Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Portrait of a Blogger
The Roarer is an enemy rather terrible than dangerous. He has no other qualification for a champion of controversy than a hardened front and strong voice. Having seldom so much desire to confute as to silence, he depends rather upon vociferation than argument, and has very little care to adjust one part of his accusation to another, to preserve decency in his language, or probability in his narratives.
He has always a store of reproachful epithets and contemptuous appellations, ready to be produced as occasion may require, which by constant use he pours out with resistless volubility. If the wealth of a trader is mentioned, he without hesitation devotes him to bankruptcy; if the beauty and elegance of a lady be commended, he wonders how the town can fall in love with rustick deformity; if a new performance of genius happens to be celebrated, he pronounces the writer a hopeless idiot, without knowledge of books or life, and without the understanding by which it must be acquired. His exaggerations are generally without effect upon those whom he compels to hear them; and though it will sometimes happen that the timorous are awed by his violence, and the credulous mistake his confidence for knowledge, yet the opinions which he endeavours to suppress soon recover their former strength, as the trees that bend to the tempest erect themselves again when its force is past.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Qui nunc dancere vult modo
Wants to dance in the fashion, oh!
Discere debet -- ought to know,
Kickere floor cum heel et toe
One, two three,
Hop with me,
Whirligig, twirligig, rapidè.
Polkam jungere, Virgo, vis,
Will you join the Polka, Miss?
Liberius -- most willingly.
Sic agimus -- then let us try:
Skip with me,
Whirlabout, roundabout, celerè.
Tum laevâ citò, tum dextrâ
First to the left, and then t' other way;
Aspice retrò in vultu,
You look at her, and she looks at you.
Change hands ma'am
Celerè -- run away, just in sham.
Crassus boastfully replied that he would give them his answer in Seleucia, and the eldest of the ambassadors, Vagises, burst out laughing and, pointing to the palm of his upturned hand, said: 'Hair will grow here, Crassus, before you set eyes on Seleucia.'This is an example of the rhetorical trope known as adynaton (impossibility). Another example is Herodotus 5.92.a.1 (tr. George Rawlinson):
Surely the heaven will soon be below, and the earth above, and men will henceforth live in the sea, and fish take their place upon the dry land, since you, Lacedaemonians, propose to put down free governments in the cities of Greece, and to set up tyrannies in their room.In English, we say, "When pigs fly..."
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Sadness and languor along the oak tablesRobert Frost said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in." I'd say that the reading room of the public library is that place. The reading room was my refuge, the center of my universe, when I was a teenager. When I got kicked out of high school, it's where I spent every day, reading Musical Quarterly and the novels of Knut Hamsun.
Steady the minds of the sitters and readers;
Sleep and despair, and the stealth of hunters,
And (in the man at the end of the row) anger.
Books are the door of escape from the forest,
Books are the wilderness, too, for the scholar;
Walled in the past, drowning in fables,
Out of the weather we sit, steady in languor.
Which are the ones that belong, properly?
Which are the hunters, which the harried?
Break not the hush that surrounds this miracle --
Mind against mind, coupling in splendor --
Step on no twig, disturbing the forest.
Enter the aisles of despair. Sit down and be quiet.
Especially in cold weather, it was also the refuge of those you wouldn't ordinarily find in a library. I remember one fellow, dressed in a lumberjack shirt, dirty pants stuffed into his packs. When I walked by him, the smell reminded me of a story my father used to tell, about the time he spent working for an undertaker in a small Missouri town. Once my father was assigned the job of cutting a dead farmer out of his long underwear, into which he had been sewn for the winter. The lumberjack smelled as if he had not changed his underwear all winter, either. He usually had an entire oak table all to himself.
It's been many years since I've been back to that reading room. Probably now it's filled with row upon row of computers. The abomination of desolation in the holy place. Probably the novels of Knut Hamsun and the back issues of the Musical Quarterly have been discarded, too.
I often wish I'd never left the small town where I grew up. It might not be a bad life -- haunting the reading room at the public library, dressed in a red flannel shirt, having an entire oak table all to myself.
Lessons to Learn
This is what youth must figure out:
Girls, love, and living.
The having, the not having,
The spending and giving,
And the melancholy time of not knowing.
This is what age must learn about:
The ABC of dying.
The going, yet not going,
The loving and leaving,
And the unbearable knowing and knowing.
The Leaders of the Crowd
They must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.
Yeats and Sophocles
Overcome - O bitter sweetness,
Inhabitant of the soft cheek of a girl -
The rich man and his affairs,
The fat flocks and the fields' fatness,
Mariners, rough harvesters;
Overcome Gods upon Parnassus;
Overcome the Empyrean; hurl
Heaven and Earth out of their places,
That in the same calamity
Brother and brother, friend and friend,
Family and family,
City and city may contend,
By that great glory driven wild.
Pray I will and sing I must,
And yet I weep -- Oedipus' child
Descends into the loveless dust.
Perhaps I'm missing something, but the closest thing I could find in Sophocles' Antigone was this chorus (781-800, tr. R.C. Jebb):
Love, unconquered in the fight, Love, who makest havoc of wealth, who keepest thy vigil on the soft cheek of a maiden; thou roamest over the sea, and among the homes of dwellers in the wilds; no immortal can escape thee, nor any among men whose life is for a day; and he to whom thou hast come is mad.
The just themselves have their minds warped by thee to wrong, for their ruin: 'tis thou that hast stirred up this present strife of kinsmen; victorious is the love-kindling light from the eyes of the fair bride; it is a power enthroned in sway beside the eternal laws; for there the goddess Aphrodite is working her unconquerable will.
A pendant to A Woman Young and Old is Yeat's A Man Young and Old, also in eleven parts, with the last part also a translation or paraphrase of Sophocles, this time from Oedipus at Colonus 1211-1227:
Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span;
Cease to remember the delights of youth, travel-wearied aged man;
Delight becomes death-longing if all longing else be vain.
Even from that delight memory treasures so,
Death, despair, division of families, all entanglements of mankind grow,
As that old wandering beggar and these God-hated children know.
In the long echoing street the laughing dancers throng,
The bride is carried to the bridegroom's chamber through torchlight and tumultuous song;
I celebrate the silent kiss that ends short life or long.
Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say;
Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have looked into the eye of day;
The second best's a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.
Here is Jebb's translation:
Whoso craves the ampler length of life, not content to desire modest span, him will I judge with no uncertain voice; he cleaves to folly.
For the long days lay up full many things nearer unto grief than joy; but as for thy delights, their place shall know them no more when a man's life hath lapsed beyond the fitting term; and the Deliverer comes at the last to all alike, - when the doom of Hades is suddenly revealed, without marriage-song, or lyre, or dance, - even Death at the last.
Not to be born is, past all prizing, best; but, when a man hath seen the light, this is next best by far, that with all speed he should go thither, whence he hath come.
Yeats also paraphrased another chorus from Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus (668-719):
Come praise Colonus' horses, and come praise
The wine-dark of the wood's intricacies,
The nightingale that deafens daylight there,
If daylight ever visit where,
Unvisited by tempest or by sun,
Immortal ladies tread the ground
Dizzy with harmonious sound,
Semele's lad a gay companion.
And yonder in the gymnasts' garden thrives
The self-sown, self-begotten shape that gives
Athenian intellect its mastery,
Even the grey-leaved olive-tree
Miracle-bred out of the living stone;
Nor accident of peace nor war
Shall wither that old marvel, for
The great grey-eyed Athene stares thereon.
Who comes into this country, and has come
Where golden crocus and narcissus bloom,
Where the Great Mother, mourning for her daughter
And beauty-drunken by the water
Glittering among grey-leaved olive-trees,
Has plucked a flower and sung her loss;
Who finds abounding Cephisus
Has found the loveliest spectacle there is.
Because this country has a pious mind
And so remembers that when all mankind
But trod the road, or splashed about the shore,
Poseidon gave it bit and oar,
Every Colonus lad or lass discourses
Of that oar and of that bit;
Summer and winter, day and night,
Of horses and horses of the sea, white horses.
Here, for the sake of comparison, is Jebb's version:
Stranger, in this land of goodly steeds thou hast come to earth's fairest home, even to our white Colonus; where the nightingale, constant guest, trills her clear note in the covert of green glades, dwelling amid the wine-dark ivy and the god's inviolate bowers, rich in berries and fruit, unvisited by sun, unvexed by wind of any storm; where the reveller Dionysus ever walks the ground, companion of the nymphs that nursed him.
And, fed of heavenly dew, the narcissus blooms morn by morn with fair clusters, crown of the Great Goddesses from of yore; and the crocus blooms with golden beam. Nor fail the sleepless founts whence the waters of Cephisus wander, but each day with stainless tide he moveth over the plains of the land's swelling bosom, for the giving of quick increase; nor hath the Muses' quire abhorred this place, nor Aphrodite of the golden rein.
And a thing there is such as I know not by fame on Asian ground, or as ever born in the great Dorian isle of Pelops, - a growth unconquered, self-renewing, a terror to the spears of the foemen, a growth which mightily flourishes in this land, - the grey-leafed olive, nurturer of children. Youth shall not mar it by the ravage of his hand, nor any who dwells with old age; for the sleepless eye of the Morian Zeus beholds it, and the grey-eyed Athena.
And another praise have I to tell for this the city our mother, the gift of a great god, a glory of the land most high; the might of horses, the might of young horses, the might of the sea. For thou, son of Cronus, our lord Poseidon, hast throned her in this pride, since in these roads first thou didst show forth the curb that cures the rage of steeds. And the shapely oar, apt to men's hands, hath a wondrous speed on the brine, following the hundred-footed Nereids.
CREON: Now, tell me thou - not in many words, but briefly - knewest thou that an edict had forbidden this?
ANTIGONE: I knew it: could I help it? It was public.
CREON: And thou didst indeed dare to transgress that law?
ANTIGONE: Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. For their life is not of to-day or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
He refused to be called 'master'.Wilson was probably thinking of Matthew 23.5-10:
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi [῾Ραββί]: for one is your Master [διδάσκαλος, literally teacher], even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father [πατήρ], which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master [καθηγητής], even Christ.But while Jesus himself is never addressed in the Gospels as καθηγητής (a word which occurs in the New Testament only in the passage just quoted from Matthew), he is addressed by another word for master (ἐπιστάτης, vocative ἐπιστάτα) six times in Luke (5.5, 8.24, 8.45, 9.33, 9.49, 17.13) without objection.
The normal ways to address Jesus in the Gospels are as lord, Rabbi, teacher, and master. What is rare is to find Jesus addressed by his name alone. Televangelists and other preachers who bawl "Jesus, do this!" and "Jesus, do that!" should realize that this is not an evangelical form of address. For more on this subject, see here.
Friday, November 25, 2005
- Clayton Cramer on the history of Thanksgiving.
- Jeff at Quid Nomen Illius? on magazine cover art commemorating the holiday.
- Bill Keezer on reasons to be thankful.
- Dennis Mangan on the gratitude he feels for friendships with fellow bloggers.
Besides, education and advanced degrees are no guarantee of intelligence, as this farrago of nonsense by a tenured professor on the subject of Thanksgiving amply demonstrates.
No doubt laws have always been on the books whose purpose is more to promote discretion among those who break their precepts than to enforce strict adherence; but widespread, open, and profitable lawbreaking will before long exert a corrupting effect upon the whole of society.The Suicide Bombers Among Us:
It need hardly be pointed out that rap music—full of inchoate rage, hatred, and intemperance—does not instill a balanced or subtle understanding of the world in its listeners. It fills and empties the mind at the same time: fills it with debased notions and empties it of critical faculties.Truth vs. Theory:
One of the merits of this passage—and it is characteristic of Shakespeare that the merits of his writing should be so multiform, combining in equal measure truth, humanity, tolerance, wisdom, understanding, love, irony, and poetry—is its beautiful and accurate description of delirium.Law Isn't Enough:
I tried to point out some of the cultural meanings of the vogue for tattooing. First, it was aesthetically worse than worthless. Tattoos were always kitsch, implying not only the absence of taste but the presence of dishonest emotion.Truth vs. Theory has a misprint: infra dignitatum, which should be infra dignitatem.
Second, the vogue represented a desperate (and rather sad) attempt on a mass scale to achieve individuality and character by means of mere adornment, which implied both intellectual vacuity and unhealthy self-absorption.
And third, it represented mass downward cultural and social aspiration, since everyone understood that tattooing had a traditional association with low social class and, above all, with aggression and criminality. It was, in effect, a visible symbol of the greatest, though totally ersatz, virtue of our time: an inclusive unwillingness to make judgments of morality or value.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.Mendelssohn's setting of this passage ("Oh for the wings of a dove") in his oratorio Elijah is exquisite.
Parallels from Euripides can be found in W.S. Barrett's commentary on Hippolytus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964).
Hippolytus 732-741 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
O to be nestling 'neath some pathless cavern, there by god's creating hand to grow into a bird amid the wingèd tribes! Away would I soar to Adria's wave-beat shore and to the waters of Eridanus; where a father's hapless daughters in their grief for Phaethon distil into the glooming flood the amber brilliance of their tears.Andromache 861-862 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
And to the apple-bearing strand of those minstrels in the west I then would come, where ocean's lord no more to sailors grants a passage o'er the deep dark main, finding there the heaven's holy bound, upheld by Atlas, where water from ambrosial founts wells up beside the couch of Zeus within his halls, and holy earth, the bounteous mother, causes joy to spring in heavenly breasts.
Would I could speed away from Phthia's land on bird's dark pinion!Ion 796-797 (tr. Robert Potter):
O, through the liquid air that I could fly, far from the land of Greece, ev'n to the stars fix'd in the western sky!Helen 1478-1494 (tr. E.P. Coleridge), superficially similar, expresses a desire not to escape, but to bring the news of Menelaus' good fortune to Sparta:
Oh! for wings to cleave the air in the track of Libyan cranes, whose serried ranks leave far behind the wintry storm at the shrill summons of some veteran leader, who raises his exultant cry as he wings his way o'er plains that know no rain and yet bear fruitful increase. Ye feathered birds with necks outstretched, comrades of the racing clouds, on! on! till ye reach the Pleiads in their central station and Orion, lord of the night; and as ye settle on Eurotas' banks proclaim the glad tidings that Menelaus has sacked the city of Dardanus, and will soon be home.Sometimes a choice is presented, either flight into the sky or escape beneath the ground.
Hippolytus 1290-1293 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Why dost thou not for very shame hide beneath the dark places of the earth, or change thy human life and soar on wings to escape this tribulation?Ion 1238-1243 (tr. Robert Potter):
What flight shall save me from this death, borne on swift pinions through the air, sunk to the darksome cave beneath, or mounted on the rapid car?Medea 1296-1298 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
For she must hide beneath the earth or soar on wings towards heaven's vault, if she would avoid the vengeance of the royal house.Heracles 1157-1158 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Where can I find release from my sorrow? Shall I take wings or plunge beneath the earth?Hecuba 1099-1105 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Whither can I turn or go? Shall I take wings and soar aloft to the mansions of the sky, where Orion and Sirius dart from their eyes a flash as of fire, or shall I, in my misery, plunge to Hades' murky flood?Men cannot fly, but they can hide in the depths of the earth. The ancient life of Euripides says that he used to seek solitude in a cave facing the sea on Salamis.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The Happy Life
Martial, the things that do attain"The richesse left" (res ... relicta) means an inheritance.
The happy life be these, I find:
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join'd with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.
Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis;
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Transcendentalist Party Animals
Shortly after the newlyweds' arrival, Emerson and Thoreau together paid a formal call of welcome. It was not a success. Each sat in his chair bolt upright and completely ill at ease. Much of the time they sat in embarrassed silence. Hawthorne occasionally propounded a question which Thoreau would answer in a monosyllable. Emerson tried to start a conversation only to have each sentence sound like a royal pronouncement. Finally, in desperation the guests departed.Harding, p. 174:
Emerson, delighted to have so many stimulating young men gathered around him, decided in the fall of 1844 to organize a weekly discussion group, which was to meet Monday evenings in his library. Alcott, Hawthorne, Thoreau, George Bradford, the Curtis brothers, and Channing were all invited to attend. The first Monday evening there was an uneasy silence as though, as George Curtis recalls, each were asking, "Who will now proceed to say the finest thing that has ever been said?" Finally Alcott made one of his most orphic sayings. Silence. Thoreau made a brief observation. More silence. Emerson beamed and said nothing. Hawthorne shrunk further into the shadowed corner of the room. Finally a bowl of apples was brought in and each munched in silence. When the end of the long evening came, each disappeared his own way into the darkness. Two more Monday evenings they assembled but with no more success.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Human nature surrenders more easily to the avoidable than to the unavoidable.
La humanidad se resigna más fácilmente a lo evitable que a lo inevitable.
Modern political ideologies are false in what they affirm and true in what they deny.
Las ideologias políticas contemporáneas son falsas en lo que afirman y ciertas en lo que niegan.
"I deem of neither reproach nor stain.Translated by Charles Scott Moncrief:
I have seen the Saracen host of Spain,
Over plain and valley and mountain spread,
And the regions hidden beneath their tread.
Countless the swarm of the foe, and we
A marvellous little company."
Roland answered him, "All the more
My spirit within me burns therefore.
God and his angels of heaven defend
That France through me from her glory bend.
Death were better than fame laid low.
Our Emperor loveth a downright blow."
Says Oliver: "In this I see no blame;Old French original:
I have beheld the Sarrazins of Spain;
Covered with them, the mountains and the vales,
The wastes I saw, and all the farthest plains.
A muster great they've made, this people strange;
We have of men a very little tale."
Answers Rollanz: "My anger is inflamed.
Never, please God His Angels and His Saints,
Never by me shall Frankish valour fail!
Rather I'll die than shame shall me attain.
Therefore strike on, the Emperour's love to gain."
Dist Oliver: "D'iço ne sai jo blasme?
Jo ai veüt les Sarrazins d'Espaigne,
Cuverz en sunt li val e les muntaignes
E li lariz e trestutes les plaignes.
Granz sunt les oz de cele gent estrange;
Nus i avum mult petite cumpaigne."
Respunt Rollant: "Mis talenz en est graigne.
Ne placet Damnedeu ne ses angles
Que ja pur mei perdet sa valur France!
Melz voeill murir que huntage me venget.
Pur ben ferir l'emperere plus nos aimet."
Rise and Fall
I will proceed with my history, telling the story as I go along of small cities no less than of great. Most of those which were great once are small today; and those which in my lifetime have grown to greatness, were small enough in the old days. It makes no odds whether the cities I write of are big or little -- for in this world nobody remains prosperous for long.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Zeus the king, give us good things whether we pray for them or not, and keep evil things away from us even if we pray for them.
Ζεῦ βασιλεῦ, τὰ μὲν ἐσθλὰ καὶ εὐχομένοις καὶ ἀνεύκτοις
ἄμμι δίδου· τὰ δὲ λυγρὰ καὶ εὐχομένων ἀπερύκοις.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
Hoards, Hearths, and Homes
Theirs was a greatnessStrife, not negotiation and compromise. Struck for, not surrendered and abandoned. Greatness, not weakness and shame.
Got from their grand-sires--
Theirs that so often in
Strife with their enemies
Struck for their hoards and their hearths
and their homes.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
The Decline of Libraries
It was my intention to extend my study of Pausanias to other aspects of religion than those treated in the present work, but the construction of a huge underground library, called a 'Teaching Library', with collapsible shelves, attended by the demolition of the stacks of the old library, once restricted to graduate students and faculty, the early retirement of almost all the old staff, who had some understanding of the needs of scholarship, due to financial difficulties in the budget, and the removal of all card files and their replacement by a computer system called Gladis, have proved to be a strong deterrent....For the circulation and shelving of books, the operation is entrusted to the inexperienced. The stacks are in disarray. One rarely visits them without finding misplaced books. When books are returned, relocating them presents a problem. Books by Sokolowski, Dodds, Guthrie, Dietrich, and others have been removed presumably for repair, bar-codes, reclassification, or some other reason without any indication on the computer.Links added. I once offered a few suggestions for making academic libraries friendlier places. Some of them correspond to Pritchett's complaints.
I am an unabashed reader of books: all kinds of books -- good books and bad books, well-written and ill-written; books with a purpose, and books whose existence only the nicest sophistry could justify; books created by genius, and books built by talent standing on its head to attract attention; I even read books made to sell. I can and do read at all times and in all places -- standing up, and sitting or lying down; in chair or bed; on trains and 'buses or boats; in houses, gardens, theatres (when the play is dull); at concerts (reading to music is a discovery and not nearly so offensive to the musicians as talking to music); at meals (this is a delight which deserves an essay to itself) -- in short it would not be easy to name time or place inappropriate to the indulgence of this habit; and yet with all its catholicity and its complete indifference to the feelings of others, I can say with that self-satisfaction which comes only to those who admit being addicted to at least one habit which is no use to anyone but themselves that I could never bring myself to anything approaching enjoyment of an intentionally cheerful book. Cheerful books, or shall I say "cheery" books, make me sad: professional optimism reduces me to ashes.
I can't resist quoting my favorite unintended double entendre of this sort, from the 24th chapter of Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit:
She touched his organ, and from that bright epoch even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable as he had thought of elevation, began a new and deified existence.By "organ" Dickens means the musical instrument, not the membrum virile.
Taking words in their unintended senses, one could say that the generative organ is capable of elevation in the presence of praiseworthy boobs.
It is a weakness of mine--not a sinful one, I hope--that whenever I see any one reading a book in public I am agog to find out what it is. Crossing over to Camden this morning a young woman on the ferry was absorbed in a volume, and I couldn't resist peeping over her shoulder. It was "Hans Brinker." On the same boat were several schoolboys carrying copies of Myers' "History of Greece." Quaint, isn't it, how our schools keep up the same old bunk! What earthly use will a smattering of Greek history be to those boys? Surely to our citizens of the coming generation the battles of the Marne will be more important than the scuffle at Salamis.The battles of the Marne and the scuffle at Salamis are all ancient history to our citizens of the coming generation A.D. 2005.
A certain young man never knewThe title of Morley's poem is a pun on "the unforgivable sin" of Luke 12:10 (cf. Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:31-32):
Just when to say whom and when who;
"The question of choosing,"
He said, "is confusing;
I wonder if which wouldn't do?"
Nothing is so illegitimate
As a noun when his verbs do not fit him; it
Makes him disturbed
If not properly verbed--
If he asks for the plural, why git him it!
Lie and lay offer slips to the pen
That have bothered most excellent men:
You can say that you lay
If you do it to-day, you're a hen!
A person we met at a play
Was cruel to pronouns all day:
She would frequently cry
"Between you and I,
If only us girls had our way--!"
But unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.The title of this blog post, Solecisms, means "grammatical errors" and has an interesting derivation. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces its history thus:
1577, from M.Fr. solécisme, from L. soloecismus "mistake in speaking or writing," from Gk. soloikismos "to speak (Greek) incorrectly," from soloikos "ungrammatical utterance," prop. "a speaking like the people of Soloi," from Soloi, Athenian colony in Cilicia, whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous.I once worked for a boss whose last name was Solley and whose writing was barely recognizable as English. I collected egregious examples from his emails and stored them in a file named Solleycisms.
The last stanza of Morley's poems makes me think that a good name for a band of grammatical nit-pickers would be the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pronouns. In another one of his books, Plum Pudding, Morley talks about the Three Hours for Lunch Club. I'm not a clubbable man by nature, but I could see myself as a member of both the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pronouns and the Three Hours for Lunch Club.
The prospect of my becoming, in such halting fashion as I can, the spokesman of Old Western Culture, alarms me. It may alarm you. I will close with one reassurance and one claim.
First, for the reassurance. I do not think you need fear that the study of a dead period, however prolonged and however sympathetic, need prove an indulgence in nostalgia or an enslavement to the past. In the individual life, as the psychologists have taught us, it is not the remembered but the forgotten past that enslaves us. I think the same is true of society. To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past. Dante read Virgil. Certain other medieval authors evolved the legend of Virgil as a great magician. It was the more recent past, the whole quality of mind evolved during a few preceding centuries, which impelled them to do so. Dante was freer; he also knew more of the past. And you will be no freer by coming to misinterpret Old Western Culture as quickly and deeply as those medievals misinterpreted Classical Antiquity; or even as the Romantics misinterpreted the Middle Ages. Such misinterpretation has already begun. To arrest its growth while arrest is still possible is surely a proper task for a university.
And now for the claim: which sounds arrogant but, I hope, is not really so. I have said that the vast change which separates you from Old Western has been gradual and is not even now complete. Wide as the chasm is, those who are native to different sides of it can still meet; are meeting in this room. This is quite normal at times of great change. The correspondence of Henry More and Descartes is an amusing example; one would think the two men were writing in different centuries. And here comes the rub. I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours. I am going to claim that this, which in one way is a disqualification for my task, is yet in another a qualification. The disqualification is obvious. You don't want to be lectured on Neanderthal Man by a Neanderthaler, still less on dinosaurs by a dinosaur. And yet, is that the whole story? If a live dinosaur dragged its slow length into the laboratory, would we not all look back as we fled? What a chance to know at last how it really moved and looked and smelled and what noises it made! And if the Neanderthaler could talk, then, though his lecturing technique might leave much to be desired, should we not almost certainly learn from him some things about him which the best modem anthropologist could never have told us? He would tell us without knowing he was telling. One thing I know: I would give a great deal to hear any ancient Athenian, even a stupid one, talking about Greek tragedy. He would know in his bones so much that we seek in vain. At any moment some chance phrase might, unknown to him, show us where modem scholarship had been on the wrong track for years. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you somewhat as that Athenian might stand. I read as a native texts that you must read as foreigners. You see why I said that the claim was not really arrogant; who can be proud of speaking fluently his mother tongue or knowing his way about his father's house? It is my settled conviction that in order to read Old Western literature aright you must suspend most of the responses and unlearn most of the habits you have acquired in reading modem literature. And because this is the judgement of a native, I claim that, even if the defence of my conviction is weak, the fact of my conviction is a historical datum to which you should give full weight. That way, where I fail as a critic, I may yet be useful as a specimen. I would even dare to go further. Speaking not only for myself but for all other Old Western men whom you may meet, I would say, use your specimens while you can. There are not going to be many more dinosaurs.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Latin was gone entirely, replaced by dull, oppressive, anchorman English, slavishly translated from its sonorous source to be as plain and "direct" as possible. It didn't seem to have occurred to the well-meaning vandals who'd thrown out baby, bath, and bathwater that all ritual is a reaching out to the unknowable and can be accomplished only by the noncognitive: evocation, allusion, metaphor, incantation -- the tools of the poet.Despite being a New York Times bestseller, Hendra's book is worth reading. I noticed a Latin misprint on p. 154, in a parody of Psalm 129 (130):
Mass was now said in the language of the region where it was celebrated. Like politics, all Masses were now local -- and had about as much dignity. Before "reform," the individual quirks of the priest -- whether he was a saint or a thug or merely a potato like old Father Bleary -- were submerged beneath the timeless rhythms of a universal script. Now priests had huge discretion in deciding the details of the "modern" Mass, and all those egos were on parade.
At one church I made the mistake of trying, the priest gave a rambling hour-long sermon whose main function, he seemed to feel, was to keep the faithful rolling in the aisles. Several of the utterly irrelevant observations he worked in were lines stolen verbatim from a Letterman monologue earlier in the week. The music was from one of the new Catholic hymnals, which had replaced the august millennial music of the Church with tuneless drivel penned during the seventies and eighties by clerical nonentities whose musical gods were John Denver and Andrew Lloyd Weber. These were accompanied by a sprightly cacophony of guitar, fiddle, and saxophone.
De profundis L.A., clamavo ad te Domine.There is no Latin verb form clamavo. It should be clamavi. "Out of the depths of Los Angeles I cried unto Thee, O Lord."
Friday, November 11, 2005
[A] book is to a PDF file as sex to pornography. The book is something to hold, not just something to look at.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Fullness of life and power of feeling, ye
Are for the happy, for the souls at ease,
Who dwell on a firm basis of content!—
But he, who has outliv'd his prosperous days,
But he, whose youth fell on a different world
From that on which his exiled age is thrown,
Whose mind was fed on other food, was train'd
By other rules than are in vogue to-day,
Whose habit of thought is fix'd, who will not change,
But in a world he loves not must subsist
In ceaseless opposition, be the guard
Of his own breast, fetter'd to what he guards,
That the world win no mastery over him;
Who has no friend, no fellow left, not one;
Who has no minute's breathing space allow'd
To nurse his dwindling faculty of joy—
Joy and the outward world must die to him,
As they are dead to me!
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Swimming with Eels
For example, in a timeline of bipolar mania, the makers of the drug Risperdal tell us:
After the fall of the Roman Empire, manic-depressive patients were thought to be possessed by the devil and had to be restrained and chained. Treatments also included euthanasia, exotic potions, bloodletting, and electric eels applied to the skull.(Euthanasia would cure any ailment. Permanently!)
Similarly, an article on Parkinson's disease says:
Scoff if you will at the ancient Romans who made patients with brain disorders swim with electric eels.I may be mistaken, but I thought that electric eels were native to South America. If so, they could not have been known to the ancient Romans. Some other fish also produce electric current. Electric catfish are native to Africa, and electric rays live in tropical waters.
As for ordinary eels, Pliny the Elder (32.49.138) says that two eels dissolved in wine will cure alcoholism (taedium vini adfert). Take two eels and call me in the morning. He also says (31.32.6) that muddy rivers are unhealthy, unless they're full of eels. Celsus apparently doesn't mention eels. I see nothing on this subject in the index of Ralph Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988).
Eel in Latin is anguilla, in Greek ἔγχελυς.
Update: Michael Hendry at Curculio has solved the mystery. Scribonius Largus says that the electric ray (torpedo in Latin), topically applied, cures headache. I should try it, since nothing else seems to help. For other medicinal uses of the electric ray, see Pliny, Natural History 32.32.102, 32.33.105, 32.46.133, 32.47.135, and 32.49.139.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
I Say Gutta, You Say Guttur
A, not true. B, I’m not going to comment on the kind of, I think, low, guttural politics that's going on over and over in this state, and I think the ad that was talked about was just symptomatic of that.Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. gutter:
1280, Anglo-Norman gotere, from O.Fr. guitere, from goute "a drop," from L. gutta. Originally "a watercourse," later "furrow made by running water" (1586). Meaning "trough under the eaves of a roof to carry off rainwater" is from 1354. Figurative sense of "low, profane" is from 1818.Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. guttural:
1594, from M.Fr. guttural, from L. guttur "throat."
Every person with "ideals" is a potential assassin.
Todo individuo con "ideales" es un asesino potencial.
Progress has difficulty breathing on Parnassus.
El Progreso respira mal en el Parnaso.
Unbelief and Belief
The unbeliever imagines that religion pretends to offer answers, while the believer knows that the only promise it makes is to multiply questions.
El incrédulo se imagina que la religión pretende dar soluciones, mientras que el creyente sabe que sólo promete multiplicar enigmas.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Reaping the Whirlwind
Here is the entry in Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) for wanhope:
n. [AS. wan, won, deficient, wanting + hopa hope: cf. D. wanhoop. See Wane, and Hope.] Want of hope; despair; also, faint or delusive hope; delusion. [Obs.] Piers Plowman. "Wanhope and distress." Chaucer.Wanhope is a word worth resuscitating, I think.
Lately I've been trying to read Nicolás Gómez Dávila's Escolios a un Texto Implicito, with a dictionary at my right hand and a grammar at my left. Often I wish I had the luxury of an English translation, but it's good exercise for my feeble brain to struggle with the Spanish. One of his aphorisms is:
La literatura contemporánea parece una algarabía de eunucos en celo."Contemporary literature is like a gabbling of eunuchs in heat." The primary meaning of algarabía is the Arabic language. But according to my dictionary, it also means "gibberish, din of voices, uproar." A word redolent of Spanish history. Algarabía is one word I won't soon forget.
And to Adam the church service was the best channel he could have found for his mingled regret, yearning, and resignation; its interchange of beseeching cries for help with outbursts of faith and praise -- its recurrent responses and the familiar rhythm of its collects, seemed to speak for him as no other form of worship could have done.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
A Latin Proverb
Henerik Kocher in his dictionary of Latin proverbs gives the following variants of this proverb:
- Quot homines, tot sententiae. (Terence, Phormio 454)
- Quot capita, tot sententiae.
- Tot capita, tot sententiae.
Everyone has heard of the vulgar modern equivalent of this proverb: "Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one." Or in Latin, Quot culi, tot sententiae ("There are as many opinions as there are assholes").
Greek and Latin
Whoever three hundred years ago wished to acquaint himself with philosophic, poetic, or eloquent expression of the best that was known, was compelled to seek for it in the Greek and Latin authors; but now Greek and Latin are accomplishments chiefly, and a classical scholar, if unacquainted with modern science and literature, is hopelessly ignorant. "If any one," said Hegius, the teacher of Erasmus, "wishes to learn grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, history, or holy scripture, let him read Greek;" and in his day this was as true as it is false and absurd in our own. ln the Middle Ages, Latin was made the groundwork of the educational system, not on account of any special value it may have been supposed to possess as a mental discipline, but because it was the language of the learned, of all who spoke or wrote on questions of religion, philosophy, literature, and science; but now, who that is able to think dreams of burying his thought in a Greek or Roman urn?
- The Expense of Spirit
- Wrapping Islam in Europe's Mantle
- Tell the Truth about the Lozells Riots
- Holmes & His Commentators
Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
From the Association for Latin Teaching blog:
According to reports, only one synod participant spoke Latin every time he took the microphone: Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats, the Archbishop of Riga. He did the same at the previous synod in 2001, when a disconsolate Pope John Paul II commented: "Paupera lingua latina, ultimum refugium habet in Riga" (Poor Latin, it has its last refuge in Riga).Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v. pauper, say:
fem. paupera, Plaut. Fragm. ap. Serv. Verg. A. 12, 519, called obsolete by Varr. L.L. 8, § 77 Müll.If one can judge from online texts, Lewis and Short are incorrect. Varro doesn't call paupera obsolete; Servius does.
Varro, De Lingua Latina 8.39.77:
praeterea si dicerentur similiter, cum similia essent macer tener et macerrimus tenerrimus, non discreparet in his macrior tenerior, neque alia trisyllaba alia quadrisyllaba fierent; et si in his dominaretur similitudo, diceremus ut candidissimus candidissima, pauperrumus pauperrima, sic candidus candida, pauper paupera; et ut dicimus doctus docta, doctissimus doctissima, sic diceremus frugalissumus frugalissima, frugalus et frugala.Servius on Vergil, Aeneid 12.519 (pauperque domus):
'hic' et 'haec pauper' dicimus: nam 'paupera' usurpatum est. sic Plautus paupera est haec mulier. sed hoc hodie non utimur.The Plautine fragment is XLVI in W.M. Lindsay's edition under Fabularum Incertarum Fragmenta. Lindsay in his apparatus ad loc. says "cf. Aul. 174, Vid. fr. 3."
Paupera doesn't occur at Aulularia 174 (scio quid dictura es: hanc esse pauperem. haec pauper placet, with no variants listed by Lindsay), but it does at Vidularia, fragment 3 (paupera res est, known from Priscian 1.152).
In conclusion, nominative feminine singular paupera is rare and archaic in Latin. The normal form is simply pauper, and the Pope probably should have said, "Pauper lingua latina, ultimum refugium habet in Riga." Some have also complained about the prepositional phrase in Riga, arguing that the locative Rigae is proper. But Rigae would destroy the rhyming pun.
Pope John Paul II, faced with this nit-picking, could have said with an earlier pope (St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, at Patrologia Latina 75.516 B, tr. E.K. Rand):
Wherefore I have scorned to observe all art of style, in which pupils are drilled in schools of the outer [i.e., lower] training. For, as the tenor of the present letter makes evident, I shun not the collision of m's; I avoid not the disorder of barbarisms; I despise a conformity to constructions and moods and cases of prepositions. For I deem it exceedingly inept to fetter the words of the Heavenly Oracle to the rules of Donatus.
Unde et ipsam loquendi artem, quam magisteria disciplinae exterioris insinuant, servare despexi. Nam sicut hujus quoque epistolae tenor enuntiat, non metacismi collisionem fugio, non barbarismi confusionem devito, situs motusque et praepositionum casus servare contemno, quia indignum vehementer existimo, ut verba coelestis oraculi restringam sub regulis Donati.
Portrait of a Scholar
It is well known that great scholars who have shown the most pitiless acerbity in their criticism of other men's scholarship have yet been of a relenting and indulgent temper in private life; and I have heard of a learned man meekly rocking the twins in the cradle with his left hand, while with his right he inflicted the most lacerating sarcasms on an opponent who had betrayed a brutal ignorance of Hebrew. Weaknesses and errors must be forgiven--alas! they are not alien to us--but the man who takes the wrong side on the momentous subject of the Hebrew points must be treated as the enemy of his race.
I have seen her drawing stars from the sky. Her spells turn the course of the hurrying stream. Her chaunting cleaves the ground, lures the spirit from its tomb, and down from the warm pyre summons the bony frame. Now with magic shrillings she keeps the troops of the grave before her; now she sprinkles them with milk and commands them to retreat. At will she chases the clouds from the frowning heavens; at will she musters the snow in the summer skies. Only she, men say, holds the secret of Medea's deadly herbs, only she has tamed the wild hounds of Hecate.Kirby Flower Smith, in his commentary on lines 45-48, gives some literary and historical parallels to the practice of nekyomantia, which he defines as "summoning the spirits of the dead in order to make them prophesy or answer questions." The literary parallels are:
hanc ego de caelo ducentem sidera vidi,
fluminis haec rapidi carmine vertit iter,
haec cantu finditque solum Manesque sepulcris
elicit et tepido devocat ossa rogo;
iam tenet infernas magico stridore catervas,
iam iubet adspersas lacte referre pedem.
cum libet, haec tristi depellit nubila caelo,
cum libet, aestivo convocat orbe nives.
sola tenere malas Medeae dicitur herbas,
sola feros Hecates perdomuisse canes.
- Homer, Odyssey 11
- Aeschylus, Persae (the ghost of Darius)
- Laberius, Necyomantia (lost)
- Lucan 6.419-830 (the ghost of Pompey)
- 1 Samuel 28.7 (the witch of Endor)
- Shakespeare, Macbeth 4.1
- Cicero, Against Vatinius 6.14
- Tacitus, Annals 2.28
- Suetonius, Life of Nero 34.4
- Herodian 4.12.3
- Ammianus Marcellinus 29.2.17
And since the beginnings of all great things are derived from the gods, I wish you to answer me,--you, who are accustomed to call yourself a Pythagorean, and to put forth the name of a most learned man as a screen to bide your own savage and barbarian habits,--what depravity of intellect possessed you, what excessive frenzy seized on you, and made you, when you had begun your unheard-of and impious sacrifices, accustomed as you are to seek to evoke the spirits of the shades below, and to appease the Dî Manes with the entrails of murdered boys, despise the auspices under which this city was founded, by which the whole of this republic and empire is kept together, and, at the very beginning of your tribuneship, give notice to the senate that the responses of the augurs and the arrogance of that college should be no obstacle to your proceedings?
et quoniam omnium rerum magnarum ab dis immortalibus principia ducuntur, volo ut mihi respondeas tu, qui te Pythagoreum soles dicere et hominis doctissimi nomen tuis immanibus et barbaris moribus praetendere, quae te tanta pravitas mentis tenuerit, qui tantus furor ut, cum inaudita ac nefaria sacra susceperis, cum inferorum animas elicere, cum puerorum extis deos manis mactare soleas, auspicia quibus haec urbs condita est, quibus omnis res publica atque imperium tenetur, contempseris, initioque tribunatus tui senatui denuntiaris tuis actionibus augurum responsa atque eius conlegi adrogantiam impedimento non futura?