Sunday, July 31, 2005



Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings:
But every man who rises above the common level has received two educations: the first from his teachers; the second, more personal and important, from himself.


Fart Kills 30,000

Josephus, The Jewish War 2.223 (tr. G.A. Williamson):
The people had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Roman cohort stood on guard over the Temple colonnade, armed men always being on duty to forestall any rioting by the vast crowds. One of the soldiers pulled up his garment and bent over indecently, turning his backside to the Jews and making a noise as indecent as his attitude.

This infuriated the whole crowd, who noisily appealed to [the Roman governor] Cumanus to punish the soldier, while the less restrained of the young men and the naturally tumultuous section of the people rushed into battle, and snatching up stones hurled them at the soldiers. Cumanus, fearing the whole population would rush at him, sent for more heavy infantry. When these poured into the colonnades the Jews were seized with uncontrollable panic, turned tail and fled from the Temple into the city.

So violently did the dense mass struggle to escape that they trod on each other, and more than 30,000 were crushed to death. Thus the Feast ended in distress to the whole nation and bereavement to every household.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Lost Classics

William Annis compiles a wish list of classical manuscript finds, and challenges other classics bloggers to make their own lists. I feel odd making such a list, because I have not read lots of surviving classical literature, most of which is therefore "lost" to me. Nevertheless, here is my idiosyncratic list:
  1. The plays of the Greek comic dramatist Diphilus. Some of these served as models for surviving plays by Plautus and Terence.
  2. The works of the Cynic philosopher Bion of Borysthenes. See Diogenes Laertius 4.44-58 for tantalizing samples.
  3. The Atellan farces of L. Pomponius.
  4. Cicero's Hortensius, which inspired St. Augustine (Confessions 3.4.7).
  5. The missing or incomplete books of Tacitus' Annals.
I look forward to Sauvage Noble's list. Maybe it will start with Livius Andronicus' translation of the Odyssey, but maybe not, because all those new Saturnians would delay completion of his dissertation.


Holy Books

I'd wager most adults in the United States have never read the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address. In the first place, increasing numbers of United States residents don't speak or read English. And for many of those who do, the language of these documents is too archaic, the syntax is too contorted, and the sentences are too long. Finally, they are probably not required reading in many American schools today.

These documents are books of our civic Bible. Pauline Maier entitled her treatise on the Declaration of Independence American Scripture. They should be read aloud to a reverent public in solemn ceremonies on our civic holidays (holy days), the Gettyburg Address on Memorial Day and the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July (Independence Day).

Because they are so difficult for many to understand, maybe these modern translations would be useful:


Fewtrils Again

Thanks for clarification on the meaning and origin of the word fewtrils to Deogolwulf at The Joy of Curmudgeonry:
"Fewtrils" is a Lancashire dialect word meaning "trifles", "things of little value". Beyond that, I'm afraid to say I do not know its etymology, nor does anyone else, as far as I can ascertain. I must add that I have never seen it used in the singular, in which I have nevertheless taken the liberty of using it.
and Steve at languagehat, who cites the Oxford English Dictionary s.vv.:
fewtrils, n. pl.
Little things, trifles. Cf. FATTRELS.
c1750 J. COLLIER (Tim Bobbin) Lanc. Dial. Gloss., Fewtrils, little things. 1854 DICKENS Hard T. I. xi, 'I ha' gotten decent fewtrils about me agen.' 1857 J. SCHOLES Jaunt to see Queen 28 (Lanc. Gloss.) Peg had hur hoppet ov hur arm wi her odd fewtrils.

fattrels, n. pl.
[ad. F. fatraille 'trash, trumpery, things of no value' (Cotgr.).]
1786 BURNS To a Louse 20 Now haud you there, ye're out o' sight, Below the fatt'rils, snug and tight. 1788 E. PICKEN Poems Gloss. 231 Fattrels, ribbon-ends, &c.
I was off by a mile, mistaking the meaning of the word and wrongly guessing an Anglo-Saxon or eponymous origin. A topic for a future blog post might be words, like fewtrils, that normally occur only in the plural.

Friday, July 29, 2005



I figured out the derivation of the enigmatic Deogolwulf's name, but even with the Anglo-Saxon Dictionary of Bosworth and Toller as a crutch, I'm at a loss about the etymology of fewtril, a word Deogolwulf uses often (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) in his fine blog The Joy of Curmudgeonry. It seems to mean aphorism. Here is Fewtril #4:
Many a man is so impressed with the idea that the next despots will be wearing jackboots, that he will fail to hear the gentle flap of sandals.
Is fewtril an eponym? Most of the Google hits are for examples of Fewtril as a surname. If so, which Fewtril gave rise to the word fewtril?


Small Talk

The shy and socially inept know exactly what Sartre meant when he said, "L'enfer, c'est les autres." To me, hell is other people, especially at parties and other social gatherings, where I usually retreat to a corner, feign absorption in the pictures on a wall or the books in a bookcase, and secretly marvel at the ease and fluency with which everyone else is chatting. Small talk is a skill I never mastered.

Rousseau suffered from the same affliction. Here are some passages from his Confessions (tr. J.M. Cohen) in which he bemoans society's appetite for small talk and his own incapacity for it:
She [Madame de Warens] is the only person with whom I never suffered from that inability to find words that makes the maintenance of conversation such a penance to me. (Book III)

I can make excellent replies impromptu, if I have a moment to think, but on the spur of the moment I can never say or do anything right. I could conduct a most delightful conversation by post, as they say the Spaniards play chess. (Book III)

In private conversation, there is another difficulty, which I consider worse, the necessity of always talking. You have to reply each time you are spoken to, and if the conversation fails, to set it going again. This unbearable constraint would be enough in itself to disgust me with society. I can think of no greater torture than to be obliged to talk continually and without a moment for reflection. I do not know whether this is just an aspect of my mortal aversion to any sort of compulsion, but I have only to be absolutely required to speak and I infallibly say something stupid. (Book III)

Lack of occupation is, in my opinion, as much a scourge of society as solitude. Nothing so narrows the mind, nothing engenders more nonsense - tales and mischief, gossiping and lies - than for people to be eternally confined in one another's company, in one room, reduced, for lack of anything to do, to the necessity of incessant chatter. When everyone is busy, no one speaks unless he has something to say. But when one is doing nothing it is imperative to talk all the time; and that is the most wearisome and dangerous of all forms of constraint. (Book V)

I have never been able to endure the silly nonsense with which ordinary conversation is padded out; but useful and serious talk has always given me pleasure. (Book VI)

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Rousseau and Latin

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (anon. tr. for Members of the Aldus Society), Book VI:
After this came Latin: it was my most painful study, and in which I never made great progress. I began by Port-Royal's Rudiments, but without success; I lost myself in a crowd of rules; and in studying the last forgot all that preceded it. A study of words is not calculated for a man without memory, and it was principally an endeavor to make my memory more retentive, that urged me obstinately to persist in this study, which at length I was obliged to relinquish. As I understood enough to read an easy author by the aid of a dictionary, I followed that method, and found it succeed tolerably well. I likewise applied myself to translation, not by writing, but mentally, and by exercise and perseverance attained to read Latin authors easily, but have never been able to speak or write that language, which has frequently embarrassed me when I have found myself (I know not by what means) enrolled among men of letters.

Another inconvenience that arose from this manner of learning is, that I never understood prosody, much less the rules of versification; yet, anxious to understand the harmony of the language, both in prose and verse, I have made many efforts to obtain it, but am convinced, that without a master it is almost impossible. Having learned the composition of the hexameter, which is the easiest of all verses, I had the patience to measure out the greater part of Virgil into feet and quantity, and whenever I was dubious whether a syllable was long or short, immediately consulted my Virgil. It may easily be conceived that I ran into many errors in consequence of those licenses permitted by the rules of versification; and it is certain, that if there is an advantage in studying alone, there are also great inconveniences and inconceivable labor, as I have experienced more than any one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005



Robert Service, I Have Some Friends (from Ballads of a Bohemian):
I have some friends, some worthy friends,
And worthy friends are rare:
These carpet slippers on my feet,
That padded leather chair;
This old and shabby dressing-gown,
So well the worse of wear.

I have some friends, some honest friends,
And honest friends are few;
My pipe of briar, my open fire,
A book that's not too new;
My bed so warm, the nights of storm
I love to listen to.

I have some friends, some good, good friends,
Who faithful are to me:
My wrestling partner when I rise,
The big and burly sea;
My little boat that's riding there
So saucy and so free.

I have some friends, some golden friends,
Whose worth will not decline:
A tawny Irish terrier, a purple shading pine,
A little red-roofed cottage that
So proudly I call mine.

All other friends may come and go,
All other friendships fail;
But these, the friends I've worked to win,
Oh, they will never stale;
And comfort me till Time shall write
The finish to my tale.


Encounters With Savages

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, chap. X (Tierra del Fuego):
I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilised man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement.

The language of these people, according to our notions, scarcely deserves to be called articulate.

Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is a common subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the lower animals can enjoy: how much more reasonably the same question may be asked with respect to these barbarians!

We can hardly put ourselves in the position of these savages, and understand their actions.
To see today what Darwin saw in the 1830s, it is not necessary to travel halfway around the world to an exotic land.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005



Languagehat prints a very interesting acrostic poem, full of classical references, by Rolfe Humphries, translator of Ovid and Vergil. The poem, published in the June 1939 issue of Poetry magazine, insults one of Humphries' former teachers.

Acrostics were not uncommon in classical literature. For example, many of the plays of Plautus have acrostic plot summaries, where the acrostics spell out the titles of the plays. Cicero, On Divination 2.54.111-112 (tr. William Armistead Falconer), discusses acrostics in the Sibylline books:
Moreover, that this poem is not the work of frenzy is quite evident from the quality of its composition (for it exhibits artistic care rather than emotional excitement), and is especially evident from the fact that it is written in what are termed 'acrostics,' wherein the initial letters of each verse taken in order convey a meaning; as, for example, in some of Ennius's verses, the initial letters form the words Quintus Ennius Fecit, that is, 'Quintus Ennius wrote it.' That is surely the work of concentrated thought and not of a frenzied brain. And in the Sibylline books, throughout the entire work, each prophecy is embellished with an acrostic, so that the initial letters of each of the lines give the subject of that particular prophecy. Such a work comes from a writer who is not frenzied, who is painstaking, not crazy.
See Michael Hendry's article A Martial Acronym in Ennius? for more information on ancient acrostics.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Death Knell

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (tr. J.M. Cohen), Book II (on Madame de Vercellis):
She only kept her bed for the last two days, and continued to converse quietly with everyone to the last. Finally when she could no longer talk and was already in her death agony, she broke wind loudly. "Good," she said, turning over, "a woman who can fart is not dead." Those were the last words she spoke.
Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy), essay Irony:
But people who play at being ill can succeed: the grandmother carried simulation to the point of death. On her last day, her children around her, she began freeing herself of the fermentations in her intestines. She turned and spoke with simplicity to her grandson: "You see," she said, "I'm farting like a little pig." She died an hour later.


Dalrymple Watch

City Journal has the following new essays by Theodore Dalrymple:From the essay on Ibsen:
The modernity of Ibsen's thought hardly needs further emphasis. The elevation of emotion over principle, of inclination over duty, of rights over responsibilities, of ego over the claims of others; the impatience with boundaries and the promotion of the self as the measure of all things: what could be more modern or gratifying to our current sensibility?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Latin in Buffy and Angel

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode 137 (Get It Done), Willow says, "Screw it! Mighty forces, I suck at Latin, OK?" The use of Latin was apparently quite common on the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel. The following bit of dialogue occurred in Angel episode 37 (Reprise):
ANGEL: What are you praying to?
2.MAN: We don't know!
ANGEL: How can you not know?
1.MAN: The ritual - it's, it's all in Latin. They said - we should just - sort of, you know, sound it out.
Transcripts of many of the episodes exist on the Web, but these transcripts usually omit the Latin. For example, in Buffy episode 126 (Help) we read: "Seven people clothed in floor-length, hooded red robes are chanting softly in Latin in a circle, each holding a lit white candle." Inquiring minds want to know -- what exactly are they chanting in Latin?

In a transcript for Angel episode 22 (To Shanshu in L.A.), we do find some Latin, or some words resembling Latin:
LINDSEY: Et illi quinque sacrificum est et illi que est mortuus vivet.
HOLLAND: (to Lilah) Get the movers in here.
LILAH: Yes, sir. (exits)
LINDSEY: Dum vita et mors non duas res sed unas sunt. In tenebris lux est, in luge tenebrae sunt. Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge! Serge!
The English translation (by someone named RayneFire) in the transcript is better than the Latin:
And the five shall be a sacrifice and the one who is dead shall live .... Even as life and death are not two things but one. In darkness is the light, in light is the darkness. Arise! Arise! Arise!
If you're a Latin teacher, it might be a fun exercise for your students to find and fix the Latin mistakes in the transcript just quoted. I tentatively emend the transcript as follows:
LINDSEY: Et illi quinque sacrificium est et ille qui est mortuus vivet.
HOLLAND: (to Lilah) Get the movers in here.
LILAH: Yes, sir. (exits)
LINDSEY: Dum vita et mors non duae res sed una sunt. In tenebris lux est, in luce tenebrae sunt. Surge! Surge! Surge! Surge! Surge! Surge!
Problems remaining:It's difficult in a case like this to assign blame for Latin errors. It could be the fault of the the writer, the speaker, the transcriber, or some combination of the three.

Buffy and Angel are no longer in production. If Joss Whedon creates another television series that's heavy on the Latin, I hereby apply for a job as a consultant. "Mighty forces, I suck at almost everything else, but not at Latin, OK?"

Angelo Mercado, aka Sauvage Noble, writes in an email:
The Buffy people called UCLA Classics for their Latin, and for a while a grad student colleague/friend rendered their English to Latin, and later a couple of advanced undergrads did. Since transactions were over the phone, I imagine some corruptions were inevitable. I remember one day in the TA office when my friend Bryan did a phone consult with "Giles"! All we got for our troubles was a mass-produced "autographed" cast photo.


Plautus and Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse denied ever reading the Roman comic dramatist Plautus. In a letter he claimed, "For some reason Plautus or Terence never came my way." But people persist in finding parallels between the two. George E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), pp. 432-433, wrote:
In the case of Wodehouse, the resemblances to the plots and characters of Plautus are even more striking. The helpless young man (= adulescens), in love with a fair maiden, depends on the clever valet (= seruus) to extricate him from his difficulties, financial or otherwise, and enable him to wed his love. The hardhearted "bookie" is the modern counterpart of the periurissimus leno, and on occasion a military man is the jealous rival. The plots are stereotyped, the complications are farcical, and the ending is always happy. Even the long and laughable names, such as Augustus Fink-Nottle and Sir Masterman Petherick-Soames, recall Plautus' happy creations. McCracken says: "The finest name in all his works is . . . Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge."
An adulescens is a young man, a seruus (or servus) is a slave, and a periurissimus leno is a lying pimp. McCracken is G. McCracken, "Wodehouse and Latin Comedy," Classical Journal 29 (1933-1934) 612-614, which I have not seen.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Born Again

Menander, fragment 223 Kock (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
If some god should come up to me and say, "Crato, you, after your death, shall again have being anew and you shall be whatsoever you desire -- a dog, sheep, goat, man, horse -- for you have to live twice. That is decreed. Choose what you prefer."

Forthwith, methinks, I'd say: "Make me anything but human. That is the only living organism which unfairly gets its good or ill fortune. The best horse receives more careful grooming than others. If you are a good dog you are held in far greater esteem than a bad dog. A noble rooster exists on special diet, while the cock of low degree actually lives in fear of his superior. A human being, even if he is good, high-bred, very nobly-born, gets no good of that in this present day and generation! The flatterer fares best of all; the blackmailer comes next; the malignant man has the third place. 'Twere better to be born a jackass than to see one's inferiors living in greater splendour than oneself."



1 Corinthians 9.22:
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets (John Denham):
What is fit for everything, can fit nothing well.


You Can't Take It With You

1 Timothy 6.7:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
A commonplace, but a true one, worth keeping in mind. Here are some parallels from other ancient writers:

Friday, July 22, 2005


The Freshness of Old Things

G.K. Chesterton, Come to Think of It ..., essay On the New Poetry:
There are always men for whom the old things are fresh. Such men, so far from being behind the times, are altogether above the times. They are too individual and original to be affected by the trivial changes of time.


Methods of Conversion

Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America, chap. XIII:
We have seen the methods of conversion practised among the Hurons. They were much the same at Quebec. The principal appeal was to fear. "You do good to your friends," said Le Jeune to an Algonquin chief, "and you burn your enemies. God does the same." And he painted Hell to the startled neophyte as a place where, when he was hungry, he would get nothing to eat but frogs and snakes, and, when thirsty, nothing to drink but flames.

Pictures were found invaluable. "These holy representations," pursues the Father Superior, "are half the instruction that can be given to the Indians. I wanted some pictures of Hell and souls in perdition, and a few were sent us on paper; but they are too confused. The devils and the men are so mixed up, that one can make out nothing without particular attention. If three, four, or five devils were painted tormenting a soul with different punishments, — ­one applying fire, another serpents, another tearing him with pincers, and another holding him fast with a chain, —­ this would have a good effect, especially if everything were made distinct, and misery, rage, and desperation appeared plainly in his face."

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Ingenious Fictional Name

In John Sandford's Prey series of novels (Mind Prey, Naked Prey, etc.), detective Lucas Davenport's sidekick is named Del Capslock. I read that name dozens of times before its origin finally penetrated my thick skull. Look on the left-hand side of your computer keyboard. According to a list compiled by the Census Bureau, in 1990 no one in a representative sample of United States residents had the surname Capslock.


A Fine Classical Blog

C. Punkus Maximus Geta has been blogging at Deus ex Crapula for some months now. Most of the posts I read were written in Greek or Latin (one in French, one in Latin verse). Thanks to Dappled Things for the link.


Fresh News Source

Move over, Associated Press, Reuters, Iowahawk, ScrappleFace, and The Onion. There's a new kid on the block, the DM news and satire source. Read stories onPay special attention to the aptronyms of the newsmakers.


Altar Boy

James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
I used as a child in the innocence of faith to bring myself out of bed through the cold lucid water of the Cumberland morning and to serve at the altar at earliest lonely Mass, whose words were thrilling brooks of music and whose motions, a grave dance: and there between spread hands the body and the blood of Christ was created among words and lifted before God in a threshing of triplicate bells, and from the rear of the church stole forth a serene widow and a savage epileptic, softly blind, and knelt, and on the palms of their hands and at their mouths they took their strength and, blind, retired: and the morning was clangorous with the whole of a roused school when we were done, and out, and that was the peace of a day....

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Ancient Arms Akimbo

Plautus, Persa 307-308 (tr. Paul Nixon):
SAGARISTIO. I'll strut up with arms akimbo and a lordly air.
TOXILUS. But what's this two-handled jug with a jaunty stride?

SAG. subnixis alis me inferam atque amicibor gloriose.
TOX. sed quis hic ansatus ambulat?
Latin ansatus is from ansa (handle). See the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. akimbo:
c.1400, in kenebowe, perhaps from phrase in keen bow "at a sharp angle," or from a Scand. word akin to Icelandic kengboginn "bow-bent." Many languages use a teapot metaphor for this, such as Fr. faire le pot a deux anses "to play the pot with two handles."
I looked for a Greek equivalent in S.C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language (1910) and G.M. Edwards, An English-Greek Lexicon (1914; rpt. 1930), but came up dry.

I wonder if there are any representations of this pose from ancient art. I don't have access to Carl Sittl, Die Gebärden der Griechen und Römer (1890; rpt. 1970), or Gregory S. Aldrete, Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome (1999).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Parchment and Vellum Provenance

Michael Drout, at Wormtalk and Slugspeak, ingeniously proposes to extract animal DNA from sheets of parchment and vellum and analyze it to determine where the writing material was manufactured.



Bloggers are entitled to a vacation now and then, but David Meadows at rogueclassicism has been unexpectedly silent for a week now, and I'm suffering from withdrawal. I hope he returns soon.

David's shoes are too big to fill, but here's a story I would expect to see on rogueclassicism, about the discovery of a spectacular set of ancient silverware from Pompeii. Thanks to my friend Jim K. for bringing it to my attention.


Latin in Lake Wobegon

Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America (New York: Viking, 2004), pp. 88-89 (on studying Latin at the University of Minnesota):
My Latin teacher, Margaret Forbes, was an auntly lady, cheery and kind, who ran us through daily translations and sniped at us with questions about the anticipatory subjunctive -- subjunctive denotes an act that is expected -- Expectabum dum frater redirect -- I was waiting for my brother to return -- and we responded to her aequo animo -- without anxiety, as she lay open the folded language -- patefacio, patefacere, patefeci, patefactum -- O pace in perpetuum, Margaret, felicitas aeternas!
Either Keillor's Latin is rusty after forty years, or Bill Gates' spelling checker has gone haywire again:Also, in English the preterite of the transitive verb lay is laid.

Some have criticized Keillor's book for its supposedly intemperate attacks on Republicans. But he ridicules the silliness of doctrinaire Democrats as well, e.g. on p. 100:
Once, at a party in St. Paul, I heard a woman talk at some length about diversity and how persons of "noncolor" should not impose their majority culture on others and the phrase persons of noncolor -- the idea of being colorless -- made me reach for my coat and hat. Goodbye, I'm out of here. Call me when you get over it.
I enjoyed the book.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


The Widow's Mite

The story of the widow's mite appears twice in the Gospels:Joseph A. Fitzmyer in his commentary on Luke says:
[T]he idea of small sacrifices being made by poor people as being more pleasing than the extravagant contributions of the rich is a theme common to Greek literature from at least the sixth century B.C. (see R. Herzog, Der junge Platon [ed. E.A. Horneffer, 2 vols.; Giessen: Töpelmann, 1922] 1. 150-157; J. Wettstein, Novum Testamentum graecum [2 vols.; reprinted Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlangsanstalt, 1962] 1. 618-619; cf. Josephus, Ant. 6.7,4 § 148; Euripides, Danaë frg. 319).
The modern secondary works cited by Fitzmyer are unavailable to me. I'll present Fitzmyer's two ancient parallels and add one more.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 6.148 (tr. William Whiston):
And when these do sacrifice, though it be a mean oblation, he better accepts of it as the honor of poverty, than such oblations as come from the richest men that offer them to him.

In Nauck's collection Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, the fragments of Euripides' Danaë are numbered 316 to 330. Nauck's fragment 319 has nothing to do with this theme, but his fragment 327 does. I cannot find a translation, so here is my own quick and dirty version:
Mortals are accustomed to consider the words of wealthy men wise, but to mock whenever a poor man from a lowly house speaks well. I perceive that poor men are often wiser than rich men and that those who sacrifice small offerings are more pious than those who sacrifice oxen.

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.3.3 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
Though his sacrifices were humble, according to his means, he [Socrates] thought himself not a whit inferior to those who made frequent and magnificent sacrifices out of great possessions. The gods (he said) could not well delight more in great offerings than in small -- for in that case must the gifts of the wicked often have found more favour in their sight than the gifts of the upright -- and man would not find life worth having, if the gifts of the wicked were received with more favour by the gods than the gifts of the upright. No, the greater the piety of the giver, the greater (he thought) was the delight of the gods in the gift. He would quote with approval the line:

"According to thy power render sacrifice to the immortal gods." [Hesiod, Works and Days 336]

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Professor of Unhappiness

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.6.2 (Antiphon is speaking, tr. E.C. Marchant):
"Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one's store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest; the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic. Besides you refuse to take money, the mere getting of which is a joy, while its possession makes one more independent and happier. Now the professors of other subjects try to make their pupils copy their teachers: if you too intend to make your companions do that, you must consider yourself a professor of unhappiness [kakodaimonias didaskalos]."



Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1913), chapter VI (The Virgin of Chartres):
If you are to get the full enjoyment of Chartres, you must, for the time, believe in Mary as Bernard [of Clairvaux] and Adam [of Saint Victor] did, and feel her presence as the architects did, in every stone they placed, and every touch they chiselled.
That's true of other works of art as well. If you are to get the full enjoyment of Bach's Magnificat, for example, it helps to believe that Mary actually spoke the words of the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55) and that she was carrying God's body in her virginal womb when she spoke them.


Donald Trump and His Apprentices

Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.6.4 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
"And what of the man who is such a keen man of business that he has no leisure for anything but the selfish pursuit of gain?"

"We must avoid him too, I think. There is no profit in knowing him."

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Youth and Old Age

Archibald MacLeish, With Age Wisdom:
At twenty, stooping round about,
I thought the world a miserable place,
Truth a trick, faith in doubt,
Little beauty, less grace.

Now at sixty what I see,
Although the world is worse by far,
Stops my heart in ecstasy.
God, the wonders that there are!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005



Arthur Darby Nock, St. Paul (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938), p. 236:
A great classical scholar, Eduard Norden, has remarked, 'Paul is a great writer whom I, at least, understand only with very great difficulty.'
D.S. Colman, Greece & Rome 7 (1960) 72:
Sometimes I am reduced to shame and despair by my own endless ignorance of the classical languages, but then I am comforted by reading a passage in the Life of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth which tells how the Bishop, when a young man at Cambridge, was told by a friend that 'the late Professor Dobree had nearly given up reading Sophocles, as there were scarcely ten lines together where he did not meet with some impediment.'

Tuesday, July 12, 2005



From the mailbag:
Dear Mr Gilleland,

As a man interested in ancient languages and the classical world, I much enjoy your weblog. I was interested, moreover, in your coining of a word with the meaning of "hatred of one's own race". I have not bettered your neologism, but I wished to share with you an modern-Englishified Anglo-Saxon approximation of your Latin original:

Gainselfkin from: O.E. gegn- "against"; O.E. self, "one's own, same"; O.E. cyn "family, race, kind, nature".

Now, to our modern (classical) tastes, this sounds rather clumsy, and is very unlikely to find acceptance. Still, I feel it has some warm, barbarian charm!

Not clumsy at all. It's a fine coinage, and I'm honored to introduce it here. We see the same prefix gain- in English gainsay = contradict. Cf. also the German preposition gegen = against.

The pseudonym Deogolwulf seems to be derived from O.E. deogol "secret" and O.E. wulf "wolf". Deogolwulf is the author of the excellent blog The Joy of Curmudgeonry. For a sample post, see here. You'll want to read more.

I should also mention another suggestion for "hatred of one's own race" made by Dr. Neill H. Payne (also via email) last year: ethnomasochism.


Crappy Names

Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt under Roman Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), chapter 3 (The Country Towns), p. 54:
In only two of the dozens of extant census declarations does a metropolitan family have more daughters than sons (and then only one and two more, respectively). A Greek custom which the metropolites continued was that of discarding unwanted neonates [newborns] with the rest of their refuse. Egyptians, whose religion forbade infanticide, often rescued babies left thus to die. The law allowed them to adopt foundlings or raise them as slaves. The origin of such children was often memorialized in the names they were given, Kopreus and its many variants, meaning 'off the dunghill'.
The Greek word for dung is kopros.

When I lived in Atlanta, I knew a gentleman who was an inexhaustible fount of amusing stories. I was never sure which were true and which were tall tales. One was the story of an unwed teenager who gave birth to a daughter in a big-city hospital (probably Grady in Atlanta). She had trouble thinking up a name for her newborn baby, until one of the waggish doctors suggested the euphonious name Latrina. The unsuspecting mother liked the name, did not see its resemblance to the word latrine, and so her unfortunate daughter supposedly went through life saddled with the name Latrina.

I laughed at the story, but doubted its truth. Soon after I moved to the Twin Cities, the newspapers were full of the tragic story of a little girl accidentally killed in a drive-by shooting. Relatives of the victim were interviewed. The first name of one of the relatives? Latrina. Google gives many other examples. If Latrina is an acceptable name, why not Toiletta?

According to the United States Census Bureau, 0.002 percent of females in this country are named Latrina. By contrast, 0.001 percent of the population have the same last name as I do (Gilleland). Kopreus does not appear as a first or last name in the United States.

Latrine comes from Latin latrina, a shortened form of lavatrina, derived from lavatus, the perfect passive participle of the verb lavo (wash, bathe). A word with a similar meaning and derivation is lavatory.

Another crappy name that amused me when I first read it was the name of Japan's prime minister from 1987 to 1989, Noboru Takeshita. This is just an accidental resemblance to an English obscenity, but apparently there used to be many intentionally scatological Japanese names:
In the Heian period and after, it was common to use "Kuso" in names, which means just what you think it means. The famous poet "Kinotsurayuki," who wrote the Tosa Diaries, is a notable example. His birth name was "Ako Kuso," which means "my child...shit." Amazing that a man with this kind of name grew up to be successful in life. Nor is he an isolated case. Names like "Kusoko" and "Oguso" were in vogue among the nobility. The book explains that this has to do with the belief in the god of the toilet. Since the toilet god keeps you healthy, it stands to reason he would be helpful in rearing a healthy child. This seems very out of place in the Japan of today, but it persists in a small way in the superstition that a pregnant woman should keep her bathroom clean if she wants to have a beautiful baby.
I'm curious to learn more about the Japanese toilet god. In Roman mythology, the toilet deity was a goddess, Cloacina, whose name comes from the Latin word for sewer, cloaca.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Memo to Karl Rove

The Education of Henry Adams, chapter XXIV (Indian Summer):
The amusement of making Presidents has keen fascination for idle American hands, but these black arts have the old drawback of all deviltry; one must serve the spirit one evokes, even though the service were perdition to body and soul.


Grin and Bear It

My deplorable taste in movies gravitates (sinks downwards) towards Westerns and shoot-em-up thrillers, and I usually avoid French films like the plague. But I'll probably make an exception for Luc Jacquet's documentary La Marche de l'empereur, narrated in its U.S. version March of the Penguins by Morgan Freeman. The clips are breathtaking, and the movie is rated G.

I've seen two reviews of this movie on television. Both reviewers pronounced the movie's setting Antartica, not Antarctica. I hope Morgan Freeman pronounces it correctly.

Douglas Harper's immensely useful Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following derivations of Arctic and Antarctic:
c.1391, artik, from O.Fr. artique, from M.L. articus, from L. arcticus, from Gk. arktikos "of the north," lit. "of the (constellation) Bear," from arktos "bear," the Bear being a northerly constellation. From the usual I.E. base for "bear" (cf. Avestan aresho, Arm. arj, Alb. ari, L. ursus, Welsh arth); see bear (n.) for why the name changed in Gmc. The -c- was restored 1556. Arctic Circle (66 degrees 32 minutes north), first attested 1556, is that inside which the Great Bear never sets.

1366, antartyk, from O.Fr. antartique, from M.L. antarcticus, from Gk. antarktikos "opposite the north," from anti- "opposite" + arktikos "arctic" (see Arctic). The first -c- sound ceased to be pronounced in M.L. and was dropped in O.Fr. Modern spelling, which restores it, dates from 1601.
Modern dictionaries, which are descriptive and not prescriptive, give the pronunciation without the -c- as an acceptable alternative.

Despite the long pedigree of this offensive pronunciation (dating back to the Middle Ages) and the absolution given to it by modern laxicographers, I'll never be able to hear it without regarding the speaker as a dolt and a nincompoop, especially when the speaker is a professional who should know better. The modern spelling and correct pronunciation allow us to see and hear the root of the words, Greek arktos (bear). The slovenly pronunciation obscures the contour and the history of the words. It's like looking at a beautiful woman dressed in a shapeless burlap sack. You miss the delectation of the curves.

Saturday, July 09, 2005



In the first line of the new Sappho poem, the Muses are modified by the adjective iokolpos, a compound derived from the nouns ion and kolpos. Ion is a flower, the violet, and kolpos (like Latin sinus) has a variety of meanings, including bosom and breast. West translated iokolpos "fragrant-blossomed," which some think was a misprint for "fragrant-bosomed," in either case with an emphasis on the odor of violets. Others think that the Muses are wearing girdles or belts either dyed purple or adorned with a floral pattern (cf. Greek iozonos). Perhaps they are wearing garlands of violets around their necks, like a Hawaiian lei. Or it may be that their naked breasts are flushed, with a blush or violet-colored glow. Analysis of the iconography of the Muses in ancient art (see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae) might help to decide. I would keep the English just as literal and ambiguous as the original Greek, and translate iokolpos as "violet-bosomed."

Here are some other adjectives derived from ion (violet) that modify the Muses in ancient Greek poetry:

Friday, July 08, 2005


The New Sappho

William S. Annis presents the Greek text of the new poem by Sappho in a PDF file, with most of the words defined and parsed. Martin West's translation (without the Greek) is here. This is a beautiful, poignant poem about youth and old age.

The poem ends with a reference to the myth of Tithonus, who was granted eternal life, but not eternal youth. The following passages from Greek literature also tell the tale of Tithonus:

Wednesday, July 06, 2005



Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations III (Schopenhauer as Educator), tr. R.J. Hollingdale:
How reluctant later generations will be to have anything to do with the relics of an era ruled, not by living men, but by pseudo-men dominated by public opinion; for which reason our age may be to some distant posterity the darkest and least known, because least human, portion of human history.
If true in 1874, how much more true in 2005, when the smallest actions of rulers are dictated by public opinion polls and focus groups.



The Education of Henry Adams, chapter 4 (Harvard College):
The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Potiphar's Wife

Gabriel Laguna at Tradición Clásica discusses the story of Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39.7-20). For those who skipped Sunday School, Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph. When Joseph rebuffed her advances, she falsely accused him of rape. Or maybe that's the kind of story kids don't study in Sunday School. Laguna has some pictures showing what Joseph missed out on.

An Egyptian papyrus in the British Museum (10183) tells a similar story, known as The Tale of Two Brothers. The two brothers were Anubis and Bata. Anubis' wife falsely accused Bata of beating her when she refused his advances, although she was really the one who tried to seduce him. A translation by Miriam Lichtheim in Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, volume II (The New Kingdom), pp. 203-211, is available on the Web here.

There are also several classical parallels to the story of Potiphar's wife. First is Bellerophon, falsely accused by Proetus' wife Anteia (in some versions Stheneboea). Homer tells the story (Iliad 6.152-165, tr. Samuel Butler):
There is a city in the heart of Argos, pasture land of horses, called Ephyra, where Sisyphus lived, who was the craftiest of all mankind. He was the son of Aeolus, and had a son named Glaucus, who was father to Bellerophon, whom heaven endowed with the most surpassing comeliness and beauty. But Proetus devised his ruin, and being stronger than he, drove him from the land of the Argives, over which Jove had made him ruler. For Antea, wife of Proetus, lusted after him, and would have had him lie with her in secret; but Bellerophon was an honourable man and would not, so she told lies about him to Proteus. 'Proetus,' said she, 'kill Bellerophon or die, for he would have had converse with me against my will.'
Perhaps the best known classical parallel to Potiphar's wife is Hippolytus, falsely accused by his stepmother, Theseus' wife Phaedra. Euripides and Seneca both wrote plays on the subject which survive. Apollodorus gives a summary at Epitome 1.18-19 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
Phaedra, after she had borne two children, Acamas and Demophon, to Theseus, fell in love with the son he had by the Amazon, to wit, Hippolytus, and besought him to lie with her. Howbeit, he fled from her embraces, because he hated all women. But Phaedra, fearing that he might accuse her to his father, cleft open the doors of her bed-chamber, rent her garments, and falsely charged Hippolytus with an assault.

Theseus believed her and prayed to Poseidon that Hippolytus might perish. So, when Hippolytus was riding in his chariot and driving beside the sea, Poseidon sent up a bull from the surf, and the horses were frightened, the chariot dashed in pieces, and Hippolytus, entangled in the reins, was dragged to death. And when her passion was made public, Phaedra hanged herself.
Apollodorus (3.13.3, tr. Frazer) also tells a similar story about Peleus, falsely accused by Acastus' wife Astydameia:
Astydamia, wife of Acastus, fell in love with Peleus, and sent him a proposal for a meeting; and when she could not prevail on him she sent word to his wife that Peleus was about to marry Sterope, daughter of Acastus; on hearing which the wife of Peleus strung herself up. And the wife of Acastus falsely accused Peleus to her husband, alleging that he had attempted her virtue.
In other versions Astydamia is called Hippolyta or Cretheis.

Cretheus' wife Biadice (or Demodice) falsely accused Phrixus. Hyginus, De Astronomia 2.20, tells the tale:
Moreover, Cretheus had a wife Demodice, whom others called Biadice. She was entranced by the body of Athamas' son Phrixus and fell in love with him. But she could not entice him to have his way with her, and so compelled by necessity she began to accuse him before Cretheus, claiming that he nearly raped her. She said other things of the same sort, as women are wont to do. Whereupon Cretheus, as befitted a king and an uxorious fellow, was deeply moved and persuaded Athamas to exact punishment from Phrixus.

Crethea autem habuisse Demodicen uxorem, quam alii Biadicen dixerunt. hanc autem Phrixi Athamantis filii corpore inductam in amorem incidisse, neque ab eo, ut sibi copiam faceret, inpetrare potuisse. itaque necessario coactam, criminari eum ad Crethea coepisse, quod diceret ab eo vim sibi pene allatam, et horum similia mulierum consuetudine dixisse. quo facto Crethea ut uxoris adamantem et regem decebat, permotum, Athamanti ut de eo supplicium sumeret persuasisse.
Finally, Cycnus' wife Philonome (or Phylonome) falsely accused Tennes (or Tenes), according to Pausanias 10.14.2 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
Philonome, daughter of Cragasus, fell in love with Tennes. Rejected by him she falsely accused him before her husband, saying that he had made love to her, and she had rejected him. Cycnus was deceived by the trick, placed Tennes with his sister in a chest and launched it out to sea.

Monday, July 04, 2005



They're filming the new Prairie Home Companion movie downtown, near my daughter's music school. She and her friends went over to watch during lunch and saw a bunch of actors and actresses. I didn't recognize most of the names, except for Meryl Streep.

After my daughter finished the tale of her celebrity sighting, I told a story about the time I went out of my way to avoid seeing Elizabeth Taylor in the pampered, puffy flesh. She was visiting the University of Virginia with John Warner (husband number seven, I think) and her visit included a tour of Alderman Library, where I worked. Most of the other employees crowded around the entrance to the library, hoping to catch a glimpse of the movie star. To avoid seeing her heavily mascared face, I retreated to the library stacks, which I doubted would be part of the tour. The stacks weren't air conditioned in those days, and were so hot in the summer that people sometimes fainted in them. Taylor's mascara would surely have melted in the heat, so I knew I was safe.

I also stayed home the day Queen Elizabeth visited Charlottesville. It struck me as more than odd that the denizens of that fair city, who spoke about Thomas Jefferson (founder of the University of Virginia) as though he were still alive, were so eager to see England's dowdy queen. Jefferson himself, I suspect, wouldn't have gone across the street to see a member of the decayed "royal" family.

On the other hand, I'm not immune from celebrity mania, provided that the celebrities are of the right sort. Lisa Roy Vox tells about the time she went to the library to see a genuine star, historian Shelby Foote:
Several years later, as a sophomore at Rhodes College (also in Memphis), I was in my boyfriend's (now my husband) dorm room one evening when he received a call from a friend. There had been a Shelby Foote sighting in the Rhodes library. Ford told me the news, we looked at each other, and ran to the library. On the main floor of the library, in the midst of the stacks of the recent issues of academic journals, sat Shelby Foote, perusing an issue of a history journal. In addition to his celebrity conferred upon him by Burns' documentary, a literature or American studies course was using one of Shelby Foote's novels that semester; a picture of Foote was on the back cover so students had recognized Foote when he entered the library. The scene might have been out of spy movie, except we were all terribly amateurish. Ford and I lurked behind a bookcase, sneaking peeks at Foote, whispering furiously at each other to approach him. Other students, say between 4-6 in number, also hovered nearby in various positions—pretending to read, use a nearby computer, hiding behind a corner etc. I'm sure, in retrospect, that Foote was quite aware that we were all staring at him. Eventually he got up and walked out of the library. My husband, not one to miss an opportunity, grabbed my hand and followed Foote out, stopping him on the steps of the library by saying something to the effect of being an admirer of his.
That kind of hero worship I can understand.


A Little Latin

In his blog Dappled Things, Fr. Jim Tucker often writes about the Latin language. He is an excellent Latinist himself, as his translation of the hymn Decora lux aeternitatis shows.

On the one hand, Fr. Tucker is irritated by Catholics who have a phobia about Latin:
Whenever anyone complains about the fact that some little Catholic something is done in Latin, which he can't understand, I generally ask him how much time he's given to trying to learn the little phrase he claims he can't understand. That usually nips the complaint in the bud.
On the other hand, he's annoyed by Catholics who sprinkle their conversations and writings with bits of incorrect Latin:
At least once a week, usually more often, I cringe with pain upon reading horribly elementary Latin errors in the learned pages of good Catholics who are quite knowledgeable about other things. I'm particularly amazed by clergy who do this. As Latin is again becoming the badge of a good and thinking Catholic, people are a bit too hasty in throwing the language around.
There's a single solution to both problems, and that is to teach a little Latin, not only to those who are scared of it but also to those who think they know it but don't.

Since the schools (even the Catholic ones) aren't teaching Latin, why don't the parishes do it? I see that St. John Cantius in Chicago offers Latin and Greek classes at all levels on Sunday mornings, six classes in all, including Latin for children. With 12,000 registered parishioners, Fr. Tucker is too busy to teach such classes himself, but perhaps among those 12,000 there is one who is both willing and able.

On the fear of Latin and Greek tags, Phil Flemming writes:
One of the edits I have to do these days, for any piece I wish to publish in general audiences media, is "delete all Latin or Greek phrases". Editors insist. 'Twas not so 20 or 30 years ago. I could still write sine die or pari passu or a fortiori, and expect my audience to have a clue. No longer. A fortiori, any classical allusions. I don't mind that this generation is absorbed by Information Science -- whatever that is -- but Information Science apparently has no sense of history or of values, beyond the pursuit of the $. I have nothing to say to them and in turn I am a dinosaur to them.


The Reason For It

Jon Hassler, Dear James (1993), chapter 37:
"There's a kind of gravity at work in the moral life of this nation, Myron, a tendency toward the bad and away from the good, standards crumbling and sliding downhill, and do you know the reason for it?" Her eyes were moving left and right, trained on the cars going by.

"California," he ventured.

"Original sin," she said.

Sunday, July 03, 2005



H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines, chapter XIV (The Last Stand of the Greys):
Once I heard a scholar with a fine voice read aloud from the Greek poet Homer, and I remember that the sound of the rolling lines seemed to make my blood stand still.



G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, chapter V (The Peacemaker):
"Well, we won't quarrel about a word," said the other, pleasantly.

"Why on earth not?" said MacIan, with a sudden asperity. "Why shouldn't we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about?"

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