Sunday, April 30, 2006


Standing on One Foot

Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), p. 215, s.vv. do it while standing on one foot:
This Americanism means to do something easily and quickly, to encapsulate or describe it with little effort, as in "She explained her theory to reporters while standing on one foot."
This sort of expression isn't confined to American speech. It is thousands of years old, at least. Horace, Satires 1.4.9-10, wrote concerning Lucilius:
In an hour he used to dictate two hundred verses (as a great feat), standing on one foot.

                                  in hora saepe ducentos,
ut magnum, versus dictabat stans pede in uno.

Arthur Palmer ad loc. says that stans pede in uno is "a proverbial expression for doing anything with facility," but he gives no parallels.

The expression also occurs in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a (tr. Michael L. Rodkinson):
Another Gentile came to Shamai saying: "Convert me on the condition that thou teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Shamai pushed him away with the builders' measure he held in his hand. He thereupon came to Hillel, and the latter accepted him. He told him: "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary to this law; go and learn it."


Bead and Patter

Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina Blog continues her series of word histories, with posts on innuendo, reticule, and prayer.

Concerning prayer, she writes:
It is always interesting to see when words, especially fundamental words, in a religious vocabulary are borrowed from another language, as opposed to finding some kind of native equivalent.
Actually there was a native English equivalent for prayer, but it was ousted by the Latinate word. See Ernest Weekley, The Romance of Words (1911), chapter 6:
A part of our Anglo-Saxon church vocabulary was supplanted by Latin or French words. Thus Anglo-Sax. ge-bed, prayer, was gradually expelled by Old Fr. preiere (prière), Lat. precaria. It has survived in beadsman--
"The beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought-for slept among his ashes cold."
                    (KEATS, Eve of St Agnes.)--
beadroll and bead, now applied only to the humble device employed in counting prayers.
Cf. German Gebet = prayer. For an example of gebed, see Luke 6.12 (Vulgate erat pernoctans in oratione Dei, Old English Wæs wacigende on Godes gebéde, modern English [He] continued all night in prayer to God, German Er blieb über Nacht in dem Gebet zu Gott).

Another English word connected with praying is patter. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the derivation:
"talk rapidly," c.1400, from pater "mumble prayers rapidly" (c.1300), shortened form of paternoster (q.v.).
Pater noster are the opening words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin (Our Father).

Update: More on this subject at Bestiaria Latina Blog.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Reading Greek

From a comment on a post at Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective:
I think learning to read Greek is pretty simple. It could be done in a couple of hours.


Dalrymple Watch

Articles by Theodore Dalrymple:In the first article, Dalrymple comments on beards:
I suspect, though of course I cannot prove, that he [David Cooper] owed much of his success to his appearance, which was that of a rock star turned Old Testament prophet. How could someone with such a beard be other than profound? Tolstoy, Rasputin and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi played the same trick. It seems to work every time.


A Good Mood

Jan Swafford, Johannes Brahms: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997):

P. 278:
A quip by a local wit began circulating: "When Brahms is feeling really frisky, he sings The Grave Is My Joy."
P. 372:
Brahms managed rehearsals with incomparable musicianship and ready wit. He knew how to be self-deprecating, as when he echoed the town's (and probably his own) favorite joke about himself: "I'm in a really good mood today, so let's do Dear Lord, When Shall I Die?"

Friday, April 28, 2006


Birth of a Curmudgeon

Dennis Lehane, Sacred (1997), chapter 1:
"When you were born," she said, "I bet your father held you up to your mother and said, 'Look, hon, you just gave birth to a beautiful crabby old man.'"

Update: Sauvage Noble translates this into Latin and Tagalog.

Thursday, April 27, 2006



Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, chapter 31:
After browsing among the stately ruins of Rome, of Baiae, of Pompeii, and after glancing down the long marble ranks of battered and nameless imperial heads that stretch down the corridors of the Vatican, one thing strikes me with a force it never had before: the unsubstantial, unlasting character of fame. Men lived long lives, in the olden time, and struggled feverishly through them, toiling like slaves, in oratory, in generalship, or in literature, and then laid them down and died, happy in the possession of an enduring history and a deathless name. Well, twenty little centuries flutter away, and what is left of these things? A crazy inscription on a block of stone, which snuffy antiquaries bother over and tangle up and make nothing out of but a bare name (which they spell wrong)--no history, no tradition, no poetry--nothing that can give it even a passing interest. What may be left of General Grant's great name forty centuries hence? This--in the Encyclopedia for A. D. 5868, possibly:
"URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT--popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A. D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote 'Rock me to Sleep, Mother.'"
These thoughts sadden me. I will to bed.


Some Accoutrements of Books

Books enchant bibliomaniacs by their outward appearance, as well as by their contents. Some things that delight me when I encounter them in books are thumb indices, interleaving, and ribbon bookmarks.

A thumb index is the series of notches on the fore edge of a book, designed to assist the reader in finding a particular section. Each notch ends in a tab, with a guiding letter or two. Bibles and dictionaries sometimes have a thumb index.

Interleaving is the insertion of blank pages between the pages of a printed book by the binder, to allow the reader to make his own notes. Interleaving is not very common, but is sometimes found in dictionaries. I own only one interleaved book, Henry W. Auden's Greek Prose Phrase Book (London: Macmillan, 1963).

The books in the Library of America series have nice ribbon bookmarks sewn into the spines. I own only a few books in this handsome series, Francis Parkman's France and England in North America and Thoreau's Collected Essays and Poems.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Beards and Philosophers

The Maverick Philosopher reminds us of the proverb "Barba non facit philosophum, neque vile gerere pallium" (A beard does not a philosopher make, nor does wearing a shabby cloak). I once tried to trace the source of this proverb, without much success.

I recently happened on some poems from the Greek Anthology (tr. W.R. Paton) which mock beards, especially beards on the faces of philosophers.

11.156 (Ammianus):
Do you suppose that your beard creates brains and therefore you grow that fly-flapper? Take my advice and shave it off at once; for that beard is a creator of lice and not of brains.
11.157 (Ammianus):
"Good Sir" and "Can it be?" and "Whence, sirrah, and whither?" and "Right off" and "Go to" and "Quite so" and "Hie ye" and cloakie and little lock and beardie, and "Keep your shoulder bare" -- that is what present-day philosophy flourishes on.
11.158 (Antipater):
The wallet laments, and the fine sturdy Heracles club of Sinopian Diogenes, and the double coat, foe of the cold clouds, befouled all over with encrusted dirt, lament likewise because they are polluted by your shoulders. Verily I take Diogenes himself to be the dog of heaven, but thou art the dog that lies in the ashes. Put off, put off the arms that are not thine. The work of lions is one thing, and that of bearded goats another.
11.368 (Julian Antecessor):
You have such a heavy crop on your hairy face that you ought to have it cut with scythes and not with scissors.
11.430 (Lucian):
If you think that to grow a beard is to acquire wisdom, a goat with a fine beard is at once a complete Plato.
If I'm not mistaken, the Maverick Philosopher once sported a stylish beard. Whether he still does so in his desert retreat, I don't know.

For a magnificent set of whiskers, look here.

Laura Gibbs writes:
Here's a rhyming medieval Latin one - it's about saints, not philosophers, but it's the same idea!
Si omnis barbatus
foret in orbe beatus,
in mundi circo
non esset sanctior hirco.
I've got all kinds of fun goat proverbs here:

E.J. Moncada writes:
The proverb (Re: Beards and Philosophers) you report trying to trace down may be a Latin version of a remark by Plutarch (Mor. 352 C): "...having a beard and wearing a coarse cloak does not make a philosopher." Of course this does precious little about locating the Latin.
Plutarch's remark occurs in the treatise on Isis and Osiris. According to L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 154, Guillaume Budé published a Latin translation of three treatises of Plutarch into Latin in 1505. Reynolds and Wilson don't say which treatises. In 1560-1570 Guilielmus Xylander (i.e. Wilhelm Holtzman) published a complete Latin translation of Plutarch, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.


Pagan Myth in Milton

Gypsy Scholar:
Milton is not averse to using even pagan myth to illuminate a crucial point.
Here are a few examples from Paradise Lost.

5.285-287 (angel Raphael compared to Hermes):
                              Like Maia's son he stood,
And shook his plumes, that heav'nly fragrance filled
The circuit wide.
5.377-383 (Eve compared to Aphrodite):
                              So to the sylvan lodge
They came, that like Pomona's arbor smiled,
With flow'rets decked, and fragrant smells; but Eve,
Undecked, save with herself, more lovely fair
Than wood-nymph, or the fairest goddess feigned
Of three that in Mount Ida naked strove,
Stood to entertain her guest from Heav'n.
11.8-14 (Adam and Eve compared to Deucalion and Pyrrha):
                              Yet their port
Not of mean suitors, nor important less
Seemed their petition, than when th' ancient pair
In fables old, less ancient yet than these,
Deucalion and chaste Pyrrha to restore
The race of mankind drowned, before the shrine
Of Themis stood devout.
11.129-133 (cherubim compared to Janus and Argus):
                              With him the cohort bright
Of watchful Cherubim; four faces each
Had, like a double Janus, all their shape
Spangled with eyes more numerous than those
Of Argus, and more wakeful than to drowse,
Charmed with Arcadian pipe, the pastoral reed
Of Hermes, or his opiate rod.
11.184-186 (eagle called bird of Jove):
                              Nigh in her sight
The bird of Jove, stooped from his aery tow'r,
Two birds of gayest plume before him drove.
11.240-244 (Michael the Archangel's vest dyed by Iris):
                              Over his lucid arms
A military vest of purple flowed,
Livelier than Meliboean, or the grain
Of Sarra, worn by kings and heroes old
In time of truce; Iris had dipt the woof.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


New Verse Form

The Fib.

Monday, April 24, 2006


The Roman Conquest of Britain

W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (1930), chapter 1:
The first date in English History is 55 BC (for the other date see Chapter 11, William the Conqueror), in which year Julius Caesar (the memorable Roman Emperor) landed, like all other successful invaders of these islands, at Thanet. This was in the Olden Days, when the Romans were top nation on account of their classical education, etc.

Julius Caesar advanced very energetically, throwing his cavalry several thousands of paces over the River Flumen; but the Ancient Britons, though all well over military age, painted themselves true blue, or woad, and fought as heroically under their dashing queen, Woadicea, as they did later in thin red lines under their good queen, Victoria.

Julius Caesar was therefore compelled to invade Britain again the following year (54 BC, not 56, owing to the peculiar Roman method of counting), and having defeated the Ancient Britons by unfair means, such as battering-rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes, axes, and bundles, set the memorable Latin sentence, 'Veni, Vidi, Vici', which the Romans, who were all very well educated, construed correctly.

The Britons, however, who of course still used the old pronunciation, understanding him to have called them 'Weeny, Weedy, and Weaky', lost heart and gave up the struggle, thinking that he had already divided them All into Three Parts.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Little Anecdotes

The opening sentence of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is:
Dear son: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.

I recently obtained a little anecdote about my paternal grandfather Roy Gilleland, in an email from a gentleman writing a book about the Russian Railway Service Corps, in which my grandfather served:
When he joined the RRSC he listed at 5' 11" and 185 lbs. with a scar on his left clavicle caused by a bullet wound (the bullet could then still be felt, reported his medical history).
My grandfather died before I was born, so I never got the chance to feel the bullet and ask him about it.

My distant cousin David Vermette has a web site on Franco-American and Québécois History and Genealogy, with much information on the town where I was born, Brunswick, Maine. His article on Naturalization and Leadership in the Franco-American Community at Brunswick, Maine mentions my ancestor François-Xavier Paiement, who became a U.S. citizen on August 23, 1882, sponsored by another one of my ancestors, Philibert Racine.

But I was especially interested in Vermette's article on Ku Klux Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine. By 1924, there were 50,000 Klan members in Maine, out of a population of less than a million. The target of their hatred was not primarily black folks (so rare in Maine that I never even saw a black person until I was a teenager), but Catholics and Jews. In Brewer, Maine, where I grew up, our parish priest Father Moriarty recalled Ku Klux Klan marchers throwing rocks through the rectory windows. Our local Catholic high school was named John Bapst, after a Jesuit priest who was tarred and feathered on June 5, 1851, in Ellsworth, Maine, before the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan.

Finally a little anecdote about myself, prompted by Dave Haxton's memories of his military induction physical exam:
After this they marched us into a large room and told us to form rows. Once we were aligned in ranks, the doctor at the front of the room ordered us to drop our drawers, bend over and grab our ankles. The last thing we saw on the way down was an orderly handing the doctor a box of latex gloves ...
My recollection is almost identical. I "won" number 36 in the draft lottery during the Vietnam War, allowed my student deferment to lapse, and was called in for a physical. They must have found something wrong with me, because I was never drafted.

I recall one other detail about my physical. The doctor asked me what I was studying at university, and I said Latin. He then proceeded to recite a poem by Catullus, with flawless Latin pronunciation. That gave me a slightly different perspective on the United States military.

I hope that my son, the only member of my family who reads this blog, has enjoyed these little anecdotes about his ancestors.



All My Road Before Me. The Diary of C.S. Lewis, 1922-1927 (San Diego: Harcourt, 1991), p. 453 (February 17, 1927):
To Corpus in the evening to read the Theaetetus with Hardie and his three pupils Erskine, Green and Shewring. All very good fellows. Discovered in Liddell and Scott the glorious word "porwizzle".
The online Liddell and Scott at Perseus is unavailable at this time of the day (as it usually is). Google returns no hits for porwizzle. It doesn't look like a Greek word, and I checked all headwords starting with por- in the little Liddell without finding anything. The Oxford English Dictionary is temporarily accepting free searches, but turns up nothing. I don't own a copy of Plato's Theaetetus in the original Greek, and the online copy at Perseus is also unavailable at the moment.

One would expect to find an odd-sounding word like porwizzle not in Liddell but in the works of Liddell family friend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland was written for Liddell's daughter Alice.

Laura Gibbs writes:
Do you think it could be a variant of porwiggle, or tadpole, since there is a reference to a tadpole (Greek gurinos) in the dialogue at 161d - the variants for this word listed in the OED [s.v. polliwog] are NUMEROUS:
Forms: α. 5 polwygle, 7 porwig(g)le, 9 porriwiggle, purwiggy, pollywiggle, pollywoggle. β. 6 polwigge, 7 polewigge, po(o)lwig, 9 polliwig, polly-wig, polliwog, pollywog. [ME. polwygle, f. POLL n.1 + WIGGLE v. The forms polwig, etc., are either shortened from polwygle, or formed with the dial. wig vb. to wag.]
It's not in the LSJ at Perseus but there are other editions of LSJ no doubt. Just a thought.
I think Dr. Gibbs has solved the mystery. My copy of Liddell and Scott (New York, 1872) defines γυρῖνος as "tadpole, porwigle." Porwizzle is probably a misprint in Lewis' diary.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


The Descent of Man

A few weeks ago I printed Palladas' epigram on the Descent of Man. Now I see that Thomas More translated it into Latin, with the title In hominis nativitatem (e Graeco), as number 59 of his epigrams:
Heus homo si memor es, quid te dum gigneret, egit
  tum pater, ex animo iam tumor ille cadet.
At Plato te fastu dum somniat inflat inani,
  aeternumque vocat semen et aethereum.
Factus es ecce luto, quid suspicis alta? sed istud
  plasmate qui te ornat nobiliore feret.
Quin si vera voles audire, libidine foeda
  natus es e coitu, guttula et e misera.



Three unfortunate ancient gentlemen (Theodorus, Diodorus, and Mentorides) owe their fifteen minutes of fame to their bad breath. The following epigrams come from the Greek Anthology (tr. W.R. Paton).

11.241 (Nicarchus):
Your mouth and your breech, Theodorus, smell the same, so that it would be a famous task for men of science to distinguish them. You ought really to write on a label which is your mouth and which your breech, but now when you speak I think you break wind.

Τὸ στόμα χὠ πρωκτὸς, Θεόδωρε, σοῦ ὄζει,
  ὥστε διαγνῶναι τοῖς φυσικοῖς καλὸν ἦν.
ἦ γράψαι σε ἔδει ποῖον στόμα, ποῖον ὁ πρωκτός,
  νῦν δὲ λαλοῦντος σου βδεῖν σ᾽ ἐνόμιζον ἐγώ.
11.242 (Nicarchus):
I can't tell whether Diodorus is yawning or has broken wind, for he has one breath above and below.

Οὐ δύναμαι γνῶναι, πότερον χαίνει Διόδωρος,
  ἢ βδῆσ᾽· ἓν γὰρ ἔχει πνεῦμα κάτω καὶ ἄνω.
11.415 (Antipater or Nicarchus):
Who, Mentorides, so obviously transferred your breech to the place where your mouth formerly was? For you break wind and do not breathe, and you speak from the lower storey. I wonder how your lower parts became your upper!

Τίς σοῦ, Μεντορίδη, προφανῶς οὕτως μετέθηκεν
  τὴν πυγήν, οὗπερ τὸ στόμ᾽ ἔκειτο πρὸ τοῦ;
βδεῖς γάρ, κούκ ἀναπνεῖς, φθέγγῃ δ᾽ ἐκ τῶν καταγείων.
  θαῦμά μ᾽ ἔχει τὰ κάτω πῶς σου ἄνω γέγονεν.

Mark Ynys-Mon offers a new version of 11.241:
Matthew's mouth smells like an arse,
To scientist's great confusion.
Without a label none can parse
The source of his effusions.
When he speaks of love, or art -
All his listeners think he farts.

Max Nelson adds:
Just another anecdote about halitosis in antiquity: Decamnichus claimed that Euripides had bad breath (Ar., Pol. 1311b33-34). For more Greek references to bad breath see Barry Baldwin, The Philogelos or Laughter-Lover (Amsterdam: 1983), p. 106.
Here is the Aristotle passage (tr. William Ellis):
Decamnichus also was the chief cause of the conspiracy against Archelaus, for he urged others on: the occasion of his resentment was his having delivered him to Euripides the poet to be scourged; for Euripides was greatly offended with him for having said something of the foulness of his breath.


On a Miser

William Cowper, The Poetical Works, ed. William Benham (London: Macmillan, 1908), p. 503, in a section of Translations from the Greek:
Art thou some individual of a kind
Long-lived by nature as the rook or hind?
Heap treasure, then; for if thy need be such,
Thou hast excuse, and scarce canst heap too much.
But man thou seem'st: clear therefore from thy breast
This lust of treasure -- folly at the best!
For why shouldst thou go wasted to the tomb,
To fatten with thy spoils thou know'st not whom?
Benham in his notes does not identify the Greek original. It's by Lucilius, from the Greek Anthology 11.389:
Εἰ μὲν ζῇς ἐλάφου ταναὸν χρόνον, ἠὲ κορώνης,
  συγγνώμη πλεῖστον πλοῦτον ἀγειρομένῳ·
εἰ δέ τις ἐσσὶ βροτῶν, οὒς αὐτίκα γῆρας ἰάπτει,
  μή σέ γ᾽ ἀπειρεσίων οἶστρος ἕλῃ κτεάνων·
μὴ σὺ μὲν ἀτλήτοισιν ἐν ἄλγεσι θυμὸν ὀλέσσῃς,
  χρήσωνται δ᾽ ἄλλοι σοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ἀπόνως.
Here is W.R. Paton's prose translation:
If thou livest the long years of a stag or crow thou mayest be pardoned for amassing great wealth, but if thou art one of mortal men, whom old age right soon assails, let not the furious desire of immeasurable possessions beset thee, lest thou destroy thy soul in insufferable torture and others use thy goods without toiling for them.
For more on this theme, see here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Lexicographical Lapses

It is inevitable that errors will creep into a book of 822 pages with double columns, but Robert Hendrickson's Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), seems to have more than its fair share of mistakes. Maybe the following blemishes will disappear in a third edition.

abracadabra (p. 3):
It was first mentioned in a poem by Quintus Severus Sammonicus in the third century.
The poet's name was Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, not Quintus Severus Sammonicus.

accolade (p. 5):
In medieval times men were knighted in a ceremony called the accolata (from the Latin ac, "at," and collum, "neck"), named for the hug around the neck received during the ritual, which also included a kiss and a tap of a sword on the shoulder. From accolata comes the English word accolade for an award or honor.
There is a Latin word ac, but it means "and," not "at." The Latin word for "at" or "to" is ad, which becomes ac- when prefixed to words beginning with c-.

by George (p. 121):
The name George has its origins in the Greek Georgos, "a farmer," literally a worker of the earth. The word comes from the Greek ge, "the earth," and legon, "a work," which also gives us Virgil's Georgics, an "agricultural poem" about the land and the men working it.
The Greek for "a work" is ergon, not legon.

derelict (p. 204):
Deriving from the Latin derelictus, "to forsake wholly, abandon," derelict at first meant any piece of property abandoned by its owner, being first recorded in 1649.
The infinitive derelinquere means "to forsake wholly, abandon." Its perfect passive participle, derelictus, means "having been forsaken, abandoned."

female (p. 257):
Male for a man comes from another Latin word, mas, which became masaulus and then masclus in Latin and finally male in French, from which it came into English as male.
Read masculus for masaulus.

fiddle while Rome burns (p. 259):
However, it could be that Nero climbed the tower of Maecenus on the third day of the fire and recited Priam's lament over the burning of Troy to musical accompaniment, as other accounts say.
Read Maecenas for Maecenus.

hang by a thin thread (p. 331):
The flatterer Damocles annoyed Dionysus the Elder of Syracuse with his constant references to the ruler's great power and consequent happiness.
Read Dionysius for Dionysus.

heliotrope (p. 341):
Many plant leaves and flowers turn toward the sun. The ancient Greeks noticed that this fragrant vanilla-scented perennial flower (Heliotropum arborsecems), often called "cherry pie," did so and called it the heliotrope, from the Greek heleo, "sun," and trepo, "turning to go into it."
Read arborescens for arborescems, helios for heleo, and turn for turning.

hoi polloi (p. 352):
Hoi polloi means the masses, the crowd, deriving from the Greek hoi pol'oi "the many."
The Greek is hoi polloi, not hoi pol'oi.

hydrangea (p. 366):
The Greeks of old thought this plant's seed capsule looked like a "water cup" and named it from the Greek hydr, "water," and angos, "seed" or "capsule."
The Greek word for "water" is hydor, which becomes hydr- or hydro- in composition.The Greek word for "seed" is sperma, not angos, which means "vessel" or "pitcher."

man is a wolf to man (p. 465):
But the expression is much older, dating, back at least to the Roman playwright Plautus in his Asimaria.
Remove the comma after dating and read Asinaria for Asimaria.

manniporchia (p. 465):
Curiously, only in northern Maryland does this word, deriving from the Greek mania a potu, (craziness from drink) mean the D.T.'s (delirium tremens).
Mania is Greek, but the words a potu are Latin, not Greek.

obese (p. 524):
Obese means very fat indeed, but the word comes from the Latin obesus, which is, ironically, the past participle of obdere, "to gnaw, to eat away, to thin."
Read obedere for obdere.

venial sin (p. 753):
Its opposite, a mortal sin, is a sin that deserves everlasting punishment, a deadly sin, from the Latin mort, "death."
There is no Latin word mort. Read mors, whose oblique cases all start with mort-.

Call this petty, pedantic carping if you will, but "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Besides, we expect accuracy in a dictionary.

Other posts from this blog on Hendrickson's errors:


From the Mailbag

Fr. Gerard Deighan writes:
Your Palm Sunday post immediately brought to mind another famous classical strewing, that of the mysterious purple cloths under Agamemnon's feet in Ag. 908 ff; I especially like the typically Aeschylean sound of v. 910: euthus genesthoo pophurostrootos poros [εὐθὺς γενέσθω πορφυρόστρωτος πόρος] .... Agamemenon is reluctant to tread on the strewn garments, believing that such behaviour befits the gods, not men. How fitting, then, for Him who is God to enter Jerusalem on a garment-strewn path!
For throwing leaves, see also the passages listed in Liddell, Scott, and Jones s.v. φυλλοβολία (phyllobolia). Most of the texts cited by LSJ are not available to me.

To the collection of asyndetic privative adjectives, Neil Sullivan adds two examples from Aristophanes' Frogs, lines 204 (ἄπειρος ἀθαλάττωτος ἀσαλαμίνιος) and 838 (ἀχάλινον ἀκρατὲς ἀπύλωτον).

K.J. Dover in his commentary on line 204 cites Eduard Fraenkel on Aeschylus, Agamemenon 412-413 (ἄτιμος ἀλοίδορος / ἄλιστος), where the text is uncertain. I don't have access to Fraenkel's commentary, but Dr. Sullivan writes:
As you would expect, Fraenkel has quite a bit to say, quoting a number of the passages (in Greek & English) you independently turned up, as well as some secondary literature. One of the passages he quotes is (now) Phrynichus Com. 57 Kassel-Austin, who refer to p.22 of Wilhelm von der Brelie, Dictione trimembri quomodo poetae Graeci imprimis tragici usi sint. Diss. Goettingen 1911. I knew that there must be the inevitable German dissertation on this somewhere...
Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.

I can also add one more example, from Menander, Aspis 415 (ἄπιστον ἄλογον), probably a quotation from an unknown tragedy.

Fr. Deighan also contributes two examples from the New Testament, Hebrews 7.3 (ἀπάτωρ ἀμήτωρ ἀγενεαλόγητος) and 7.26 (ἄκακος ἀμίαντος). The only commentary I have on Hebrews, by F.F. Bruce, passes over this feature in silence.

On the puzzle surrounding Thoreau's
... and looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say, --
"O Christian, will you send me back?"
(Walden, chapter 6), Mark Ynys-Mon writes:
Whilst it is perfectly possible, indeed probable, that Emerson was making some things up - I don't think the above *is* a quote. Surely he is just reporting imagined speech?

Mr Gilleland looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say, --
"How can you even suggest such things?"
In a follow up email, Mr. Ynys-Mon adds:
I mean not Emerson of course, but Mr Hammerwater.
Hammerwater is clever word play on Thoreau's name, from the god Thor's hammer and French eau = water. Hammerwater is also a British place name.

On the same subject, Roger Kuin suggests that Kenelm Digby's Two Treatises, in the one of which the Nature of Bodies; in the other, the Nature of Mans Soule is looked into: in way of Discovery, of the Immortality of Reasonable Soules (Paris: Gilles Blaizot, 1644), 466 pp., might be the source of the quotation in Walden, chapter 7 (The Bean-Field):
Moreover, this being one of those "worn-out and exhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had perchance, as Sir Kenelm Digby thinks likely, attracted "vital spirits" from the air. I harvested twelve bushels of beans.
Electronic copies of Digby's Two Treatises are apparently page images, not searchable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Fifty Days

Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. Pentecost:
O.E. Pentecosten "Christian festival on seventh Sunday after Easter," from L.L. pentecoste, from Gk. pentekoste hemera "fiftieth day," fem. of pentekostos, from pentekonta "fifty," from pente "five." The Hellenic name for the O.T. Feast of Weeks, a Jewish harvest festival observed on 50th day of the Omer (see Lev. xxiii:16).
In a very interesting post, Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective discusses the word hamsin and states:
The weather in Israel at this time is often characterized by hot winds .... The word hamsin in Arabic actually means fifty. This derives from an Arabic tradition that there are 50 days of these hot winds.
It is probably just a coincidence that the arrival of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost was accompanied by wind and fire (Acts 2.1-4):
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Monday, April 17, 2006


A Classical Education

Ralph Waldo Emerson, New England Reformers:
The ancient languages, with great beauty of structure, contain wonderful remains of genius, which draw, and always will draw, certain likeminded men,-- Greek men, and Roman men, -- in all countries, to their study; but by a wonderful drowsiness of usage they had exacted the study of all men. Once (say two centuries ago), Latin and Greek had a strict relation to all the science and culture there was in Europe, and the Mathematics had a momentary importance at some era of activity in physical science. These things became stereotyped as education, as the manner of men is. But the Good Spirit never cared for the colleges, and though all men and boys were now drilled in Latin, Greek, and Mathematics, it had quite left these shells high and dry on the beach, and was now creating and feeding other matters at other ends of the world. But in a hundred high schools and colleges this warfare against common sense still goes on. Four, or six, or ten years, the pupil is parsing Greek and Latin, and as soon as he leaves the University, as it is ludicrously called, he shuts those books for the last time. Some thousands of young men are graduated at our colleges in this country every year, and the persons who, at forty years, still read Greek, can all be counted on your hand. I never met with ten. Four or five persons I have seen who read Plato.


The Power and the Glory

BBC (April 11, 2006):
In a televised speech in the north-western holy city of Mashhad, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "I am officially announcing that Iran has joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology."

His audience broke into cheers and chants of "Allahu akbar" (God is great).
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970):
Give praise to the Almighty Bomb and the Holy Fallout.
Gregory Corso, Bomb (1958):
Hosannah Bomb.


Unidentified Quotations and Allusions in Walden

Walter Harding's very useful Variorum Walden (New York: Washington Square Press, 1963) gives the sources of many obscure quotations and allusions in Thoreau's book. But the origins of some passages escaped Harding's best efforts. Perhaps some reader of this blog will win fame and fortune (well, maybe just fame) by tracking down a hitherto unknown source.

Chapter 1 (Economy):
Hippocrates has even left directions how we should cut our nails; that is, even with the ends of the fingers, neither shorter nor longer.
I have searched numerous editions of the works of Hippocrates, but have been unable to find any such reference. Is it possible that Thoreau is confusing him with some other ancient author?

Chapter 2 (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For):
The Vedas say, "All intelligences wake with the morning."
I have been unable to locate this quotation more precisely.

Chapter 2 (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For):
I have read in a Hindoo book, that "there was a king's son, who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of his father's ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul," continues the Hindoo philosopher, "from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme."
I have been unable to locate this quotation more precisely.

Chapter 5 (Solitude):
I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying of famine and exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose loneliness was relieved by the grotesque visions with which, owing to bodily weakness, his diseased imagination surrounded him, and which he believed to be real.
I have been unable to discover the source of this story.

Chapter 6 (Visitors):
Men of almost every degree of wit called on me in the migrating season. Some who had more wits than they knew what to do with; runaway slaves with plantation manners, who listened from time to time, like the fox in the fable, as if they heard the hounds a-baying on their track, and looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say, --
"O Christian, will you send me back?"
I have been unable to discover the source of this quotation.

Chapter 7 (The Bean-Field):
Moreover, this being one of those "worn-out and exhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had perchance, as Sir Kenelm Digby thinks likely, attracted "vital spirits" from the air. I harvested twelve bushels of beans.
I have been unable to locate this quotation more precisely.

Chapter 9 (The Ponds):
Some consider blue "to be the color of pure water, whether liquid or solid."
I have been unable to discover the source of this definition.

Chapter 15 (Winter Animals):
Whichever side you walk in the woods the partridge bursts away on whirring wings, jarring the snow from the dry leaves and twigs on high, which comes sifting down in the sunbeams like golden dust, for this brave bird is not to be scared by winter. It is frequently covered up by drifts, and, it is said, "sometimes plunges from on wing into the soft snow, where it remains concealed for a day or two."
I have been unable to find the source of this quotation. Prof. Shanley informs me that in the Walden manuscript, the quotation is attributed to Audubon, but I have been unable to trace it further.

Chapter 16 (The Pond in Winter):
"O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether."
I have been unable to find the source of this quotation but suspect it to be a Hindu work.

Chapter 18 (Conclusion):
There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection....The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?
I have been unable to find any source for this legend, and all earlier annotators have assumed that it was original with Thoreau.

Chapter 18 (Conclusion):
Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. "Tell the tailors," said he, "to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch." His companion's prayer is forgotten.
I have been unable to find any further clue to the identity of Tom Hyde, except for the fact that in a manuscript in the Huntington Library, Thoreau adds here: "You Boston folks & Roxbury people will want Tom Hyde to mend your kettle," -- which might imply that he was a character in eastern Massachusetts folklore or fact.

Chapter 18 (Conclusion):
There are the Records of the Philosophical Societies, and the public Eulogies of Great Men! It is the good Adam contemplating his own virtue. "Yes, we have done great deeds, and sung divine songs, which shall never die" -- that is, as long as we can remember them.
I have been unable to trace the source of this quotation.


A Whole New World of Beauty

Edwin Way Teale, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974), chapter 5:
Anyone who wanders over some old abandoned pasture with a pocket magnifying glass, examining the flowers of grasses and the forms and colors of mosses and lichens and leaves, enters a whole new world of beauty.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Right In Front of One's Nose

George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose (Tribune, March 22, 1946):
To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
Especially if one has a nose like that of Proclus, in the Greek Anthology 11.268 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Proclus cannot wipe his nose with his hand, for his arm is shorter than his nose; nor does he say "God preserve us" when he sneezes, for he can't hear his nose, it is so far away from his ears.

Οὐ δύναται τῇ χειρὶ Πρόκλος τὴν ῥῖν᾽ ἀπομύσσειν·
  τῆς ῥινὸς γὰρ ἔχει τὴν χέρα μικροτέρην·
οὐδὲ λέγει Ζεῦ σῶσον ἐὰν πταρῇ· οὐ γὰρ ἀκούει
  τῆς ῥινὸς· πολὺ γὰρ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἀπέχει.
Other epigrams in the eleventh book of the Greek Anthology that make fun of the length or shape of noses are 198, 199, 203, 204, 405, 406, and 418.

Dr. Christopher McDonough writes:
Were you aware that Orwell (Eric Blair) had been a student of ASF Gow (of Gow & Page fame) at Eton, before he went off to Trinity at Cambridge? From Bernard Crick's George Orwell: A Life:
Andrew Gow said that Blair 'made himself as big a nuisance as he could' and 'was a very unattractive boy'.
I wasn't aware of this. Thanks for the information!


Fish Sacrifice

Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, tr. John Raffan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 55:
The most noble sacrificial animal is the ox, especially the bull; the most common is the sheep, then the goat and the pig; the cheapest is the piglet. The sacrifice of poultry is also common, but other birds -- geese, pigeons -- to say nothing of fish, are rare.
Footnote on p. 368:
Fish sacrifice for Hecate: Apollodorus, FGrHist 224 F 109; tuna fish sacrifice for Poseidon: Antigonus apud Ath. 297 e; eel sacrifice of the Boeotians as a curiosity: Agatharchides apud Ath. 297 d; cf. HN 204-212.
HN is a reference to Burkert's book Homo Necans, which is not available to me. Some epigrams in the tenth book of the Greek Anthology (tr. W.R. Paton) mention fish sacrificed to the god Priapus.

10.9 (anonymous):
Ye fishermen, who pulled your little boat ashore here (Go, hang your nets out to dry) having had a haul of many sea-swimming gurnard (?) and scarus, not without thrissa, honour me with slender first-fruits of a copious catch, the little Priapus under the lentisc bush, the revealer of the fish your prey, established in this grove.
10.14.9-10 (Agathias Scholasticus):
Only by the altar of Priapus of the harbour burn a scarus or ruddy gurnards.
10.16.11-14 (Theaetetus Scholasticus):
Mariner, roast first by his altar to Priapus, the lord of the deep and the giver of good havens, a slice of a cuttle-fish or of lustred red mullet, or a vocal scarus, and then go fearlessly on thy voyage to the bounds of the Ionian Sea.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Death the Healer

Add these parallels to an earlier post on this topic.

Aeschylus, fragment 255 Nauck (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
O death, the healer, reject me not, but come! For thou alone art the mediciner of ills incurable, and no pain layeth hold on the dead.

ὦ θάνατε παιάν, μή μ᾽ ἀτιμάσῃς μολεῖν·
μόνος γὰρ εἶ σὺ τῶν ἀνηκέστων κακῶν
ἰατρός, ἄλγος δ᾽ οὐδὲν ἅπτεται νεκροῦ.
Sophocles, Women of Trachis 1206-1209 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Alas once more, what a demand you are making of me, father, to have the guilt of your murder on my hands!
Not I, but to be the healer and only curer of the ills from which I suffer!

οἴμοι μάλ᾽ αὖθις, οἷά μ᾽ ἐκκαλεῖ, πάτερ,
φονέα γενέσθαι καὶ παλαμναῖον σέθεν.
οὐ δῆτ᾽ ἔγωγ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ὧν ἔχω παιώνιον
καὶ μοῦνον ἰατῆρα τῶν ἐμῶν κακῶν.
Euripides, Hippolytus 1373:
And may death the healer come to me.

καί μοι θάνατος παιὰν ἔλθοι.

Sunday, April 09, 2006



Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses IV, 2 (on Matthew 11.28, tr. Walter Lowrie):
'All they that labour and are heavy laden', all of them, none is excepted, not one. Ah, what manifold diversities are suggested by these words. They that labour! For not only that man labours who in the sweat of his brow labours for his daily bread, nor he only who in lowly station bears the burden and heat of the day; ah, he also labours who struggles with sad thoughts, he too labours who is concerned by the care of one or many, he too labours who contends with doubt, labouring in that sea as a swimmer is said to labour. They that are heavy laden! For not only is that man heavy laden who visibly bears the heavy burden, who is visibly situated in difficulties, but he too is heavy laden whose burden no one has seen, who perhaps even labours to hide it; and not only is he heavy laden before whom there lies a life of trial saddened by recollection, but he too for whom, alas, there seems to be no future.


Palm Sunday

Matthew 21.8:
And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
Mark 11.8:
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
John 12.12-13:
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him.
For similar tributes in Greek and Latin literature, see:

Saturday, April 08, 2006


An Aptronym

The Daily Telegraph, "Prince Harry spotted at strip club" (April 8, 2006):
Britain's Prince Harry visited a strip club with some friends to celebrate the end of his army officer training course, British tabloids have reported.

The third in line to the throne turned down a lap dance with one of the scantily clad girls at the Spearmint Rhino Club, west of London, saying "No thanks, I've got a girlfriend," the Daily Mirror said.

But the dancer, named in the newspaper as Mariella Butkute from Lithuania, said Harry, 21, did let her sit on his lap for a 10-minute chat.
The name Butkute is apparently a real Lithuanian name, not a stage name. But it suggests to an English speaker the words buttocks and cute, i.e. callipygian, and is an apt name for an ecdysiast.

Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. callipygian:
"of, pertaining to, or having beautiful buttocks," 1800, from Gk. kallipygos, name of a statue of Aphrodite, from kalli-, combining form of kallos "beauty" + pyge "rump, buttocks." Sir Thomas Browne (1646) refers to "Callipygæ and women largely composed behinde."
Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. ecdysiast:
H.L. Mencken's invented proper word for "strip-tease artist," 1940, from Gk. ekdysis "a stripping or casting off" (used scientifically with ref. to serpents shedding skin or crustacea molting), from ekdyein "to put off" (contrasted with endyo "to put on"), from ex- + dyo "sink, plunge, enter."
I wonder who Prince Harry's friends were. Perhaps Falstaff, Poins, Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto.

Other posts on this theme:

Friday, April 07, 2006


Clytemnestra's Prayer

Sophocles, Electra 637-659 (tr. Richard C. Jebb):
Please, O Phoebus our defender, may you now listen to my prayer, though it is muffled; for I do not make my plea among friends, nor does it suit me to unfold it all [640] to the light while she [Electra] stands near me, lest by her malice and a cry of her clamorous tongue she sow reckless rumors through the whole city. Nevertheless, hear me thus, since in this way I will speak. That vision which I saw last night [645] in ambiguous dreams--if its appearance was to my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if to my harm, then hurl it back upon those who would harm me. And if any are plotting to eject me by treachery from my present prosperity, do not permit them. [650] Rather grant that living forever unharmed as I am I may govern the house of the sons of Atreus and their throne, sharing prosperous days with the friends who share them now, and with those of my children who feel no enmity or bitterness towards me. [655] O Lycean Apollo, hear these prayers with favor, and grant them to us all just as we ask! As for all my other prayers, though I am silent, I judge that you, a god, must know them, since it is appropriate that Zeus's children see all.
By way of background, Clytemnestra was Agamemnon's wife and mother of his children (who included Orestes and Electra). While Agamemnon was away fighting in the Trojan War, Aegisthus seduced Clytemnestra. When Agamemnon returned home, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered him. After the murder, Clytemnestra makes this prayer to Apollo (also called here Phoebus and Lycean king).

Two things about this prayer intrigue me. The first is the request concerning the vision Clytemnestra saw in a dream: "If its appearance was to my good, grant, Lycean king, that it be fulfilled; but if to my harm, then hurl it back upon those who would harm me." This is one of several passages from Greek and Latin literature in which petitioners beg the gods to transfer an evil from one place to another, or from one person to another. It's almost as if the amount of evil in the world is constant, and evil cannot be destroyed but can only change location. Apollo in his role as Averter of Evil (Latin averruncus, Greek alexeterios, alexikakos, aleximoros, apotropaios) is especially skilled at transferring evil in this way.

The second interesting thing about Clytemnestra's prayer is that it is muffled, or quiet (κεκρυμμένην = hidden). She keeps back some of her petitions and doesn't even utter them sotto voce. In ancient times, it was commonly thought that if you prayed silently, you must be asking for something shameful. Richard C. Jebb, in his commentary on Clytemnestra's prayer in the Electra and also on Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus 131, discusses this belief and gives some parallels. Most of those parallels are included in an earlier post on this subject, but Jebb has one I haven't seen before, from Clement of Alexandria's Stromata 4.26 (tr. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson):
What is it, then, that the Pythagoreans mean when they bid us "pray with the voice" [μετὰ φωνῆς εὔχεσθαι]? As seems to me, not that they thought the Divinity could not hear those who speak silently, but because they wished prayers to be right, which no one would be ashamed to make in the knowledge of many.


The Classics

Ben Jonson, Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman, Act 2:
SIR JOHN DAW: There's Aristotle, a mere common-place fellow; Plato, a discourser; Thucydides and Livy, tedious and dry; Tacitus, an entire knot: sometimes worth the untying, very seldom.

NED CLERIMONT: What do you think of the poets, Sir John?

SIR JOHN DAW: Not worthy to be named for authors. Homer, an old tedious, prolix ass, talks of curriers, and chines of beef. Virgil of dunging of land, and bees. Horace, of I know not what.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Yet More Privative, Asyndetic Adjectives

The few people who read this blog probably think I'm a Johnny One-Note, harping on the same string over and over. But a primary purpose of this blog is for me to keep notes about things that interest me. Later on, I can use Google to find my notes. It beats 3 x 5 cards and scraps of paper.

Some more examples of asyndetic privative adjectives:Earlier posts:



I'm a Luddite at heart, but I wouldn't go quite as far as Samuel Butler, who wrote in a letter to the "Editor of the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand--13 June, 1863" (also published in Butler's Notebooks):
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.
If we do this, let's start with cell phones.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006



Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Ode to the Honourable Sir William Temple, lines 42-49:
They purchase knowledge at th'expense
Of common breeding, common sense,
And grow at once scholars and fools;
Affect ill-manner'd pedantry,
Rudeness, ill-nature, incivility,
And, sick with dregs and knowledge grown,
Which greedily they swallow down,
Still cast it up, and nauseate company.

Update: Neil O'Sullivan (via email) points out a connection between the recipient of this poem and a rude, ill-natured scholar:
It was Sir William Temple who defended the authenticity of the epistles of Phalaris and so called forth Bentley's epoch-making study of them. Ill-mannered the latter no doubt was (this is pretty well established, I think), but one wonders whether someone much concerned with social niceties could have written his bracing prose or thought with his clarity.
Link added.


Swiftian Latin

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), In My Company:
In mi cum pani praedixit:
Claret finis ne ver mixit.
Cantu tellus Dicas tori;
Tingat super Tori rori.
Aleto claret adit basis:
Tosta Laedi, fieri faces.
This looks like Latin. "Finis" means "end," "tellus" means "earth," "super" means "above," etc. But in combination, the words make no sense in Latin. However, if you say the poem out loud, it does makes sense phonetically in English:
In my company pray, Dick, sit.
Claret fine is, never mix it.
Can't you tell us, Dick, a story;
Sing at supper "Tory Rory."
Ale to claret added base is.
Toast a lady, fiery faces.
Swift wrote four jeux d'esprit like this. For another, see here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Sitting in One's Own Pew

Enough of this highbrow Greek and Latin stuff. It's time for something a little more down to earth. John Gould (1908-2003) started his career in journalism at my home town paper, the Brunswick Record, and ended up as a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor. He wrote thirty books, in one of which my grandfather plays a bit part. Gould's last book was Tales from Rhapsody Home. Or, What They Don't Tell You About Senior Living (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2000). Here's an excerpt (pp. 131-132):
Some of our best farts were heard or suppressed in church. Many's the demure maiden lady who thought she had a silent kind and came out loud and strong. It was pleasant to see her sitting there in the pew looking like the Twenty-Third Psalm and wondering if she'd soiled her drawers. Many, also, were they who refrained from offending at great risk, and then let go during the doxology, which was tumultuous enough to drown out all competition. Nobody heard these offerings, but there were lingering testimonials of what happened.
A contributing factor may have been the Saturday night community bean suppers, which used to be common fund-raising and social events in the churches of small Maine towns.


Turba Lucifugarum

About a year ago I wrote about Turba Lucifugarum, or The Tribe of Daylight-Shunners.

I recently encountered another reference to this tribe, at Athenaeus 12.31.526a-b (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
According to Phylarchus, the Colophonians, who, originally a people of rough and uncouth manners, ran on the rocks of luxury when they became the friends and allies of the Lydians, walked abroad with their hair adorned with an ornament of gold, in the words of Xenophanes:

But they learned useless luxuries of the Lydians while they were free of hateful despotism, and went into the marketplace clad in all-puple robes, went not less than a thousand in all, proudly rejoicing in gold-adorned hair and bedewing their odour with studied anointings;
and so demoralised were they by untimely drunkenness that some of them never saw sun rise or set.

Κολοφώνιοι δ᾽, ὥς φησι Φύλαρχος, τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅντες σκληροὶ ἐν ταῖς ἀγωγαῖς, ἐπεὶ εἰς τρυφὴν ἐξώκειλαν πρὸς Λυδοὺς φιλίαν καὶ συμμαχίαν ποιησάμενοι, προῄεσαν διησκημένοι τὰς κόμας χρυσῷ κόσμῳ, ὡς καὶ Ξενοφάνης φησίν·

Ἀβροσύνας δὲ μαθόντες ἀνωφελέας παρὰ Λυδῶν
  ὄφρα τυραννίης ἦσαν ἄνευ στυγερῆς,
ᾔεσαν εἰς ἀγορὴν παναλουργέα φάρε' ἔχοντες,
  οὐ μείους ὥσπερ χίλιοι, εἰς ἐπίπαν,
αὐχαλέοι, χαίτησιν ἀγαλλόμεν' εὐπρεπέεσσιν
  ἀσκητοῖσ' ὀδμὴν χρίμασι δευόμενοι.

Οὕτω δ' ἐξελύθησαν διὰ τὴν ἄκαιρον μέθην ὥστε τινὲς αὐτῶν οὔτε ἀνατέλλοντα τὸν ἥλιον οὔτε δυόμενον ἑωράκασιν.
Several passages in the earlier post mention never seeing the sun rising or setting.

Update: Thanks to Laura Gibbs, who writes to say that there is a recent article on this subject: James Ker, "Nocturnal Writers in Imperial Rome: The Culture of Lucubratio," Classical Philology 99 (2004) 209–42.


Heine and Homer?

Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 45:
Emerson's experience in Everett's classroom gave an entirely new direction to his life:
Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and the splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend. He made us for the first time acquainted with [Friedrich August] Wolf's theory of the Homeric writings, with the criticism of [Heinrich] Heine. The novelty of the learning lost nothing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.
Emerson's mention of the philologist Wolf struck an ominous chord for orthodox Calvinists of New England. By tracing multiple authorship in Homer, Wolf had encouraged a similar approach to the other main text of a "heroic age," calling into question Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch. Transcendentalists like Emerson and Theodore Parker would abandon or alter Christian tenets to accommodate this "higher criticism." The other name Emerson mentioned, that of the lyric poet Heine, suggests a different side of Homer, one that would also be important in the romantic period. Homer, who was thought of as wild and natural, held a relation to the polished Roman poets, like Virgil, roughly resembling that of Wordsworth to Alexander Pope.
I have kept Wills' editorial insertions but omitted his footnotes.

The trouble with this analysis is that Emerson, in the passage quoted, did not write Heine, and was not talking about the German lyric poet. He wrote Heyne, i.e. Christian Gottlob Heyne, the classical scholar. For the quotation, see Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lectures and Biographical Sketches (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1886), p. 312 (online from an earlier edition here).

Sunday, April 02, 2006


More Palladas

Recall from an earlier post what J.W. Mackail said about Palladas:
The lines on the Descent of Man (Anth. Pal. x.45), which unfortunately cannot be included in this selection, fall as heavily on the Neo-Platonic martyr as on the Christian persecutor, and remain even now among the most mordant and crushing sarcasms ever passed upon mankind.
Here is W.R. Paton's translation of the epigram, followed by the Greek:
If thou rememberest, O man, how thy father sowed thee, thou shalt cease from thy proud thoughts. But dreaming Plato hath engendered pride in thee, calling thee immortal and a "heavenly plant." "Of dust thou art made. Why dost thou think proudly?" So one might speak, clothing the fact in more grandiloquent fiction; but if thou seekest the truth, thou art sprung from incontinent lust and a filthy drop.

Ἄν μνήμην, ἄνθρωπε, λάβῃς ὁ πατήρ σε τί ποιῶν
  ἔσπειρεν, παύσῃ τῆς μεγαοφροσύνης.
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ Πλάτων σοὶ τῦφον ὀνειρώσσων ἐνέφυσεν,
  ἀθάνατόν σε λέγων καὶ φυτὸν οὐράνιον.
ἐκ πηλοῦ γέγονας· τί φρονεῖς μέγα; τοῦτο μὲν οὕτως
  εἶπ’ ἄν τις, κοσμῶν πλάσματι σεμνοτέρῳ.
εἰ δὲ λόγον ζητεῖς τὸν ἀληθινόν, ἐξ ἀκολάστου
  λαγνείας γέγονας καὶ μιαρᾶς ῥανίδος.
Compare Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.48 (tr. Gregory Hays):
In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow, embalming fluid, ash.
See also Pirke Aboth 3 (tr. Michael L. Rodkinson):
Aqabia b. Mahalallel used to say: "Consider three things, and thou wilt not fall into transgression: know whence thou comest, whither thou art going, and before whom thou art about to give account and reckoning; know whence thou comest -- from a fetid drop, and whither thou art going -- to worm and maggot; and before whom thou art about to give account and reckoning: before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."
It is clear from other epigrams that Palladas was unhappily married, so it is not altogether surprising that he also penned this misogynistic epigram (11.381, tr. W.R. Paton):
Every woman is a source of annoyance, but she has two good seasons, the one in her bridal chamber [en thalámō] and the other when she is dead [en thanátō].

Πᾶσα γυνὴ χόλος ἐστίν· ἔχει δ᾽ δύω ὥρας,
  τὴν μίαν ἐν θαλάμῳ, τὴν μίαν ἐν θανάτῳ.
Ezra Pound's translation is even harsher than the original:
Woman? Oh, woman is a consummate rage,
but dead, or asleep, she pleases.
Take her. She has two excellent seasons.
Mark Ynys-Mon's neat version has a clever pun on the seasons:
Unripe irritants.
When they Spring into the bedroom,
Or Fall into the grave,
Then they are in season...


Latin Mass

Dennis Mangan points to an article about a Belgian priest being prosecuted for incitement to racist hatred because he stated in a television interview:
Every thoroughly islamized Muslim child that is born in Europe is a time bomb for Western children in the future. The latter will be persecuted when they have become a minority.
But I was interested in the opening paragraph of the article:
One of the rare Belgian churches that is packed every weekend is the church of Saint Anthony of Padova in Montignies-sur-Sambre, one of the poorest suburbs of Charleroi, a derelict rust belt area to the south of Brussels. Holy Mass in Montignies is conducted in Latin and lasts up to four hours.
Perhaps one reason why this Mass is packed is because it's in Latin. Is it just old fogies who are attending this Latin Mass? No:
The congregation includes African immigrants, a large number of young people and many young families with small children.
The photograph of the bewhiskered priest, Père Samuel, accompanying the article is delightful. It should be noted, however, that Père Samuel has apparently been suspended a divinis.


The Word The

Molière, The Critique of the School for Wives, Scene 3 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
CLIMÈNE: That the gives rise to strange thoughts. That the is frantically scandalizing; and say what you may, you cannot possibly defend the insolence of that the.

ÉLISE: It's true, cousin, I am for Madame against that the. That the is insolent to the uttermost degree, and you are wrong to defend that the.
One of my pet linguistic peeves is the misuse of the word the, first by including it where it doesn't belong, and second by omitting it where it does belong.

"The Donald," as an appellation for Donald Trump, is an example of including the where it doesn't belong. To the phrase "the Donald," I say, "You're fired." And I recently heard, on two separate local television stations, "the Four" and "the Nine," where "Channel Four" and "Channel Nine" were meant. Yuck. I hope this is not the start of a trend.

An example of omitting the where it belongs is the nauseating phrase "We Are Church," instead of "We Are the Church" or "We Are a Church." There is actually a group that proudly calls itself by this hideous name.

There exists an adjective anarthrous, meaning "without an article." One could apply it to the fault of omitting the where it belongs. I don't know an adjective to describe the opposite fault, of including the where it doesn't belong, so I'll coin one -- hyperarthrous.


One Chimpanzee Is No Chimpanzee

Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, tr. Marjorie Kerr Wilson (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), chap. 6 (The Great Parliament of Instincts):
Some of those special drives which guarantee a permanent aggregation of social animals rule the individual so strongly that under certain conditions they can supersede all other drives. The sheep that leaps over the precipice after the leader ram has become proverbial. A greylag goose that has become separated from the flock does everything in its power to find it again, and the drive toward the flock can even overcome the escape drive. Wild geese have repeatedly joined our tame ones in the immediate neighborhood of human habitations and remained there. When one knows how shy wild geese are, one can imagine the power of the herd instinct. Similar behavior occurs in a great many social vertebrates, up to chimpanzees, of which Yerkes rightly said, "One chimpanzee is no chimpanzee."
Up to human beings, as well. There is a similar Greek proverb εἶς ἀνὴρ οὐδεὶς ἀνήρ = "one man [is] no man." Gildersleeve, Syntax of Classical Greek (New York: American Book Company, 1900), lists it as an example under "Position of the attributive adjective," and Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1928), include it as a motto for lesson LVI. I cannot find an exact source in ancient Greek literature. Many college fraternities use it as a motto. Whether Robert M. Yerkes (1876-1956) ever studied Greek or joined a fraternity, I don't know. He graduated from Harvard in 1898.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Posthumous Publication

From Motoko Rich, "New Elizabeth Bishop Book Sparks a Publish-After-Perished Controversy," New York Times (April 1, 2006), on Helen Vendler's criticism of Alice Quinn for publishing Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments by Elizabeth Bishop:
In some ways Ms. Vendler's argument reflects a long-running debate about what to do with the unpublished work — ranging from manuscripts and drafts to letters and diaries — of dead writers, from Keats to Kafka and beyond.
The controversy goes back to classical antiquity, if we can believe Suetonius' Life of Vergil 37-41 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
[37] He named as his heirs Valerius Proculus, his half-brother, to one-half of his estate, Augustus to one-fourth, Maecenas to one-twelfth; the rest he left to Lucius Varius and Plotius Tucca, who revised the "Aeneid" after his death by order of Augustus. [38] With regard to this matter we have the following verses of Sulpicius of Carthage:

"Vergilius had bidden these songs by swift flame be turned into ashes,
Songs which sang of your fates, Phrygia's leader renowned.
Varius and Tucca forbade, and you, too, greatest of Caesars,
Adding your veto to theirs, Latium's story preserved.
All but twice in the flames unhappy Pergamum perished
Troy on a second pyre narrowly failed of her doom."

[39] He had arranged with Varius, before leaving Italy, that if anything befell him his friend should burn the "Aeneid"; but Varius had emphatically declared that he would do no such thing. Therefore in his mortal illness Vergilius constantly called for his book-boxes, intending to burn the poem himself; but when no one brought them to him, he made no specific request about the matter, [40] but left his writings jointly to the above mentioned Varius and to Tucca, with the stipulation that they should publish nothing which he himself would not have given to the world. [41] However, Varius published the "Aeneid" at Augustus' request, making only a few slight corrections, and even leaving the incomplete lines just as they were. These last many afterwards tried to finish, but failed owing to the difficulty that nearly all the half-lines in Vergilius are complete in sense and meaning, the sole exception being "Quem tibi iam Troia." [Aen. 3.340]

[37] Heredes fecit ex dimidia parte Valerium Proculum fratrem alio patre, ex quarta Augustum, ex duodecima Maecenatem, ex reliqua L. Varium et Plotium Tuccam, qui eius "Aeneida" post obitum iussu Caesaris emendaverunt. [38] De qua re Sulpicii Carthaginiensis extant huiusmodi versus:

"Iusserat haec rapidis aboleri carmina flammis
  Vergilius, Phrygium quae cecinere ducem.
Tucca vetat Variusque simul; tu, maxime Caesar,
  "Non sinis et Latiae consulis historiae.
Infelix gemino cecidit prope Pergamon igni,
  Et paene est alio Troia cremata rogo.

[39] Egerat cum Vario, priusquam Italia decederet, ut siquid sibi accidisset, "Aeneida" combureret; at is facturum se pernegarat; igitur in extrema valetudine assidue scrinia desideravit, crematurus ipse; verum nemine offerente nihil quidem nominatim de ea cavit. [40] Ceterum eidem Vario ac simul Tuccae scripta sua sub ea condicione legavit, ne quid ederent, quod non a se editum esset. [41] Edidit autem auctore Augusto Varius, sed summatim emendata, ut qui versus etiam inperfectos sicut erant reliquerit; quos multi mox supplere conati non perinde valuerunt ob difficultatem, quod omnia fere apud eum hemistichia absoluto perfectoque sunt sensu, praeter illud: "quem tibi iam Troia."


The Incense of April

John Burroughs, April, from his Birds and Poets:
April is my natal month, and I am born again into new delight and new surprises at each return of it. Its name has an indescribable charm to me. Its two syllables are like the calls of the first birds, -- like that of the phoebe-bird, or of the meadowlark. Its very snows are fertilizing, and are called the poor man's manure.

Then its odors! I am thrilled by its fresh and indescribable odors, -- the perfume of the bursting sod, of the quickened roots and rootlets, of the mould under the leaves, of the fresh furrows. No other month has odors like it. The west wind the other day came fraught with a perfume that was to the sense of smell what a wild and delicate strain of music is to the ear. It was almost transcendental. I walked across the hill with my nose in the air taking it in. It lasted for two days. I imagined it came from the willows of a distant swamp, whose catkins were affording the bees their first pollen: or did it come from much farther, -- from beyond the horizon, the accumulated breath of innumerable farms and budding forests? The main characteristic of these April odors is their uncloying freshness. They are not sweet, they are oftener bitter, they are penetrating and lyrical. I know well the odors of May and June, of the world of meadows and orchards bursting into bloom, but they are not so ineffable and immaterial and so stimulating to the sense as the incense of April.

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