Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Subjective and Objective Genitives

My friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, objects to some remarks I made about the genitive case. I concede his first point, but not his second. For there to be a genuine instance of the subjective genitive or objective genitive, you must be able to identify the verb inherent in the noun governing the genitive. Here are two explanations.

Guy L. Cooper III, Attic Greek Prose Syntax (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), following K.W. Krüger, § 47.7.1:
There is often a distinctly verbal relation between the adnominal genitive and its substantive .... For the analysis of all such passages where substantive and adnominal genitive stand in a semi-verbal relation to one another it is useful to think of the syntactic complex they form as a condensed or abbreviated sentence, and then to expand the statement into a fuller form. If the adnominal genitive in the abbreviated statement corresponds to the subject in the full sentence, the adnominal genitive is referred to as a subjective genitive. If the adnominal genitive in the abbreviated sentence corresponds to the object in the full sentence, it is referred to as an objective genitive.

James Mountford, 'Bradley's Arnold' Latin Prose Composition (1938; rpt. New York: David McKay, 1967), § 299:
The genitive case always implies a close relation between the noun in that case and another noun.

(i) Sometimes that relation is such that, if the other noun were converted into a verb, the word now in the genitive would become the subject of that verb.

Thus: post fugam Pompeii = postquam fugit Pompeius.

Such a genitive is called subjective.

(ii) Sometimes the relation of a genitive to its governing noun resembles that of an object to its verb.

Thus: propter mortis timorem = quod mortem timuit.

Such a genitive is called objective.

These principles apply to any language with subjective and objective genitives, not just Greek and Latin.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Enemies of Ancient Languages

I used to think that the authors, as well as the titles, of the books in the catalogue of the Library of Saint Victor (Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, book II, chapter VII) were fictitious. But now I learn from M.A. Screech, Rabelais (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), p. 44, that I was wrong. The titles are made up, but at least some of the authors were real people, which adds to the humor. For example, the Ars honeste petandi in societate (The Art of Farting Politely in Public) is attributed "per M. Ortuinum." According to Screech, this is "an allusion to a theologian in Cologne widely mocked for his hostility to Reuchlin and Jewish studies generally," viz. Ortuinus Gratius (1491-1542), aka Ortwin or Ortuin or Hardouin, from Graes or Graetz. The mocking occurred in the satirical Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, ostensibly addressed to Ortwin. Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) taught Hebrew at the universities of Ingolstadt and Tübingen.

Those opposed to the Hebraica veritas also objected to Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament (1516). An excellent treatment of this subject is the first chapter (Learning Greek is heresy! Resisting Erasmus) of Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek? Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), who quotes a letter of Thomas More concerning a gang (named the Trojans) opposed to the study of Greek at Oxford (p. 39):
Their senior sage christened himself Priam; others called themselves Hector, Paris and so forth. The idea, whether as a joke or a piece of anti-academic politics, is to pour ridicule on those devoted to the study of Greek.
There were obscurantists at Cambridge as well, who wanted to ban Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testment, as Erasmus himself reports in a letter to Henry Bullock (August, 1516, quoted in Goldhill, p. 29):
I have heard from trustworthy witnesses that you have one college, steeped in theology, whose members are regular Areopagites and who are said to have provided by solemn resolution that no man bring the said volume by horse, boat, wagon, or porter within the curteledge of said college. I ask you, my learned friend, should one laugh or cry? How their zeal has led them astray!

Early American poet John Trumbull (1750-1831), in his The Progress of Dulness, part I (The Adventures of Tom Brainless), criticized the study of Greek and Latin:
Say ye, who bear the name of wise,
Wherein substantial learning lies.
Is it, superb in classic lore,
To speak what Homer spoke before,
To write the language Tully wrote,
The style, the cadence and the note?
Is there a charm in sounds of Greek,
No language else can learn to speak;
That cures distemper'd brains at once,
Like Pliny's rhymes for broken bones?
Is there a spirit found in Latin,
That must evap'rate in translating?
And say are sense and genius bound
To any vehicles of sound?
Can knowledge never reach the brains,
Unless conveyed in ancient strains?
While Homer sets before your eyes
Achilles' rage, Ulysses' lies,
Th' amours of Jove in masquerade,
And Mars entrapp'd by Phoebus' aid;
While Virgil sings, in verses grave,
His lovers meeting in a cave,
His ships turn'd nymphs, in pagan fables,
And how the Trojans eat their tables;
While half this learning but displays
The follies of the former days;
And for the linguists, fairly try them,
A tutor'd parrot might defy them.

The original of the following true story by a Catholic choir director has disappeared from the World Wide Web, but survives in a copy:
There in the sacristy was my "boss" the Liturgy Co-Ordinator/Pastoral Minister and her buddy the Senior Citizen Ministry Director. There's nothing odd about seeing them in the sacristy, what was odd was that they were RIPPING PAGES OUT OF A HYMNAL AND THROWING THEM INTO A LARGE GARBAGE CAN! The looks on their faces were priceless. They were terrified (I'm 6'6 and have been told I'm scary looking). They explained that they thought I had left and that they were just ripping out the songs they didn't want me to use anymore.

Now for those of you not familiar with the Pius X Hymnal, it has a good selection of English hymns as well as the normal Latin. As I reached into the garbage can and picked out the pages (luckily they'd only ripped pages out of 4 hymnals by the time I got there), I found that they were leaving all the English hymns (unless they had Latin on the back side of them) and were ripping out all the Latin.

When I asked them why they were doing this, they explained that they "didn't want me doing the Latin anymore" and that we had to "get the kids into the pews!"

Sunday, February 26, 2006



Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is other people) is often quoted, with good reason. I feel that way most of the time. But a good case can be made for considering hell to be not other people, but one's self. Satan, in Milton's Paradise Lost, recognized this:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horrour and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him; for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step, no more than from himself, can fly
By change of place.
Milton understood Satan so well because in Milton's personality, as in Satan's, rebelliousness was one of the chief ingredients. Johnson in his Life of Milton writes with great psychological penetration:
Milton's Republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs in the State, and prelates in the Church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.

Stephen Crane's little poem is a frightening vision of hell:
I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, "Comrade! Brother!"

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Naughty Fungi Names

I picked up Clyde M. Christensen's Common Fleshy Fungi (Minneapolis: Burgess, 1965) for a dollar at a used book shop. Some of these fungi have naughty names, such as Verpa bohemica, Verpa conica, Ithyphallus impudicus, and Ithyphallus ravenelli. You'll have to look up verpa and ithyphallus in your own Latin dictionary. This blog is rated G, after all.

The prudish Thoreau (Journals, October 16, 1856) was shocked and fascinated to find one of these fungi on his rambles through the woods:
One of those fungi named impudicus, I think. In all respects a most disgusting object, yet very suggestive. . . . It was as offensive to the eye as to the scent, the cap rapidly melting and defiling what it touched with a fetid, olivaceous, semiliquid matter. In an hour or two the plant scented the whole house wherever placed, so that it could not be endured. I was afraid to sleep in my chamber where it had lain until the room had been well ventilated. It smelled like a dead rat in the ceiling, in all the ceilings of the house. Pray, what was Nature thinking of when she made this? She almost puts herself on a level with those who draw in privies.


Big Heads

King Alfred at The Bitter Scroll has an interesting post on Egil the Melancholy Viking (Egil Skallagrimsson) and his big head. Egil's Saga 91 (tr. W.C. Green) relates:
Grim of Moss-fell was baptized when Christianity was established by law in Iceland. He had a church built there, and 'tis common report that Thordis had Egil moved to the church. And this proof there is thereof, that later on, when a church was built at Moss-fell, and that church which Grim had built at Bush-bridge taken down, the churchyard was dug over, and under the altar-place were found human bones. They were much larger than the bones of other men. From the tales of old people it is thought pretty sure that these were Egil's bones. Skapti the priest, Thorarin's son, a wise man, was there at the time. He took then the skull of Egil, and set it on the churchyard fence. The skull was wondrous large, but still more out of the common way was its heaviness. It was all wave-marked on the surface like a shell. Skapti then wished to try the thickness of the skull. He took a good-sized hand-axe, and brandishing it aloft in one hand, brought down the back of it with force on the skull to break it. But where the blow fell the bone whitened, but neither was dinted nor cracked. Whence it might be gathered that this skull could not easily be harmed by the blows of weak men while skin and flesh were on it. The bones of Egil were laid in the outer part of the churchyard at Moss-fell.
Jesse L. Byock, Egil's Bones, Scientific American 272.1 (January 1995) 82-87, speculated that Egil suffered from Paget's disease of bone, one symptom of which is increasing skull size.

This reminded me of an ancient Greek with a big head, Pericles. Plutarch, Life of Pericles 3.2-4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin), says:
His personal appearance was unimpeachable, except that his head was rather long and out of due proportion. For this reason the images of him, almost all of them, wear helmets, because the artists, as it would seem, were not willing to reproach him with deformity. The comic poets of Attica used to call him "Schinocephalus," or Squill-head (the squill is sometimes called "schinus"). So the comic poet Cratinus, in his "Cheirons," says: "Faction and Saturn, that ancient of days, were united in wedlock; their offspring was of all tyrants the greatest, and lo! he is called by the gods the head-compeller." And again in his "Nemesis": "Come, Zeus! of guests and heads the Lord!" And Telecleides speaks of him as sitting on the acropolis in the greatest perplexity, "now heavy of head, and now alone, from the eleven-couched chamber of his head, causing vast uproar to arise." And Eupolis, in his "Demes," having inquiries made about each one of the demagogues as they come up from Hades, says, when Pericles is called out last:--

    The very head of those below hast thou now brought.
Head-compeller (κεφαληγερέτα) is a humorous modification of the Homeric cloud-compeller (νεφεληγερέτα, an epithet of the sky god Zeus), and squill-head (σχινοκέφαλος) recalls the squill's bulbous root, which can weigh several pounds.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Thoreau and Anacreon

In his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), Thoreau translated several poems by or attributed to Anacreon. Here is one of them, rather bold in its sexual imagery for the chaste Transcendentalist:
Thracian colt, why at me
Looking aslant with thy eyes,
Dost thou cruelly flee,
And think that I know nothing wise?
Know I could well
Put the bridle on thee,
And holding the reins, turn
Round the bounds of the course.
But now thou browsest the meads,
And gambolling lightly dost play,
For thou hast no skilful horseman
Mounted upon thy back.

Πῶλε Θρηικίη, τί δή με
  λοξὸν ὄμμασι βλέπουσα
νηλέως φεύγεις, δοκεῖς δέ
  μ' οὐδὲν εἰδέναι σοφόν;
ἴσθι τοι, καλῶς μὲν ἄν τοι
  τὸν χαλινὸν ἐμβάλοιμι,
ἡνίας δ' ἔχων στρέφοιμί
  σ' ἀμφὶ τέρματα δρόμου·
νῦν δὲ λειμῶνάς τε βόσκεαι
  κοῦφά τε σκιρτῶσα παίζεις,
δεξιὸν γὰρ ἱπποπείρην
  οὐκ ἔχεις ἐπεμβάτην.


The Dunkin Rebellion

The Dunkin Rebellion occurred at Harvard when Thoreau was a freshman. Dunkin was Thoreau's Greek teacher. Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Dover, 1982), pp. 41-42, quotes from the official report on the incident -- Harvard University, Proceedings of the Overseers Relative to the Late Disturbance in That Seminary (Boston, 1834):
On the 19th of May last [1834], the Instructor of the Freshman Class in Greek [Christopher Dunkin], reported to the President that one of that Class, when reciting to him, stopped and refused to recite farther; on being told by his Instructor that when "he directed any thing to be translated, he expected it would be done," the student replied, "I do not recognize your authority," shut his book and paid no attention to his recitation afterward....

On that night, (Wednesday) between the hours of ten and one, the room occupied by the Greek Instructor, above-mentioned, as a recitation room, was torn in pieces by some students, all its furniture broken, and every window dashed out....

The morning and evening prayers were, on the next day, (Thursday) interrupted by scraping, whistling, groaning and other disgraceful noises....

On this night a watch was set for the protection of the College property. It was attacked with stones by several students. An affray ensued....

On [the next] evening, about midnight, the Chapel bell was rung, (a cord having been attached to it,) accompanied by great noises in the yard.
Thoreau apparently took no part in the Dunkin Rebellion. He did not follow in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, Asa Dunbar, who fomented a Harvard rebellion in 1767 over bad food in the dining hall.

Thursday, February 23, 2006



Maverick Philosopher discusses:
  1. Is Compassion a Mistake?
  2. Spinoza on Commiseratio. Pity as a Wastebasket Emotion
Here's what Nietzsche said about compassion, in Human, All Too Human § 499 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Friend.— Fellow rejoicing [Mitfreude], not fellow suffering [Mitleiden], makes the friend.

Freund.— Mitfreude, nicht Mitleiden, macht den Freund.


Ugly Verbs

One bitter fruit of Bush's wiretapping policy is the verb surveil (from surveillance), repeated ad nauseam by pundits and politicians. It would be hard to find another verb so ugly and misshapen, unless perhaps it's liaise (from liaison).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


An Emendation

I sometimes quote statements in this web log that I disagree with, in whole or in part. I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression from the B.L. Ullman quotation in my post on Richard Bentley that I'm a foe of conjectural emendation. Bentley, Housman, and Shackleton Bailey are my heroes. A hundred years from now, if by that time anyone still reads Latin, the only thing I'll be remembered for is an emendation in the text of Plautus, Stichus 617, published in the American Journal of Philology 98 (1977) 355. Here it is.

Epignomus and his brother Pamphilippus are teasing the parasite Gelasimus by raising his hopes of a dinner and then dashing them:

EP. posse edepol tibi opinor etiam uni locum condi p......um
ubi accubes. PAM. sane faciundum censeo. GE. o lux oppidi!
EP. si arte poeris accubare. GE. uel inter cuneos ferreos;
tantillum loculi ubi catellus cubet, id mi sat e rest loci.
EP. exorabo aliquo modo. ueni. GE. hucine? EP. immo in carcerem (617-621)
617 condi p......um A, conspicor P
. .
Goetz's proposal to fill the gap in the Ambrosian palimpsest with bonum has met with two criticisms, one just, the other not. First, Schoell noted that a longer word is needed to fill the space; p<ropemod>um, he thought, would fit nicely. Leo in his critical apparatus remarked that two other possibilities, probum and breuem, were unsatisfactory for the same reason. The latest editor of the Stichus, H. Petersmann, conjectured p<aruol>um, which is of sufficient length.

The second criticism of Goetz's proposal was made by Ussing, who in his commentary objected that bonitas loci non requiritur. On the contrary, an ironic reference to the bonitas loci is precisely what is needed to preserve the humor of the passage: the fault with Petersmann's p<aruol>um is that it takes the sting from Epignomus' si arte poteris accubare (619). I would suggest p<erbon>um, which meets the requirements of both length and context. Cf. Plaut. Most. 673 non in loco emit perbono and Cic. Att. 6.1.3 perbono loco res erat.

Of the six other passages where Plautus uses the adjective perbonus (Merc. 526, Most. 692 and 764) or the adjective perbene (Aul. 186, Men. 1141, and Rud. 164), two involve dining: prandi perbene (Men. 1141) and prandium uxor mihi perbonum dedit (Most. 692).

Stichus 617 is a trochaic septenarius. It should be noted that, if the conjecture p<erbon>um is adopted, the -cum of locum before condi must be shortened in accordance with the law of breuis breuians.

It's infra dig to translate in a scholarly article, but not in a web log. Here's a translation of the Plautine passage with my emendation, adapted from Henry Thomas Riley:

EP. By my faith, I think a very good spot can be found just for you alone, where you may recline.
PAM. Really, I do think it may be managed.
GE. O light of the city!
EP. If you can manage to recline in a small compass.
GE. Aye, even between two wedges of iron. As little space as a puppy can lie in, the same will be enough for me.
EP. I'll beg for it some way or other; come along. (Pulls him along.)
GE. What? This way?
EP. Yes, to prison.



Dave Haxton at MacRaven, commenting on yet another inflated resume in the news, reveals the extent of his own formal education. In doing so, he proves a point I've often tried to make -- that formal education, advanced degrees, and scholarly credentials by themselves are no guarantee of intelligence and competence. Dave has intelligence and competence in spades, as any reader of his web log will soon discover.

For the record, my grades put me in the bottom third of my high school class. I flunked high school Latin, along with several other subjects. I don't mention either of these facts on my resume. On the other hand, I don't pretend to have degrees I never earned.



Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims, from Parerga and Paralipomena:
No man can be in perfect accord with any one but himself — not even with a friend or the partner of his life; differences of individuality and temperament are always bringing in some degree of discord, though it may be a very slight one. That genuine, profound peace of mind, that perfect tranquillity of soul, which, next to health, is the highest blessing the earth can give, is to be attained only in solitude, and, as a permanent mood, only in complete retirement; and then, if there is anything great and rich in the man’s own self, his way of life is the happiest that may be found in this wretched world .... The less necessity there is for you to come into contact with mankind in general, in the relations whether of business or of personal intimacy, the better off you are. Loneliness and solitude have their evils, it is true; but if you cannot feel them all at once, you can at least see where they lie; on the other hand, society is insidious in this respect; as in offering you what appears to be the pastime of pleasing social intercourse, it works great and often irreparable mischief. The young should early be trained to bear being left alone; for it is a source of happiness and peace of mind.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Latinate Diction

If you remember a little high school or college Latin, it's fun to try to figure out the meaning of this passage from Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book II, chapter VI (tr. J.M. Cohen). Apparently college students have changed little over the years.
'So you come from Paris,' said Pantagruel. 'And how do you spend your time, you gentlemen students at this same Paris?'

'We transfretate the Sequana at the dilucule and crepuscule; we deambulate through the compites and quadrives of the urb; we despumate the Latin verbocination and, as verisimile amorabunds, we captate the benevolence of the omnijugal, omniform, and omnigenous feminine sex. At certain intervals we invisitate the lupanars, and in venerean ecstasy we inculcate our veretres into the penitissim recesses of the pudenda of these amicabilissime meretricules. Then do we cauponizate, in the meritory taverns of the Pineapple, the Castle, the Magdalen, and the Slipper, goodly vervecine spatules, perforaminated with petrosil. And if by fort fortune there is rarity or penury of pecune in our marsupies, and they are exhausted of ferruginous metal, for the scot we dimit our codices and vestments oppignerated, prestolating the tabellaries to come from the penates and patriotic lares.'

Tu viens duncques de Paris, dist il. Et à quoy passez vous le temps, vous aultres, messieurs estudians audict Paris?

Respondit l'eschollier: Nous transfrétons la Séquane au dilucule et crépuscule; nous déambulons par les compites et quadriviez de l'urbe; nous despumons la verbocinatiun latiale , et, comme verisimiles amorabundes, captons la bénévolence de l'omnijuge, omniforme, et omnigène sexe féminin. Certaines diécules, nous invisons les lupanares de Champgaillard, de Matcon, de Cul-de-Sac, de Bourbon, de Huslieu, (...) puis, cauponizons ès tabernes méritoires de la Pomme de Pin, de la Magdaleine, et de la Mulle, belles spatules vervecines, perforaminées de pétrosil. Et si, par forte fortune, y a rarité ou pénurie de pécune en nos marsupiez, et soyent exhaustez de métal ferruginé, pour l'escot nous dimittons nos codices et vestez oppignerées, prestulans les tabellaires à venir des Pénates et Larez patrioticques.

Monday, February 20, 2006


A Danish Cartoon

Here is a caricature of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) by Danish cartoonist Peter Klaestrup, published in the satirical paper The Corsair:


It reminds me a bit of a pencil sketch of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) by his friend Daniel Ricketson:


The existentialist and the transcendentalist are both standing, both facing left, both wearing hats, and both holding umbrellas.

Another similarity between Thoreau and Kierkegaard? Their views on the importance of the individual and the insignificance of the crowd. Henry Seidel Canby, Thoreau (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939), p. 183, quotes from a letter of Thoreau to Emerson:
When will the world learn that a million men are of no importance compared with one man?
Compare these passages from Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, tr. R.G. Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1968):

XI1 A 384 (p. 141):
These millions, the law of whose existence is 'first be like the rest', this mass of aping -- materially they look as if they were something, something great, something immensely powerful. And materially they are indeed something; but ideally this mass, these millions are zero, they are less than zero, they are wasted and forfeited existences.
XI2 A 90 (pp. 230-231):
One hundred thousand million men, of which each is like the rest = one. Only when one turns up who is different from these millions or this one, do we have two.
Something to keep in mind, when we see newsreels of thousands of savages rioting, gesticulating, and screeching over a few harmless cartoons in a Danish newspaper -- "Materially they look as if they were something, something great, something immensely powerful. And materially they are indeed something; but ideally this mass, these millions are zero, they are less than zero, they are wasted and forfeited existences."

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Emerson on Plutarch

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Books:
Plutarch cannot be spared from the smallest library; first because he is so readable, which is much; then that he is medicinal and invigorating. The lives of Cimon, Lycurgus, Alexander, Demosthenes, Phocion, Marcellus and the rest, are what history has of best. But this book has taken care of itself, and the opinion of the world is expressed in the innumerable cheap editions, which make it as accessible as a newspaper. But Plutarch's Morals is less known, and seldom reprinted. Yet such a reader as I am writing to can as ill spare it as the Lives. He will read in it the essays On the Daemon of Socrates, On Isis and Osiris, On Progress in Virtue, On Garrulity, On Love; and thank anew the art of printing and the cheerful domain of ancient thinking. Plutarch charms by the facility of his associations; so that it signifies little where you open his book, you find yourself at the Olympian tables. His memory is like the Isthmian Games, where all that was excellent in Greece was assembled; and you are stimulated and recruited by lyric verses, by philosophic sentiments, by the forms and behavior of heroes, by the worship of the gods, and by the passing of fillets, parsley and laurel wreaths, chariots, armor, sacred cups and utensils of sacrifice.


Unintended Double Entendre

I was amused to find the following stanza by Mary Baker Eddy in Garry Wills, Certain Trumpets (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 178:
Joy in every belfry bell --
Joy for the captive! sound it long!
Ye who have wept four-score can tell
The holy meaning of their dong.
For other unintended double entendres, see here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Man the Reformer:
Can we not learn the lesson of self-help? Society is full of infirm people, who incessantly summon others to serve them. They contrive everywhere to exhaust for their single comfort the entire means and appliances of that luxury to which our invention has yet attained. Sofas, ottomans, stoves, wine, game-fowl, spices, perfumes, rides, the theatre, entertainments, — all these they want, they need, and whatever can be suggested more than these, they crave also, as if it was the bread which should keep them from starving; and if they miss any one, they represent themselves as the most wronged and most wretched persons on earth. One must have been born and bred with them to know how to prepare a meal for their learned stomach. Meantime, they never bestir themselves to serve another person; not they! they have a great deal more to do for themselves than they can possibly perform, nor do they once perceive the cruel joke of their lives, but the more odious they grow, the sharper is the tone of their complaining and craving. Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants and to serve them one's self, so as to have somewhat left to give, instead of being always prompt to grab? It is more elegant to answer one's own needs, than to be richly served; inelegant perhaps it may look to-day, and to a few, but it is an elegance forever and to all.
The original of this passage, in Emerson's Journal F2 (1840), is even harsher. Instead of "infirm people," in his journal he calls them "infirm, lazy people"; for "nor do they once perceive the cruel joke of their lives" he writes "so insane does selfishness make them that they never once perceive the cruel joke of their lives"; etc.

Today, instead of relying of private charity, many of these parasites are on the public dole.



I always suspected that I was a member of the lower orders. Now I'm certain of it. According to Fred Reed, "the lower orders consist of people who think fart jokes uproarious."

At least I'm in good company. Company like Aristophanes and Rabelais. I hope I never become so elevated and refined that I can't laugh uproariously at jokes like this one from Aristophanes' Clouds (382-394, tr. anon.):
STREPSIADES. But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?

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

STREPSIADES. How can you make me credit that?

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

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

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

STREPSIADES. And this is why the names are so much alike: crap [πορδή, pordé] and clap [βροντή, bronté].
I borrowed the title of this post from Ralph A. Lewin, Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural, and Sociohistorical Coprology (New York: Random House, 1999), p. 43.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Richard Bentley

A few days ago, I quoted A.D. Godley's poem on textual criticism, which contains these lines:
There where Horace not ungently
Chaffs the very learned shade
  Of the Reverend Dr. Bentley.
The Reverend Dr. Bentley is Richard Bentley (1662-1742), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and editor of Horace (1711) and Milton's Paradise Lost (1732).

B.L. Ullman, in his 1935 Presidential Address to the American Philological Association, published in Classical Journal 31.7 (April 1936) 403-417 and entitled Horace and the Philologians, blasted Bentley for his unnecessary emendations in the texts of Horace and Milton:
In the case of Horace it is that much overrated scholar, Richard Bentley (did I hear a gasp?), who is to blame for so-called emendations that still disfigure the text, though many have been eliminated. He is also responsible for giving currency to readings of inferior manuscripts and to poor emendations of earlier scholars. How a scholar who emended Milton's Paradise Lost in some 800 passages can be treated with the awe and respect that are still accorded Bentley is one of the unsweet mysteries of the philological life. The lines of Milton on the manufacture of gunpowder in hell read:
Sulphorous and nitrous foam,
They found, they mingled, and with subtle art
Concocted . . . they reduced
This Bentley changed to
Sulphorous and nitrous foam,
They pound, they mingle, and with sooty chark
Concocted . . . they reduce
Five changes in less than three lines. His excuse is that you can't make gunpowder without charcoal (chark).

The last two lines of Paradise Lost speak of Adam and Eve:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
In Bentley's hands this became:
Then hand in hand with social steps their way
Through Eden took, with heav'nly comfort cheer'd.
Eight changes in two lines! Bentley's work on Horace is about as bad as that on Milton, but is not so easily proved wrong. His chief fault is that of applying the searing blast of inexorable logic to the poet's fragile flowers. His aim was not to emend corrupt manuscripts but to improve on the faltering Horace.


The fact of the matter is that Bentley was not the man to deal critically with a poet like Horace. He lacked a sense of humor, a fatal defect in a reader of the genial satirist who believed in ridentem dicere verum [Serm. 1.1.24], presenting a philosophy of life in a jesting manner. If Bentley had had a sense of humor he would not have given us so many chances to laugh at him. In the eighth satire Horace says that the witch Canidia's breath is more poisonous than African snakes [Serm. 2.8.95]. Bentley objects that the breath of African snakes cannot reach all the way to Rome! Another defect in Bentley is that he demanded too much scientific exactness of Horace. Because foxes don't eat grain, Bentley must emend Horace's fable [Epist. 1.7.29] so that it is a mouse instead of a fox that breaks into the bin. Bentley does not realize that the story is a much better one if a cunning fox is imprisoned by his greed. Again, he has no understanding of metaphors or other figures of speech. He is also too strict in his syntax, like the high-school teacher who thinks that only constructions found in Caesar are good Latin.
After all the criticism of Bentley for his high-handed treatment of Horace and especially Milton, I was surprised to find at least one of Bentley's emendations in Paradise Lost adopted by William G. Madsen in his Modern Library College Edition of the poem, at 7.451 ff.:
Let th'earth bring forth soul living in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of th'earth,
Each in their kind.
where soul is Bentley's emendation of Fowle.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I Am in Tomato

BigHominid muses on the difference between paradise and heaven. After reading his post, I was flipping idly through Stephen Graham's The Gentle Art of Tramping (New York: Appleton, 1926) and happened on this passage (p. 197) in a chapter entitled Foreigners:
An American lady wishing to ingratiate herself with some Germans said she felt as if in Paradise; but the word paradise in German means tomato, and her friends stared at her.
The only German dictionaries on my bookshelf (paperback Harrap's and Langenscheidt's) translate English tomato as German Tomate, and German Paradies as English paradise. I wondered if this story was as apocryphal as I am a jelly doughnut.

But an online English-German dictionary, s.v. tomato, includes the German equivalents Paradeiser {m} [österr.] (should be Paradieser) and Paradiesapfel {m} [veraltet]. So perhaps there is a germ of truth in Graham's story, especially if the American lady was speaking bad German to some Austrians.

Anyone who has eaten only the mealy monstrosities masquerading as tomatoes at the supermarket might well wonder how they ever got the name apples of Paradise. Apples of hell, rather. But a juicy tomato fresh from the vine in your garden -- now that is heavenly.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


A Road Less Travelled

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (July 21, 1851):
Now I yearn for one of those old, meandering, dry, uninhabited roads, which lead away from towns, which lead us away from temptation, which conduct to the outside of earth, over its uppermost crust; where you may forget in what country you are travelling; where no farmer can complain that you are treading down his grass, no gentleman who has recently constructed a seat in the country that you are trespassing; on which you can go off at half-cock and wave adieu to the village; along which you may travel like a pilgrim, going nowhither; where travellers are not too often to be met; where my spirit is free; where the walls and fences are not cared for; where your head is more in heaven than your feet are on earth, which have long reaches where you can see the approaching traveller half a mile off and be prepared for him; not so luxuriant a soil as to attract men; some root and stump fences which do not need attention; where travellers have no occasion to stop, but pass along and leave you to your thoughts; where it makes no odds which way you face, whether you are going or coming, whether it is morning or evening, mid-noon or midnight; where earth is cheap enough by being public; where you can walk and think with least obstruction, there being nothing to measure progress by; where you can pace when your breast is full, and cherish your moodiness; where you are not in false relations with men, are not dining nor conversing with them; by which you may go to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Either ... Or

Last year in a post entitled Either A, B, or C, Dennis at Campus Mawrtius objected to the statement "a noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter" in an unidentified Greek textbook, presumably on the grounds that either ... or should express a choice between two alternatives, not more than two.

Merriam Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2002), p. 293, discusses this question, and notes that the stricture against more than two is of recent date (only since the late 19th century). One of the counter-examples cited is from a careful stylist, Edmund Wilson, in The Wound and the Bow: "...the scantiest serious attention from either biographers, scholars, or critics."

Bergan and Cornelia Evans, in A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (New York: Random House, 1957), p. 151, weigh in as follows:
Either may be used with any number of words in a series, as in either past, present, or future. It could be argued that in a construction of this kind the comma represents the word or. But either may also be used simply with the meaning of "any one," as in either of these three. It has been used in this way for more than three hundred years. The construction is rare, but it is found in the writings of Poe, Emerson, O.W. Holmes, and is recognized as standard by the Oxford English Dictionary.
In the classical languages, instead of separate words like either and or, we find the same word repeated. In Latin we express either ... or as aut ... aut, -ve ... -ve, or vel ... vel, and in Greek as ἤ ... ἤ. An alternative epic form of is ἠέ. Grammarians give the oxymoronic name disjunctive conjunctions to these little words.

Richard John Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (1924; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), p. 179 (s.v. ἠέ), cites from Homer five examples of series involving more than two elements (Iliad 1.145, 7.179, 10.6; Odyssey 10.433, 15.84). I can add a couple more (Iliad 21.111; Odyssey 8.507). Odyssey 8.506-509 (on the Trojan horse, tr. A.T. Murray and George Dimcock) is an especially good example because it signals at the beginning that three elements are to follow:
Three counsels found favor in their minds: either to cleave the hollow timber with the pitiless bronze, or to drag it to the height and throw it down the rocks, or to let it stand as a great offering to propitiate the gods.

                τρίχα δέ σφισιν ἥνδανε βουλή,
ἠὲ διαπλῆξαι κοῖλον δόρυ νηλέι χαλκῷ,
ἢ κατὰ πετράων βαλέειν ἐρύσαντας ἐπ᾽ ἄκρης,
ἢ ἐάαν μέγ᾽ ἄγαλμα θεῶν θελκτήριον εἶναι.
A systematic search would doubtless uncover many more examples of this construction, in prose as well as in verse.

Monday, February 13, 2006



At first I was excited to hear that the Monumenta Germaniae Historica was available for free on the Internet. No more traipsing to the library and lugging home those heavy tomes containing Venantius Fortunatus, Symmachus, Sedulius Scottus, and all the rest.

But my excitement quickly waned when I went to the web site and tried to access the texts. It's the same old story -- image files, one book page per web page, which cannot be searched or copied and pasted as text, and which can be read only in dribs and drabs. Getting a new page over my dial-up connection is slower than molasses. Looking for Cassiodorus, Variae 4.42? Good luck trying to figure out which page it's on. When will the perpetrators of such abominations realize that we need entire texts (or at least large chunks of texts) on single web pages, in text (not image) form? For examples of how it should be done, check out these online texts of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Sunday, February 12, 2006



Epicurus, fragment 388 Usener (tr. Cyril Bailey):
If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are for ever praying for evil against one another.

εἰ ταῖς ἀνθρώπων εὐχαῖς ὁ θεὸς κατηκολούθει, θᾶττον ἂν ἀπώλλυντο πάντες ἄνθρωποι, συνεχῶς πολλὰ καὶ χαλεπὰ κατ᾽ ἀλλήλων εὐχόμενοι.
Cf. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal E (1839-1842), 109:
Had Jove heard all his prayers, the planet would soon have been unpeopled.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Religion and Humor

Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. 41 (tr. T.G. Rosenmeyer):
We find it difficult to understand how the gods of one's faith could be subjected to Aristophanic jests. But laughter is part of the meaning, the fruitfulness, the positive side of life, and it is therefore, in the eyes of the Greeks, more godlike than the sour solemnity which we associate with piety.
Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus, 2nd edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 133:
The occasional fun poked at the gods in comedy is no evidence against the religious conservatism of the common man; it is when religion is sure of itself that such amusement is permitted.



Tell people you're interested in classics, and most of them think you mean rock 'n roll music of the 1950's. Tell them you're interested in textual criticism, and they think you mean lit crit.

There is a lucid description of textual criticism in L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars. A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), chapter 6:
Since no autograph manuscripts of the classical authors survive, we are dependent for our knowledge of what they wrote on manuscripts (and sometimes printed editions) which lie at an unknown number of removes from the originals. These manuscripts vary in their trustworthiness as witnesses to the original texts; all of them have suffered to some degree in the process of transmission, whether from physical damage, from the fallibility of scribes, or from the effects of deliberate interpolation. Any attempt to restore the original text will obviously involve the use of a difficult and complex process, and this process falls into two stages.

The first stage is recension (recensio). The object of recension is to construct from the evidence of the surviving manuscripts the earliest recoverable form of the text which lies behind them. Unless the manuscript tradition depends on a single witness, it is necessary (1) to establish the relationships of the surviving manuscripts to each other, (2) to eliminate from consideration those which are derived exclusively from other existing manuscripts and therefore have no independent value (eliminatio codicum descriptorum), and (3) to use the established relationship of those which remain (ideally expressed in the form of a stemma codicum or family tree) to reconstruct the lost manuscript or manuscripts from which the surviving witnesses descend. When the most primitive state of the text which is recoverable from the manuscripts has been reconstructed, the second main stage of the critical process begins. The transmitted text must be examined and the critic must decide whether it is authentic or not (examinatio); if not, his duty is to emend it (emendatio), if this can be done with a reasonable degree of certainty, or to isolate the corruption. The task is often complicated by the presence of two or more variant readings, each with a claim to be the transmitted text. The whole of the second stage is sometimes given its traditional, though misleading name--emendatio.
We engage in something like emendatio every time we silently correct a misprint encountered in our reading. One of my favorite books on textual criticism, James Willis' Latin Textual Criticism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972), has exercises for the budding textual critic in the form of corrupt passages from Latin authors to be corrected. Here is a corrupt passage from a modern English author, with a single misprint for you to emend. The misprint occurs in the printed edition of Aldous Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay (New York: Vintage Books, 1960), p. 163:
We lunched at Quezaltenango in a most forbidding German hotel. Pretentiousness, dirt, expense -- one was painfully reminded of inedible lunches in South Shields, of a week-end in Middlesborough, with a dark tide-mark of grit and the public hairs of commercial travellers running round the bath.
A.D. Godley, in a poem entitled Adversaria Critica, pokes gentle fun at the tribe of squabbling textual critics:
Wars and woes the world may fill,
  Nations rise and slaughter nations:
But the Emendator still
  Publishes his Emendations!
Still he clears the frauds away
  Which for long the public cozened:
Shows what Baevius meant to say,
  Shows what Maevius might, but doesn't:

Thus and thus -- if rules be rules --
  Said or sung the ancient poet;
Only criminals or fools
  See the truth yet fail to know it:
(When the views of other men
  Fill his soul with grief and loathing,
Not an editor but then
  Sticks at practically nothing!)

Still in gall his pen is dipt, --
  Save whene'er he advertises
That immortal Manuscript
  Which confirms his own surmises:
Only here is Truth secure,
  'Spite the scribes and 'spite the ages:
Inspiration clear and pure
  Wells from out its happy pages....

Say, O say, inquiring muse!
  Why do men of light and leading
Take these very serious views
  All about a various reading?
What shall make their feuds to cease?
  -- Death alone: which soon or later
Wafts alike to realms of peace
  Common man and commentator:--

In that dim Ellisian1 glade,
  There where Horace not ungently
Chaffs the very learned shade
  Of the Reverend Dr. Bentley,
While the bard of Chios' isle
  Sees with mere contemptuous pity
Men who deemed his epic style
  Moulded by a mixed committee--

There Professors famed, who once
  Each the other's creed refuted,
Jones, who branded Smith a dunce,
  Smith, who proved that Jones was Putid,
When for settlement they bring
  Texts corrupt that used to trouble 'em,
That the bard who wrote the thing
  Haply may resolve the problem,--

Then they'll hear it plainly put
  How the Laws they're both so pat in
Clearly point to nothing but
  Ignorance of Greek and Latin:
Thus at length will Smith and Jones
  Meet as brother meets with brother,
On the basis sure that one's
  Just as ill-informed as t'other!

1[We hope that Catullus and his Editor will protest if anyone accuses us of a misprint.]
The editor of Catullus is Robinson Ellis, and Ellisian is a pun on Elysian. I transcribed Godley's poem from his posthumously published Reliquiae (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926), I, 125-126. In an effort to save myself the trouble of typing, I searched Google in hopes that the poem was already on the Web. I entered the phrase "still in gall his pen is dipt," to which Google in its usual helpful way replied:
Did you mean: "still in gall his penis dipt"?

Godley's picture of rival textual critics, meeting in the afterlife the author whose text they unsuccessfully tried to emend, reminds me of a story I once heard about the Vergilian scholar W.F. Jackson Knight. I've never read T. P. Wiseman, Talking to Virgil. A Miscellany (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1992), but from two online reviews (by Daniel P. Harmon and M.A. Gosling) it seems that Wiseman discusses the belief in spiritualism of Jackson Knight and his friend T. J. Haarhoff, also a classical scholar. My story (I can't remember where I heard it) also revolves around Jackson Knight's belief in the spirit world. Vergil is one of the ancient authors least in need of emendation, because his text has survived relatively unscathed. Nevertheless, Jackson Knight once read a paper at a meeting of scholars in which he proposed an emendation in a troublesome passage of Vergil. In the question and answer period after his talk, his fellow scholars pressed him on the necessity and fitness of his proposed emendation. Backed into a corner, Jackson Knight finally stated that he knew for a fact that his emendation was correct because Vergil himself, through a medium at a seance, had told him so!

Friday, February 10, 2006


Milton and Euripides

In his Life of Milton, Samuel Johnson wrote:
The books in which his daughter, who used to read to him, represented him as most delighting, after Homer, which he could almost repeat, were Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides. His Euripides is, by Mr. Cradock's kindness, now in my hands: the margin is sometimes noted; but I have found nothing remarkable.
Johnson did not look closely enough into the margin. Modern editors of Euripides adopt at least one of Milton's conjectural emendations, at Euripides, Bacchae 188. E.R. Dodds in his commentary ad loc. remarks:
The correction ἡδέως for ἡδέων was first made by the poet Milton, who noted it with other conjectures in the margin of his copy of Euripides, now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. These emendations were not published in full until 1814, when they were printed in the Museum Criticum.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006



Edwin Way Teale, Autumn Across America (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956), chapter 33 (Mountain Snow), on John Muir:
"I have not yet in all my wanderings," he wrote to his sister, "found a single person so free as myself. When in the woods I sit for hours watching birds or squirrels or looking down into the faces of flowers without suffering any feeling of haste."

Since Muir's day the margin of time in the average man's life has widened as working hours have become shorter. Yet the demands on that time have been ever increasing. Hazlitt's wish for "a little breathing space to muse on indifferent matters" is a desire that seems each year harder to fulfill. When the famous Sierra Club was formed, one of the early members told me, a primary purpose was to induce people to come to Yosemite. Now in summer the cars move bumper to bumper and the problem is what to do with all the people who come. Time and space -- time to be alone, space to move about -- these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow. Freedom, as John Muir knew it, with its wealth of time, its unregimented days, its latitude of choice, such freedom seems more rare, more difficult to attain, more remote with each new generation.


Dalrymple Watch

Here are some recent essays by Theodore Dalrymple:

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


When Did We See You Hungry?

There is a good commentary on Matthew 25.31-45 at Waiter Rant, although he doesn't quote a single word of scripture.


The Measure of Life

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (February 23, 1860):
I read in Brand's "Popular Antiquities" that "Bishop Stillingfleet observes, that among the Saxons of the northern nations, the Feast of the New Year was observed with more than ordinary jollity: thence, as Olaus Wormius and Scheffer observe, they reckoned their age by so many Iolas." (Iola, to make merry -- Gothic.) So may we measure our lives by our joys. We have lived, not in proportion to the number of years that we have spent on the earth, but in proportion as we have enjoyed.


Rules and Fools

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (February 3, 1860):
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, -- as that a sentence must never end with a particle, -- and perceive how implicitly even the learned obey it, I think --
Any fool can make a rule
And every fool will mind it.

Monday, February 06, 2006


New Blog

Patrick Kurp describes Anecdotal Evidence as "a blog about the intersection of books and life." The inaugural post reveals wide reading, vigorous writing, and independent thinking. It's definitely worth a close look.


My Son

Homer, Odyssey 20.35 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
He is the kind of son any man would long for.


Old Books

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (September, 1838):
It is always an economy of time to read old and famed books. Time is a sure sifter. Nothing can be preserved that is not good, and I know beforehand that Martial, Plautus, Terence, Pliny, Polybius; or Galen, Kepler, Galileo, Spinoza, Hobbes, Bacon, Hooker, Erasmus, More, etc. will be superior to the average intellect. In contemporary merits, it is not always possible to distinguish betwixt notoriety and fame.


The Sabbath

Henry David Thoreau, The Commercial Spirit (August 16, 1837):
The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh should be man's day of toil, wherein to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul — in which to range this widespread garden, and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of Nature.

Sunday, February 05, 2006



Eat Havarti and drink Carlsberg while reading Kierkegaard and listening to Nielsen. Celebrate and support Denmark, stronghold of freedom and enlightenment in Eurabia.

Support Denmark

Danish National Anthem:

Der er et yndigt land,
det står med brede bøge
nær salten østerstrand;
det bugter sig i bakke, dal,
det hedder gamle Danmark,
og det er Frejas Sal.

Der sad i fordums tid
de harniskklædte kæmper,
udhvilede fra strid;
så drog de frem til fjenders mén
nu hvile deres bene
bag højens bautasten.

Det land endnu er skønt,
thi blå sig søen bælter,
og løvet står så grønt;
og ædle kvinder, skønne mø'r
og mænd og raske svende
bebo de danskes øer.

Hil drot og fædreland!
Hil hver en danneborger,
som virker, hvad han kan!
Vort gamle Danmark skal bestå,
så længe bøgen spejler
sin top i bølgen blå.

I know a lovely land
With spreading, shady beeches
Near Baltic's salty strand;
Its hills and valleys gently fall,
Its ancient name is Denmark,
And it is Freya's hall.

There in the ancient days
The armoured Vikings rested
Between their bloody frays.
Then they went forth the foe to face,
Now found in stone-set barrows,
Their final resting place.

This land is still as fair,
The sea is blue around it,
And peace is cherished there.
Strong men and noble women still
Uphold their country's honour
With faithfulness and skill.

Praise King and Country with might,
Bless every Dane at heart,
For serving with no fright.
The Viking kingdom for Danes is true
With fields and waving beeches
By a sea so blue.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Olla Podrida

Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things tells a delightful story:
Today's the feast of St Blase, and the traditional day to bless throats with a pair of candles through his intercession. In the afternoon, we went to bless the throats of the school kids, room by room. I decided to do an experiment. In each class I visited, I explained a bit about the blessing and the feast, then asked them, "I'll let you choose. Do you want your blessings in English or in Latin?" In every room, they roared back, "In LATIN!!!!"

Languagehat wonders about the meaning of a pseudo-Latin phrase used by Nabokov: "Egreto perambis doribus!"

In his collection of ancient jokes for the month of January, Michael Hendry (aka Curculio) translates Greek σχολαστικός (scholastikós) in a few spots as poindexter. This is a case where English was Greek to me. I had to look up the meaning of the word poindexter.

Bill Vallicella (aka Maverick Philosopher) quotes the Latin phrase "Post coitum omne animal triste est," translates it as "After sexual intercourse every animal is sad," and remarks "The universal quantifier causes me some trouble." A variant of the phrase gives exceptions to the general rule: "Triste est omne animal post coitum, praeter mulierem gallumque," every animal except woman and rooster. Or should that be "Gallum," Frenchman?


Spearing Fish

I recently wrote about the ancient practice of fishing at night with the aid of spears. Here is a description of the same practice in the nineteenth century, from a fragment of Thoreau's journal (October 6, 1851) in Middlebury College Library, published by Henry Seidel Canby, Thoreau (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939), p. 36:
I remember that once some 15 years ago, when I was a spearer myself — I was out with my brother with a homemade spear of boar tusks, & a crate made of an old tin pan with a hole punched in the bottom to hold our fire. It was a dark still night very fit for our purposes — and we had just fairly commenced operations & speared a few fish, when suddenly the imperfect fastenings of the crate was burnt away & down it plunged with all its fiery contents & a loud sizzling sound to the bottom of the meadow where I discovered its rusty outlines the next summer, leaving us astonished in total darkness. But we improved the opportunity to play a trick on some other spearers whose light oarsmen stole up the stream with muffled paddles till we lay directly opposite to them only 4 or 5 rods distant — and watched all their motions and the expressions of their faces as revealed by their fire, while they were intently engaged in spearing. They were familiar acquaintances & neighbors of whom we thus had advantage — did not dream of the neighborhood of other mortals —.


Donnish Humor

A.D. Godley (1856-1925), Motor Bus:
What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo--
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!
On "Corn and High" see the Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. Oxford:
Main roads from east to west and from north to south intersect near the centre of ancient Oxford at a point called Carfax, and form four principal streets, High Street (east), Queen Street (west), Cornmarket Street (north) and St Aldates (south) .... In the common speech of the university some streets are never spoken of as such, but, e.g., as the High, the Corn (i.e. Cornmarket), the Broad.

Friday, February 03, 2006



Horace, Epistles 1.2.55-63 (tr. Christopher Smart):
Despise pleasures, pleasure bought with pain is hurtful. The covetous man is ever in want; set a certain limit to your wishes. The envious person wastes at the thriving condition of another: Sicilian tyrants never invented a greater torment than envy. He who will not curb his passion, will wish that undone which his grief and resentment suggested, while he violently plies his revenge with unsated rancor. Rage is a short madness. Rule your passion, which commands, if it do not obey; do you restrain it with a bridle, and with fetters.

sperne voluptates: nocet empta dolore voluptas.
semper avarus eget: certum voto pete finem.
invidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis:
invidia Siculi non invenere tyranni
maius tormentum. qui non moderabitur irae
infectum volet esse dolor quod suaserit et mens,
dum poenas odio per vim festinat inulto.
ira furor brevis est: animum rege, qui nisi paret,
imperat; hunc frenis, hunc tu compesce catena.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


The Famous American Boy

Charles Lamb, Letters (November 25, 1819, to Dorothy Wordsworth):
It is hard to discern the oak in the acorn, or a temple like St. Paul's in the first stone which is laid; nor can I quite prefigure what destination the genius of William Minor hath to take. Some few hints I have set down, to guide my future observations. He hath the power of calculation in no ordinary degree for a chit. He combineth figures, after the first boggle, rapidly; as in the tricktrack board, where the hits are figured, at first he did not perceive that 15 and 7 made 22; but by a little use he could combine 8 with 25, and 33 again with 16,--which approacheth something in kind (far let me be from flattering him by saying in degree) to that of the famous American boy.
The notes in my Everyman's Library edition of Lamb's letters do not identify the famous American boy. My guess is that he was Zerah Colburn. On Colburn see Martin Gardner, Mathematical Carnival (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), pp. 67-68.


Quiet Voices

John Burroughs, The Still Small Voice:
The unknown, the inaudible forces that make for good in every state and community -- the gentle word, the kind act, the forgiving look, the quiet demeanor, the silent thinkers and workers, the cheerful and unwearied toilers, the scholar in his study, the scientist in his laboratory -- how much more we owe to these things than to the clamorous and discordant voices of the world of politics and the newspaper! Art, literature, philosophy, all speak with the still small voice. How much more potent the voice that speaks out of a great solitude and reverence than the noisy, acrimonious, and disputatious voice! Strong conviction and firm resolution are usually chary of words. Depth of feeling and parsimony of expression go well together.

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