Thursday, September 29, 2005


Imperatives and Ebenezer

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (July 16, 1850):
Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good, which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil. Regard not your past failures nor successes. All the past is equally a failure and a success; it is a success in as much as it offers you the present opportunity. Have you not a pretty good thinking faculty, worth more than the rarest gold watch? Can you not pass a judgment on something? Does not the stream still rise to its fountain-head in you? Go to the devil and come back again. Dispose of evil. Get punished once for all. Die, if you can. Depart. Exchange your salvation for a glass of water. If you know of any risk to run, run it. If you don't know of any, enjoy confidence. Do not trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern. Do not eat unless you are hungry; there's no need of it. Do not read the newspapers. Improve every opportunity to be melancholy. Be as melancholy as you can be, and note the result. Rejoice with fate. As for health, consider yourself well, and mind your business. Who knows but you are dead already? Do not stop to be scared yet; there are more terrible things to come, and ever to come. Men die of fright and live of confidence. Be not simply obedient like the vegetables; set up your own Ebenezer. Of man's "disobedience and the fruit," etc. Do not engage to find things as you think they are. Do what nobody can do for you. Omit to do everything else.
"Your own Ebenezer" is a bit of a puzzle.

"Ebenezer" means "stone of help" in Hebrew, and appears at 1 Samuel 7.12:
Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
Edward Cook, discussing the Hebrew word, quotes the beginning of the second stanza of the hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (1758) by Robert Robinson:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
here by thy great help I've come.
I wonder if Thoreau had this very hymn in mind, since both the hymn and the journal entry use a possessive pronoun with Ebenezer. The hymn is sung to the rousing tune Nettleton (1813, audio and text, score as .pdf file).

Or, "your own Ebenezer" might mean "your own dissenting chapel," since dissenters often gave the name Ebenezer Chapel to their meeting-houses.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


A Surfeit of Praise

In a discussion about the proverbial expression "Non sine causa sed sine fine laudatus," the words are attributed to that prolific writer "anonymous" and are translated as "He was praised not without cause, but without an end result." I question both the attribution and the translation.

The expression is not anonymous. It appears in Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 5.1 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Marcus Cicero, long flung among men like Catiline and Clodius and Pompey and Crassus, some open enemies, others doubtful friends, as he is tossed to and fro along with the state and seeks to keep it from destruction, to be at last swept away, unable as he was to be restful in prosperity or patient in adversity - how many times does he curse that very consulship of his, which he had lauded without end, though not without reason!

Marcus Cicero inter Catilinas, Clodios iactatus Pompeiosque et Crassos, partim manifestos inimicos, partim dubios amicos, dum fluctuatur cum republica et illam pessum euntem tenet, novissime abductus, nec secundis rebus quietus nec adversarum patiens, quotiens illum ipsum consulatum suum non sine causa, sed sine fine laudatum detestatur?
I would translate "Non sine causa sed sine fine laudatus" as "Praised not without good reason, but without end." It is properly used of a man who is worthy of praise, but who is praised so incessantly that people get sick and tired of hearing about him.

Such a man was Aristides, surnamed "The Just," about whom Plutarch tells this delightful anecdote (Life of Aristides 7.3-6, tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
The method of procedure--to give a general outline--was as follows. Each voter took an ostrakon, or potsherd, wrote on it the name of that citizen whom he wished to remove from the city, and brought it to a place in the agora which was all fenced about with railings.

The archons first counted the total number of ostraka cast. For if the voters were less than six thousand, the ostracism was void. Then they separated the names, and the man who had received the most votes they proclaimed banished for ten years, with the right to enjoy the income from his property.

Now at the time of which I was speaking, as the voters were inscribing their ostraka, it is said that an unlettered and utterly boorish fellow handed his ostrakon to Aristides, whom he took to be one of the ordinary crowd, and asked him to write Aristides on it.

He, astonished, asked the man what possible wrong Aristides had done him. "None whatever," was the answer, "I don't even know the fellow, but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called 'The Just.'" On hearing this, Aristides made no answer, but wrote his name on the ostrakon and handed it back.
If I recall correctly, actual potsherds have been found with Aristides' name scratched on them.

Ostracism is one of those ancient customs which should be revived. It would be hard to choose, but I think I would write Donald Trump on my ostrakon.

Monday, September 26, 2005



Luke 9.58 (cf. Matthew 8.20):
And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer in his commentary on Luke notes the parallel with a passage in Plutarch's Life of Tiberius Gracchus (9.4-5), but does not quote it. Here it is in Bernadotte Perrin's translation:
Tiberius, striving to support a measure which was honourable and just with an eloquence that would have adorned even a meaner cause, was formidable and invincible, whenever, with the people crowding around the rostra, he took his stand there and pleaded for the poor. "The wild beasts that roam over Italy," he would say, "have every one of them a cave or lair to lurk in; but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy the common air and light, indeed, but nothing else; houseless and homeless they wander about with their wives and children. And it is with lying lips that their imperators exhort the soldiers in their battles to defend sepulchres and shrines from the enemy; for not a man of them has an hereditary altar, not one of all these many Romans an ancestral tomb, but they fight and die to support others in wealth and luxury, and though they are styled masters of the world, they have not a single clod of earth that is their own."



The misanthrope par excellence of ancient times was Timon. Plutarch in his Life of Antony (chapter 70, tr. Bernadotte Perrin) gives a brief character sketch:
[1] Now, Timon was an Athenian, and lived about the time of the Peloponnesian War, as may be gathered from the plays of Aristophanes and Plato. For he is represented in their comedies as peevish and misanthropical; but though he avoided and repelled all intercourse with men, he was glad to see Alcibiades, who was then young and headstrong, and showered kisses upon him. And when Apemantus was amazed at this and asked the reason for it, Timon said he loved the youth because he knew that he would be a cause of many ills to Athens.

[2] This Apemantus alone of all men Timon would sometimes admit into his company, since Apemantus was like him and tried sometimes to imitate his mode of life; and once, at the festival of The Pitchers, the two were feasting by themselves, and Apemantus said: "Timon, what a fine symposium ours is!" "It would be," said Timon, "if thou wert not here." We are told also that once when the Athenians were holding an assembly, he ascended the bema, and the strangeness of the thing caused deep silence and great expectancy; then he said:

[3] "I have a small building lot, men of Athens, and a fig-tree is growing in it, from which many of my fellow citizens have already hanged themselves. Accordingly, as I intend to build a house there, I wanted to give public notice to that effect, in order that all of you who desire to do so may hang yourselves before the fig-tree is cut down." After he had died and been buried at Halae near the sea, the shore in front of the tomb slipped away, and the water surrounded it and made it completely inaccessible to man.

[4] The inscription on the tomb was:

"Here, after snapping the thread of a wretched life, I lie.
Ye shall not learn my name, but my curses shall follow you."

This inscription he is said to have composed himself, but that in general circulation is by Callimachus:

"Timon, hater of men, dwells here; so pass along;
Heap many curses on me, if thou wilt, only pass along."
In death as in life Timon wanted nothing to do with his fellow man. Nature conspired to grant his wish, by cutting off his tomb from the mainland and placing it on an island. Cf. John Donne, Meditation XVII:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.



From the pen of Theodore Dalrymple:
I am always astonished by the way people always suppose that, if there were any justice in the world, they would be better rather than worse off. To the contrary, many should thank their lucky stars that there is no justice in the world: for otherwise they would die in prolonged agony.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


A Hundred

Someone has come up with a list of the top 100 public intellectuals. I'm proud to say that I've never heard of most of them. Who will remember their names 100 years from now? These lists and popularity contests aren't worth anyone's serious attention.


Strife and Controversy

Arthur Hugh Clough, Noli Aemulari:
In controversial foul impureness
The peace that is thy light to thee
Quench not: in faith and inner sureness
Possess thy soul and let it be.

No violence--perverse--persistent--
What cannot be can bring to be;
No zeal what is make more existent,
And strife but blinds the eyes that see.

What though in blood their souls embruing,
The great, the good and wise they curse,
Still sinning, what they know not doing;
Stand still, forbear, nor make it worse.

By curses, by denunciation,
The coming fate they cannot stay;
Nor thou, by fiery indignation,
Though just, accelerate the day.
Some people find a poem like this hard to understand. Not only the vocabulary, but also the word order makes it unintelligible, as if it were written in a foreign language. Here is a bald prose paraphrase:
Do not extinguish the peace that enlightens you by engaging in foul, impure controversy. Possess your soul in faith and inner certainty, and let it be.

Perverse, persistent violence cannot bring into existence that which cannot be. Zeal cannot make more existent that which already is. Strife only blinds the eyes that see.

So what if men drench their souls in blood; curse those who are great, good, and wise; and persist in sin without knowing what they are doing? Stand still, refrain, and do not make it worse.

These men cannot stop their approaching fate with curses and denunciation, and you cannot make that day come any quicker with your fiery indignation, no matter how just it is.
Clough's Latin title means, "Do not oppose yourself to others," or "Do not strive against others."

In the penultimate stanza, Clough echoes Luke 23.34: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." In the phrase "what they know not doing," not modifies know, not doing.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Untamed Literature

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (November 16, 1850):
In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another word for tameness. It is the untamed, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Iliad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us, -- not learned in the schools, not refined and polished by art. A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen. Suppose the muskrat or beaver were to turn his views to literature, what fresh views of nature would he present! The fault of our books and other deeds is that they are too humane. I want something speaking in some measure to the condition of muskrats and skunk-cabbage as well as of men, -- not merely to a pining and complaining coterie of philanthropists.

Friday, September 23, 2005



Henry David Thoreau, Journal (August 18, 1851):
It plainly makes men sad to think. Hence pensiveness is akin to sadness.
Pensive means thoughtful, sober, or sad. It is derived from French penser, to think. Milton wrote verses contrasting the sad, thoughtful man (Il Penseroso) and the cheerful, giddy man (L'Allegro). Il Penseroso would be a good blog name.



Robert Renehan, Greek Textual Criticism: A Reader (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 134, on Euripides, Orestes 665-667:
Cicero somewhere has written of the scientia iuris: res enim sunt parvae, prope in singulis litteris atque interpunctionibus verborum occupatae. Delete the prope and you have a fair description of the matter of textual criticism. Whether Euripides wrote δεῖ or χρή in a given passage is hardly of metaphysical import. But we must assume that he made a choice between them. This is sufficient justification for concerning ourselves with the problem. It made a difference to the poet; it should make a difference to us. This planet, I do not doubt, shall never want for people to despise such problems and those who try to resolve them. Such contempt is founded upon the remarkable premise that one who manifests a concern for minutiae must of necessity be both indifferent to and unequal to profound problems. The Greeks, on the contrary, in their simplicity had contrived a word to express this reverence before even the smallest truth; and that word is φιλαλήθεια. The sacred writer speaks not idly when he reminds us that ὁ ἐξουθενῶν τὰ ὀλίγα κατὰ σμικρὸν πεσεῖται.

  1. Scientia iuris = knowledge of the law
  2. The Cicero quotation is from Pro Murena 25 (tr. C.D. Yonge): For they are but small matters, conversant chiefly about single letters and punctuation between words.
  3. Prope = chiefly
  4. δεῖ (deî) = one ought
  5. χρή (chré) = one must
  6. φιλαλήθεια (philalétheia) = love of truth
  7. The sacred writer is Sirach 19.1: He that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Who Was the Man in the Hollow Tree?

There are a couple of conundrums in the Conclusion of Thoreau's Walden, posed but not answered in the notes of Walter Harding's Variorum Walden. The first is the identity of the man in the hollow tree:
I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him.
Emerson also said, "A divine man dwelt near me in a hollow tree," in his journals, according to Harding, who cites Edward Waldo Emerson, Emerson in Concord (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888), p. 210. In the chapter on Brute Neighbors in Walden, the hermit says, "Better not keep a house. Say, some hollow tree; and then for morning calls and dinner-parties!" Cf. also the following, in the chapter on Spring:
In April the pigeons were seen again flying express in small flocks, and in due time I heard the martins twittering over my clearing, though it had not seemed that the township contained so many that it could afford me any, and I fancied that they were peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt in hollow trees ere white men came.
The second conundrum is the source of the "great deeds" quotation in the Conclusion of Walden:
This generation reclines a little to congratulate itself on being the last of an illustrious line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome, thinking of its long descent, it speaks of its progress in art and science and literature with satisfaction. There are the Records of the Philosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of Great Men! It is the good Adam contemplating his own virtue. "Yes, we have done great deeds, and sung divine songs, which shall never die" -- that is, as long as we can remember them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Omne Initium Est Difficile

All proverbs are half-truths at best, and this one (omne initium est difficile = every beginning is difficult) strikes me as not even half true. Beginnings are easy. How many projects have I started with great fanfare and enthusiasm, yet soon dropped. How many languages have I started to learn, but abandoned after the first chapter in the textbook. How many loves at first sight end quickly in disappointment and mutual disgust. It is perseverance that is difficult and rare, not beginning.


Thoreau on the Art of Writing

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (August 22, 1851):
It is the fault of some excellent writers ­­­-- De Quincey's first impressions on seeing London suggest it to me -- that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness. They do not affect us by an ineffectual earnestness and a reserve of meaning, like a stutterer; they say all they mean. Their sentences are not concentrated and nutty. Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct; to frame these, that is the art of writing. Sentences which are expensive, towards which so many volumes, so much life went; which lie like boulders on the page, up and down or across; which contain the seed of other sentences, not mere repetition, but creation; which a man might sell his grounds and castles to build. If De Quincey had suggested each of his pages in a sentence and passed on, it would have been far more excellent writing. His style is nowhere kinked and knotted up into something hard and significant, which you could swallow like a diamond, without digesting.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Compound and Simple Verbs

In "An Indo-European Construction in Greek and Latin," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71 (1966) 115-119, Calvert Watkins discussed "the iteration of a compound verb in a succeeding clause or sentence by the simple verb alone, but with the semantic force of the compound."

Watkins stated, "The absence of any examples of this construction from Homer is striking." Perhaps I'm mistaken, but there seems to be a good example, involving kataluo and luo, in the ninth book of Homer's Iliad:

23 οὕτω που Διὶ μέλλει ὑπερμενέϊ φίλον εἶναι,
24 ὃς δὴ πολλάων πολίων κατέλυσε κάρηνα
25 ἠδ᾽ ἔτι καὶ λύσει· τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἐστὶ μέγιστον.

In Richmond Lattimore's translation: "Such is the way it will be pleasing to Zeus, who is too strong, / who before now has broken [kateluse] the crests of many cities / and will break [lusei] them again, since his power is beyond all others."

A careful reading of Homer might reveal more examples. I don't keep up with the scholarly literature, but there are no Homeric examples cited in two other discussions known to me:The same construction figures in an emendation of Martial 12.59.9 proposed by Michael Hendry.



John Burroughs, Pepacton, VI (Footpaths):
It is not the walking merely, it is keeping yourself in tune for a walk, in the spiritual and bodily condition in which you can find entertainment and exhilaration in so simple and natural a pastime. You are eligible to any good fortune when you are in the condition to enjoy a walk. When the air and the water taste sweet to you, how much else will taste sweet! When the exercise of your limbs affords you pleasure, and the play of your senses upon the various objects and shows of nature quickens and stimulates your spirit, your relation to the world and to yourself is what it should be, -- simple and direct and wholesome. The mood in which you set out on a spring or autumn ramble or a sturdy winter walk, and your greedy feet have to be restrained from devouring the distances too fast, is the mood in which your best thoughts and impulses come to you, or in which you might embark upon any noble and heroic enterprise. Life is sweet in such moods, the universe is complete, and there is no failure or imperfection anywhere.


I Feel Your Pain

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 58-64 (tr. Richard C. Jebb):
My piteous children, I know quite well the desires with which you have come: I know well that you all are sick, and though you are sick I know well that there is not one of you who is as sick as I. Your pain comes on each of you for himself alone, and for no other, but my soul is in pain at once for the city, for myself, and for you.
Such sentiments from our leaders always ring a bit false, although in the end Oedipus did suffer his share of pain.

In English we have two words for fellow feeling:

Saturday, September 17, 2005


The City of Books

Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, tr. Lafcadio Hearn:
I have picked up a book at random from the nearest shelf; I open it, and I enter respectfully into the middle of a drama of Sophocles. The older I grow, the more I learn to love the two civilisations of the antique world; and now I always keep the poets of Italy and of Greece on a shelf within easy reach of my arm in the City of Books.


Herds and Flocks

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito (1977), II, 142:
An individual declares himself a member of some group or other with the goal of demanding in its name what he is ashamed to claim in his own name.


Seize the Day

Theognis 973-978 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
No mortal man as soon as he is covered with the earth and goeth down to the house of Persephone in Erebus is rejoiced any more with the sound either of lyre or piper or with receiving the gifts of Dionysus. Beholding this, I will make my heart merry while yet my limbs be light and I carry an unshaking head.


Overseas Adventures

Theognis 887-888 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
And lend thou not too ready an ear to the loud cry of the herald; we are not fighting for our own country.

Μηδὲ λίην κήρυκος ἀν᾽ οὖς ἔχε μακρὰ βοῶντος·
    οὐ γὰρ πατρῴας γῆς πέρι μαρνάμεθα.


Computer Avoidance

From the introduction to Hugh Rawson's interview with lexicographer J.E. Lighter, author of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang:
He used, and still uses, filing cards in the classic, pre-computer method of compiling dictionaries.
Perhaps that helps to explain his extraordinary success in compiling his dictionary almost single-handedly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Huysmans on Cicero and Caesar

Joris Karl Huysmans, A Rebours (Against the Grain, tr. John Howard), chap. 4:
Neither was he pleased, in prose, with the verbosities, the redundant metaphors, the ludicrous digressions of Cicero. There was nothing to beguile him in the boasting of his apostrophes, in the flow of his patriotic nonsense, in the emphasis of his harangues, in the ponderousness of his style, fleshy but ropy and lacking in marrow and bone, in the insupportable dross of his long adverbs with which he introduces phrases, in the unalterable formula of his adipose periods badly sewed together with the thread of conjunctions and, finally, in his wearisome habits of tautology. Nor was his enthusiasm wakened for Caesar, celebrated for his laconic style. Here, on the contrary, was disclosed a surprising aridity, a sterility of recollection, an incredibly undue constipation.



C.S. Lewis, Christianity and Literature:
All the greatest poems have been made by men who valued something else much more than poetry -- even if that something else were only cutting down enemies in a cattle-raid or tumbling a girl in a bed.

Monday, September 12, 2005



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (September 8, 1859):
I went to the store the other day to buy a bolt for our front door, for, as I told the storekeeper, the Governor was coming here. "Aye," said he, "and the Legislature too." "Then I will take two bolts," said I. He said that there had been a steady demand for bolts and locks of late, for our protectors were coming.



Cicero, Letters to Atticus 12.15 (tr. Evelyn Shuckburgh):
In this lonely place I have no one with whom to converse, and plunging into a dense and wild wood early in the day I don't leave it till evening. Next to you, I have no greater friend than solitude. In it my one and only conversation is with books.

in hac solitudine careo omnium conloquio, cumque mane me in silvam abstrusi densam et asperam, non exeo inde ante vesperum. secundum te nihil est mihi amicius solitudine. in ea mihi omnis sermo est cum litteris.


The Labyrinth of Nature

Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons. The Journal of a Naturalist's Year (November 1):
It occurred to me today that an interest in nature leads you into a kind of enchanted labyrinth. You wander from corridor to corridor; one interest leads to another; one discovery to another discovery. It matters little where you begin. You may first fall under the spell of birds or wild flowers or you may become curious about lichens or grasshoppers or trees or rocks or fossils or waterweeds. If you have any inquisitiveness at all, you soon find yourself branching off, wandering enchanted down charming bypaths.

Sunday, September 11, 2005



Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War, edited by Ward W. Briggs Jr. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), p. 331:
The Ionian Greeks would not rebuild the temples which their barbarian enemies destroyed; they allowed the ruins to remain as mute reminders of the injuries which they had suffered; as mute appeals to heaven for vengeance. Let us in like spirit refuse to efface these memorials of our savage foes.
A simple plaque inscribed with Gildersleeve's words, standing in front of the unrepaired ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City, would have been a fitting monument for that hallowed ground.

Let us refuse to efface from our minds these memorials of our savage foes. Let us remember the injuries which our country has suffered. Let us appeal to heaven for vengeance on our barbarian enemies.

Some have noted that the war on terror has already lasted longer than our involvement in World War II. Yet those responsible for planning the attack on the World Trade Center still remain unpunished.



The Blog of Henry David Thoreau reproduces portions of Thoreau's Journals, and is a refreshing antidote to the tedium of current events and controversies. Unfortunately, after a year, the blog seems to be recycling previous posts.

There are millions of words and thousands of entries in Thoreau's Journals. Even those devoted exclusively to natural history have interest and charm. Thoreau faithfully recorded his observations in his Journals for decades. A blogger who followed Thoreau day by day through the years would do blogdom a great service.


Some Names in Homer

Simon Pulleyn (commentary on Homer, Iliad 1.247) writes, "As [Jasper] Griffin (on 9.162) has pointed out, heroes with disyllabic names in Homer belong to an earlier generation. Thus Antilochus is son of Nestor; Agamemnon of Atreus; Diomedes of Tydeus; Achilles of Peleus."

It is easy to find examples to the contrary. In the Iliad, Ajax (Aias) is son of Telamon; Charops of Hippasos; Dolops of Klytios; Glaukos of Hippolochos; Kleitos of Peisenor; Koon of Antenor; Krethon of Diokles; Morys of Hippotion; Mydon of Atymnios; Nastes of Nomion; Nireus of Charopos; Sokos of Hippasos; Teukros of Telamon; Thoas of Andraimon; et al. Homer explicitly characterizes Thoas as one of the young men (kouroi), at Iliad 15.281-284 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):

Now Thoas spoke forth among them, the son of Andraimon,
far the best of the Aitolians, one skilled in the spear's throw
and brave in close fight. In assembly few of the Achaians
when the young men contended in debate could outdo him.

Saturday, September 10, 2005



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito (1977), II, 469:
There is an illiteracy of the soul that no diploma cures.



That master of English doggerel and demagoguery, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has expressed his unhappiness at the use of the term "refugees" to describe those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Refugee now joins niggardly and picnic in the index verborum prohibitorum.

Yesterday on the radio I heard one of Jackson's local acolytes echo the master's strictures against refugee, with a new twist. He claimed that refugee was a diminutive.

Perhaps he was thinking of names like Bobby, Eddie, Jimmy, or Joey. Some authorities, e.g. Jespersen in Growth and Structure of the English Language § 13, classify these as diminutives. Or Brownie, Bush's affectionate nickname for the dolt he appointed to be head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Of all the thoughtless utterances that have escaped the fence of Bush's teeth, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" has to qualify as among the most thoughtless.

But refugee is not a diminutive. Its suffix is due to its origin in a French past participle.


Huysmans on Vergil and Horace

Chapter four of Joris Karl Huysmans' novel A Rebours (Against the Grain, 1884) contains a miniature survey of Latin literature, from the idiosyncratic point of view of the protagonist, Duc Jean Des Esseintes. I will post some of Des Esseintes' critical opinions in the days and weeks to come, from John Howard's translation.
The gentle Vergil, whom instructors call the Mantuan swan, perhaps because he was not born in that city, he considered one of the most terrible pedants ever produced by antiquity. Des Esseintes was exasperated by his immaculate and bedizened shepherds, his Orpheus whom he compares to a weeping nightingale, his Aristaeus who simpers about bees, his Aeneas, that weak-willed, irresolute person who walks with wooden gestures through the length of the poem. Des Esseintes would gladly have accepted the tedious nonsense which those marionettes exchange with each other off-stage; or even the poet's impudent borrowings from Homer, Theocritus, Ennius and Lucretius; the plain theft, revealed to us by Macrobius, of the second song of the Aeneid, copied almost word for word from one of Pisander's poems; in fine, all the unutterable emptiness of this heap of verses. The thing he could not forgive, however, and which infuriated him most, was the workmanship of the hexameters, beating like empty tin cans and extending their syllabic quantities measured according to the unchanging rule of a pedantic and dull prosody. He disliked the texture of those stiff verses, in their official garb, their abject reverence for grammar, their mechanical division by imperturbable caesuras, always plugged at the end in the same way by the impact of a dactyl against a spondee.

Borrowed from the perfected forge of Catullus, this unvarying versification, lacking imagination, lacking pity, padded with useless words and refuse, with pegs of identical and anticipated assonances, this ceaseless wretchedness of Homeric epithet which designates nothing whatever and permits nothing to be seen, all this impoverished vocabulary of muffled, lifeless tones bored him beyond measure.

It is no more than just to add that, if his admiration for Vergil was quite restrained, and his attraction for Ovid's lucid outpourings even more circumspect, there was no limit to his disgust at the elephantine graces of Horace, at the prattle of this hopeless lout who smirkingly utters the broad, crude jests of an old clown.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Blogging Curtailed

I'm starting a new job this week, as well as taking an evening class. As a result, I expect that I will have little leisure to blog from now on. Daily posts are probably a thing of the past. Besides, I'm running out of things to say. Check back once or twice a week, and you might find a new post or two.



This is an expansion of an earlier post on Life Outdoors.

An interesting anecdote about the Spartan king Agesilaus survives in at least three versions. Two of the versions, from Xenophon's Hellenica 3.4.19 and Agesilaus 1.28, are nearly identical. Here is the latter, in E.C. Marchant's translation:
Moreover, believing that contempt for the enemy would kindle the fighting spirit, he gave instructions to his heralds that the barbarians captured in the raids should be exposed for sale naked. So when his soldiers saw them white because they never stripped, and fat and lazy through constant riding in carriages, they believed that the war would be exactly like fighting with women.
Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus 9 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert), says much the same thing:
On another occasion Agesilaus gave orders that before his prisoners were put up to be auctioned by the dealers in the spoils of war, they would first be stripped of their clothes. The clothes found plenty of buyers, but the spectators burst out laughing at the sight of the men and their naked bodies, for these were white and tender as they had never been exposed to sun or wind, and were regarded as useless and worthless.
There is a similar passage in Lucian's The Parasite (40-41, tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler), where the parasite jokingly tries to prove that his profession is preferable to that of rhetorician or philosopher:
Well, to make the thing more natural, and enable you to take it seriously, let us picture the circumstances. Sudden news has come of a hostile invasion; it has to be met; we are not going to sit still while our outlying territory is laid waste; the commander-in-chief issues orders for a general muster of all liable to serve; the troops gather, including philosophers, rhetoricians, and spongers. We had better strip them first, as the proper preliminary to arming. Now, my dear sir, have a look at them individually and see how they shape. Some of them you will find thin and white with underfeeding -- all goose-flesh, as if they were lying wounded already. Now, when you think of a hard day, a stand-up fight with press and dust and wounds, what is it but a sorry jest to talk of such starvelings' being able to stand it?

Now go and inspect the sponger. Full-bodied, flesh a nice colour, neither white like a woman's nor tanned like a slave's; you can see his spirit; he has a keen look, as a gentleman should, and a high, full-blooded one to boot; none of your shrinking feminine glances when you are going to war! A noble pike-man that, and a noble corpse, for that matter, if a noble death is his fate.
In Plato's Republic 8.556d (tr. Paul Shorey), the contrast in complexion is between poor men and pampered rich men:
Do you not suppose it often happens that when a lean, sinewy, sunburned pauper is stationed in battle beside a rich man bred in the shade, and burdened with superfluous flesh, and sees him panting and helpless -- do you not suppose he will think that such fellows keep their wealth by the cowardice of the poor, and that when the latter are together in private, one will pass the word to another, 'our men are good for nothing'?
In Aristophanes, Clouds 102-104 (tr. William James Hickie), intellectuals and beatnik types are pale:
Bah! They are rogues; I know them. You mean the quacks, the pale-faced wretches, the bare-footed fellows, of whose numbers are the miserable Socrates and Chaerephon.
K.J. Dover, in the abridged version of his commentary on this passage, says:
The intellectual is characteristically pale, because of his indoor life (cf. 120, 1112), but a 'normal' man is expected to be sunburnt, either, if poor, through long hours of work on the farm or, if rich, through outdoor sports.
Pallor marks not only the intellectual, but also the dandy or effeminate man, e.g. at Euripides, Bacchae 451-459 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Loose his hands; for now that I have him in the net he is scarce swift enough to elude me. So, sir stranger, thou art not ill-favoured from a woman's point of view, which was thy real object in coming to Thebes; thy hair is long because thou hast never been a wrestler, flowing right down thy cheeks most wantonly; thy skin is white to help thee gain thy end, not tanned by ray of sun, but kept within the shade, as thou goest in quest of love with beauty's bait.
An anonymous fragment of Greek new comedy (fr. adesp. 791 Edmonds) sums it up: "Pale men are worthless."

In Lucian's Anacharsis (25, tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler), Solon attributes a healthy, ruddy complexion to the practice of wrestling:
I should like to put side by side one of the white creatures who live sheltered lives and, after washing off his dust and clay, any of the Lyceum frequenters you should select, and then ask you which you would rather resemble. I know you would make your choice at the first glance, without waiting to see what they could do; you would rather be solid and well-knit than delicate and soft and white for want of the blood that had hidden itself away out of sight.
In Aristophanes' Ecclesiazusae (62-64, tr. anon.), a woman tells how she disguised herself as a man:
Firstly, as agreed, I have let the hair under my armpits grow thicker than a bush; furthermore, while my husband was at the Assembly, I rubbed myself from head to foot with oil and then stood all day in the sun.
Her purpose in standing all day in the sun was to darken her skin, like a man's.

Apparently the distinction between a pale feminine complexion and a dark male one is evident in some ancient art. Simon Pulleyn (commentary on Homer, Iliad 1.55) says:
Greek vase painting of the eighth and seventh centuries [B.C.] shows woman's skin as white and that of men as reddish-brown.
Ancient Greeks males spent much of their time outdoors, normally returning home only to sleep or eat. Even their public buildings (temples, theaters, colonnades) were open to the elements. In Xenophon's Oeconomicus (7.3), one of the interlocutors, Ischomachus, says, "I certainly don't spend my time indoors."

Not only did they spend much of their time outdoors, but they often wore little clothing as well. The Greek word 'gymnos' (whence our gymnastics, gymnasium, etc.) means either 'naked' or 'lightly clad'. In his poem Works and Days (391-392), farmer-poet Hesiod recommends, "Sow naked, plough naked, reap naked." It is well-known that Greek athletes competed either totally nude or wearing only a loincloth (diazoma, perizoma) -- see Waldo E. Sweet, Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), chapter 19 (Nudity in Greek Athletics).

I often wonder what an ancient Greek, transported through time, would think of us, cooped up indoors as we are much of the time, hunched over a computer keyboard or staring slack-jawed at a television screen. I suspect he would laugh at our pale, puffy bodies, never exposed to wind or sun, and would regard us as useless and pathetic specimens of humanity.

Monday, September 05, 2005



In his Christus: A Mystery (1872), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) quotes part of a beautiful medieval Latin hymn written by Hildebert of Lavardin (1056-1133), Bishop of Le Mans and Archbishop of Tours. The entire hymn appears below. The Latin is easy, and if you ever studied Latin, I encourage you to skip my pedestrian translation and attempt to make sense of the original. Or if you remember how to pronounce church Latin from your days as an altar boy or choir member, say this hymn aloud and revel in the festum melos, the festive melody of the words. We can't imagine "the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2.9), but this exquisite hymn gives us a glimpse.
May that famous Zion receive me,
Zion, David's peaceful city,
Whose architect is the creator of light,
Whose gates are the wood of the cross,
Whose keys are Peter's words,
Whose citizens are always cheerful,
Whose walls are living stone,
Whose protector is a merry king.
Within is a fragrance filling the air,
Within is an always joyful song.
Heavenly city, city of happiness,
Built upon a rock,
City in a safe haven,
From afar I greet you.
I greet you, I sigh for you,
I long for you, I desire you.
How greatly your citizens rejoice,
How merrily they feast together,
What love binds them!
What precious stones adorn your walls,
What chalcedony and jacinth
Do they know who are within!
In the streets of this city,
Joined with the devout throngs,
With Moses and Elijah,
May I too chant a fervent Alleluia.

Sion me receptet illa,
Sion, David urbs tranquilla,
Cujus faber auctor lucis,
Cujus portae lignum crucis,
Cujus claves lingua Petri,
Cujus cives semper laeti,
Cujus muri lapis vivus,
Cujus custos rex festivus.
In hac odor implens caelos,
In hac festum semper melos.
Urbs caelestis, urbs beata
Super petram collocata,
Urbs in portu satis tuto,
De longinquo te saluto.
Te saluto, te suspiro,
Te affecto, te requiro.
Quantum tui gratulentur,
Quam festive conviventur,
Quis affectus eos stringat,
Aut quae gemma muros pingat,
Quis chalcedon, quis jacinthus,
Norunt illi qui sunt intus.
In plateis hujus urbis,
Sociatus piis turbis,
Cum Moyse et Elia,
Pium cantem Alleluia.



T.S. Eliot, Religion and Literature (1935):
There was never a time, I believe, when those who read at all, read so many more books by living authors than books by dead authors; there was never a time so completely parochial, so shut off from the past.

Saturday, September 03, 2005



Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 12.17 (tr. George Long):
If it is not right, do not do it: if it is not true, do not say it.



Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.4 (tr. George Long):
He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad.



Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.71 (tr. George Long):
It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men's badness, which is impossible.


Society and the Individual

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.54 (tr. George Long):
That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.

Friday, September 02, 2005



Recently I received an email from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers with the subject E-Litterae September 2005, Vol. 30. In this email, under the heading Trivia Latina, was the following bit of information:
Scivistine...that sons, no matter how old they were, received an allowance (peliculum) from the paterfamilias of their family? In older sons, the allowance was usually used to maintain their own household.
The source for this information seems to be a page on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) web site, entitled Life in Roman Times: Marriage and Family Life, which states:
Only the paterfamilias could own property in a family. His sons — regardless of age — would receive an allowance (peliculum) to use in maintaining their own households.
These two sentences from the PBS web site are repeated (without attribution) on a web page created by a graduate of the Teacher Technology Training Institute Web Design Classes.

So far as I know, there is no Latin word peliculum. In the examples above, it is an error for peculium (allowance). If you Google peliculum, you'll find some other pages where it is an error for periculum (danger).



James Shirley, Contention of Ajax and Ulysses (excerpt):
The glories of our blood and state
  Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
  Death lays his icy hand on kings.
    Sceptre and crown
    Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field,
  And plant fresh laurels where they kill;
But their strong nerves at last must yield,
  They tame but one another still.
    Early or late,
    They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath,
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
  Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon death's purple altar now,
  See where the victor-victim bleeds.
    Your heads must come
    To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.



Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.3 (tr. George Long):
Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility.
Cf. John Milton, Paradise Lost 1.254-255:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Dalrymple Watch

Recent words from my favorite essayist, Theodore Dalrymple:From The End of Virtuous Albion:
Not long ago, I shared a public platform with Germaine Greer in which she stated that to be good — to lead a virtuous life — entailed faithfulness or truth to one's inclinations. It is scarcely any wonder that young Britons can no longer see what is wrong with vomiting drunkenly in the street, or screaming with either pleasure or hostility. If your inclination is to be a barbarian — well, be true to yourself, be a barbarian.


Executive Washroom

Waiter Rant tells two stories that illustrate how "yuppies don't want their derrieres touching a bowl that's had a wage earner's ass warming it." These fastidious folks should get themselves fitted with their own colostomy bags.

Years ago I worked for a large multi-national corporation at a small regional lab. The chief executive officer once condescended to grace us with his exalted presence. On the day of his visit, local management informed us that we could not use any of the restrooms until after the head honcho and his entourage had departed.

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, chap. 11 (April 18):
He had reason to believe the stercoraceous flavour, condemned by prejudice as a stink, was, in fact, most agreeable to the organs of smelling; for, that every person who pretended to nauseate the smell of another's excretions, snuffed up his own with particular complacency.

Montaigne, Essais 3.8 (De l'art de conferer = Of the art of discussion, tr. Donald R. Frame):
Not only the reproaches that we make to one another, but also our reasons and arguments in controversial matters can ordinarily be turned against ourselves; and we run ourselves through with our own weapons. Whereof antiquity has left me weighty examples enough. This was ingeniously well said, and much to the point, by the man who thought it up:
Every man likes the smell of his own dung.
Our eyes see nothing behind us. A hundred times a day we make fun of ourselves in the person of our neighbor and detest in others the defects that are more clearly in ourselves, and wonder at them with prodigious impudence and heedlessness.

Non seulement les reproches, que nous faisons les uns aux autres, mais noz raisons aussi, et noz arguments et matieres controverses, sont ordinairement retorquables à nous: et nous enferrons de noz armes. Dequoy l'ancienneté m'a laisse assez de graves exemples. Ce fut ingenieusement dit et bien à propos, par celuy qui l'inventa:
Stercus cuique suum bene olet.
Noz yeux ne voyent rien en derriere. Cent fois le jour, nous nous moquons de nous sur le subject de nostre voysin, et detestons en d'autres, les defauts qui sont en nous plus clairement: et les admirons d'une merveilleuse impudence et inadvertence.
Montaigne was probably thinking of Erasmus, Adagia 3.4.2:
Every man's fart smells sweetly to himself.

Suus cuique crepitus bene olet.


Same-Sex Marriage

Lucian, A True Story (Vera Historia), 1.22 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
In the interval, while I was living on the moon, I observed some strange and wonderful things that I wish to speak of. In the first place there is the fact that they are not born of women but of men: they marry men and do not even know the word woman at all! Up to the age of twenty-five each is a wife, and thereafter a husband. They carry their children in the calf of the leg instead of the belly. When conception takes place the calf begins to swell. In course of time they cut it open and deliver the child dead, and then they bring it to life by putting it in the wind with its mouth open.

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