Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Grammar and Spelling

Mary Boykin Chesnut, Diary (February 28, 1861):
In the drawing-room a Mrs. Saxon abused South Carolina until she found I was a South Carolinian and took it back. She spoke of her letters being printed, but she used "incredible" for "incredulous," and "was" for "were." A fine writer she must have been.

Mary Boykin Chesnut, Diary (August 27, 1861):
Today I saw a letter from a girl crossed in love. Her parents object to the social position of her fiancé; in point of fact, they forbid the banns. She writes: "I am misserable." Her sister she calls a "mean retch." For such a speller, a man of any social status would do. They ought not to expect so much for her. If she wrote her "pah" a note I am sure that "stern parient" would give in.

Seen or heard recently:I sometimes think that sensitivity to these things is a curse, like an over-keen nose assailed at all times and in all places by foul odors.


Pleasures of Learning

A.E. Housman, inaugural lecture, University College, London, 1892:
The faculty of learning is ours that we may find in its exercise that delight which arises from the unimpeded activity of any energy in the groove nature meant it to run in. Let a man acquire knowledge not for this or that external and incidental good which may chance to result from it, but for itself; not because it is useful or ornamental, but because it is knowledge, and therefore good for man to acquire. 'Brothers,' says Ulysses in Dante, when with his old and tardy companions he had left Seville on the right hand and Ceuta on the other, and was come to that narrow pass where Hercules assigned his landmarks to hinder man from venturing farther: 'Brothers, who through a hundred thousand dangers have reached the West, deny not, to this brief vigil of your senses that remains, experience of the unpeopled world behind the sunset. Consider of what seed ye are sprung: ye were not formed to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.' For knowledge resembles virtue in this, and differs in this from other possessions, that it is not merely a means of procuring good, but is good in itself simple: it is not a coin which we pay down to purchase happiness, but it has happiness indissolubly bound up with it.


It is the glory of God, says Solomon, to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Kings have long since abdicated that province; and we students are come into their inheritance: it is our honour to search out the things which God has concealed. In Germany at Easter time they hide coloured eggs about the house and the garden that the children may amuse themselves in hunting after them and finding them. It is to some such game of hide-and-seek that we are invited by that power which planted in us the desire to find out what is concealed, and stored the universe with hidden things that we might delight ourselves in discovering them. And the pleasure of discovery differs from other pleasures in this, that is shadowed by no fear of satiety on the one hand or of frustration on the other. Other desires perish in their gratification, but the desire of knowledge never: the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing. Other desires become the occasion of pain through dearth of the material to gratify them, but not the desire of knowledge: the sum of things to be known is inexhaustible, and however long we read we shall never come to the end of our story-book. So long as the mind of man is what it is, it will continue to exult in advancing on the unknown throughout the infinite field of the universe; and the tree of knowledge will remain for ever, as it was in the beginning, a tree to be desired to make one wise.
The Dante quotation is from the Inferno, 26.112-120:
"O frati", dissi "che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l'occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia
d'i nostri sensi ch'è del rimanente,
non vogliate negar l'esperienza,
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza."
The Solomon quotation is from Proverbs 25.2.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Intelligent Design

W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, chap. LXXXVII:
"Jane, your nose wants blowing."

"I haven't got a hanky, daddy."

"Tut, tut, child," he answered, as he produced a vast, brilliant bandana, "what do you suppose the Almighty gave you fingers for?"



Henry David Thoreau, Natural History of Massachusetts:
The merely political aspect of the land is never very cheering; men are degraded when considered as the members of a political organization.

Henry David Thoreau, Walking:
In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the earth's surface where a man does not stand from one year's end to another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the cigar-smoke of a man.


Lost in Translation

Francis Parkman, Pioneers of France in the New World, part II (Champlain and His Associates), chap. VI (Jesuits in Acadia):
Biard's greatest difficulty was with the Micmac language. Young Biencourt was his best interpreter, and on common occasions served him well; but the moment that religion was in question he was, as it were, stricken dumb, the reason being that the language was totally without abstract terms. Biard resolutely set himself to the study of it, a hard and thorny path, on which he made small progress, and often went astray. Seated, pencil in hand, before some Indian squatting on the floor, whom with the bribe of a mouldy biscuit he had lured into the hut, he plied him with questions which he often neither would nor could answer. What was the Indian word for Faith, Hope, Charity, Sacrament, Baptism, Eucharist, Trinity, Incarnation? The perplexed savage, willing to amuse himself, and impelled, as Biard thinks, by the Devil, gave him scurrilous and unseemly phrases as the equivalent of things holy, which, studiously incorporated into the father's Indian catechism, produced on his pupils an effect the reverse of that intended.

Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, chap. IV (Le Jeune and the Hunters):
At the outset, he had proffered his aid to Le Jeune in his study of the Algonquin; and, like the Indian practical jokers of Acadia in the case of Father Biard, palmed off upon him the foulest words in the language as the equivalent of things spiritual. Thus it happened, that, while the missionary sought to explain to the assembled wigwam some point of Christian doctrine, he was interrupted by peals of laughter from men, children, and squaws.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Euripides and Luke

With admirable thoroughness Peter Kirby examined supposed parallels (miraculous prison escapes, spur kicking proverb) between the Acts of the Apostles and Euripides' Bacchae. I will glean the stubble, with the help of commentaries on the Bacchae.

E.R. Dodds (on Bacchae 45) thought that the author of Acts "had probably read the play." In addition to the prison escapes and the "kick against the pricks" proverb, Dodds noted the presence in both texts of the comparatively rare words θεομαχέω (theomachéo, verb, fight against god) and θεομάχος (theomáchos, adjective, fighting against god).

In Acts, the adjective occurs in Gamaliel's advice (5.38-39):
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God [θεομάχοι].
In Bacchae, the verb occurs three times, first in the prologue spoken by Dionysus (lines 43-46, tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Now Cadmus gave his sceptre and its privileges to Pentheus, his daughter's child, who wages war 'gainst my divinity [θεομαχεῖ], thrusting me away from his drink-offerings, and making no mention of me in his prayers.
Teiresias also uses the verb when arguing with Pentheus, at lines 322-325 (tr. Coleridge):
Wherefore I and Cadmus, whom thou jeerest so, will wreath our brows with ivy and join the dance; pair of grey beards though we be, still must we take part therein; never will I for any words of thine fight against heaven [θεομαχήσω].
Finally Agave says about her son Pentheus (lines 1255-1256, tr. Coleridge):
But he can do naught but wage war with gods [θεομαχεῖν].
At first I thought this argument had some merit, because my old (1872) Liddell-Scott gives no more examples of these words. But the 1940 edition of Liddell-Scott-Jones gives other examples, from Hippocrates, Menander, the Septuagint, Plutarch, Arrian, Lucian, etc. Peter Kirby has access to a copy of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae CD-ROM. Perhaps it would reveal yet more examples.

Kirby also missed a few parallels to the spur kicking proverb, included in the commentaries of Dodds (1960) and Sandys (1880) on Bacchae 795:I would add Ammianus Marcellinus 18.5.1: ne contra acumina calcitraret (lest he kick against the pricks). It is noteworthy that Ammianus, although he wrote in Latin, was a native Greek speaker. This seems to be primarily a Greek proverb.

These additional parallels only strengthen Kirby's sensible conclusion that the proverb is widespread and that its presence in Acts 26.14 does not prove dependence on Bacchae.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Vita Brevis

Ralph Waldo Emerson, To J.W.:
Life is too short to waste
In critic peep or cynic bark,
Quarrel or reprimand:
'T will soon be dark;
Up! mind thine own aim, and
God speed the mark!
Emerson's phrase cynic bark is pregnant with meaning. Dogs bark, and cynic comes from Greek kynikós (κυνικός, dog-like), itself from on (κύων, dog).


Obstacles to Truth

A.E. Housman, The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism (address to the Classical Association, August 4, 1921):
Most men are rather stupid, and most of those who are not stupid are, consequently, rather vain; and it hardly possible to step aside from the pursuit of truth without falling a victim either to your stupidity or else to your vanity. Stupidity will then attach you to received opinions, and you will stick in the mud; or vanity will set you hunting for novelty, and you will find mare's nests. Added to these snares and hindrances there are the various forms of partisanship: sectarianism, which handcuffs you to your own school and teachers and associates, and patriotism, which handcuffs you to your own country. Patriotism has a great name as a virtue, and in civic matters, at the present stage of the world's history, it possibly still does more good than harm; but in the sphere of intellect it is an unmitigated nuisance.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Necessities of Life

William Hazlitt, A Farewell to Essay-Writing (London Weekly Review, March 29, 1828):
Food, warmth, sleep, and a book: these are all I at present ask -- the ultima Thule of my wandering desires.
Cf. Anatole France, La rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque (tr. Jos. A.V. Stritzko):
If there are two kinds of furniture I hold in high esteem, they are the bed and the table. The table, filled up by turns with erudite books and succulent dishes, serves as support to the nourishment both of body and spirit; the bed propitious for sweet repose as well as for cruel love.

Il y a deux meubles que je tiens en haute estime, c'est le lit et la table. La table qui, tour à tour chargée de doctes livres et de mets succulents, sert de support à la nourriture du corps et à celle de l'esprit; le lit, propice au doux repos comme au cruel amour.



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), From Moschus:
Ah! When the mallow in the croft dies down,
  Or the pale parsley or the crisped anise,
Again they grow, another year they flourish;
  But we, the great, the valiant, and the wise,
Once covered over in the hollow earth,
  Sleep a long, dreamless, unawakening sleep.
This is from Moschus' Lament for Bion. Andrew Lang (1844-1912) rendered the same lines in prose thus:
Ah me, when the mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley, and the curled tendrils of the anise, on a later day they live again, and spring in another year; but we men, we, the great and mighty, or wise, when once we have died, in hollow earth we sleep, gone down into silence; a right long, and endless, and unawakening sleep.
Since Bion lived later than Moschus, modern scholars attribute the lament not to Moschus but to an unnamed disciple of Bion.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


The Distance Between Ruler and Ruled

Seneca, in his treatise De Clementia (On Mercy) addressed to Nero, contrasts the isolation of the leader with the freedom of movement enjoyed by the ordinary citizen (1.8.2, 4, tr. John W. Basore):
It is possible for me to walk alone without fear in any part of the city I please, though no companion attends me, though I have no sword at my house, none at my side; you, amid the peace you create, must live armed. You cannot escape from your lot; it besets you, and, whenever you leave the heights, it pursues you with its magnificence....Our movements are noticed by few; we may come forth and retire and change our dress without the world being aware; you can no more hide yourself than the sun.
The Emperor Nero chafed against his forced isolation:

Miriam T. Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 111, tried to interpret Nero's behavior in a favorable light:
Should we rather see in this practice the estimable desire of a young ruler, normally escorted everywhere by guardsman and lictors, to find out for himself what his people really thought?
She compared Shakespeare's Prince Hal, and we might add Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales, in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. If that were truly Nero's motivation in gadding about incognito, it would be a praiseworthy motivation.

Modern heads of state, no less than ancient ones, are isolated from those they govern. I can think of one in particular, who never meets with his ordinary fellow citizens unless they have been screened in advance to ensure their ideological purity; who spends his time surrounded by professional athletes and wealthy campaign contributors; who doesn't have the magnanimity to meet with his critics; who lives in a cocoon.

How different the behavior of our first Republican president! Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, volume 2 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1939), p. 236, tells an interesting anecdote. Chided by Major General Charles G. Halpine for wasting his time receiving ordinary citizens as visitors to the White House, Lincoln replied:
I feel--though the tax on my time is heavy--that no hours of my day are better employed than those which thus bring me again within the direct contact and atmosphere of the average of our whole people. Men moving only in an official circle are apt to become merely official--not to say arbitrary--in their ideas, and are apter and apter with each passing day to forget that they only hold power in a representative capacity. Now this is all wrong. I go into these promiscuous receptions of all who claim to have business with me twice each week, and every applicant for audience has to take his turn, as if waiting to be shaved in the barber's shop. Many of the matters brought to my notice are utterly frivolous, but others are of more or less importance, and all serve to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage out of which I sprung, and to which at the end of two years I must return.
Lincoln was truly a man of the people. Others just pretend to be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Root Beer

Rogueclassicism points to a cartoon in which a character asks, "What's the Greek term for 'root beer'?"

Sauvage Noble takes up the challenge and suggests νίτρον (nítron), soda, although he recognizes that this is actually sodium carbonate or soda ash, not the sodium bicarbonate or baking soda which when combined with vinegar produces carbon dioxide gas, the bubbles in our soda pop.

I would suggest πομφολυγηρά ἐκ ῥίζων πόσις (pompholygerá ek rhízon pósis), bubbly drink from roots. The ancient Greek for beer is ἐκ κριθῶν μέθυ (ek krithôn méthy), alcoholic drink from barley.

There is probably a modern Greek expression for root beer, but I don't know what it is.


Recipe for a Classics Blog

Cervantes, Don Quixote, Prologue (tr. Walter Starkie):

All you have to do is to drag in some trite phrases and tags of Latin that you know by heart or at least that cost you little trouble to look up -- for instance, when dealing with liberty and captivity, to introduce
Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro
and in the margin cite Horace or whoever said it. If you should deal with the power of death, come in with
Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas,
Regumque turres.
If you are writing of friendship and the love that God commands you to have for your enemy, come to the point at once with Holy Scripture, which you can readily do with a tiny bit of research by repeating no less than the Word of God Himself: Ego autem dico vobis: diligite inimicos vestros. If you are dealing with the subject of evil thoughts, turn to the Gospel: De corde exeunt cogitationes malae. If on the fickleness of friends, you have Cato, who will supply you with this distich:
Donec eris felix multos numerabis amicos,
Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris.
With these meagre scraps of Latin and the like, you may perhaps be taken for a scholar.

Part of the humor of this advice is that Cervantes (intentionally?) misattributes some of his quotations. Non bene etc. is not from Horace but from Walter of England, Fables of Aesop 54.25. Donec eris etc. is not from Cato, but from Ovid, Tristia 1.9.5-6. The translator, Walter Starkie, also in a footnote misattributes Pallida mors etc. to Horace, Odes LIV 13-14; it should be Horace, Odes 1.4.13-14.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005



W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, chap. 9:
Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.


Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996), p. 16:
The question asked by Tacitus when the well-to-do citizens of ancient Rome began fleeing the troubles of the city by retreating behind the walls of their guarded villas -- "Who will guard the guards?" -- is still a good one.
Tacitus didn't ask the question; Juvenal did. Juvenal didn't ask it when the wealthy retreated into their gated communites; he asked it about those who were supposed to keep watch over potentially adulterous wives.

The question occurs twice in Juvenal's misogynistic sixth satire, once at lines 347-348 (deleted by M. Maas) and once at lines 31-32 of the Oxford fragment discovered by E.O. Winstedt. Here is Wendell Clausen's Oxford Classical Text of both passages, accompanied by G.G. Ramsay's Loeb translation.

[audio quid ueteres olim moneatis amici,
'pone seram, cohibe.' sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes? cauta est et ab illis incipit uxor.]
iamque eadem summis pariter minimisque libido,
nec melior silicem pedibus quae conterit atrum
quam quae longorum uehitur ceruice Syrorum.

I hear all this time the advice of my old friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who will ward the warders? The wife arranges accordingly and begins with them. High or low their passions are all the same. She who wears out the black cobble-stones with her bare feet is no better then she who rides [in a litter] upon the necks of eight stalwart Syrians.
consilia et ueteres quaecumque monetis amici,
'pone seram, cohibe'. sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes, qui nunc lasciuae furta puellae
hac mercede silent? crimen commune tacetur.
prospicit hoc prudens et ab illis incipit uxor.

I know well the advice and warnings of my old friends--"Put on a lock and keep your wife indoors." Yes, but who is to ward the warders? They get paid in kind for holding their tongues as to their young lady's escapades; participation seals their lips. The wily wife arranges accordingly and begins with them.
Norris freely admits elsewhere in her book (pp. 9, 37) that she's no scholar. And if we were only allowed to quote authors whom we ourselves have actually read, then quotation would be effectively outlawed or at least drastically curtailed.

But Riverhead Books is a division of the venerable firm G.P. Putnam's Sons, who boast that they have been publishers since 1838. Where were the editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers? Or, to paraphrase Juvenal, Who will edit the editors themselves? Who will proofread the proofreaders themselves? Who will fact check the fact checkers themselves?

Monday, August 22, 2005


More Crappy Names

I recently discussed crappy names on this blog. Since then some other interesting examples have popped up.

Edward Cook, at Ralph the Sacred River, writes about "negative meanings in the names of supposedly bad folk":
One might mention, among several examples from the Hebrew Bible, the name Jezebel, Heb. iyzevel, probably originally containing a reference to zevul, "prince," a title of Baal. But the wicked queen's name was pronounced so as to recall the word zevel, "dung."
There's another example from the Near East in The Thousand and One Nights (Night 892, tr. Richard F. Burton):
And he called aloud to his youngest son, saying, "O Fasyan, surnamed Salh al-Subyan, go forth, O my son, to do battle with thy sister and take of her the blood-wreak for thy brothers and fall on her, come what may; and whether thou gain or thou lose the day; and if thou conquer her, slay her with foulest slaughter!"
Burton glosses Fasyan as "The Breaker of Wind (faswah - a fizzle, a silent crepitus)" and Salh al-Subyan as "son of Children's dung."



David Briggs, in an article for the Cleveland Plain Dealer entitled More inclusive prayer book, hymnal is applauded by Lutheran assembly, writes:
Then, after two hours of debate, delegates gave sustained applause for the approval of work on the new book that attempts to be open to different cultures and new musical styles. It will offer alternatives such as "Holy Eternal Majesty, Holy Incarnate Word, Holy Abiding Spirit" for the male-dominated Trinitarian image of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayers during Sunday services.
Yet another example of political correctness stamping out tradition. This curmudgeon still prefers "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" to "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

While they're at it, why don't they jettison that old-fashioned word "Trinity"? How about something more modern and catchy, like "Holy Trio" or "Three Amigos"?



Sylvain Sauvage, 1888-1948, was a French book illustrator. His parents, wittingly or not, gave him a very interesting name. Both Sylvain and Sauvage are derived from Latin silva (forest). Sylvain comes from Silvanus, a deity presiding over woods. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the history of savage and sauvage thus:
c.1300, "wild, undomesticated, untamed" (of animals and places), from O.Fr. sauvage, salvage "wild, savage, untamed," from L.L. salvaticus, alteration of silvaticus "wild," lit. "of the woods," from silva "forest, grove."
Google gives examples of similar names, e.g. Sylvia Savage and Sylvie Sauvage.

The title of this blog post uses silva in a slightly different sense, meaning a miscellany or hodge-podge. The use of silva as a title has the sanction of ancient tradition. Suetonius, De Grammaticis 24.5 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, on Marcus Valerius Probus), says:
He published a few slight works on divers minute points, and also left a good sized "Grove of Observations on our Early Language."

nimis pauca et exigua de quibusdam minutis quaestiunculis edidit; reliquit autem non mediocrem silvam observationum sermonis antiqui.
On the Greek equivalent of silva (hyle) as a book title see Suetonius, De Grammaticis 10.4-5 (tr. J.C. Rolfe, on Lucius Ateius Philologus):
He seems to have assumed the title Philologus, because like Eratosthenes, who was first to lay claim to that surname, he regarded himself as a man of wide and varied learning. And that he was such is evident from his commentaries, though very few of them survive; but he gives some idea of their number in a second letter to the aforesaid Hermas: "Remember to recommend my Hyle to others; as you know, it consists of material of every kind, collected in eight hundred books."

Philologi appellationem assumpsisse videtur quia sicut Eratosthenes, qui primus hoc cognomen sibi vindicavit, multiplici variaque doctrina censebatur. Quod sane ex commentariis eius apparet, quanquam paucissimi exstent; de quorum tamen copia sic altera ad eundem Hermam epistula significat: "Hylen nostram aliis memento commendare, quam omnis generis coegimus, uti scis, octingentos in libros."
Quintilian (10.3.17, tr. H.E. Butler) also seems to recognize silva as a book title:
On the other hand, there is a fault which is precisely the opposite of this, into which those fall who insist on first making a rapid draft of their subject with the utmost speed of which their pen is capable, and write in the heat and impulse of the moment. They call this their rough copy [silvam].

diversum est huic eorum vitium qui primo decurrere per materiam stilo quam velocissimo volunt, et sequentes calorem atque impetum ex tempore scribunt: hanc silvam vocant.
Silva was the inspiration for the title of Ben Jonson's posthumously published Timber: or, Discoveries; made upon men and matter: as they have flowed out of his daily readings; or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times. Jonson explained his title in a Latin note, which I have translated as follows:
Forest of objects and opinions, called hyle, as it were, from the manifold matter and variety contained herein. For as we commonly call a countless crowd of trees growing at random a forest, so also the ancients used to call Forests (Timber-trees) those books in which little treatises on various and diverse subjects had been heaped haphazardly together.

Sylva rerum et sententiarum quasi Ὓλη dicta a multiplici materia et varietate in iis contenta. Quemadmodum enim vulgo solemus infinitam arborum nascentium indiscriminatim multitudinem Sylvam dicere: ita etiam libros suos in quibus variae et diversae materiae opuscula temere congesta erant, Sylvas appellabant antiqui: Timber-trees.
If Marcus Valerius Probus, Lucius Ateius Philologus, or Ben Jonson were alive today, perhaps they would be publishing their lucubrations in blogs entitled Silva Observationum Sermonis Antiqui, Hyle, or Timber.



Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's Year (1953; rpt. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987), November 22:
The three great disaster inventions, so far as bringing death to wildlife is concerned, have been gunpowder, the modern match and the gasoline engine.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Crackling Wind

Jim Dawson, Who Cut the Cheese? A Cultural History of the Fart (Berkeley: TenSpeed Press, 1999), p. 21:
First there's crepitate (to fart), from the Latin crepitare (to rattle) and crepitus ventris (a fart, literally crackling wind)...
Dawson's translation of crepitus ventris is incorrect in two respects: (1) he makes crepitus an adjective, when in fact it's a noun, and (2) ventris has nothing to do with wind -- it's the genitive singular of venter (belly, stomach). The phrase means "a crackling (rattling, rumbling) of the stomach," not "crackling wind." It might be OK to translate English breaking wind idiomatically in Latin as crepitus ventris, provided that we recognize that the literal Latin phrase has no wind in it. Crackling wind in Latin would be crepitans ventus.

Although they share the same first four letters, Latin ventus (wind) and venter (belly) are etymologically unrelated. For the root of ventus, see Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch, pp. 81-84, and Calvert Watkins, Indo-European Roots, s.v. we-. For the root of venter, see Pokorny, pp. 1104-1105, and Watkins, s.v. udero-.

The phrase crepitus ventris occurs in Suetonius' Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.
A similar phrase, strepitus ventris, occurs in Suetonius' Life of Lucan 2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He was recalled from Athens by Nero and made one of his intimate friends, besides being honored with the quaestorship; but he could not keep the emperor's favor. For, piqued because Nero had suddenly called a meeting of the Senate and gone out when he was giving a reading, with no other motive than to throw cold water on the performances, he afterwards did not refrain from words and acts of hostility to the princeps, which are still notorious. Once for example in a public privy, when he relieved his bowels with an uncommonly loud noise, he shouted out this half-line of the emperor's, while those who were there for the same purpose took to their heels: "You might suppose it thundered 'neath the earth."

revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: "sub terris tonuisse putes."
For the comparison of thunder with breaking wind, see also Aristophanes, Clouds 382-394 (tr. anon.):
STREPSIADES. But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?

SOCRATES. Have you not understood me, then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately swollen out, they burst with a great noise.

STREPSIADES. How can you make me credit that?

SOCRATES. Take yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling.

STREPSIADES. Yes, yes, by Apollo! I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. At first it's but a little gurgling, pappax, pappax! then it increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.

SOCRATES. Well then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these mighty claps of thunder?

STREPSIADES. And this is why the names are so much alike: crap [πορδή, pordé] and clap [βροντή, bronté].



Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, tr. Lafcadio Hearn:
And how avoid being excited among all these books which incessantly tempt my curiosity without ever satisfying it? At one moment it is a date I have to look for; at another it is the name of a place I have to make sure of, or some quaint term of which it is important to determine the exact meaning. Words?--why, yes! words. As a philologist, I am their sovereign; they are my subjects, and, like a good king, I devote my whole life to them.


Matière Grasse

Once upon a time the standard fare for second year Latin students in high school was Caesar's Gallic War, which opens with this sentence:
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.
In the translation of W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn:
All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third.
Waverley Root, The Food of France, chapter 1, makes a different division:
The Continent is divided among the three domains of butter, of lard, and of olive oil. One reason, though not the most important one, for the supremacy of French cooking may be that within her national boundaries France has large areas devoted to each of the three types of cooking founded on these three types of fat. Though each area tends to adhere most faithfully to its own school, none is unaware of the others. Thus at the outset French cooking is gifted with the great asset of variety.


In the Woods

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal (Autumn 1868):
The only place where I feel the joy of eminent domain is in my woodlot. My spirits rise whenever I enter it. I can spend the entire day there with hatchet or pruning shears making paths, without a remorse of wasting time. I fancy the birds know me, and even the trees make little speeches or hint at them.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


The New Testament and Seneca

Matthew 5.39:
Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Seneca, De Ira 2.34.5 (tr. John W. Basore):
If some one strikes you, step back; for by striking back you will give him both the opportunity and the excuse to repeat his blow; when you later wish to extricate yourself, it will be impossible.

percussit te: recede; referiendo enim et occasionem saepius feriendi dabis et excusationem; non poteris revelli, cum voles.

Luke 14.8-11:
When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Seneca, De Ira 3.37.4 (tr. John W. Basore):
Because you were given a less honourable place at the table, you began to get angry at your host, at the writer of the invitation, at the man himself who was preferred above you. Madman! what difference does it make on what part of the couch you recline? Can a cushion add to either your honour or your disgrace?

minus honorato loco positus irasci coepisti convivatori, vocatori, ipsi qui tibi praeferebatur: demens, quid interest quam lecti premas partem? honestiorem te aut turpiorem potest facere pulvinus?

Romans 3.23:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Seneca, De Clementia 1.6.3 (tr. John W. Basore):
We have all sinned - some in serious, some in trivial things; some from deliberate intention, some by chance impulse, or because we were led astray by the wickedness of others; some of us have not stood strongly enough by good resolutions, and have lost our innocence against our will and though still clinging to it; and not only have we done wrong, but we shall go on doing wrong to the very end of life.

peccavimus omnes, alii gravia, alii leviora, alii ex destinato, alii forte impulsi aut aliena nequitia ablati; alii in bonis consiliis parum fortiter stetimus et innocentiam inviti ac retinentes perdidimus; nec deliquimus tantum, sed usque ad extremum aevi delinquemus.

Friday, August 19, 2005


The Pyrrha Ode

Mallarme at the Great Nomadic Council discusses the fifth ode of Horace's first book. The Pyrrha ode was a favorite of Franklin P. Adams, who paraphrased or translated it at least half a dozen times.

Horace the Wise

What lady-like youth in his wild aberrations
  Is putting cologne on his brow?
For whom are the puffs and the blond transformations?
  I wonder who's kissing you now.

Tee hee! I must laugh when I think of his finish,
  Not wise to your ways and your rep.
Ha! ha! how his fancy for you will diminish!
  I know, for I'm Jonathan Hep.

Good-by, My Lover, Good-by!

O pretty Pyrrha, false as fair,
For whom dost thou do up thy hair,
Thy crown of gold, thy shining tresses?
What gracile youth gives thee caresses?

Alas! How often shall he find
The faithlessness of womankind!
As who should say, in utter wonder,
"How fair it was! Who thought of thunder?"

Ah -- wretched they that think thee fair,
Enmeshed in thy seductive snare!
I vow, by Neptune, ne'er to woo thee
Again, for I am jerry to thee.

Pyrrha the Flirtatious

Who is the arrowcollar kid
  You're playing in the grot with?
For whom the zippy Leghorn lid?
  Whom do you do the trot with?

Ha! Get me giggling, while I think
  How smooth appears the ocean
To him, the unsuspecting gink --
  But oh! that wavy motion!

I weep for them that are not joe,
  That think you sweet and clever.
Spear it from one who's in the know:
  I'm off your lay forever.

A Warning

Tell me, my Pyrrha, what youth is now chasing thee?
Who is thy flowered and redolent slave?
Where's the cool grotto in which he's embracing thee?
Who is the cause of thy permanent wave?

Often, how often, he'll call thee perfidious!
Frequently rail at the mutable gods!
He who is thrall to thy graces insidious,
Playing a game against terrible odds!

Who for thy favour is eager and sedulous,
Thinking thee pliable, deeming thee kind,
Loving and worshipping thee -- the poor, credulous
Fish, to thy falsity utterly blind!

Here in the temple of Neptune, I dedicate
Weeds that are dripping with warning, and damp.
Pyrrha's a plausible, beautiful vamp.

To a Coquette

What graceful youth, perfumed and slender,
Bids you, O Pyrrha, to surrender,
Embracing you for half an hour
Within the rose-encrusted bower?

Alas! how often will this youth
Sadden at seas no longer smooth!
And oh! how frequently he'll wonder
At waters rough with dark and thunder!

Doomed are the lads who when they meet
You think that you are honey-sweet;
As far as I'm concerned I'm through
With polyandrous girls like you.

A Roman Flirt

What slender lad, reeking with scent,
  Now gives thee roseate embraces?
For whom dost thou, in blandishment,
  Bind thy gold locks in simple graces?

Alas, how frequently he'll rue
  Thy heart so hard, thy soul so dowdy!
His heaven that seems forever blue
  Tomorrow will be blackly cloudy.

Forlorn are they who see thee shine;
  Blinded who gaze at thee unloathing.
I've hung upon the temple's line
  To dry, my sadly dripping clothing.

Here's the Latin original by Horace:

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.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


What to Say When Asked For Advice

W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse, Act 2:

If were not a little mad and generally silly
I should give you my advice upon the subject, willy-nilly;
I should show you in a moment how to grapple with the question,
And you'd really be astonished at the force of my suggestion.
On the subject I shall write you a most valuable letter,
Full of excellent suggestions when I feel a little better,
But at present I'm afraid I am as mad as any hatter,
So I'll keep 'em to myself, for my opinion doesn't matter!

While looking up this song on the Web, to save myself the trouble of typing it out, I discovered that there are karaoke audio files available for Gilbert and Sullivan songs, including this one. At last, in the privacy of my own home, in front of the computer, I can indulge my fantasy of starring in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.



Charles Baudelaire, À une heure du matin (At one o'clock in the morning):
At last! Alone! No sound but the rattle of a few belated, worn-out hackney cabs. For a few hours silence will be ours, if not rest. At last! The tyranny of the human face has disappeared, and I will suffer no more, except from myself.

Enfin! seul! On n'entend plus que le roulement de quelques fiacres attardés et éreintés. Pendant quelques heures, nous posséderons le silence, sinon le repos. Enin! la tyrannie de la face humaine a disparu, et je ne souffrirai plus que par moi-même.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Old Age

St. Jerome, commentary on Amos, II prol.:
Old age brings many things with it, both good and bad. Good, because old age frees us from those most shameless masters, pleasures; puts a limit to gluttony; counters the attacks of lust; increases wisdom; gives riper counsels....But these are the things that are considered the evils of old age: frequent weaknesses; very troublesome mucus which some Greeks call coryza, others phlegm; failing eyesight; heartburn; hands that shake sometimes; gumless teeth that fall out while eating. In addition, old age is often tortured by colic and stomach aches, by pains of gout in the feet and hands, so that it can't even hold pencil or pen, can't walk on its own feet, and seems deprived of a large part of life and dead before its time in many parts of the body.

Senectus multa secum et bona affert et mala. Bona, quia nos ab impudentissimis liberat dominis voluptatibus, gulae imponit modum, libidinis frangit impetus, auget sapientiam, dat maturiora consilia....Quae autem putantur senectutis mala, ista sunt: crebrae infirmitates, pituita molestissima, quam Graecorum alii κόρυζαν, alii φλέγμα nuncupant, caligantes oculi, acescentes cibi, tremens interdum manus, nudi gingivis dentes, et inter cibos cadentes. Ad haec torminibus et aculeis stomachi, podagraeque et chiragrae doloribus saepe torquetur, ita ut ne stilum quidem aut calamum tenere queat, ut suis pedibus non possit incedere magnaque parte vitae videatur esse truncata, et multis membris praemortua.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Book Sellers

On Amazon, Hugh Lloyd-Jones' edition of Sophocles' fragments in the Loeb series is available new for $21.50. If you look at the independent book sellers selling the same title on Amazon, you will find them charging up to $43.26 for the same book. What kind of book buyer would pay twice the list price? What kind of book seller would charge twice the list price?

It reminds me of a true story. A gentleman was shopping for a car and found one he liked. The dealer quoted a price of $11,800. The shopper said, "Oh, let's round it to an even $12,000."



Vergil, Eclogues 1.1-5:
Tityrus, reclining beneath the cover of a spreading beech tree you practice a woodland melody on the slender pipe. We are leaving the borders of our fatherland and the sweet fields. We are fleeing from our fatherland. You, Tityrus, at your ease in the shade teach the woods to echo beautiful Amaryllis' name.

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena;
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva.
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.


Redende Namen

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburg Dramaturgy 90 (March 11, 1768, tr. Helen Zimmern):
Comedy gave names to its personages, names which by means of the grammatical derivation and composition or by some other meaning expressed the characteristic of these personages, in a word they gave them speaking names, since it was only needful to hear in order to know at once of what nature those would be who bore those names....Whoever wishes to be convinced of this by more examples let him study the names in Plautus and Terence. Since their plays are all derived from the Greek, so the names come from the same source, and in their etymology have always a reference to the social condition, the mode of thought, and so forth that these personages had in common with others, even if we cannot now clearly amd certainly trace this etymology.

Die Komödie gab ihren Personen Namen, welche, vermöge ihrer grammatischen Ableitung und Zusammensetzung oder auch sonstigen Bedeutung die Beschaffenheit dieser Personen ausdrückten: mit einem Worte, sie gab ihnen redende Namen; Namen, die man nur hören durfte, um sogleich zu wissen, von welcher Art die sein würden, die sie führen....Wer er sich durch noch mehr Beispiele hiervon überzeugen will, der darf nur die Namen bei dem Plautus und Terenz untersuchen. Da ihre Stücke alle aus dem Griechischen genommen sind: so sind auch die Namen ihrer Personen griechischen Ursprungs und haben, der Etymologie nach, immer eine Beziehung auf den Stand, auf die Denkungsart oder auf sonst etwas, was diese Personen mit mehrern gemein haben können; wenn wir schon solche Etymologie nicht immer klar und sicher angeben können.
George E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952; rpt. 1971), pp. 347-350, gives many examples of redende Namen (tell-tale names) from Plautus and Terence, from which I select just a few:But we see significant names in the earliest examples of classical literature, for example at Homer, Iliad 5.59-61 (tr. A.T. Murray):
And Meriones slew Phereclus, son of Tecton, Harmon's son, whose hands were skilled to fashion all manner of curious work.
A tékton is a carpenter, and a hármon is a joiner.

I've adopted Michael Hendry's ingenious suggestion for transliterating Greek characters:
Greek can be transliterated precisely, if inelegantly, in plain HTML by underlining eta and omega as above, except when the circumflex makes it superfluous. In effect, I put the long mark under the vowel instead of over it. Using w for omega and h for eta may be clearer in some ways, but HTML doesn't allow accents on (English) consonants.


The Customer

The motto of Wegman's grocery stores (number one on Fortune Magazine's annual list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For") is "Employees First, Customers Second." Bravo.

Is the customer always right? Read the horror stories on My Life as a...Gas Station Attendant (e.g. this one) and Waiter Rant (e.g. this one with its sequel), and then answer that question.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Navel Gazing

One of my favorite spots for a leisurely walk is Pike's Island, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Like Pike's Peak, Pike's Island is named after Zebulon Pike. A sign at the entrance of the trail gives two Dakota Indian names for the island:
  1. Wi-ta Tan-ka = Big Island
  2. Ma-ko-ce Co-ka-ya Kin = The Center of the Earth
Big Island isn't a very descriptive or memorable name, but The Center of the Earth certainly is. It reminds me of another place thought to be the center of the earth, Delphi in ancient Greece, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.

In the inner sanctum (adyton) of Apollo's temple at Delphi was a stone called omphalos, the Greek word for navel or belly button (Latin umbilicus). As the navel is at the body's center, so the omphalos at Delphi was at the world's center.

Speaking of Delphi, Strabo (9.6.3, tr. Horace Leonard Jones) said:
Now although the greatest share of honour was paid to this temple because of its oracle, since of all oracles in the world it had the repute of being the most truthful, yet the position of the place added something. For it is almost in the centre of Greece taken as a whole, between the country inside the Isthmus and that outside it; and it was also believed to be the centre of the inhabited world, and people called it the navel of the earth, in addition fabricating a myth, which is told by Pindar, that two eagles (some say crows) which had been set free by Zeus met there, one coming from the west and the other from the east. There is also a kind of navel to be seen in the temple; it is draped with fillets, and on it are two likenesses of the birds of the myth.
The scholiast on Pindar, Pythian Odes 4.6 (p. 95 Drachmann, tr. A.B. Cook), said much the same thing:
A story is bruited abroad to the effect that Zeus, wanting to determine the centre of the world, let fly eagles of equal speed from west and east. They, winging their way in opposite directions, met at Pytho and by that very fact marked the central point of the whole world. Later, in token of what had befallen, he made other eagles of gold and set them up in the precinct of the god.
Claudian (16.11-16, tr. Maurice Platnauer) versified the tale:
Jove, 'tis said, when he would fain learn its extent (for he knew not the bounds of his own empire) sent forth two eagles of equal flight from the East and from the West. On Parnassus, as they tell, their twin flights met; the Delphic heaven brought together the one bird and the other.

Iuppiter, ut perhibent, spatium cum discere vellet
  naturae regni nescius ipse sui,
armigeros utrimque duos aequalibus alis
  misit ab Eois Occiduisque plagis.
Parnasus geminos fertur iunxisse volatus;
  contulit alternas Pythius axis aves.
Other ancient authors mention the omphalos stone at Delphi without telling the myth in detail. Among them are:
  1. Pindar, Pythian Odes 6.3-4 (tr. William H. Race): The enshrined navel of the loudly rumbling earth.
  2. Pindar, Paeans 6.13-18 (tr. William H. Race): I have come to Apollo's precinct, nurse of crowns and feasts, where the maidens of Delphi often sing to Leto's son at the shady navel of the earth and beat the ground with a rapid foot.
  3. Aeschylus, Eumenides 39-41 (cf. 166-167): I creep to the inner sanctum which is decked with many a wreath. I behold on the navel a polluted man in a suppliant posture.
  4. Euripides, Ion 5-7: I have come to this land of Delphi, where Apollo, sitting on the central navel, chants to mortals, always prophesying the things that are and will be.
  5. Plato, Republic 4.5.427 c (tr. Benjamin Jowett): He [Apollo] is the god who sits in the centre, on the navel of the earth, and he is the interpreter of religion to all mankind.
  6. Pausanias 10.16.2 (tr. Peter Levi): What the Delphians call the navel is made of white stone; the Dephians maintain, and Pindar writes to the same effect in one of his odes, that this is the centre of the entire earth.
The ancient Jews seem to have thought that Mount Zion was the earth's navel. See the apocryphal Book of Jubilees 8.19 (tr. R.H. Charles):
And he knew that the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies, and the dwelling of the Lord, and Mount Sinai the centre of the desert, and Mount Zion the centre of the navel of the earth: these three were created as holy places facing each other.
In addition to meaning navel, Greek omphalos also means the protuberant boss of a shield (cf. Latin umbo, cognate with umbilicus). One might therefore surmise that ancient Greek belly buttons were outies, not innies. But the naked statues in Gisela Richter's Handbook of Greek Art all seem to show innies.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Catholics and Protestants

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)

Upper Gévaudan: Cheylard and Luc
I found a board, commemorating the liberalities of Cheylard for the past year, hung up, like a banner, in the diminutive and tottering church. In 1877, it appeared, the inhabitants subscribed forty-eight francs ten centimes for the 'Work of the Propagation of the Faith.' Some of this, I could not help hoping, would be applied to my native land. Cheylard scrapes together halfpence for the darkened souls in Edinburgh; while Balquhidder and Dunrossness bemoan the ignorance of Rome. Thus, to the high entertainment of the angels, do we pelt each other with evangelists, like schoolboys bickering in the snow.

The Country of the Camisards: In the Valley of the Tarn
'Connaissez-vous le Seigneur?' he said at length.

I asked him what Seigneur he meant; but he only repeated the question with more emphasis and a look in his eyes denoting hope and interest.

'Ah,' said I, pointing upwards, 'I understand you now. Yes, I know Him; He is the best of acquaintances.'

The old man said he was delighted. 'Hold,' he added, striking his bosom; 'it makes me happy here.' There were a few who knew the Lord in these valleys, he went on to tell me; not many, but a few. 'Many are called,' he quoted, 'and few chosen.'

'My father,' said I, 'it is not easy to say who know the Lord; and it is none of our business. Protestants and Catholics, and even those who worship stones, may know Him and be known by Him; for He has made all.'

The Country of the Camisards: The Last Day
I dined with a pair of Catholics. They agreed in the condemnation of a young man, a Catholic, who had married a Protestant girl and gone over to the religion of his wife. A Protestant born they could understand and respect; indeed, they seemed to be of the mind of an old Catholic woman, who told me that same day there was no difference between the two sects, save that 'wrong was more wrong for the Catholic,' who had more light and guidance; but this of a man's desertion filled them with contempt.

'It is a bad idea for a man to change,' said one.

It may have been accidental, but you see how this phrase pursued me; and for myself, I believe it is the current philosophy in these parts. I have some difficulty in imagining a better. It's not only a great flight of confidence for a man to change his creed and go out of his family for heaven's sake; but the odds are--nay, and the hope is--that, with all this great transition in the eyes of man, he has not changed himself a hairbreadth to the eyes of God.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Golden Handcuffs

Wordspy defines golden handcuffs as "attractive financial benefits that a corporate employee will lose by resigning from the company." I have not been able to trace the origin of this phrase in English. However, Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander 5.12.20 (tr. John Yardley), mentions some actual golden handcuffs that confined the Persian King Darius:
To allow the king some mark of respect, however, they bound him with fetters of gold, for fortune kept on devising new kinds of insult for him.

ne tamen honos regi non haberetur, aureis conpedibus Dareum vinciunt, nova ludibria subinde excogitante fortuna.

Friday, August 12, 2005



A Latin teacher translates "Simul et dictum et factum" as "What is said and what is done are the same." Perhaps I'm mistaken, but that's not how I understand the Latin. I would translate it literally as "At the same time both said and done," or more idiomatically as "No sooner said than done." In his dictionary of Latin expressions and phrases Henerik Kocher gives Erasmus, Adagia 2.9.72, as the source. In Greek one would say ἅμ᾽ ἔπος, ἅμ᾽ ἔργον.



Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, chapter At Maubeuge:
Respectability is a very good thing in its way, but it does not rise superior to all considerations. I would not for a moment venture to hint that it was a matter of taste; but I think I will go as far as this: that if a position is admittedly unkind, uncomfortable, unnecessary, and superfluously useless, although it were as respectable as the Church of England, the sooner a man is out of it, the better for himself, and all concerned.


Looking Down on Others

Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, chapter Pont-sur-Sambre: We are Pedlars:
The more you look into it, the more infinite are the class distinctions among men; and possibly, by a happy dispensation, there is no one at all at the bottom of the scale; no one but can find some superiority over somebody else, to keep up his pride withal.



Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, chapter The Royal Sport Nautique:
To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.



Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, chapter Changed Times:
I have always been fond of maps, and can voyage in an atlas with the greatest enjoyment. The names of places are singularly inviting; the contour of coasts and rivers is enthralling to the eye; and to hit, in a map, upon some place you have heard of before, makes history a new possession.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Brain Teaser

What do the etymologies of all the following English words have in common?
  1. feisty
  2. fizzle
  3. partridge
  4. petard
  5. pumpernickel
You can find the answer by following the links (all to entries in Douglas Harper's indispensable Online Etymology Dictionary).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Book Buying

Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis discusses What Books to Buy for Biblical Scholarship and quotes William H. Calder, III, Men in Their Books: Studies in the Modern History of Classical Scholarship (2d ed.; Spudasmata 67; Zurich: Olms, 2002), p. 290:
[Arthur Darby] Nock, a bachelor with a large library, gave me other good advice. "First buy texts, then lexica and indices, then commentaries and only then, if you can, secondary literature." [Sterling] Dow's advice was "Read the big books." Prefer, he meant, Kühner-Gerth to Smyth, which was simply derivative and without independent value, RE to OCD. . . . I owe my library to the kindly advice of my teachers. None of the literary professors ever urged acquisition of books and none of their students ever acquired a library worth looking at.
I follow some of Nock's advice, in that I buy primarily texts and commentaries.

It's an embarrassing admission for a wannabe scholar to make, but I also buy translations. Often I find that commentaries don't have anything at all to say about passages that give me extraordinary difficulty. Sometimes I think I get the gist of a passage, until I try to turn it into English, when I realize that I don't really understand it at all. It's good mental exercise every day to grapple with a page or a paragraph or even just a sentence from an ancient text in the original language, at first unaided and then with a dictionary and commentary, and as a last resort with a translation. Translations are crutches, but the lame can walk farther and faster with crutches than without.


Asymmetrical Warfare

Babrius 112 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A mouse bit a bull. The bull felt the sting and went after the mouse; but the little fellow fled in safety to the inner part of his hole. The bull came to a stand and dug away into the walls with his horns until, having become weary, he sank down and went to sleep in front of the hole. Then the mouse peeped out, crept up, bit him again and retreated. The bull jumped up not knowing what to do next; whereupon the mouse squeaked to him this moral: "It's not always the big fellow who has the power; there are times when being small and humble has more force."
See here for the ancient Greek.

Avianus 31 (tr. J.W. and A.M. Duff):
They tell how once upon a time a little mouse on its wanderings ventured with its tiny teeth to attack a mighty ox. When its nibbling mouth finished biting, it thereupon hid safely in its winding hole. Though the ox made sullen threats with his huge neck, yet for all his anger he could not see that there lived an enemy for him to attack. Then the mouse dispersed the foe's threats with its cleverness, bantering the enraged ox with these words: "Because your parents transmitted strong limbs to you, it does not follow that they added efficiency to your strength. Learn, however, the self-reliance that our tiny mouths possess, and learn how our pigmy band does whatever it wants."

Ingentem fertur mus quondam parvus oberrans
  ausus ab exiguo laedere dente bovem.
verum ubi mordaci confecit vulnera rostro,
  tutus in anfractus conditur inde suos.
ille licet vasta torvum cervice minetur,
  non tamen iratus quem petat esse videt.
tunc indignantem iusto sermone fatigans
  distulit hostiles calliditate minas:
"non quia magna tibi tribuerunt membra parentes
  viribus effectum constituere tuis.
disce tamen brevibus quae sit fiducia rostris,
  et faciat quicquid parvula turba cupit."


Address to a Commander in Chief

Homer, Iliad 1.148-158 (tr. Samuel Butler):
Achilles scowled at him [Agamemnon] and answered, "You are steeped in insolence and lust of gain. With what heart can any of the Achaeans do your bidding, either on foray or in open fighting? I came not warring here for any ill the Trojans had done me. I have no quarrel with them. They have not raided my cattle nor my horses, nor cut down my harvests on the rich plains of Phthia; for between me and them there is a great space, both mountain and sounding sea. We have followed you, Sir Insolence! for your pleasure, not ours."



A friend drew my attention to the following passage in Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge, p. 299. I have not seen the book.
Sade frequently cited originality as his claim to immortality. But he had a predecessor in this raid on fame through infamy. It is the nearly forgotten Greek figure Herostratus. According to legend, this undistinguished and profoundly thwarted citizen of Ephesus conceived the idea of burning down his city's temple of Artemis with its fine library in order to create instant fame for himself and assure the survival of his name in history. Out of calculated self-aggrandizement, Herostratus committed an act of cultural arson, causing the destruction of genuinely valuable artifacts and probably of human lives.

What shall we do with such a story? For if we perpetuate the story as a negative example, we are also perpetuating the success of his crime. And if we try to suppress the story because of possible misinterpretation and deleterious consequences, we are establishing limits on knowledge of history and losing a fable. What we can and should properly protest is not the existence of the Herostratus parable but any interpretation of it, particularly for young and unformed minds, as recording a model deed of originality, courage, and human liberation. Herostratus could not project his imagination beyond furthering his own selfish interests by devastating the interests of others. Like Sade, he was engaged in the destruction of the very history in which he wished to survive.

The divine marquis represents forbidden knowledge that we may not forbid. Consequently, we should label his writings carefully: potential poison, polluting to our moral and intellectual environment.
I know almost nothing about the history and archaeology of Ephesus, but the city's famous Celsus Library dates from the second century A.D., and Herostratus' arson occurred in 356 B.C. Whether there was an earlier library associated with the temple, I couldn't say.

Here are some ancient testimonia concerning Herostratus. First are those that mention Herostratus' name, thereby giving him the fame he craved, followed by those that omit his name but describe his deed. None mention the destruction of a library.

Strabo 14.1.22 (tr. H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer):
Chersiphron was the first architect of the temple of Diana; another afterwards enlarged it, but when Herostratus set fire to it, the citizens constructed one more magnificent. They collected for this purpose the ornaments of the women, contributions from private property, and the money arising from the sale of pillars of the former temple. Evidence of these things is to be found in the decrees of that time.
Solinus 41:
Ephesus is a very famous city in Asia. Ephesus' crown jewel is the temple of Diana, the handiwork of the Amazons, so magnificent that Xerxes spared it alone, when he was putting all the other temples of Asia to flame. But this act of clemency on Xerxes' part did not long deliver the holy building from evil. For Herostratus, in order to prolong the memory of his name through the infamy of his crime, by his own hand caused the burning of the famous edifice, in hopes of achieving a wider fame, as he himself admitted. It is written that Alexander the Great was born at Pella on the same day that the temple at Ephesus was consumed in fire.

Ephesos in ea urbs clarissima est: Epheso decus templum Dianae, Amazonum fabrica, adeo magnificum, ut Xerxes, quum omnia Asiatica templa igni daret, huic uni pepercerit; sed haec Xerxi clementia sacras aedes non diu a malo vindicavit: namque Herostratus, ut nominis sui memoriam fama sceleris extenderet, incendium nobilis fabricae manu sua struxit: sicut ipse fassus est, voto adipiscendae famae latioris. notatur ergo eadem die conflagravisse templum Ephesi qua Alexander Magnus Pellae natus est.

Valerius Maximus 8.14 ext. 5:
The itch for fame is impious. For there was found a man who wished to set fire to Ephesian Diana's temple, in order that by the destruction of a most beautiful building his name might be bruited throughout the entire world. Put on the rack he confessed this madness of mind. And well had the citizens of Ephesus voted by decree to wipe out the memory of this most foul fellow, except that the grandiloquent genius of Theopompus included him in his histories.

illa vero gloriae cupiditas sacrilega: inventus est enim qui Dianae Ephesiae templum incendere vellet, ut opere pulcherrimo consumpto nomen eius per totum terrarum orbem dissiceretur, quem quidem mentis furorem eculeo inpositus detexit. ac bene consuluerant Ephesii decreto memoriam taeterrimi hominis abolendo, nisi Theopompi magnae facundiae ingenium historiis eum suis conprehendisset.
Aulus Gellius 2.6.17-18:
Unmentioned, like unmentionable, is he who is unworthy to be spoken of or thought of, who should never even be named, as once upon a time it was decreed by a general council of Asia that no one at any time should ever speak the name of the person who set fire to the temple of Diana at Ephesus.

inlaudatus autem est, quasi inlaudabilis, qui neque mentione aut memoria ulla dignus neque umquam nominandus est, sicuti quondam a communi consilio Asiae decretum est, uti nomen eius, qui templum Dianae Ephesi incenderat, ne quis ullo in tempore nominaret.
St. Jerome, Against Helvidius 18 (tr. anon.):
There are things which, in your extreme ignorance, you had never read, and therefore you neglected the whole range of Scripture and employed your madness in outraging the Virgin, like the man in the story who being unknown to everybody and finding that he could devise no good deed by which to gain renown, burned the temple of Diana: and when no one revealed the sacrilegious act, it is said that he himself went up and down proclaiming that he was the man who had applied the fire. The rulers of Ephesus were curious to know what made him do this thing, whereupon he replied that if he could not have fame for good deeds, all men should give him credit for bad ones. Grecian history relates the incident.
Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.27.69 (tr. Francis Brooks):
There is a remark of Timaeus which, like many of his, shows ingenuity; after saying in his history that the temple of the Ephesian Diana had been burnt down on the same night that Alexander was born, he added that that was by no means to be wondered at, since Diana wishing to be present at the delivery of Olympias had been absent from her home.

concinneque ut multa Timaeus, qui cum in historia dixisset qua nocte natus Alexander esset eadem Dianae Ephesiae templum deflagravisse, adiunxit minime id esse mirandum, quod Diana quom in partu Olympiadis adesse voluisset afuisset domo.
Plutarch, Life of Alexander 3.5-6 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Be that as it may, Alexander was born early in the month Hecatombaeon, the Macedonian name for which is Loüs, on the sixth day of the month, and on this day the temple of Ephesian Artemis was burnt. It was apropos of this that Hegesias the Magnesian made an utterance frigid enough to have extinguished that great conflagration. He said, namely, it was no wonder that the temple of Artemis was burned down, since the goddess was busy bringing Alexander into the world.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Microsoft Word

Michael Drout curses Microsoft Word:
Oh, Word, how do I loathe thee. I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. I loathe your weird crashes, your incomprehensible formatting, your amazingly annoying pop-up icons (which are not and never were cute) that give me no useful information. Ah, Word, my soul writhes with disgust knowing that I have to click on a stupid button for every single section of a 22-section document if I want the first page of that section to have a blank header. Yes, Word, your inexplicable formatting screw-ups when I delete what is, in your logic-free design, the wrong blank line, your stupid inability to represent some characters, and your tedious, slow scrolling, they gnaw at me, Word. I consign thee to the depths of hell, and from the depths of hell I stab at thee...
Anyone who has struggled with this crappy piece of software can sympathize. The beginning of this curse echoes the opening lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous sonnet:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach...
The end of the curse also recalls Captain Ahab's words in chapter 135 of Herman Melville's Moby Dick:
To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.



Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, chap. 8:
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. For instance, those people had inherited the idea that all men without title and a long pedigree, whether they had great natural gifts and acquirements or hadn't, were creatures of no more consideration than so many animals, bugs, insects; whereas I had inherited the idea that human daws who can consent to masquerade in the peacock-shams of inherited dignities and unearned titles, are of no good but to be laughed at.


Aunt Deborah

John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, chap. 14:
So many words are mine because Aunt Deborah aroused my curiosity and then forced me to satisfy it by my own effort. Of course I replied, "Who cares?" But she knew I would creep to it [the dictionary] alone and she spelled it so I could track it down. T-a-l-i-s-m-a-n. She cared deeply about words and she hated their misuse as she would hate the clumsy handling of any fine thing. Now, so many cycles later, I can see the page -- can see myself misspelling "talisman." The Arabic was only a squiggly line with a bulb on the end of it. The Greek I could pronounce because of the blade of that old woman. "A stone or other object engraved with figures or characters to which are attributed the occult powers of the planetary influences and celestial configurations under which it was made, usually worn as an amulet to avert evil from or bring fortune to the bearer." I had then to look for "occult," "planetary," "celestial," and "amulet." It was always that way. One word set off others like a string of firecrackers.
The world needs a few more Aunt Deborahs. My mother used to do the same irritating thing, point me to the dictionary when I asked what a word meant. The definition of talisman in Steinbeck is apparently from the Oxford English Dictionary. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following derivation:
1638, from Fr. talisman, in part via Arabic tilsam (pl. tilsaman), a Gk. loan-word; in part directly from Byzantine Gk. telesma "talisman, religious rite, payment," earlier "consecration, ceremony," originally "completion," from telein "perform (religious rites), pay (tax), fulfill," from telos "completion, end, tax."


Words of Gods and Men

Four passages in Homer's Iliad distinguish between the language of gods and men. The things denoted are (1) a giant, (2) a hill, (3) a bird, and (4) a river. The following translations are by A.T. Murray.

But thou camest, goddess [Thetis], and didst loose him [Zeus] from his bonds, when thou hadst with speed called to high Olympus him of the hundred hands, whom the gods call Briareus, but all men Aegaeon; for he is mightier than his father.
Now there is before the city [Troy] a steep mound afar out in the plain, with a clear space about it on this side and on that; this do men call Batieia, but the immortals call it the barrow of Myrine, light of step.
Thereon he [Sleep] perched, thick-hidden by the branches of the fir, in the likeness of a clear-voiced mountain bird, that the gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis.
Against Leto stood forth the strong helper, Hermes, and against Hephaestus the great, deep-eddying river, that gods call Xanthus, and men Scamander.
M.M. Willcock in his commentary says:
The accepted explanation is that the gods' language is the transmitted poetical language of the past, while the language of men is the common and everyday terminology known to the poet.

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