have got to pay both. They do nothing whatever without pay. How it must have surprised these people to hear the way of salvation offered to them "without money and without price." If the manners, the people or the customs of this country have changed since the Saviour's time, the figures and metaphors of the Bible are not the evidences to prove it by.
Bucksheesh = baksheesh.

Luke 7.45:
Thou gavest me no kiss.
Innocents Abroad, chapter 51:
Presently a wild Arab in charge of a camel train recognized an old friend in Ferguson, and they ran and fell upon each other's necks and kissed each other's grimy, bearded faces upon both cheeks. It explained instantly a something which had always seemed to me only a farfetched Oriental figure of speech. I refer to the circumstance of Christ's rebuking a Pharisee, or some such character, and reminding him that from him he had received no "kiss of welcome." It did not seem reasonable to me that men should kiss each other, but I am aware, now, that they did. There was reason in it, too. The custom was natural and proper; because people must kiss, and a man would not be likely to kiss one of the women of this country of his own free will and accord. One must travel, to learn. Every day, now, old Scriptural phrases that never possessed any significance for me before, take to themselves a meaning.
On the name Ferguson, see Innocents Abroad, chapter 35: "All guides are Fergusons to us. We can not master their dreadful foreign names."

Friday, March 18, 2005


Death and the Gods

In the prologue to Euripides' Alcestis, the god Apollo says (lines 22-23, tr. Richard Aldington):
But I must leave this Palace's dear roof, for fear pollution soil me in the house.
The imminent pollution (miasma in Greek) comes from the approaching death of Alcestis. Likewise in Euripides' Hippolytus, Apollo's sister Artemis says (lines 1437-1439, tr. E.P. Coleridge) to her acolyte Hippolytus, who is on the verge of death:
And now farewell! 'tis not for me to gaze upon the dead, or pollute my sight with death-scenes, and e'en now I see thee nigh that evil.
Aelian (fragment 11 Hercher), quoted in the Suda, s.v. Philemon (tr. William Hutton), tells a similar tale:
"Philemon, who was living in Piraieus, had a dream in which nine girls came out of his house, and he dreamt that he asked them for what purpose they were leaving him; and he thought he heard them saying that they were going outdoors, since it was not right for them to hear. At this point the dream came to an end, and he, when he woke up, explained to his slave what he had seen and what he had heard and what he had said. But then he wrote the rest of the play which he happened to be conducting during the present crisis. When he was done with that task he lay down in peace and then began to snore lightly. Those who were in the house thought that he was sleeping; but when this went on for a long time, they pulled his covers back and saw that he was dead. Therefore, Epicurus, it was the nine Muses who visited Philemon, and when he was about to go on his fated and final journey, they departed. For it is not at all proper for gods to see people who are still corpses, even if they are extremely beloved, nor to stain their vision with mortal expirations. But you, you fool, say that they do not pay attention to us." So says Aelian in his On Providence.
Not only did gods depart from the dying, but the dying were supposed to stay away from the precincts of the gods. According to Thucydides (3.104.2, tr. Benjamin Jowett), the Athenians purified Delos (the island on which Apollo and Artemis were born) as follows:
The Athenians took away all the coffins of the dead which were in Delos, and passed a decree that henceforward no one should die or give birth to a child there, but that the inhabitants when they were near the time of either should be carried across to Rhenea.
Pausanias (2.27.1, tr. W.H.S. Jones), connects the prohibition at Delos with a similar one at Epidaurus:
The sacred grove of Asclepius is surrounded on all sides by boundary marks. No death or birth takes place within the enclosure; the same custom prevails also in the island of Delos.
Only in times of great devastation, like the plague in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, was the rule violated. Thucydides (2.52.3, tr. Jowett) wrote:
The temples in which they lodged were full of the corpses of those who died in them; for the violence of the calamity was such that men, not knowing where to turn, grew reckless of all law, human and divine.
The Man-God, Jesus Christ, did not shun contact with the dead. Last Sunday's gospel (John 11) told the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. He did the same for widow of Nain's son (Luke 7.11-17) and Jairus' daughter (Matthew 19.18-19, 23-25; Mark 5:22-23, 35-43; Luke 8.41-42, 49-56).

Note: All the classical references come from W.S. Barrett's commentary on Euripides' Hippolytus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964).


St. Patrick's Day

Dave Haxton at MacRaven has an unusual perspective on yesterday's feast of St. Patrick.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Learning Greek

Andrew Lang, Homer and the Study of Greek, from Essays in Little:
I venture very humbly to think that any one who, even at the age of Cato, wants to learn Greek, should begin where Greek literature, where all profane literature begins -- with Homer himself. It was thus, not with grammars in vacuo, that the great scholars of the Renaissance began. It was thus that Ascham and Rabelais began, by jumping into Greek and splashing about till they learned to swim. First, of course, a person must learn the Greek characters. Then his or her tutor may make him read a dozen lines of Homer, marking the cadence, the surge and thunder of the hexameters -- a music which, like that of the Sirens, few can hear without being lured to the seas and isles of song. Then the tutor might translate a passage of moving interest, like Priam's appeal to Achilles; first, of course, explaining the situation. Then the teacher might go over some lines, minutely pointing out how the Greek words are etymologically connected with many words in English. Next, he might take a substantive and a verb, showing roughly how their inflections arose and were developed, and how they retain forms in Homer which do not occur in later Greek. There is no reason why even this part of the lesson should be uninteresting. By this time a pupil would know, more or less, where he was, what Greek is, and what the Homeric poems are like. He might thus believe from the first that there are good reasons for knowing Greek; that it is the key to many worlds of life, of action, of beauty, of contemplation, of knowledge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Cherish It

Dudley Barker, G.K. Chesterton (New York: Stein and Day, 1975), pp. 198-199:
An earnest young man at the back of the hall objected to any assertion that could not be supported by scientific proof. 'You know you exist?' asked Chesterton. The young man, evidently of a solipsist turn, replied, 'No. I should say that I have an intuition that I exist.' Chesterton rose with his high-pitched chuckle. 'Cherish it,' he advised. 'Cherish it.'



C.S. Lewis, last two sentences of his Cambridge inaugural lecture De Descriptione Temporum (1954):
Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


The Ides of March

John Masefield, The Rider at the Gate:
A windy night was blowing on Rome,
The cressets guttered on Caesar's home,
The fish-boats, moored at the bridge, were breaking
The rush of the river to yellow foam.

The hinges whined to the shutters shaking,
When clip-clop-clep came a horse-hoof raking
The stones of the road at Caesar's gate;
The spear-butts jarred at the guard's awaking.

'Who goes there?' said the guard at the gate.
'What is the news, that you ride so late?'
'News most pressing, that must be spoken
To Caesar alone, and that cannot wait.'

'The Caesar sleeps; you must show a token
That the news suffice that he be awoken.
What is the news, and whence do you come?
For no light cause may his sleep be broken.'

'Out of the dark of the sands I come,
From the dark of death, with news for Rome.
A word so fell that it must be uttered
Though it strike the soul of the Caesar dumb.'

Caesar turned in his bed and muttered,
With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered;
Calpurnia heard her husband moan:
'The house is falling,
The beaten men come into their own.'

'Speak your word,' said the guard at the gate;
'Yes, but bear it to Caesar straight,
Say, "Your murderers' knives are honing,
Your killers' gang is lying in wait."

'Out of the wind that is blowing and moaning,
Through the city palace and the country loaning,
I cry, "For the world's sake, Caesar, beware,
And take this warning as my atoning.

'"Beware of the Court, of the palace stair,
Of the downcast friend who speaks so fair,
Keep from the Senate, for Death is going
On many men's feet to meet you there."

'I, who am dead, have ways of knowing
Of the crop of death that the quick are sowing.
I, who was Pompey, cry it aloud
From the dark of death, from the wind blowing.

'I, who was Pompey, once was proud,
Now I lie in the sand without a shroud;
I cry to Caesar out of my pain,
"Caesar beware, your death is vowed."'

The light grew grey on the window-pane,
The windcocks swung in a burst of rain,
The window of Caesar flung unshuttered,
The horse-hoofs died into wind again.

Caesar turned in his bed and muttered,
With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered;
Calpurnia heard her husband moan:
'The house is falling,
The beaten men come into their own.'

Monday, March 14, 2005


For Those Who Died in Battle

An inscription quoted by Demosthenes, On the Crown 289 (tr. J.D. Edmonds):
Far from their country these drew sword and put to rout the pride of the foe; aye, standing their trial for valour or cowardice, hoarded not their lives but made Death their impartial umpire, that the Greeks might not wear the yoke of slavery and have hated tyranny on either hand.
Simonides of Ceos, fragment 9 (tr. J. W. Mackail):
These men having set a crown of imperishable glory on their own land were folded in the dark cloud of death; yet being dead they have not died, since from on high their excellence raises them gloriously out of the house of Hades.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Blogger Problems

AnalPhilosopher has given up on Blogger, and now Maverick Philosopher threatens to do likewise. I too have encountered several problems with Blogger over the past few days. I'm not giving up yet, mostly because a few people link to my blog, and I'm afraid they might neglect to update their links.

It's my experience that Blogger sometimes doesn't really eat posts, although it may seem to. On occasion it keeps unpublished posts in its database, and you can eventually "edit" the posts and re-publish them. It's a pain, though, I admit. Having seen software from the inside, I don't trust its reliability, and I'm not convinced that software you pay for is necessarily better than software that's free. Here are a few things I do to guard against Blogger's flakiness:
  1. I compose posts offline, then copy and paste them into Blogger.
  2. I keep originals of my posts.
  3. At the beginning of every month, I save the archive for the previous month.

Update: Bill Keezer also reports Blogger problems.


Cure for Misanthropy and Melancholy

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 5 (Solitude):
Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still. There was never yet such a storm but it was Aeolian music to a healthy and innocent ear. Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.


Homeric Unity

In the octave of his sonnet on Homeric Unity, Andrew Lang (1844-1912) describes the archaeological excavations of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) at Troy (also known as Ilion) and Mycenae. In the sestet of the sonnet, those who strive to rend Homer's songs are the scholars of the analyst school.

The analysts regarded the poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, as a patchwork of traditional lays stitched together probably in the sixth century B.C., during the reign of the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus (the so-called Pisistratean recension). Opposed to the analysts were the unitarians, who thought that the poems were the product of a single poetic genius. E.R. Dodds neatly summarized the analyst and unitarian positions when he said, "It is now more than thirty years since the old logical game of discovering inconsistencies in Homer was replaced by the new and equally enjoyable aesthetic game of explaining them away." For a history of the scholarly controversy, see the introduction (by Adam Perry) to The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. x-xix.

In his sonnet, Lang says that, although the archaeologists may have disturbed the bones of the Homeric heroes, the magnificent unity of the Homeric poems stands firm despite the theories of the analysts.

Here is the sonnet:
The sacred keep of Ilion is rent
By shaft and pit; foiled waters wander slow
Through plains where Simois and Scamander went
To war with Gods and heroes long ago.
Not yet to tired Cassandra, lying low
In rich Mycenae, do the Fates relent:
The bones of Agamemnon are a show,
And ruined is his royal monument.

The dust and awful treasures of the Dead,
Hath Learning scattered wide, but vainly thee,
Homer, she meteth with her tool of lead,
And strives to rend thy songs; too blind to see
The crown that burns on thine immortal head
Of indivisible supremacy!

Saturday, March 12, 2005



I don't think any of the five or six people who read this blog live nearby, but just in case... I sing in an early music group, and we're performing a concert of the music of Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) tomorrow night, March 13, 7 PM, at St. Luke's, on the northeast corner of Lexington and Summit Avenues, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.



Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop Emeritus of Manila, Philippines

Carol Christ, "Ph.D., a pioneer and founding mother of the Goddess, women's spirituality, and feminist theology movements, directs Ariadne Institute"

An update from Angelo Mercado, who writes:
And we called the Cardinal's residence ... "The House of Sin".

In native pronunciation, it's actually closer to "seen", but the homonymy and near-homophony were not lost on us.


Homer and Vergil

Andrew Lang, On Virgil, from Letters on Literature:
Homer sang of what he knew, of spears and ships, of heroic chiefs and beggar men, of hunts and sieges, of mountains where the lion roamed, and of fairy isles where a goddess walked alone. He lived on the marches of the land of fable, when half the Mediterranean was a sea unsailed, when even Italy was as dimly descried as the City of the Sun in Elizabeth's reign. Of all that he knew he sang, but Virgil could only follow and imitate, with a pale antiquarian interest, the things that were alive for Homer. What could Virgil care for a tussle between two stout men-at-arms, for the clash of contending war-chariots, driven each on each, like wave against wave in the sea? All that tide had passed over, all the story of the "Aeneid" is mere borrowed antiquity, like the Middle Ages of Sir Walter Scott; but the borrower had none of Scott's joy in the noise and motion of war, none of the Homeric "delight in battle."


Dalrymple Watch

All of these essays appear under Theodore Dalrymple's real name, Anthony Daniels:

Friday, March 11, 2005



Here are a couple of recent news stories about boneheads who want to scrap tradition.

New Mexico Republican state senator Joseph Carraro wants to change the state's motto from "Crescit eundo" ("It increases as it goes on") to "Antiqua Suspice, Crastina Accipe" ("Respect the Past, Embrace the Future"). "Crescit eundo" has appeared on the seal of New Mexico ever since 1851, when it was still a territory and not yet a state.

"Crescit eundo" comes from the description of the thunderbolt in Lucretius 6.340-342 (tr. H.A.J. Munro):
Then too as it advances with a long-continued moving power, it must again and again receive new velocity which ever increases as it goes on and augments its powerful might and gives vigour to its stroke.

denique quod longo venit impete, sumere debet
mobilitatem etiam atque etiam, quae crescit eundo
et validas auget viris et roborat ictum.
Also on New Mexico's state seal, above the motto, is an eagle with thunderbolts in its talons. The eagle was the bird of Zeus (aka Jupiter), king of the gods, whose weapon was the thunderbolt.

Describing the constellation Aquila, or the Eagle, Manilius (1.343-345, tr. G.P. Goold) says:
Then soars to the heights the bird of mighty Jupiter as though in its flight it carried the thunderbolts of heaven, its wonted weapons; it is a bird worthy of Jupiter and the sky, which it furnishes with awful armaments.

tum magni Iovis ales fertur in altum,
assueto volitans gestet ceu fulmina mundo,
digna Iove et caelo, quod sacris instruit armis.

Two Catholic priests of St. Mary's Church, Brisbane, Australia, performed thousands of baptisms in the name of the "Creator, Liberator and Sustainer." Now their Archbishop, John Bathersby, has ordered them to start using the prescribed words "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" instead.

I wanted to publish the names of the priests, but there are several St. Mary's in the archdiocese, and I don't know which one is unfortunate enough to have the New Age priests.

It takes a colossal dose of arrogance to think that you can improve on a state motto in use for a century and a half, or a baptismal formula in use for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The New Mexican legislator and the Australian priests have no decent respect for tradition. They are barbarians.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Latin at the Beeb

Rogueclassicism linked to a list of Handy Latin Phrases on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) web site. This list (which also appears elsewhere on the World Wide Web) contains some amusing and clever phrases, but it needs to be used with extreme caution. It's riddled with errors from beginning to end.

Beginning -- "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur. Or 'Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.'" It should be videtur, not viditur. I'm also suspicious of the subjunctive dictum sit, since Bradley-Arnold, Latin Prose Composition, § 364, says:
Quicumque, quisquis, 'whoever,' are indefinite relatives, and as such introduce clauses whose verb is indicative, unless there is some particular reason for the subjunctive.
I just don't see any particular reason here. To quote another phrase on the list: Abutebaris modo subjunctivo. (You've been misusing the subjunctive.)

End -- "Some of these phrases can be found in the excellent work Latin for Everyday Occasions: Lingua Latina Omnibus by Henry Beard." The subtitle of Beard's book is not Lingua Latina Omnibus, but Lingua Latina Occasionibus Omnibus.

The Latin for the television series Mission: Impossible is given as Opus: quod fiere non potest. Change fiere to fieri.

Don't let the bastards grind you down is rendered in Latin as Non illigitamus carborundum. Presumably this should be illegitimis, not illigitamus, although I've never understood this hokey, made-up phrase. There is a Latin verb for grind, and it's not carboro. It's molo.

There are several more howlers, but fixing this list is like cleaning the Augean stables, and I'll stop here. If I taught Latin, I'd give the list to my students at the beginning of the semester, and award extra credit for every mistake found.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005



Google reveals a fair number of hits for ephemoral, and I saw this mistake even in so careful a writer as Hal Borland, Hill Country Harvest (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1967), p. 365:
But there is something about the delicacy of a snowflake, the fineness of filigree beyond the craft of the best human artisan, that catches and holds my wonder. Besides, a snowflake is both fragile and ephemoral. If I so much as put my finger on it, it begins to vanish. One breath from my warm lungs can turn this incredibly intricate crystal into a prosaic droplet of water.
I'd give Borland the benefit of the doubt and wager it was just a typographical error, but ephemoral seems to be a not uncommon mistake for ephemeral.

Knowledge of the etymology of a word is sometimes, though not always, a guide to its correct spelling. In the case of ephemeral, it is. The word comes from the Greek preposition epi (with many meanings, one of which is for) and the noun hemera (day). Something that is ephemeral lasts for a day, or a short time.


The Rich and Royal Man

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1850):
He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.


Blind from Birth

The gospel for last Sunday (Laetare Sunday) was from John, chapter 9, which starts thus:
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Some argued that sin was possible even before birth, e.g. Sanhedrin 91a (tr. H. Freedman):
Antoninus also enquired of Rabbi, 'From what time does the Evil Tempter hold sway over man; from the formation [of the embryo], or from [its] issuing forth [into the light of the world]? — 'From the formation,' he replied. 'If so,' he objected, 'it would rebel in its mother's womb and go forth. But it is from when it issues.' Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is said, At the door [i.e.,where the babe emerges] sin lieth in wait.
The reference is to Genesis 4.7 (sin lieth at the door).

Exodus 20.5 is the locus classicus for the idea that a parent's sin could cause sickness or deformity in a child:
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.5.15 (tr. H. Rackham), rejected the idea that a man born blind was guilty:
Nobody would reproach, but rather pity, a person blind from birth, or owing to disease or accident, yet all would blame one who had lost his sight from tippling or debauchery.
Jesus pitied the man who was blind from birth, and healed him.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005



I don't know if this qualifies as an eggcorn or not, but I encountered a curious error in Martin L. Swaden and Linda A. Olup, Family Law, Second Edition (Saint Paul: West Group, 2000 = Minnesota Practice, Volume 14), p. 666, § 18.12 (Blood or Genetic Tests -- In General):
[T]he most recent procedure is a buckle swab, where the alleged father's cheek is swabbed for DNA.
Buckle should of course be buccal. The Latin word for cheek is bucca. It means the cheek as puffed out when speaking or eating, as opposed to gena, which is the surface of the cheek, down which tears flow, on which facial hair grows, etc. From Latin bucca come Romance language words for mouth, French bouche, Spanish and Portuguese boca, and Italian bocca.

Google has a few hits for buckle swab, so this is not an anomalous error. My friend Dennis Mangan tells me that buccal is customarily pronounced just like buckle.

Monday, March 07, 2005



Paul Harvey, ed. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (1937; rpt. 1969), s.v. Palladium:
In Greek and Roman belief, an image of immemorial antiquity on which the safety of a city was thought to depend. It was said to be the image of Pallas, whom the Greeks identified with Athene and the Romans with Minerva, and to have fallen from heaven in answer to the prayer of Ilus the founder of Troy. Since Troy could not be captured while it contained this image, Diomedes and Odysseus (or Diomedes alone) carried it off. According to various versions, it found its way to Athens, or Argos, or Sparta, or Rome. To this last city it was either brought by Aeneas (Diomedes having only succeeded in stealing an imitation) or surrendered by Diomedes. It was kept there in the temple of Vesta.
Matthew Arnold, Palladium:
Set where the upper streams of Simois flow
Was the Palladium, high 'mid rock and wood;
And Hector was in Ilium, far below,
And fought, and saw it not - but there it stood!

It stood, and sun and moonshine rain'd their light
On the pure columns of its glen-built hall.
Backward and forward roll'd the waves of fight
Round Troy - but while this stood, Troy could not fall.

So, in its lovely moonlight, lives the soul.
Mountains surround it, and sweet virgin air;
Cold plashing, past it, crystal waters roll;
We visit it by moments, ah, too rare!

We shall renew the battle in the plain
To-morrow; - red with blood will Xanthus be;
Hector and Ajax will be there again,
Helen will come upon the wall to see.

Then we shall rust in shade, or shine in strife,
And fluctuate 'twixt blind hopes and blind despairs,
And fancy that we put forth all our life,
And never know how with the soul it fares.

Still doth the soul, from its lone fastness high,
Upon our life a ruling effluence send.
And when it fails, fight as we will, we die;
And while it lasts, we cannot wholly end.


Stupidity and Lunacy

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), chapter 28:
One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain't nothing can beat teamwork.
Edward Abbey, Down the River (1982), chapter 6:
But for real lunacy on the grand scale you need a committee (better yet, an institution), staffed with hundreds and thousands of well-trained technicians, economists, intellectuals, engineers, and administrators.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


The Sword of Damocles

Some see a reference to the sword of Damocles in these lines of Horace (Odes 3.1.17-21, tr. John Conington):
When guilty Pomp the drawn sword sees
  Hung o'er her, richest feasts in vain
Strain their sweet juice her taste to please;
  No lutes, no singing birds again
Will bring her sleep.

destrictus ensis cui super impia
cervice pendet, non Siculae dapes
dulcem elaboratum saporem,
non avium citharaeque cantus
somnum reducent.
Conington's translation obscures the fact that the feasts are Sicilian (Siculae dapes). Sicily was the homeland of the tyrant Dionysius (430-367 B.C.) and his courtier Damocles.

Cicero (Tusculan Disputations 5.21.61-62, tr. C.D. Yonge) is the chief source for the story of Dionysius and Damocles:
For once, when Damocles, one of his flatterers, was dilating in conversation on his forces, his wealth, the greatness of his power, the plenty he enjoyed, the grandeur of his royal palaces, and maintaining that no one was ever happier, "Have you an inclination," said he, "Damocles, as this kind of life pleases you, to have a taste of it yourself, and to make a trial of the good fortune that attends me?"

And when he said that he should like it extremely, Dionysius ordered him to be laid on a bed of gold with the most beautiful covering, embroidered and wrought with the most exquisite work, and he dressed out a great many sideboards with silver and embossed gold. He then ordered some youths, distinguished for their handsome persons, to wait at his table, and to observe his nod, in order to serve him with what he wanted.

There were ointments and garlands; perfumes were burned; tables provided with the most exquisite meats. Damocles thought himself very happy. In the midst of this apparatus, Dionysius ordered a bright sword to be let down from the ceiling, suspended by a single horse-hair, so as to hang over the head of that happy man.

After which he neither cast his eye on those handsome waiters, nor on the well-wrought plate; nor touched any of the provisions: presently the garlands fell to pieces. At last he entreated the tyrant to give him leave to go, for that now he had no desire to be happy. Does not Dionysius, then, seem to have declared there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions?
In Richard Westall's 1812 painting The Sword of Damocles, the "handsome waiters" are replaced by waitresses.

The story also appears in Sidonius, Letters 2.13.6-8 (tr. O.M. Dalton):
History tells us that Damocles was a Sicilian of Syracuse, and an acquaintance of the tyrant Dionysius. One day, when he was extolling to the skies the privileges of his patron's life without any comprehension of its drawbacks, Dionysius said to him: "Would you like to see for yourself, at this very board, what the blessings and the curses of royalty are like?" "I should think I would," replied the other.

Instantly the dazzled and delighted creature was stripped of his commoner's garb and made resplendent with robes of Tyrian and Tarentine dye; they set him on a gold couch with coverings of silk, a figure glittering with gems and pearls.

But just as a Sardanapalian feast was about to begin, and bread of fine Leontine wheat was handed round; just as rare viands were brought in on plate of yet greater rarity; just as the Falernian foamed in great gem-like cups and unguents tempered the ice-cold crystal; just as the whole room breathed cinnamon and frankincense and exotic perfumes floated to every nostril; just as the garlands were drying on heads drenched with nard, -- behold a bare sword, swinging from the ceiling right over his purple-mantled shoulders, as if every instant it must fall and pierce his throat.

The menace of that heavy blade on that horsehair thread curbed his greed and made him reflect on Tantalus; the awful thought oppressed him that all he swallowed might be rendered through gaping wounds.

He wept, he prayed, he sighed in every key; and when at last he was let go, he was off like a flash, flying the wealth and the delights of kings as fast as most men follow after them. A horror of high estate brought him back with longing to the mean, nicely cautioned never again to think or call the mortal happy who lives ringed round with army and guards, or broods heavy over his spoils while the steel presses no less heavily upon him than he himself upon his gold.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Anonymity and Pseudonymity

Keith Burgess-Jackson hates "blogospheric cowards" and imposes the following punishments on them:
  1. He refuses to read their blogs until they reveal their identity.
  2. He refuses to read email unless the name of the sender appears.
  3. He refuses to link to or otherwise support anonymous blogs.
Presumably, for the sake of consistency, he also refuses to read anonymous or pseudonymous books.

It's cheap and easy for a tenured professor to insist that everyone else be as outspoken and forthright as he is. Burgess-Jackson can say practically anything he likes without fear of retaliation, due to his privileged position in the groves of academe. In this respect he's no different from his nemesis Bush-hatin' Paul Krugman, or Ward Churchill. Their jobs and livelihoods are protected in a way that those of ordinary mortals are not.

More than one blogger has lost his job because of his blogging. Most people constantly have to bite their tongues and keep their mouths shut, especially at work. If they look cross-eyed at their employers, they're apt to get fired. What about bloggers who live under repressive political regimes, like those in Iran? For the privilege of appearing on Keith Burgess-Jackson's blogroll, I guess they should reveal their identities and risk their lives.

It's easy for those ensconced in their ivory towers to pontificate about what the rest of us should do or say, and how we should do or say it.

Read what the Electronic Frontier Foundation has to say about the need for anonymity.


Progress or Regress?

Homer, Odyssey 2.276-277 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
For few are the children who turn out to be the equals of their fathers, and the greater number are worse; few are better than their father is.
Euripides, Children of Heracles 327-328 (tr. David Kovacs):
Only one man out of a great multitude can be found who is not inferior to his father.
Horace, Odes 3.6.45-48 (tr. John Conington):
What has not cankering Time made worse?
  Viler than grandsires, sires beget
Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse
  The world with offspring baser yet.

damnosa quid non inminuit dies?
aetas parentum, peior avis, tulit
nos nequiores, mox daturos
progeniem vitiosiorem.
My children are exceptions to this rule; I am not.


Bierce Nods

In the Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce we find the following entry:
R.I.P. A careless abbreviation of requiescat in pace, attesting an indolent goodwill to the dead. According to the learned Dr. Drigge, however, the letters originally meant nothing more than reductus in pulvis.
The fictitious Dr. Drigge was not learned in Latin grammar. This should be "reductus in pulverem," not "reductus in pulvis." The phrase means "reduced to dust, or ashes." Pulvis is nominative and cannot be the object of a preposition. All of the oblique cases show the stem "pulver," whence English "pulverize."



Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) is the tale of four nature lovers who destroy billboards, bridges, bulldozers, etc., in an effort to preserve wilderness areas from the depredations of mankind. One of the four is Vietnam vet George Washington Hayduke. I don't know where Abbey got the names of his characters, and perhaps it's just a coincidence, but the Romanian word for outlaw is haiduc.

I learned the word from the Romanian pop song "Dragostea Din Tei," by O-Zone, as lip-synced by the inimitable Gary Brolsma.

Update: Maybe Hayduke was based on a real person. Edward Abbey, Down the River (1982), p. 226, mentions "a Green Beret named Douglas Heiduk."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Manilius and Seneca

Manilius 4.86-88 (tr. G.P. Goold):
Not every age has produced men like the Decii and Camillus, or a Cato with a spirit unconquered in defeat: more than enough material exists to accomplish such an end, but resists through fate's decree.

quod Decios non omne tulit, non omne Camillos
tempus et invicta devictum mente Catonem,
materies in rem superat sed lege repugnat.
This recalls Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 97.10:
Every age will produce men like Clodius, not every age will produce men like Cato.

omne tempus Clodios, non omne Catones feret.
I once pointed this parallel out to Goold in a letter and enclosed an article I had written on a crux in Plautus. He replied with a courteous and encouraging letter, showing far more courtesy and encouragement than I had ever received from certain graduate school faculty members when I was a student. Goold was a gentleman as well as a scholar. Not every age produces men like G.P. Goold.

Update. Cf. Plutarch, Life of Cato 19.5 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert):
On the other hand, we should recognize that no man ever did more to heap praises upon himself. Cato tells us for example that when men were reproved for misconduct of one kind or another, they would say: 'It is not fair to blame us; we are not all Catos.'


Created Equal

Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast (1840), chapter 5 (Cape Horn):
One would say that, instead of a tendency to equality in human beings, the tendency is to make the most of inequalities, natural or artificial.


Definition of Blog

Michael Gorman:
A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web. (Though it sounds like something you would find stuck in a drain, the ugly neologism blog is a contraction of "web log.")

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Latin Prose Composition

If you're interested in Latin prose composition, check out Higinio García's Notae ad linguam Francogallicam in Latinam recentem vertendam. You'll need to translate your English word or phrase into French before you can find a Latin equivalent, but it's still an excellent resource.


Homer of the Insects

Chapter 6 of Joseph Wood Krutch, The Great Chain of Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), bears the title The Barbarian Mammal and the subtitle Homeric Heroes. In that chapter (pp. 99-100) Krutch said:
Someone once bestowed upon Henri Fabre the title "Insects' Homer," and for all its inappropriateness it stuck. Actually, insects are not susceptible of Homeric treatment. Their lives are too complicated, too narrow, too fixed by convention and too often very unseemly. What they require, and what in Fabre they got, was less a Homer than a Zola, an Ibsen, or even a Strindberg.
One of Krutch's other books was a biography of Thoreau. To Thoreau, insects were indeed susceptible of Homeric treatment. In his account of the battle between the red ants and the black ants (Walden, chapter 12), Thoreau wrote:
In the meanwhile there came along a single red ant on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of excitement, who either had despatched his foe, or had not yet taken part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had lost none of his limbs; whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished his wrath apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus.
"Complicated, narrow, fixed by convention, and often very unseemly" -- that's not a bad description of the lives of Homeric heroes.

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