Saturday, April 30, 2005


Learning Latin and Greek

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Autobiography:
And my father, though he would try, as it were by a side wind, to get a useful spurt of work out of me, either in the garden or in the hay-field, had constantly an eye to my scholastic improvement. From my very babyhood, before those first days at Harrow, I had to take my place alongside of him as he shaved at six o'clock in the morning, and say my early rules from the Latin Grammar, or repeat the Greek alphabet; and was obliged at these early lessons to hold my head inclined towards him, so that in the event of guilty fault, he might be able to pull my hair without stopping his razor or dropping his shaving-brush. No father was ever more anxious for the education of his children, though I think none ever knew less how to go about the work.


When I left Harrow I was all but nineteen, and I had at first gone there at seven. During the whole of those twelve years no attempt had been made to teach me anything but Latin and Greek, and very little attempt to teach me those languages. I do not remember any lessons either in writing or arithmetic. French and German I certainly was not taught. The assertion will scarcely be credited, but I do assert that I have no recollection of other tuition except that in the dead languages.


And yet when I think how little I knew of Latin or Greek on leaving Harrow at nineteen, I am astonished at the possibility of such waste of time. I am now a fair Latin scholar, -- that is to say, I read and enjoy the Latin classics, and could probably make myself understood in Latin prose. But the knowledge which I have, I have acquired since I left school, -- no doubt aided much by that groundwork of the language which will in the process of years make its way slowly, even through the skin.

Friday, April 29, 2005


The Number of the Beast

Edward Cook comments on the variant 616 (instead of 666) at Revelation 13:18. Elsewhere I have written at length on the number of the beast, including this variant. I follow Martin Gardner in concluding that the beast of Revelation is former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. :-)


Ancient Oaths

Here is a translation of the Hippocratic Oath by Heinrich Von Staden, from "In a Pure and Holy Way: Personal and Professional Conduct in the Hippocratic Oath," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 51 (1996) 406-408:
1. i. I swear
ii. by Apollo the Physician and by Health and Panacea and by all the gods as well as goddesses, making them judges [witnesses],
iii. to bring the following oath and written covenant to fulfillment, in accordance with my power and my judgment;
2. i. to regard him who has taught me this techne as equal to my parents, and
ii. to share, in partnership, my livelihood with him and to give him a share when he is in need of necessities, and
iii. to judge the offspring [coming] from him equal to [my] male siblings, and
iv. to teach them this techne, should they desire to learn [it], without fee and written covenant, and to give a share both of rules and of lectures, and of all the rest of learning, to my sons and to the [sons] of him who has taught me and to the pupils who have both made a written contract and sworn by a medical convention but by no other.
3. i. And I will use regimens for the benefit of the ill in accordance with my ability and my judgment, but from [what is] to their harm or injustice I will keep [them].
4. i. And I will not give a drug that is deadly to anyone if asked [for it],
ii. nor will I suggest the way to such a counsel. And likewise I will not give a woman a destructive pessary [a stone to induce abortion].
5. i. And in a pure and holy way
ii. I will guard my life and my techne.
6. i. I will not cut, and certainly not those suffering from stone, but I will cede [this] to men [who are] practitioners of this activity.
7. i. Into as many houses as I may enter, I will go for the benefit of the ill,
ii. while being far from all voluntary and destructive injustice, especially from sexual acts both upon women's bodies and upon men's, both of the free and of the slaves.
8. i. And about whatever I may see or hear in treatment, or even without treatment, in the life of human beings -- things that should not ever be blurted out outside --I will remain silent, holding such things to be unutterable [sacred, not to be divulged],
i. a. If I render this oath fulfilled, and if I do not blur and confound it [making it to no effect]
b. may it be [granted] to me to enjoy the benefits both of life and of techne.
c. being held in good repute among all human beings for time eternal.
ii. a. If, however, I transgress and perjure myself,
b. the opposite of these.
Let's consider not the content, but the form of this oath. It consists of three parts. First the physician calls upon certain gods to witness the oath (1), next he promises to do or refrain from doing certain acts (2-8), and finally he call down blessings (8.i) or curses (8.ii) upon himself, as a consequence of observing or violating the oath.

We see exactly the same form in an interesting passage from Euripides' Medea. Jason has jilted Medea in favor of the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth, and Creon has pronounced a sentence of exile upon Medea. When Aegeus, king of Athens, appears on the scene, Medea begs sanctuary from him, and Aegeus promises that she will find refuge in Athens. But Medea is not content with Aegeus' promise, and seeks to bind him by an oath (731-755, tr. E.P. Coleridge):
MEDEA It shall be even so; but wouldst thou pledge thy word to this, I should in all be well content with thee.

AEGEUS Surely thou dost trust me? or is there aught that troubles thee?

MEDEA Thee I trust; but Pelias' house and Creon are my foes. Wherefore, if thou art bound by an oath, thou wilt not give me up to them when they come to drag me from the land, but, having entered into a compact and sworn by heaven as well, thou wilt become my friend and disregard their overtures. Weak is any aid of mine, whilst they have wealth and a princely house.

AEGEUS Lady, thy words show much foresight, so if this is thy will, I do not refuse. For I shall feel secure and safe if I have some pretext to offer to thy foes, and thy case too the firmer stands. Now name thy gods.

MEDEA Swear by the plain of Earth, by Helios my father's sire, and, in one comprehensive oath, by all the race of gods.

AEGEUS What shall I swear to do, from what refrain? tell me that.

MEDEA Swear that thou wilt never of thyself expel me from thy land, nor, whilst life is thine, permit any other, one of my foes maybe, to hale me thence if so he will.

AEGEUS By Earth I swear, by the Sun-god's holy beam and by all the host of heaven that I will stand fast to the terms I hear thee make.

MEDEA 'Tis enough. If thou shouldst break this oath, what curse dost thou invoke upon thyself?

AEGEUS Whate'er betides the impious.
The form of the oath sworn by Aegeus, at Medea's prompting, parallels the form of the Hippocratic Oath. Aegeus swears by Earth, Sun, and all the other gods that he will grant sanctuary to Medea, and invokes a curse upon himself if does not keep his promise.

There is a scene in Sophocles' Women of Trachis that is very similar to the scene in Euripides' Medea. Heracles, near death and suffering horribly, wants his son Hyllus to build a pyre on Mount Oeta and place his body on it. Just as Medea prompted Aegeus to swear an oath in Euripides' play, so Heracles prompts his son to swear an oath in Sophocles' play (1179-1205, tr. R.C. Jebb):
HYLLUS Yea, father, -- though I fear the issue to which our talk hath brought me, -- I will do thy good pleasure.

HERACLES First of all, lay thy right hand in mine.

HYLLUS For what purpose dost thou insist upon his pledge?

HERACLES Give thy hand at once -- disobey me not!

HYLLUS Lo, there it is: thou shalt not be gainsaid.

HERACLES Now, swear by the head of Zeus my sire!

HYLLUS To do what deed? May this also be told?

HERACLES To perform for me the task that I shall enjoin.

HYLLUS I swear it, with Zeus for witness of the oath.

HERACLES And pray that, if thou break this oath, thou mayest suffer.

HYLLUS I shall not suffer, for I shall keep it: -- yet so I pray.

HERACLES Well, thou knowest the summit of Oeta, sacred to Zeus?

HYLLUS Ay; I have often stood at his altar on that height.

HERACLES Thither, then, thou must carry me up with thine own hands, aided by what friends thou wilt; thou shalt lop many a branch from the deep-rooted oak, and hew many a faggot also from the sturdy stock of the wild-olive; thou shalt lay my body thereupon, and kindle it with flaming pine-torch.

And let no tear of mourning be seen there; no, do this without lament and without weeping, if thou art indeed my son. But if thou do it not, even from the world below my curse and my wrath shall wait on thee for ever.

HYLLUS Alas, my father, what hast thou spoken? How hast thou dealt with me!

HERACLES I have spoken that which thou must perform; if thou wilt not, then get thee some other sire, and be called my son no more!
Here, too, we see the tripartite structure of the oath. The god in this case is Zeus, the action is to build a pyre and place Heracles on it, and the sanction is suffering.

The gods take seriously the violation of an oath. In Xenophon's Anabasis (2.5.5-7, tr. Carleton L. Brownson), Clearchus says:
For, first and chiefly, our oaths, sworn by the gods, stand in the way of our being enemies of one another; and the man who is conscious that he has disregarded such oaths, I for my part shall never account happy. For in war with the gods I know not either by what swiftness of foot or in what place of refuge he could make his escape, or into what darkness he could steal away, or how he could withdraw himself to a safe fortress. For all things in all places are subject to the gods, and all alike the gods hold in their control.
Similarly Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 79 (tr. J.O. Burtt), says:
For human beings have often been deceived. Many criminals evade them, escaping the dangers of the moment, yes, and even remaining unpunished for these crimes for the remainder of their lives. But the gods no one who broke his oath could deceive. No one would escape their vengeance. If the perjured man does not suffer himself, at least his children and all his family are overtaken by dire misfortune.
This passage from Lycurgus makes an important point. As Jon D. Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), p. 31, points out:
There is no evidence that lying, cheating, accepting bribes, giving false testimony, intentionally voting unjustly in a law case, and similar "wrongs" were thought in themselves to be of concern to the gods. But the Athenians loaded these wrongs, together with a host of others, with religious content when they made them the object of promissory oaths. When the individual had previously sworn not to do something, such as the taking of a bribe, if he then committed that act, he made himself liable not only to prosecution for the illegal act but also to divine punishment for breaking the oath. Divine punishment would befall him not because of the illegal act per se, but only because he had violated his promissory oath when he committed that act.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


The Graves of Academe

Before you go into hock sending your kid off to college, read this revealing essay by Katherine Ernst on some recent academic follies.

I borrowed the title of my post from the Underground Grammarian's book of the same name.


Pet Peeve

One of my many pet peeves is racino, the word and the thing. The word is apparently formed from the race- in racetrack plus the -ino in casino. An uglier sounding word would be hard to imagine. Whoever first uttered this abomination deserves glossectomy.

The Minnesota governor and legislature, instead of dealing with real problems, are squabbling over a proposed racino at the Mall of America (a place that gives me the creeps every time I set foot inside it). State spending outpaces state tax revenues, and the governor's bright idea to fix the problem is for the state and the Indian tribes to go into the gambling business together. Before he was elected, the governor was on record as opposing any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.

Back in my native land, the state of Maine, a landmark restaurant in Bangor, Miller's, is closing after 55 years in business. The owners are selling the space, for $3.8 million, to a racino. Rep. Patricia Blanchette, D-Bangor, gushed: "This is a big move for the city of Bangor, and it's a gigantic leap for the state of Maine." A gigantic leap into the maw of hell.



The more I watch the boob tube, the more convinced I am that Edward Abbey had it right in Desert Solitaire. The interlocutors in the following dialogue are a tourist and Abbey (working as a park ranger):
"Don't you have a TV?"
"TV? Listen lady...if I saw a TV out here I'd get out my cannon and shoot it like I would a mad dog, right in the eye."
"Goodness! Why do you say that?"
"What's the principle of the TV, madam?"
"Goodness, I don't know."
"The vacuum tube, madam. And do you know what happens if you stick your head in a vacuum tube?"
"If you stick your head..."
"I'll tell you: you get your brains sucked out."
Here are three (of a gazillion) things that especially irritate me on TV lately:Where's my cannon?



George Weigel:
I take it as an iron law of human personality that a man is known by his musical preferences; and Benedict XVI is a Mozart man, who knows that Mozart is what the angels play when they perform for the sheer joy of it.
Thanks to Dappled Things for the link.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Learning Spanish

Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, chap. XIII (Trading at Monterey):
I had never studied Spanish while at college, and could not speak a word, when at Juan Fernandez; but, during the latter part of the passage out, I borrowed a grammar and dictionary from the cabin, and by a continual use of these, and a careful attention to every word that I heard spoken, I soon got a vocabulary together and began talking for myself. As I soon knew more Spanish than any of the crew (who, indeed, knew none at all), and had been at college and knew Latin, I got the name of a great linguist, and was always sent for by the captain and officers for provisions, or to take letters and messages to different parts of the town. I was often sent to get something which I could not tell the name of to save my life; but I liked the business, and accordingly never pleaded ignorance. Sometimes I managed to jump below and take a look at my dictionary before going ashore; or else I overhauled some English resident on my way, and learned the word from him; and then, by signs, and by giving a Latin or French word a twist at the end, contrived to get along. This was a good exercise for me, and no doubt taught me more than I should have learned by months of study and reading; it also gave me opportunities of seeing the customs, characters, and domestic arrangements of the people; beside being a great relief from the monotony of a day spent on board ship.

Monday, April 25, 2005


The Blind Leading the Blind

W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, chap. VI:
In the afternoon Philip did his lessons. He was taught Latin and mathematics by his uncle who knew neither.
This is not uncommon. There are many who pretend to teach what they don't know.



Sauvage Noble ingeniously proposes to emend a fragment of Livius Andronicus with support from Homer, Odyssey 24.364. It's exciting to see scholarship like this in the blogosphere.

It's not the first emendation to be proposed in a blog, though. Last summer I tentatively suggested reading turpilucricupidum instead of turpis lucri cupidum in the Vulgate of Titus 1.7.


Alphabet Wars

Mayek versus Bengali script, yet another reason to despair about the future of the species misnamed Homo sapiens.


Fishers of Men

Matthew 4.19 (cf. Mark 1.17):
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
Plutarch, in his Life of Brutus (30, tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert), tells a curious story about an incident in which some men were literally caught like fish:
Next he captured their strongholds and villages, but released all his prisoners without ransom in the hope of winning the people over by moderation. But the Lycians were obstinate and chose to nurse their resentment at their injuries and to despise Brutus's humanity and kindness, until he forced the most warlike of them to take refuge in the city of Xanthus, and then besieged it.

The people tried to escape by swimming under the surface of the river which flowed past the city. But they were caught by nets which had been stretched across the channel and fastened to the bottom, while the tops had bells attached to them, which gave the alarm as soon as anyone became entangled.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


Soylent Green



Wiki Shmiki

From a description of Wiki:
Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.
It's not only exciting, but it can be humorous as well. Here are some quotations from a Wiki article on the ancient Roman historian Tacitus (snapshot taken April 24, 2005):
Tacitus' sympathy definetly goes out to a republican state, rather than to the arbitrariness of some emperors. He writes on emperors and men in power with as well as on on persons of less importants.


Agricola moves to the background and shall pass away in augustus 93, more or less forgoten.


When Domitianus on 18 september 96 is murdered by his nearest invirons, the about forthy years old Tacitus is seatted as consul suffectus for the year 97 – presumably still appointed by Domitianus - in the senate.


Tacitus has writen three minor works: De vita et moribus Iulii Agricola, a biography of his father-in-law, De origine et situ Germanorum, an ethnographic work on Germania and its inhabitants, and Dialogus de oratoribus, a phamphlet on elequonce under the principate.


Victories that are proclaimed by successive emperors, he concludes them as being historical unfundamented propaganda of these emperors.


The causes for this are according to him the education in general with the oratory in particular and the monarchal constitution that is good as polity an sich, but doesn't inspire the developement of grant and great grootse oratory.
I'll take the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica over this new-fangled Wiki gibberish any day.

David Meadows (via email) points to the Dutch original. Translation software is doubtless partly to blame, but "De vita et moribus Iulii Agricola [sic]" is neither Dutch nor Latin.


Speaking in Tongues

Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm (1950; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 553:
It is commonly the energumen's own impression that he is talking in a foreign language he has never learned, but capable of being interpreted, without further miracle, by a trained linguist. We have seen that the Chevalier Folard was credited, on slender grounds, with talking Slavonic. Mary Campbell announced that she was speaking in Turkish, or in the language of the Pelew Islands, and thought of going out to convert the heathen by this means. They took fewer risks than Mr. Lacy, the adherent of the French prophets, who discoursed at large in Latin, and is reproved by Nathaniel Spinckes for crediting the Holy Spirit with a large number of solecisms in that language, duly set out in a footnote.

It must be confessed, however, that the characteristic specimens of Irvingite glossolaly which have been preserved to us are beyond the reach of any lexicon. Such utterances as 'Hippo gerosto niparos boorastin farini O fastor sungor boorinos epoongos menati,' or 'Hey amei hassan alla do hoc alors loore has heo massan amor ho ti prov his aso me,' hardly bear out the claim that 'the languages are distinct, well-inflected, well-compacted languages.' The philology of another world does not abide our question, but if we are to judge these results by merely human standards, we must admit that a child prattles no less convincingly.

Saturday, April 23, 2005



Quotations by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

From an article in the Italian newspaper Libero, translated by Joy of Knitting:
The West does not love itself any more. Of its history is sees only what is disgraceful and destructive while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure.
From an Address to the Bishops of Chile (1988):
The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director.


Dalrymple Watch

New essays by Theodore Dalrymple:

Friday, April 22, 2005



Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), s.vv. when the Cocqcigrues come (p. 771):
In French legend the Cocqcigrues (kok-se-groo) are fantastic creatures unlike animals anybody has ever seen. Thus when the French say A la venece des Cocqcigrues ("at the coming of the Cocqcigrues") they mean "never." The same meaning is conveyed in English with When the Cocqcigrues come. The word is sometimes spelled Cocquecigrue.
The French never say A la venece des Cocqcigrues; they say A la venue des Cocqcigrues. There is no such word as venece in French.

Apparently Rabelais invented the expression (Gargantua and Pantagruel, chapter XLIX: à la venue des cocquecigrues).



There is an interesting post on wasps, termites, and turkeys at Pratie Place, which mentions the contribution of wasps to modern paper-making. Wasps are also vital to the cultivation of figs.

Webster's Dictionary (1913) defines caprification as "The practice of hanging, upon the cultivated fig tree, branches of the wild fig infested with minute hymenopterous insects." The word comes from caper (goat) and ficus (fig). It is said that only goats eat caprifigs (wild figs), whence the name. Members of the order Hymenoptera include fig wasps.

Scientists were slow to recognize the value of caprification. Gilbert Waldbauer, in What Good Are Bugs? Insects in the Web of Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 37, writes:
For centuries fig growers in the Old World knew that Smyrna figs need to be pollinated. They grew caprifigs, and when the female "fig" trees were ready for pollination, they hung in each tree a basket containing a few caprifigs, which produced enough wasps to pollinate the female inflorescences. But many botanists thought that this practice of "caprification" was useless, no more than a superstition of ignorant peasants. Condit reported that as late as 1898 a botanist "was ridiculed by scientists in Italy for his belief in the necessity for caprification." In 1887, Dr. Gustave Bisen was hooted down in Fresno, California, when he recommended the importation of caprifigs and fig wasps. But reason eventually prevailed, and by the beginning of the twentieth century caprifigs and the fig wasp had been introduced into California, and ever since large commercial crops of various varieties of the Smyrna fig have been grown there.
"Condit" is a reference to I.J. Condit, The Fig (Waltham: Chronica Botanica, 1947).

Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, discusses caprification in two passages. Neither he nor any other ancient writer understood pollination, first discovered in 1787 by Conrad Sprengel (Waldbauer, pp. 12-13). Pliny erroneously assumes that the wasps are produced by spontaneous generation, and makes various other mistakes.

Pliny, Natural History 15.21 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
The fig, the only one among all the pomes, hastens to maturity by the aid of a remarkable provision of Nature. The wild-fig, known by the name of "caprificus," never ripens itself, though it is able to impart to the others the principle of which it is thus destitute; for we occasionally find Nature making a transfer of what are primary causes, and being generated from decay.

To effect this purpose the wild fig-tree produces a kind of gnat. These insects, deprived of all sustenance from their parent tree, at the moment that it is hastening to rottenness and decay, wing their flight to others of kindred though cultivated kind. There feeding with avidity upon the fig, they penetrate it in numerous places, and by thus making their way to the inside, open the pores of the fruit. The moment they effect their entrance, the heat of the sun finds admission too, and through the inlets thus made the fecundating air is introduced. These insects speedily consume the milky juice that constitutes the chief support of the fruit in its infant state, a result which would otherwise be spontaneously effected by absorption: and hence it is that in the plantations of figs a wild fig is usually allowed to grow, being placed to the windward of the other trees in order that the breezes may bear from it upon them. Improving upon this discovery, branches of the wild fig are sometimes brought from a distance, and bundles tied together are placed upon the cultivated tree.

This method, however, is not necessary when the trees are growing on a thin soil, or on a site exposed to the north-east wind; for in these cases the figs will dry spontaneously, and the clefts which are made in the fruit effect the same ripening process which in other instances is brought about by the agency of these insects. Nor is it requisite to adopt this plan on spots which are liable to dust, such, for instance, as is generally the case with fig-trees planted by the side of much-frequented roads: the dust having the property of drying up the juices of the fig, and so absorbing the milky humours. There is this superiority, however, in an advantageous site over the methods of ripening by the agency of dust or by caprification, that the fruit is not so apt to fall; for the secretion of the juices being thus prevented, the fig is not so heavy as it would otherwise be, and the branches are less brittle.
Pliny, Natural History 17.43-44 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
As to caprification, the effect of that is to ripen the fruit. It is beyond all doubt that in caprification the green fruit gives birth to a kind of gnat; for when they have taken flight, there are no seeds to be found within the fruit: from this it would appear that the seeds have been transformed into these gnats. Indeed, these insects are so eager to take their flight, that they mostly leave behind them either a leg or a part of a wing on their departure. There is another species of gnat, too, that grows in the fig, which in its indolence and malignity strongly resembles the drone of the beehive, and shows itself a deadly enemy to the one that is of real utility; it is called centrina, and in killing the others it meets its own death.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Society and Nature

Henry David Thoreau, Natural History of Massachusetts:
In society you will not find health, but in nature. Unless our feet at least stood in the midst of nature, all our faces would be pale and livid. Society is always diseased, and the best is most so. There is no scent in it so wholesome as that of the pines, nor any fragrance so penetrating and restorative as the life-everlasting in high pastures.
Henry David Thoreau, Walking:
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil -- to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.


No Child Left Behind?

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (Counsels and Maxims, The Ages of Life, tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
A man's intellectual as well as his moral qualities proceed from the depths of his own nature, and are not the result of external influences; and no educational scheme -- of Pestalozzi, or of any one else -- can turn a born simpleton into a man of sense. The thing is impossible! He was born a simpleton, and a simpleton he will die.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Pope Benedict XVI

Anti-Catholicism has been called the anti-Semitism of intellectuals and the last acceptable prejudice. Here is an especially virulent and crude example from the academy.


Where Does Sausage Come From?

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), s.v. sausage (p. 638):
Sausage comes ultimately from the Latin word salus, meaning salted or preserved.
Wrong. It comes from Latin salsus. Salus means health, salvation, safety.



Can you solve this riddle by Jonathan Swift?
Because I am by nature blind,
I wisely choose to walk behind;
However, to avoid disgrace,
I let no creature see my face.
My words are few, but spoke with sense;
And yet my speaking gives offence:
Or, if to whisper I presume,
The company will fly the room.
By all the world I am opprest:
And my oppression gives them rest.

Through me, though sore against my will,
Instructors every art instil.
By thousands I am sold and bought,
Who neither get nor lose a groat;
For none, alas! by me can gain,
But those who give me greatest pain.
Shall man presume to be my master,
Who's but my caterer and taster?
Yet, though I always have my will,
I'm but a mere depender still:
An humble hanger-on at best;
Of whom all people make a jest.

In me detractors seek to find
Two vices of a different kind;
I'm too profuse, some censurers cry,
And all I get, I let it fly;
While others give me many a curse,
Because too close I hold my purse.
But this I know, in either case,
They dare not charge me to my face.
'Tis true, indeed, sometimes I save,
Sometimes run out of all I have;
But, when the year is at an end,
Computing what I get and spend,
My goings-out, and comings-in,
I cannot find I lose or win;
And therefore all that know me say,
I justly keep the middle way.
I'm always by my betters led;
I last get up, and first a-bed;
Though, if I rise before my time,
The learn'd in sciences sublime
Consult the stars, and thence foretell
Good luck to those with whom I dwell.
The title of the poem is On The Posteriors, i.e. buttocks.

Note the pun in "My words are few, but spoke with sense," that is, with scents. "Through me, though sore against my will, / Instructors every art instil" refers to birching, and the "Two vices of a different kind" are diarrhea and constipation. But some parts of the poem are obscure to me, e.g. "By thousands I am sold and bought."

Monday, April 18, 2005



Here are some miscellaneous notes inspired by sightings in the blogosphere.

Sauvage Noble discusses the new species of slime-mold beetles named after Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, with an emphasis on the Latinity of the scientific nomenclature. I once suggested that a Latin equivalent of George Walker Bush might be Agricola Ambulator Arbuscula.

Sauvage Noble also unearths an interesting ancient equivalent of "when pigs fly" in the pages of Varro's De Lingua Latina (7.39). It's a fragment of Naevius, "atque prius pariet lucusta Lucam bovem," meaning "and locust will give birth to Lucan ox (i.e. elephant) before..."

Philologists call this rhetorical trope an adynaton (impossibility). Examples are ubiquitous in ancient Greek and Latin literature. Among the earliest are these:There's an entire book on the subject by E. Dutoit, La thème de l'adynaton dans la poésie antique (1936).

Dennis Mangan muses on the word philology. Without a qualifier it often means just classical philology. The American Philological Association consists only of Greek and Latin scholars, although you can find articles on other languages (Persian, Old English) in early volumes of its Transactions. Likewise the American Journal of Philology today confines itself mostly to Greek and Latin language and literature. Compare catholic (universal), which now usually means just Roman Catholic.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Pangur Ban

Here are three different translations of the same 9th century Irish poem about a scholar and his cat.

1. By Robin Flower:
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
2. By Frank O'Connor:
Each of us pursues his trade,
I and Pangur my comrade,
His whole fancy on the hunt,
And mine for learning ardent.

More than fame I love to be
Among my books and study;
Pangur does not grudge me it,
Content with his own merit.

When -- a heavenly time! -- we are
In our small room together,
Each of us has his own sport
And asks no greater comfort.

While he sets his round sharp eye
On the wall of my study,
I turn mine, though lost its edge,
On the great wall of knowledge.

Now a mouse drops in his net
After some mighty onset,
While into my bag I cram
Some difficult darksome problem.

When a mouse comes to the kill
Pangur exults, a marvel!
I have, when some secret's won,
My hour of exultation.

Though we work for days and years,
Neither the other hinders;
Each is competent and hence
Enjoys his skill in silence.

Master of the death of mice,
He keeps in daily practice,
I too, making dark things clear,
Am of my trade a master.
3. By Eavan Boland:
Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.

Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur's choice
Is child's play.

Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill,
Moving after hours alone
To the kill.

When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse, mine traps
Sudden insight.

On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,

And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.

So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade

He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night
Hunts mice; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


The Three R's

A.P. Herbert, Uncommon Law (1935; rpt. New York: International Polygonics, 1991), Rex v. Bloggs:
It may well be that our education authorities exaggerate the value of reading, writing, and arithmetic as aids to citizenship. In these days a person unable to read would be spared the experience of much that is vulgar, depressing, or injurious; a person unable to write will commit neither forgery nor free verse; and a person not well grounded in arithmetic will not engage in betting, speculation, the defalcation of accounts, or avaricious dreams of material wealth.
Herbert's fictitious cases of uncommon law originally appeared in Punch magazine.


Christianity in Europe

Brian M. Carney, The Cube and the Cathedral:
Practicing Christianity in Europe today enjoys a status not dissimilar to smoking marijuana or engaging in unorthodox sexual activities -- few people mind if you do so in private, but you are expected not to talk about it or ask others whether they do it too.

Friday, April 15, 2005


World Peace

Do your bit to promote world peace today. Caution: Not work-friendly.



Milton translated Horace, Ode 1.5, keeping the original meter:

What slender Youth bedew'd with liquid odours
Courts thee on Roses in some pleasant Cave,
    Pyrrha? For whom bindst thou
    In wreaths thy golden Hair,

Plain in thy neatness? O how oft shall he
On Faith and changèd Gods complain: and Seas
    Rough with black winds and storms
    Unwonted shall admire:

Who now enjoyes thee credulous, all Gold,
Who alwayes vacant, alwayes amiable
    Hopes thee, of flattering gales
    Unmindfull. Hapless they

To whom thou untry'd seem'st fair. Me in my vow'd
Picture the sacred wall declares t' have hung
    My dank and dropping weeds
    To the stern God of Sea.

Here is the Latin original:

Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
    grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
    cui flavam religas comam,

simplex munditiis? Heu quotiens fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
    nigris aequora ventis
    emirabitur insolens,

qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
    sperat, nescius aurae
    fallacis. Miseri, quibus

intemptata nites. Me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
    suspendisse potenti
    vestimenta maris deo.

Here's another version, this one by John Conington (1825-1869):

What slender youth, besprinkled with perfume,
Courts you on roses in some grotto's shade?
    Fair Pyrrha, say, for whom
    Your yellow hair you braid,

So trim, so simple! Ah! how oft shall he
Lament that faith can fail, that gods can change,
    Viewing the rough black sea
    With eyes to tempests strange,

Who now is basking in your golden smile,
And dreams of you still fancy-free, still kind,
    Poor fool, nor knows the guile
    Of the deceitful wind!

Woe to the eyes you dazzle without cloud
Untried! For me, they show in yonder fane
    My dripping garments, vow'd
    To Him who curbs the main.

In the eighteenth century, Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762) imitated Horace's ode from the female's point of view:

For whom are now your airs put on,
And what new beauty's doom'd to be undone?
That careless elegance of dress,
This essence that perfumes the wind,
Your ev'ry motion does confess
Some secret conquest is design'd.

Alas! the poor unhappy maid,
To what a train of ills betray'd!
What fears, what pangs shall rend her breast,
How will her eyes dissolve in tears!
That now with glowing joy is bless'd,
Charm'd with the faithless vows she hears.

So the young sailor on the summer sea
Gaily pursues his destin'd way:
Fearless and careless on the deck he stands,
Till sudden storms arise and thunders roll;
In vain he casts his eyes to distant lands,
Distracting terror tears his timorous soul.

For me, secure I view the raging main,
Past are my dangers, and forgot my pain:
My votive tablet in the temple shows
The monument of folly past;
I paid the bounteous god my grateful vows,
Who snatch'd from ruin, sav'd me at the last.

Anthony Hecht's modern adaptation, entitled An Old Malediction, is a tour de force:

What well-heeled knuckle-head, straight from the unisex
Hairstylist and bathed in "Russian Leather,"
Dallies with you these late summer days, Pyrrha,
In your expensive sublet? For whom do you
Slip into something simple by, say, Gucci?
The more fool he who has mapped out for himself
The saline latitudes of incontinent grief.
Dazzled though he be, poor dope, by the golden looks
Your locks fetched up out of a bottle of Clairol,
He will know that the wind changes, the smooth sailing
Is done for, when the breakers wallop him broadside,
When he's rudderless, dismasted, thoroughly swamped
In that mindless rip-tide that got the best of me
Once, when I ventured on your deeps, Piranha.



H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1982), p. 623:
Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


The Tonic of Wildness

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, XVII (Spring):
We need the tonic of wildness -- to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Reine Freuden

The Maverick Philosopher has some interesting posts on Fred Reinfeld and Robert Reininger.

Reininger is a new pleasure for me, but I learned to play chess at age 12 from Reinfeld's books, which I borrowed from the public library. I had no idea where to get a real chess set, so I drew pieces on paper, cut them out, and moved them around a checkerboard. My uncle saw me playing with these makeshift pieces and bought me a real wooden set, which I still have.

Nowadays I usually play chess only against the computer, but my son and I play whenever we get together. I can't imagine where he gets his competitive genes, but he's a bloodthirsty competitor, at both chess and Scrabble. The last time he beat me in chess, he whooped and danced a war dance in triumph.


Felix et Fortunatus

Vergil, Georgics 2.490-512 (tr. J.W. MacKail):
Happy he who hath availed to know the causes of things, and hath laid all fears and immitigable Fate and the roar of hungry Acheron under his feet; yet he no less is blessed, who knows the gods of the country, Pan and old Silvanus and the Nymphs' sisterhood.

Him fasces of the people or purple of kings sway not, not maddening discord among treacherous brethren, nor the Dacian swarming down from the leagued Danube, not the Roman state or realms destined to decay; nor may pity of the poor or envy of the rich cost him a pang. What fruits the boughs, what the gracious fields bear of their own free will, these he gathers, and sees not the iron of justice or the mad forum and the archives of the people.

Others vex blind seaways with their oars, or rush upon the sword, pierce the courts and chambers of kings; one aims destruction at the city and her wretched homes, that he may drink from gems and sleep on Tyrian scarlet; another heaps up wealth and broods over buried gold; one hangs rapt in amaze before the Rostra; one the applause of populace and senate re-echoing again over the theatre carries open-mouthed away: joyfully they steep themselves in blood of their brethren, and exchange for exile the dear thresholds of their homes, and seek a country spread under an alien sun.

felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas
atque metus omnis et inexorabile fatum
subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis avari:
fortunatus et ille deos qui novit agrestis
Panaque Silvanumque senem Nymphasque sorores.

illum non populi fasces, non purpura regum
flexit et infidos agitans discordia fratres,
aut coniurato descendens Dacus ab Histro,
non res Romanae perituraque regna; neque ille
aut doluit miserans inopem aut invidit habenti.
quos rami fructus, quos ipsa volentia rura
sponte tulere sua, carpsit, nec ferrea iura
insanumque forum aut populi tabularia vidit.

sollicitant alii remis freta caeca, ruuntque
in ferrum, penetrant aulas et limina regum;
hic petit excidiis urbem miserosque penatis,
ut gemma bibat et Sarrano dormiat ostro;
condit opes alius defossoque incubat auro;
hic stupet attonitus rostris, hunc plausus hiantem
per cuneos geminatus enim plebisque patrumque
corripuit; gaudent perfusi sanguine fratrum,
exsilioque domos et dulcia limina mutant
atque alio patriam quaerunt sub sole iacentem.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Terence Overlooked

Discussing the Pope's funeral, Michael Novak writes:
Nil humanum alienum mihi, as the ancient church already said: Nothing human is alien to me.
Well, no. The ancient church didn't say it. That ancient pagan Terence (or his source) did, at Heauton Timorumenos 77:
Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto.



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Sudelbuch E 215:
A book is a mirror. If a monkey peers into it, surely an apostle can't look back out.

Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt, so kann freilich kein Apostel heraus sehen.
C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, n.d.), p. 121:
What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces.


Flew Interview

James A. Beverley interviews atheist turned deist Antony Flew.


I'm a Fun Guy

Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for April 2005 is Gymnopilus spectabilis.


The Three Ages of Man

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito (1977), II, 64:
The stupidity of an old man imagines itself to be wisdom; that of an adult, experience; that of a youth, genius.


Latin Morphology

John O'Keefe (1747-1833), Agreeable Surprise, II, 2:
Amo, amas, I love a lass
As a cedar tall and slender;
Sweet cowslip's grace is her nominative case,
And she's of the feminine gender.

Rorum, corum, sunt divorum!
    Harum, scarum divo!
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band,
    Hic hoc horum genitivo!

Can I decline a Nymph divine?
Her voice as a flute is dulcis!
Her oculus bright, her manus white!
And soft, when I tacto, her pulse is!

Rorum, corum, sunt divorum!
    Harum, scarum divo!
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band,
    Hic hoc horum genitivo!

O, how bella my puella,
I'll kiss saecula saeculorum!
If I've luck, sir, she's my uxor!
O, dies benedictorum!

Rorum, corum, sunt divorum!
    Harum, scarum divo!
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band,
    Hic hoc horum genitivo!

Monday, April 11, 2005


Dangers of Reading

Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, chapter 15 (tr. Harvey Fergusson):
"The worst possible evil," he said, "is when the boys take what they read seriously."


Die Gedanken Sind Frei

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 757-758:
Apart from others, I think my own thoughts.



In the second part of Chaucer's Parson's Tale (749-752), there is an interesting pair of related words that are now obsolete, mawmet (meaning idol) and mawmetrye (meaning idolatry):
What difference is bitwixe an ydolastre and an avaricious man, but that an ydolastre peraventure ne hath but o mawmet or two and the avaricious man hath manye? For certes, every florin in his cofre is his mawmet. And certes, the synne of mawmetrye is the firste thyng that God deffended in the Ten Comaundementz, as bereth witnesse Exodi 20, "Thou shalt have no false goddes bifore me, ne thou shalt make to thee no grave thyng." Thus is an avaricious man that loveth his tresor biforn God an ydolastre thurgh this cursed synne of avarice.
In modern English:
What difference is there between an idolater and an avaricious man, except that an idolater, perhaps, has only one idol or two, and the avaricious man has many? For certainly, every florin in his coffer is his idol. And certainly the sin of idolatry is the first thing that God forbade in the ten commandments, as Exodus, chapter 20, bears witness: "Thou shalt have no false gods before me, thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Thus an avaricious man, who loves his treasure more than God, is an idolater, through this cursed sin of avarice.
Mawmet comes from Mahomet, whom we know today as Mohammed. The word isn't in most modern English dictionaries, but the 1913 Webster's dictionary defines mawmet as:
A puppet; a doll; originally, an idol, because in the Middle Ages it was generally believed that the Mohammedans worshiped images representing Mohammed.
If Chaucer were alive today, he'd probably be accused of Islamophobia or hate speech. So too Dante, who called some of the buildings in Hell mosques (meschite, at Inferno 8.70).


The Dog Ate My Homework

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864) was an American explorer and ethnographer. He discovered the source of the Mississippi River, and his books inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write Hiawatha. H.R. Hays, From Ape to Angel. An Informal History of Social Anthropology (1958; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1964), p. 7, tells this story about Schoolcraft:
He was making progress with the language when, after months of patient work, his dog got hold of his Chippewa verbs and playfully tore them up. Schoolcraft painstakingly collected the scraps and glued them together (the grammar finally became part of a six-volume work).

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Dalrymple Interview

Bernard Chapin interviews Theodore Dalrymple. Here Dalrymple explains why he is moving from England to France:
France is twenty years behind Britain in social decomposition, and there is at least still a public commitment to intelligence and culture. The people are better mannered on the whole. The weather is better. I prefer Chirac to Blair: at least he knows he is an unprincipled unscrupulous ruthless villain, whereas Blair does not. I recognise that France is not paradise, but nowhere is. Finally, with regard to tax every Frenchman regards it as his patriotic duty to cheat the taxman.


Flocking to the Gates of Rome

One might think that the ecclesiastical word cardinal is derived from the red bird of the same name, but in fact it's the other way around. Cardinal itself comes from the Latin word for the hinge of a door, cardo, cardinis. For details see the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Sunday Mass

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), At Mass:
No doubt to-morrow I will hide
My face from you, my King.
Let me rejoice this Sunday noon,
And kneel while gray priests sing.

It is not wisdom to forget.
But since it is my fate
Fill thou my soul with hidden wine
To make this white hour great.

My God, my God, this marvelous hour
I am your son I know.
Once in a thousand days your voice
Has laid temptation low.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Errare Humanum Est

Keith Burgess-Jackson discusses bathroom graffiti and mentions one with a philosophical flavor: To Ayer is Hume'n. There's also Heraclitus' panta rhei (all things flow, or all things are in a state of flux). I've heard that this is sometimes scrawled on the wall by urinals, but I've never seen it myself.

To Ayer is Hume'n is of course a pun on To err is human, in Latin Errare humanum est. Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 244, claims that humanum est errare (which he misprints as humanum et errare) "dates back to at least the fourteenth century in its Latin form."

Maybe it should be the fourth century. Henerik Kocher, in his indispensable Dicionário de expressões e frases latinas cites St. Jerome, Letters 57.12, as the source of Errare humanum est (more precisely it's 57.12.3). But in Hilberg's edition of St. Jerome's letters I see
Errasse humanum est et confiteri errorem prudentis

To have erred is human and to admit one's error is the mark of a wise man
without any variants in the critical apparatus.

Maybe someone with access to a well-stocked library can track down the precise origin of Errare humanum est.

Friday, April 08, 2005


Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

You can buy underpants (men's and women's) with Latin proverbs printed on them. The Latin is correct, too, except for "Qui dormit non peccet," which should be "Qui dormit non peccat."

"Semper ubi sub ubi" is a joke Latin expression meaning "Always wear underwear," literally "always where under where".


Turba Lucifugarum, or The Tribe of Daylight-Shunners

In one of his Satires (1.3.17-18, tr. John Conington), Horace describes a certain Tigellius and gives this detail:
All night he would sit up, all day would snore.

noctes vigilabat ad ipsum / mane, diem totum stertebat.
Ancient history furnishes other examples of people who slept by day and caroused by night. The earliest is Smyndirides of Sybaris, of whom Chamaeleon (quoted by Athenaeus 6.105) says:
He claimed that for twenty years he never saw the sun either rising or setting.
Nero's arbiter elegantiae, Petronius, was another. Tacitus, Annals 16.18 (tr. Church and Brodribb), writes about Petronius:
His days he passed in sleep, his nights in the business and pleasures of life. Indolence had raised him to fame, as energy raises others, and he was reckoned not a debauchee and spendthrift, like most of those who squander their substance, but a man of refined luxury.

nam illi dies per somnum, nox officiis et oblectamentis vitae transigebatur; utque alios industria, ita hunc ignavia ad famam protulerat, habebaturque non ganeo et profligator, ut plerique sua haurientium, sed erudito luxu.
Yet another night owl was the Roman emperor Heliogabalus. The Historia Augusta, Life of Heliogabalus 28.6 (tr. David Magie), says:
The occupations of the day he performed at night, and those of the night in the daytime, and he considered it a mark of luxury to wait until a late hour before rising from sleep and beginning to hold his levee, and also to remain awake until morning.

transegit et dierum actus noctibus et nocturnos diebus, aestimans hoc inter instrumenta luxuriae, ita ut sero de somno surgeret et salutari inciperet, mane autem dormire inceptaret.
Without naming any individual, Cicero (De Finibus 2.8.23, tr. H. Rackham) portrays the type:
I should be sorry to picture to myself, as you are so fond of doing, debauchees who are sick at table, have to be carried home from dinner-parties, and next day gorge themselves again before they have recovered from the effects of the night before; men who, as the saying goes, have never seen either sunset or sunrise; men who run through their inheritance and sink into penury.

nolim enim mihi fingere asotos, ut soletis, qui in mensam vomant, et qui de conviviis auferantur crudique postridie se rursus ingurgitent, qui solem, ut aiunt, nec occidentem umquam viderint nec orientem, qui consumptis patrimoniis egeant.
We find the same type in Seneca Rhetor, Controversiae 3.1:
So it happens, where men spend the greater part of their life in darkness, that they end up disliking the sun, as something superfluous.

sic fit, ubi homines maiorem vitae partem in tenebris agunt, ut novissime solem quasi supervacuum fastidiant.
In his letter to Lucilius (122) devoted entirely to this topic, Seneca names two more sluggards, Acilius Buta and Sextus Papinius. The following interesting expressions occur in this letter:Seneca's letter is so full of interest that I'll reproduce it all, in Richard M. Gummere's English translation.
[1] The day has already begun to lessen. It has shrunk considerably, but yet will still allow a goodly space of time if one rises, so to speak, with the day itself. We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn; but we are base churls if we lie dozing when the sun is high in the heavens, or if we wake up only when noon arrives; and even then to many it seems not yet dawn.

[2] Some have reversed the functions of light and darkness; they open eyes sodden with yesterday's debauch only at the approach of night, It is just like the condition of those peoples whom, according to Vergil, Nature has hidden away and placed in an abode directly opposite to our own:

When in our face the Dawn with panting steeds
Breathes down, for them the ruddy evening kindles
Her late-lit fires. [Georgics 1.250 ff.]

It is not the country of these men, so much as it is their life, that is "directly opposite" to our own.

[3] There may be Antipodes dwelling in this same city of ours who, in Cato's words, "have never seen the sun rise or set." Do you think that these men know how to live, if they do not know when to live? Do these men fear death, if they have buried themselves alive? They are as weird as the birds of night. Although they pass their hours of darkness amid wine and perfumes, although they spend the whole extent of their unnatural waking hours in eating dinners -- and those too cooked separately to make up many courses -- they are not really banqueting; they are conducting their own funeral services. And the dead at least have their banquets by daylight.

But indeed to one who is active no day is long. So let us lengthen our lives; for the duty and the proof of life consist in action. Cut short the night; use some of it for the day's business.

[4] Birds that are being prepared for the banquet, that they may be easily fattened through lack of exercise, are kept in darkness; and similarly, if men vegetate without physical activity, their idle bodies are overwhelmed with flesh, and in their self-satisfied retirement the fat of indolence grows upon them. Moreover, the bodies of those who have sworn allegiance to the hours of a darkness have a loathsome appearance. Their complexions are more alarming than those of anaemic invalids; they are lackadaisical and flabby with dropsy; though still alive, they are already carrion. But this, to my thinking, would be among the least of their evils. How much more darkness there is in their souls! Such a man is internally dazed; his vision is darkened -- he envies the blind. And what man ever had eyes for the purpose of seeing in the dark?

[5] You ask me how this depravity comes upon the soul -- this habit of reversing the daylight and giving over one's whole existence to the night? All vices rebel against Nature; they all abandon the appointed order. It is the motto of luxury to enjoy what is unusual, and not only to depart from that which is right, but to leave it as far behind as possible, and finally even take a stand in opposition thereto.

[6] Do you not believe that men live contrary to Nature who drink fasting, who take wine into empty veins, and pass to their food in a state of intoxication? And yet this is one of youth's popular vices -- to perfect their strength in order to drink on the very threshold of the bath, amid the unclad bathers; nay even to soak in wine and then immediately to rub off the sweat which they have promoted by many a hot glass of liquor! To them, a glass after lunch or one after dinner is bourgeois; it is what the country squires do, who are not connoisseurs in pleasure. This unmixed wine delights them just because there is no food to float in it, because it readily makes its way into their muscles; this boozing pleases them just because the stomach is empty.

[7] Do you not believe that men live contrary to Nature who exchange the fashion of their attire with women? Do not men live contrary to Nature who endeavour to look fresh and boyish at an age unsuitable for such an attempt? What could be more cruel or more wretched? Cannot time and man's estate ever carry such a person beyond an artificial boyhood?

[8] Do not men live contrary to Nature who crave roses in winter, or seek to raise a spring flower like the lily by means of hot-water heaters and artificial changes of temperature? Do not men live contrary to Nature who grow fruit-trees on the top of a wall? Or raise waving forests upon the roofs and battlements of their houses -- the roots starting at a point to which it would be outlandish for the tree-tops to reach? Do not men live contrary to Nature who lay the foundations of bathrooms in the sea and do not imagine that they can enjoy their swim unless the heated pool is lashed as with the waves of a storm?

[9] When men have begun to desire all things in opposition to the ways of Nature, they end by entirely abandoning the ways of Nature. They cry: "It is daytime: let us go to sleep! It is the time when men rest: now for exercise, now for our drive, now for our lunch! Lo, the dawn approaches: it is dinner-time! We should not do as mankind do. It is low and mean to live in the usual and conventional way. Let us abandon the ordinary sort of day. Let us have a morning that is a special feature of ours, peculiar to ourselves!"

[10] Such men are, in my opinion, as good as dead. Are they not all but present at a funeral -- and before their time too -- when they live amid torches and tapers?

I remember that this sort of life was very fashionable one time: among such men as Acilius Buta, a person of praetorian rank, who ran through a tremendous estate and on confessing his bankruptcy to Tiberius, received the answer: "You have waked up too late!"

[11] Julius Montanus was once reading a poem aloud; he was a middling good poet, noted for his friendship with Tiberius, as well as his fall from favour. He always used to fill his poems with a generous sprinkling of sunrises and sunsets. Hence, when a certain person was complaining that Montanus had read all day long, and declared that no man should attend any of his readings, Natta Pinarius remarked: "I couldn't make a fairer bargain than this: I am ready to listen to him from sunrise to sunset!"

[12] Montanus was reading, and had reached the words:

"'Gins the bright morning to spread forth his flames clear burning: the red dawn / Scatters its light; and the sad-eyed swallow returns to her nestlings / Bringing the chatterers' food, and with sweet bill sharing and serving."

Then Varus, a Roman knight, the hanger-on of Marcus Vinicius, and a sponger at elegant dinners which he earned by his degenerate wit, shouted: "Bed-time for Buta!"

[13] And later, when Montanus declaimed:

"Lo, now the shepherds have folded their flocks, and the slow-moving darkness / 'Gins to spread silence o'er lands that are drowsily lulled into slumber,"

this same Varus remarked: "What? Night already? I'll go and pay my morning call on Buta!"

You see, nothing was more notorious than Buta's upside-down manner of life. But this life, as I said, was fashionable at one time.

[14] And the reason why some men live thus is not because they think that night in itself offers any greater attractions, but because that which is normal gives them no particular pleasure; light being a bitter enemy of the evil conscience, and, when one craves or scorns all things in proportion as they have cost one much or little, illumination for which one does not pay is an object of contempt. Moreover, the luxurious person wishes to be an object of gossip his whole life; if people are silent about him, he thinks that he is wasting his time. Hence he is uncomfortable wherever any of his actions escape notoriety.

Many men eat up their property, and many men keep mistresses. If you would win a reputation among such persons, you must make your programme not only one of luxury but one of notoriety; for in such a busy community wickedness does not discover the ordinary sort of scandal.

[15] I heard Pedo Albinovanus, that most attractive story-teller, speaking of his residence above the town-house of Sextus Papinius. Papinius belonged to the tribe of those who shun the light. "About nine o'clock at night I hear the sound of whips. I ask what is going on, and they tell me that Papinius is going over his accounts. About twelve there is a strenuous shouting. I ask what the matter is, and they say he is exercising his voice. About two A.M. I ask the significance of the sound of wheels; they tell me that he is off for a drive.

[16] And at dawn there is a tremendous flurry -- calling of slaves and butlers, and pandemonium among the cooks. I ask the meaning of this also, and they tell me that he has called for his cordial and his appetizer, after leaving the bath. His dinner," said Pedo," never went beyond the day, for he lived very sparingly; he was lavish with nothing but the night. Accordingly, if you believe those who call him tight-fisted and mean, you will call him also a 'slave of the lamp'."

[17] You should not be surprised at finding so many special manifestations of the vices; for vices vary, and there are countless phases of them, nor can all their various kinds be classified. The method of maintaining righteousness is simple; the method of maintaining wickedness is complicated, and has infinite opportunity to swerve. And the same holds true of character; if you follow nature, character is easy to manage, free, and with very slight shades of difference; but the sort of person I have mentioned possesses badly warped character, out of harmony with all things, including himself.

[18] The chief cause, however, of this disease seems to me to be a squeamish revolt from the normal existence. Just as such persons mark themselves off from others in their dress, or in the elaborate arrangement of their dinners, or in the elegance of their carriages; even so they desire to make themselves peculiar by their way of dividing up the hours of their day. They are unwilling to be wicked in the conventional way, because notoriety is the reward of their sort of wickedness. Notoriety is what all such men seek -- men who are, so to speak, living backwards.

[19] For this reason, Lucilius, let us keep to the way which Nature has mapped out for us, and let us not swerve therefrom. If we follow Nature, all is easy and unobstructed; but if we combat Nature, our life differs not a whit from that of man who row against the current. Farewell.


Elizabethan Curses

Start the day off right by arming yourself with some Elizabethan curses to hurl at tail-gating commuters, jerks at work, and other enemies.

Thursday, April 07, 2005



Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, year 1780:
Greek, sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.
Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana (New York, 1856), p. 300:
At the house of the same gentleman I introduced Cogan to Porson, saying, "This is Mr. Cogan, who is passionately fond of what you have devoted yourself to, -- Greek."

Porson replied, "If Mr. Cogan is passionately fond of Greek, he must be content to dine on bread and cheese for the rest of his life."
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, chapter 31:
Latin and Greek are great humbug; the more people know of them the more odious they generally are.
George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara, Act I:
UNDERSHAFT. Never mind me, my dear. As you know, I am not a gentleman; and I was never educated.

LOMAX [encouragingly] Nobody'd know it, I assure you. You look all right, you know.

CUSINS. Let me advise you to study Greek, Mr Undershaft. Greek scholars are privileged men. Few of them know Greek; and none of them know anything else; but their position is unchallengeable. Other languages are the qualifications of waiters and commercial travellers: Greek is to a man of position what the hallmark is to silver.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Dismal Jimmy

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), s.v. Gloomy Gus (p. 300):
A person who is always gloomy, sad, pessimistic, as in "He's a real Gloomy Gus." The expression is still heard today, although it dates back to 1904, when it was introduced as the name of a character in Frank Opper's comic strip Happy Hooligan. Gloomy Gus's British counterpart is Dismal Jimmy, whose 19th-century origins are elusive.
At first I thought that Dismal Jimmy dated back to 1836, when it appeared as the name of a character (Dismal Jemmy) in Dicken's comic novel Pickwick Papers, chapter 3. Jemmy is a well-known variant of Jimmy.

But a couple of centuries earlier, Nell Gwyn seems to have called the Duke of York, later King James II, Dismal Jimmy.

Also, the author of Happy Hooligan was Frederick Opper, not Frank Opper. The comic strip ran from 1900 to 1932. Gloomy Gus was Happy Hooligan's brother. The pair had another brother, Montmorency. You can see all three here.



Robert Louis Stevenson, Memories and Portraits, XV (A Gossip on Romance):
In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should run thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.
Webster's Dictionary (1913) defines gloat as:
To look steadfastly; to gaze earnestly; -- usually in a bad sense, to gaze with malignant satisfaction, passionate desire, lust, or avarice.
Stevenson of course uses it in a good sense (to look steadfastly, to gaze earnestly) in this passage.



John Sheffield (1648-1721), An Essay Upon Poetry:
Read Homer once, and you can read no more,
For all things else will seem so dull and poor,
You'll wish't unread; but oft upon him look,
And you will hardly need another book.
The second couplet is sometimes quoted as:
Verse will seem Prose; but still persist to read,
And Homer will be all the books you need.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Practical Latin

My friend Jim K. draws my attention to a web page containing some practical Latin expressions, with good English explanations. Beware of the misprints, though. I noticed the following:

Monday, April 04, 2005


Pope John Paul II

Two interesting blog posts:

Sunday, April 03, 2005



St. Anselm, Proslogion, I (tr. Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson):
Come now, insignificant man, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your wearisome tasks. Make time for God, and rest a while in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing the chamber door, seek Him out. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, 0 Lord, do I seek.

Eia nunc, homuncio, fuge paululum occupationes tuas, absconde te modicum a tumultuosis cogitationibus tuis. Abice nunc onerosas curas, et postpone laboriosas distentiones tuas. Vaca aliquantulum deo, et requiesce aliquantulum in eo. Intra in cubiculum mentis tuae, exclude omnia praeter deum et quae te iuvent ad quaerendum eum, et clauso ostio quaere eum. Dic nunc, totum cor meum, dic nunc deo: Quaero vultum tuum; vultum tuum, domine, requiro.


Walking Alone

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque (1881), X (Walking Tours):
Now, to be properly enjoyed, a walking tour should be gone upon alone. If you go in a company, or even in pairs, it is no longer a walking tour in anything but name; it is something else and more in the nature of a picnic. A walking tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl.

And then you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon. "I cannot see the wit," says Hazlitt, "of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country," - which is the gist of all that can be said upon the matter. There should be no cackle of voices at your elbow, to jar on the meditative silence of the morning. And so long as a man is reasoning he cannot surrender himself to that fine intoxication that comes of much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness of the brain, and ends in a peace that passes comprehension.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


The French Language

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter 14:
"Why, Huck, doan' de French people talk de same way we does?"

"No, Jim; you couldn't understand a word they said -- not a single word."

"Well, now, I be ding-busted! How do dat come?"

"I don't know; but it's so. I got some of their jabber out of a book. S'pose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy -- what would you think?"

"I wouldn' think nuff'n; I'd take en bust him over de head."

"Is a Frenchman a man?"


"Well, den! Dad blame it, why doan' he talk like a man? You answer me dat!"



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito (1977), II, 80:
Stupid ideas are immortal. Each new generation invents them anew.



C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 206:
All translations of scripture are tendentious: translation by its nature is a continuous implicit commentary.

Friday, April 01, 2005



Henry David Thoreau, Journals, January 7, 1857:
There is nothing so sanative, so poetic, as a walk in the woods and fields even now, when I meet none abroad for pleasure. Nothing so inspires me and excites such serene and profitable thought. The objects are elevating. In the streets and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean. But alone in distant woods or fields, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk, as the homesick go home. I wish to know something; I wish to be made better. I wish to forget, a considerable part of every day, all mean, narrow, trivial men, and therefore I come out to these solitudes, where the problem of existence is simplified. I get away a mile or two from the town into the stillness and solitude of nature, with rocks, trees, weeds, snow about me. I am not thus expanded, recreated, enlightened, when I meet a company of men. They bore me. This stillness, solitude, wildness of nature is a kind of thoroughwort, or boneset, to my intellect. This is what I go out to seek. It is if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible companion, and walked with him.


Hail to the Chief

Gore Vidal, Matters of Fact and Fiction: Essays 1973-1976 (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 176:
It is curious that a Johnny-come-fairly-lately republic like the United States should so much want to envelop in majesty those for the most part seedy political hacks quadrennially "chosen" by the people to rule over them.


Grammar and Style

Henry David Thoreau, Journals, January 2, 1859:
When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs -- Mr Webster, perhaps, not having spoken according to Mr. Kirkham's rule -- I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb's bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks that he can express human emotions. So the posture masters tell you how to walk -- turning your toes out, perhaps excessively -- but so the beautiful walkers are not made.

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