Thursday, August 31, 2006


Sedentary Writers

Thoreau, Journals (Aug. 19, 1851):
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow, as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end and consequently new fountains flowed into it at the upper. A thousand rills which have their rise in the sources of thought burst forth and fertilize my brain. You need to increase the draught below, as the owners of meadows on Concord River say of the Billerica Dam. Only while we are in action is the circulation perfect. The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical, wooden, dull to read.


Battle of the Books

John Burroughs, Birds and Poets:
How the best modern novel collapses before the homely but immense human significance of Homer's celestial swineherd entertaining divine Ulysses, or even the solitary watchman in Aeschylus' "Agamemnon," crouched, like a night-dog, on the roofs of the Atreidae, waiting for the signal fires that should announce the fall of sacred Ilion!


The Self-Tormentor

John Owen, Epigrams 9.44 (Heautontimoroumenos, tr. Thomas Harvey):
Dum mortem vitare studet, vitamque tueri,
  se toto vitae tempore torquet homo.
Bruta bonis fruitur praesentis bestia vitae;
  dum vivit, vivit; cum moritur, moritur.

While Death to shun, Life to preserve, poor Man
Doth vex himself the space of all his span.
Brute Beasts enjoy the present Life's supply,
Living they live, and when they die, they die.


More Bumf

John Owen, Epigrams 1.172 (Ad Lectorem = To the Reader, tr. Thomas Harvey):
Tabificum non accedat liber iste tabaccum,
  Terge libro potius posteriora meo.

Lest this my Book should make Tobaco vapour,
Wipe rather thy Posteriours with my Paper.
Other posts on this topic:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Current Events

I'm sick of hearing about George "Macaca" Allen, Mahmoud "Da Bomb" Ahmadinejad, Kofi "Abettor" Annan, Tom "Mouth" Cruise, hoc genus omne.

I regularly read the police reports from central Maine, though. Things were a bit wacky the other day in Waterville:
9:10 a.m., two 9-year-old girls were reportedly racing baby carriages with children in them on Gold Street.

2:52 p.m., a big fight with people using kitchen utensils was reported on Carey Lane.

3:15 p.m., a caller from College Avenue reported a neighbor had covered her pets with cooking oil.


Hostile Laughter

Athena to Odysseus, in Sophocles, Ajax 79 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Is not laughing at one's enemies the most delighful sort of laughter?

οὔκουν γέλως ἥδιστος εἰς ἐχθροὺς γελᾶν;
Sophocles, Electra 277-281 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
Nay, as if exulting in [ἐγγελῶσα = laughing in] her deeds, having found the day on which she treacherously slew my father of old, she keeps it with dance and song, and month by month sacrifices sheep to the gods who have wrought her deliverance.

ἀλλ᾽ ὥσπερ ἐγγελῶσα τοῖς ποιουμένοις,
εὑροῦσ᾽ ἐκείνην ἡμέραν, ἐν ᾗ τότε
πατέρα τὸν ἀμὸν ἐκ δόλου κατέκτανεν,
ταύτῃ χοροὺς ἵστησι καὶ μηλοσφαγεῖ
θεοῖσιν ἔμμην᾽ ἱερὰ τοῖς σωτηρίοις.
Sophocles, Electra 804-807 (tr. Jebb):
How think ye? Was there not grief and anguish there, wondrous weeping and wailing of that miserable mother, for the son who perished by such a fate? Nay, she left us with a laugh!

ἆρ᾽ ὑμὶν ὡς ἀλγοῦσα κὠδυνωμένη
δεινῶς δακρῦσαι κἀπικωκῦσαι δοκεῖ
τὸν υἱὸν ἡ δύστηνος ὧδ᾽ ὀλωλότα;
ἀλλ᾽ ἐγγελῶσα φροῦδος.
Sophocles, Electra 1153 (tr. Lloyd-Jones):
Our enemies are laughing.

γελῶσι δ᾽ ἐχθροί.
Sophocles, Electra 1293-1295 (tr. Lloyd-Jones):
But tell me what will suit the present time, where we must appear or where we must hide to put a stop to our enemies' laughter by our present expedition.

ἃ δ᾽ ἁρμόσει μοι τῷ παρόντι νῦν χρόνῳ
σήμαιν᾽, ὅπου φανέντες ἢ κεκρυμμένοι
γελῶντας ἐχθροὺς παύσομεν τῇ νῦν ὁδῷ.
Sophocles, Philoctetes 258-259 (tr. Jebb):
No, the men who wickedly cast me out keep their secret and laugh.

ἀλλ᾽ οἱ μὲν ἐκβαλόντες ἀνοσίως ἐμὲ
γελῶσι σῖγ᾽ ἔχοντες.
Sophocles, Philoctetes 1020-1024 (tr. Jebb):
But, since the gods grant nothing sweet to me, thou livest and art glad, while life itself is pain to me, steeped in misery as I am, -- mocked [γελώμενος = laughed at] by thee and by the sons of Atreus, for whom thou doest this errand.

ἀλλ᾽ οὐ γὰρ οὐδὲν θεοὶ νέμουσιν ἡδύ μοι,
σὺ μὲν γέγηθας ζῶν, ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἀλγύνομαι
τοῦτ᾽ αὔθ᾽, ὅτι ζῶ σὺν κακοῖς πολλοῖς τάλας,
γελώμενος πρὸς σοῦ τε καὶ τῶν Ἀτρέως
διπλῶν στρατηγῶν, οἷς σὺ ταῦθ᾽ ὑπηρετεῖς.
Sophocles, Philoctetes 1123-1125 (tr. Lloyd-Jones):
Alas for me, somewhere by the shore of the gray sea he sits and mocks me [γελᾷ μου = laughs at me].

οἴμοι μοι, καί που πολιᾶς
πόντου θινὸς ἐφήμενος
γελᾷ μου.
Psalms 22.7-8:
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
Psalms 80.6:
Our enemies laugh among themselves.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


A Deadly Combination

Euripides, Orestes 772 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
A terrible thing is the mob, when it has villains to lead it.

δεινὸν οἱ πολλοί, κακούργους ὅταν ἔχωσι προστάτας.

If you've never studied Greek, you still might be able to recognize the first three words of this quotation, deinon hoi polloi. I'm a little puzzled by the entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary s.v. dinosaur:
1841, coined by Sir Richard Owen, from Gk. deinos "terrible" + sauros "lizard," of unknown origin. Fig. sense of "person or institution not adapting to change" is from 1952.
How can the word dinosaur be of unknown origin, if we know who coined it and from what Greek roots? As for the secondary meaning "person or institution not adapting to change," see the last paragraph of C.S. Lewis' 1954 lecture De Descriptione Temporum.

In its article on hoi polloi, Merriam Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage discusses two issues concerning this expression, its use with "the" (hoi means "the," so "the hoi polloi" is "the the many") and its use to mean "the snobby elite." Only the snobby elite, I suppose, would object to these two uses of hoi polloi.


RLS and Martial

Martial 5.20 (tr. Robert Louis Stevenson):
God knows, my Martial, if we two could be
To enjoy our days set wholly free;
To the true life together bend our mind,
And take a furlough from the falser kind.
No rich saloon, nor palace of the great,
Nor suit at law should trouble our estate;
On no vainglorious statues should we look,
But of a walk, a talk, a little book,
Baths, wells and meads, and the veranda shade,
Let all our travels and our toils be made.
Now neither lives unto himself, alas!
And the good suns we see, that flash and pass
And perish; and the bell that knells them cries:
"Another gone: O when will ye arise?"

Si tecum mihi, care Martialis,
securis liceat frui diebus,
si disponere tempus otiosum
et verae pariter vacare vitae:
nec nos atria nec domos potentum
nec litis tetricas forumque triste
nossemus nec imagines superbas;
sed gestatio, fabulae, libelli,
campus, porticus, umbra, Virgo, thermae,
haec essent loca semper, hi labores.
Nunc vivit necuter sibi, bonosque
soles effugere atque abire sentit,
qui nobis pereunt et inputantur.
Quisquam vivere cum sciat, moratur?
This is not a soliloquy. Martial is addressing his friend Julius Martialis. See translations of the same poem by Henry Newbolt and Andrew Lang.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Dog Latin

Christopher Morley, A Morning in Marathon, from Shandygaff (1918):
As I passed through on my way to the Philadelphia train I was amused by a wicker basket full of Scotch terrier puppies -- five or six of them tumbling over one another in their play and yelping so that the station rang. "Every little bit yelps" as someone has said. I was reminded of the last words I ever read in Virgil (the end of the sixth book of the Aeneid) -- stant litore puppes, which I always yearned to translate "a litter of puppies."


Euripides, Orestes 206

This is another note to myself, of little interest to anyone else.

Euripides, Orestes 201-207 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
You are in your grave, and the greater part of my life is spent in weeping and wailing, and tears at night; unmarried, childless, I drag out forever a joyless existence.

σύ τε γὰρ ἐν νεκροῖς, τό τ' ἐμὸν οἴχεται
βίου τὸ πλέον μέρος ἐν στοναχαῖσί τε καὶ γόοισι
δάκρυσί τ' ἐννυχίοις, ἄγαμος    205
[ἐπὶ δ'] ἄτεκνος ἅτε βίοτον ἁ
μέλεος ἐς τὸν αἰὲν ἕλκω χρόνον.

206 ἐπὶ δ' L: ἔπιδ᾽ rell.: secl. Wilamowitz, e Σ irrepsisse ratus
The text and apparatus are Gilbert Murray's, from C.W. Willink, Euripides Orestes. With introduction and commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). James Diggle's edition is not available to me. Willink ad loc.:
ἄγαμος ἄτεκνος: a frequent pair (Al. 882, IT 220, Hel. 689; Al. 887-9 ἀτέκνους ἀγάμους τ᾽); these parallels (and many others, e.g. Tr. 1186 ἄπολις ἄτεκνος, Su. 966 ἄπαις ἄτεκνος) confirm Wilamowitz' excision of the otherwise obscure ἔπιδ᾽ (or ἐπὶ δ').
With Wilamowitz' excision, we have an example of asyndetic, privative adjectives, not cited in any of my earlier posts on this subject. Another example in the Orestes (310) is ἀνάδελφος ἀπάτωρ ἄφιλος.

There is an odd misprint in Willink's commentary on lines 126-139:
A link-passage between Helen's exit and the entry of the Chorus. First Helen gives vent to the hatred which she has had to control (hoping for help from Men.) in Helen's presence.
"First Helen" is obviously a mistake for "First Electra".

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Drinking Songs

In my list of drinking songs by the Chesterbelloc, I overlooked Hilaire Belloc's West Sussex Drinking Song:
They sell good Beer at Haslemere
And under Guildford Hill.
At Little Cowfold, as I've been told,
A beggar may drink his fill:
There is a good brew in Amberley too,
And by the bridge also;
But the swipes they take in at Washington Inn
Is the very best Beer I know, the very best Beer I know.

With my here it goes, there it goes,
All the fun's before us;
The tipple's aboard and the night is young,
The door's ajar and the Barrel is sprung,
I am singing the best song ever was sung
And it has a rousing chorus.

If I were what I never could be,
The master or the squire:
If you gave me the hundred from here to the sea,
Which is more than I desire:
Then all my crops should be barley and hops,
And should my harvest fail
I'd sell every rood of mine acres, I would,
For a bellyful of good Ale, a bellyful of good Ale.

With my here etc.
I suspect that the following verses by D.B. Wyndham Lewis, with the bombastic title Song in Praise of Saint Dunstan and the Holy Country of Sussex, and to the Eternal Confusion of Them That Live in Surrey and Do Very Damnably Peddle in Stocks; Peccator Videbit et Irascetur; Meet to be Sung at Hock-Tide and Festivals with Octave, are a parody of the Chestertonian/Bellocian manner:

Saint Dunstan was a Sussex Man,
  Benedicamus Domino.
He drank strong ale from a silver can,
  Semper sit laudatio.
The Devil came bouncing out of Surrey
And left for home in a devilish hurry,
At Gué-de-Vède he lost his way --
He found it again at Buzançay.


Oh, snouts are red at Wisboro' Green,
And they whack the pot like men, I ween,
In Horsham Town and Helling-ly,
In little Alfriston and in Rye.


The Devil he lived round Hindhead way,
  Bombinans in vacuo.
He snatched five brokers' souls away,
  Mortis in articulo.
But when he got to Roundabout
They banged him silly and threw him out,
At Storrington they gnawed his ear --
They welcomed him at Haslemere.


Oh, the lads of Sussex swagger and screech
From Ditchling Beacon to Hastings Beach,
And Sussex men do bellow and sing
From Birling Gap to Chancton Ring.


The Devil flew off to Périgueux,
  Tamquam leo rugiens.
By Folq-les-Rois, Fijeac, and Eu,
  Prae timore fugiens.
But Saint Dunstan he called the Sussex Men
From barn and sheepfold, byre and pen,
From Harting, Houndsditch, Troon, and Tring,
And they roared and howled like anything.


Oh, the brown ale foams in Uckfield inns,
And in Lewes they drink from salmon-tins,
But the Sussex lads who roar the most
Take a genteel sip and give up the ghost.



Be Avaricious of These Impulses

Thoreau, Journals (Sept. 4, 1851):
It is wise to write on many subjects, to try many themes, that so you may find the right and inspiring one. Be greedy of occasions to express your thought. Improve the opportunity to draw analogies. There are innumerable avenues to a perception of the truth. Improve the suggestion of each object however humble, however slight and transient the provocation. What else is there to be improved? Who knows what opportunities he may neglect? It is not in vain that the mind turns aside this way or that: follow its leading; apply it whither it inclines to go. Probe the universe in a myriad points. Be avaricious of these impulses. You must try a thousand themes before you find the right one, as nature makes a thousand acorns to get one oak. He is a wise man and experienced who has taken many views; to whom stones and plants and animals and a myriad objects have each suggested something, contributed something.


Solid Folk

C.S. Lewis, In Praise of Solid People, from Spirits in Bondage:
Thank God that there are solid folk
Who water flowers and roll the lawn,
And sit and sew and talk and smoke,
And snore all through the summer dawn.

Who pass untroubled nights and days
Full-fed and sleepily content,
Rejoicing in each other's praise,
Respectable and innocent.

Who feel the things that all men feel,
And think in well-worn grooves of thought,
Whose honest spirits never reel
Before man's mystery, overwrought.

Yet not unfaithful nor unkind,
With work-day virtues surely staid,
Theirs is the sane and humble mind,
And dull affections undismayed.

O happy people! I have seen
No verse yet written in your praise,
And, truth to tell, the time has been
I would have scorned your easy ways.

But now thro' weariness and strife
I learn your worthiness indeed,
The world is better for such life
As stout suburban people lead.

Too often have I sat alone
When the wet night falls heavily,
And fretting winds around me moan,
And homeless longing vexes me

For lore that I shall never know,
And visions none can hope to see,
Till brooding works upon me so
A childish fear steals over me.

I look around the empty room,
The clock still ticking in its place,
And all else silent as the tomb,
Till suddenly, I think, a face

Grows from the darkness just beside.
I turn, and lo! it fades away,
And soon another phantom tide
Of shifting dreams begins to play,

And dusky galleys past me sail,
Full freighted on a faerie sea;
I hear the silken merchants hail
Across the ringing waves to me

-Then suddenly, again, the room,
Familiar books about me piled,
And I alone amid the gloom,
By one more mocking dream beguiled.

And still no nearer to the Light,
And still no further from myself,
Alone and lost in clinging night
-(The clock's still ticking on the shelf).

Then do I envy solid folk
Who sit of evenings by the fire,
After their work and doze and smoke,
And are not fretted by desire.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Saturday Salmagundi

A few months ago I quoted part of my son's description of a camping trip:
On our midnight canoe run, Ken and I disturbed a great blue heron nesting in the canopy above us: as it flew away, loudly protesting, it discharged its copious cloacal contents in our direction, which splashed loudly around the canoe nearly hitting us. I shone the light upwards through the canopy and I remember quite clearly the sight of the fecal salvo descending rapidly towards us.
In my earlier post, I showed how this fulfilled a prophesy in Aeschylus. Thanks to the generosity of my son, I now own a complete set of Thoreau's Journals. As first fruits, I offer Thoreau's description (October 29, 1855) of a heron's copious cloacal contents:
Returning, I scare up a blue heron from its bathing-rock this side the Island. It is whitened by its droppings, in great splotches a foot or more wide.

The Carpetbagger Report investigates claims about George W. Bush, reader. He is supposed to have read Macbeth and Hamlet recently. Someone commented on this post, "Reading Shakespeare. Looking for fart jokes." If that's true, maybe President Bush and I have more in common than I thought.

Two correspondents this week sent links to stories about Evelyn Waugh.

Dave Lull sent a link to a piece by Peter Stothard, who quotes a passage from Waugh's Scoop about a schoolgirl reciting Vergil's second Eclogue. I'm surprised that a schoolmaster, even a fictional one, would let his impressionable pupils read the second eclogue. André Gide borrowed the title of his controversial Corydon from a character in that poem. There is a small town in Indiana named Corydon. I wonder if the town fathers are aware of the overtones of the name.

Neil O'Sullivan sent a link to Arthur Jones, Literary Scamp Evelyn Waugh, Notre Dame Magazine (Autumn 2003), in which some verses from G.K. Chesterton's The Song of Right and Wrong appear:
Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honor shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attention,
Go and pour them down the sink.
The "other things" include tea, cocoa, and soda water. Chesterton and his friend Hilaire Belloc wrote a fair amount of poetry on the merits of various beverages, e.g.

Welcome back to David Meadows at rogueclassicism.


Bronze Beaks

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 165:
After the effectiveness of the trawl wire cutter was demonstrated, the second Cod War degenerated into dodgem cars on the high seas. Trawlers attempted to prevent Coast Guard vessels from cutting their trawl by ramming them. But the Coast Guard vessels could also ram, and their reinforced hulls, built for icebreaking, made them particularly effective at this.
Ramming in the cod wars was a reversion to a more ancient form of naval warfare, except that the ancient form was more deadly. Ancient warships were equipped with a sharp bronze-clad "ram" on the prow at or below the waterline. With this ram, sailors tried to puncture the hull of enemy ships, and then withdraw. Aeschylus, Persians 408-409, describing the Battle of Salamis, says, "Immediately ship against ship dashed its bronze-clad beak" (εὐθὺς δὲ ναῦς ἐν νηὶ χαλκήρη στόλον / ἔπαισεν).

Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners (Minerva Press, 1959), pp. 100-101, describes the skill and endurance involved, both in attack and defense:
Ramming was a most delicate maneuver. Only a skilled crew and a commander of fine judgment and keen sense of timing could bring it off. For one thing, it was a one-shot or at best a two-shot affair. A captain couldn't afford to miss more than twice, for by then his rowers were too exhausted to go through the grueling procedure all over again. At the moment of impact his ship had to be travelling at an intermediate speed: if too slow, the enemy could back water out of range; if too fast the thrust would embed the ram too deeply in the enemy hull and his men couldn't back water in time before the opponent's marines could grapple and board. If the first thrust missed or wasn't mortal, his men had to be ready to back water at full speed just enough to get into proper position again and then resume forward motion at the appropriate ramming speed. It was this need to fight a battle in a sort of slow motion as it were that made marines an essential part of the complement of all vessels, even those designed chiefly for the use of the ram. Without such fighters to rake the opponent's deck during the approach or to stand by to repel boarders after the impact, the attacked vessel's marines could grapple, board, and stand a fair chance of taking over the attacker. Themistocles used fourteen spearsmen and four archers per ship at Salamis; fifty years later Athenian admirals were able to cut the spearsmen to ten.

Those navies which, because of the slowness of their vessels or the poor quality of their crews, could not depend on the ram were forced to rely more on marines. In battle their captains' prime concern was to avoid destruction from a ram stroke, and the standard method of accomplishing this was to keep, at all costs, the prow toward the enemy and give him no chance to get at the flanks or stern. If a captain could do this successfully -- it most often involved constant and careful backing water -- until the enemy crews were exhausted, he could then bring the fight down to one between marines, in which the advantage lay on his side. If he could destroy enough enemy personnel in this phase, he might be in a position to attack with the ram himself or, failing that, to grapple and board.
One of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries in recent years was the 1980 discovery of the so-called Athlit Ram, a bronze ram from a Hellenistic warship, 465 kg. in weight and 2.26 m. in length, on display at the National Maritime Museum in Haifa, Israel. See here and here for photos.

A Greek bronze coin (here and here) from Arados in Phoenicia (162/1 B.C. = Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, The Danish National Museum, Copenhagen, 36cf) shows a three-pronged naval ram.

Our English word rostrum is related to this technique of ancient naval warfare. See the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. rostrum:
1542, from L. rostrum, name of the platform stand for public speakers in the Forum in ancient Rome. It was decorated with the beaks of ships taken in the first naval victory of the Roman republic, over Antium, in 338 B.C.E., and the word's older sense is "end of a ship's prow," lit. "beak, muzzle, snout," originally "means of gnawing," instrument noun form of rodere "to gnaw" (see rodent). Cf. claustrum "lock, bar," from claudere "to shut." Extended sense of any platform for public speaking is first recorded 1766. Plural form is rostra.

Thursday, August 24, 2006



Vox Popoli, American Cassandra:
It always amuses me when people dismiss individuals like Mr. Buchanan as Cassasandras [sic]; it makes me wonder if they've actually read any Homer.
I'm not sure what Vox means, but I think he's alluding to Cassandra's role in Greek mythology as a prophetess. Cassandra, however, does not prophesy in Homer.

Timothy Gantz, Early Greek Myth, vol. 1 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 92, summarizes the evidence:
Kassandra is never made by Homer to possess prophetic powers, although she seems to have done so in the Kypria, where she prophesies to Paris (p. 39 PEG), and Pindar calls her mantis, "seer," at Pythian 11.33. The same poet's Paian 8 (where her predictions are probably vain) and Bakchylides' Ode 23 (see apparatus) present a similar view. But predictions that no one believes (if they had, matters would obviously have taken much less interesting turns) do not necessarily require Apollo; Kassandra's relationship with the god as we know it first appears in Aischylos' Agamemnon, where we read that she promised herself to him, received the gift of inspiration, and then reneged on the promise (Ag 1202-12).



In Homer's Odyssey 16.154-163 (tr. A.T. Murray, rev. George E. Dimock), the goddess Athena makes an appearance, but she is not visible to everyone:
He spoke, and sent the swineherd on his way. He took his sandals in his hands, and bound them beneath his feet and went into the city. Nor was Athena unaware that the swineherd Eumaeus was gone from the farmstead, but she drew near in the likeness of a woman, beautiful and tall, and skilled in glorious handiwork. And she stood over against the door of the hut, showing herself to Odysseus, but Telemachus did not see her before him, or notice her; for it is not at all the case that the gods appear in manifest presence to all. But Odysseus saw her, and the dogs, and they did not bark, but with whining slunk in fear to the farther part of the farmstead.

ἦ ῥα καὶ ὦρσε συφορβόν· ὁ δ᾽ εἵλετο χερσὶ πέδιλα,
δησάμενος δ᾽ ὑπὸ ποσσὶ πόλινδ᾽ ἴεν. οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ Ἀθήνην
λῆθεν ἀπὸ σταθμοῖο κιὼν Εὔμαιος ὑφορβός,
ἀλλ᾽ ἥ γε σχεδὸν ἦλθε· δέμας δ᾽ ἤϊκτο γυναικὶ
καλῇ τε μεγάλῃ τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ ἔργα ἰδυίῃ.
στῆ δὲ κατ᾽ ἀντίθυρον κλισίης Ὀδυσῆϊ φανεῖσα·
οὐδ᾽ ἄρα Τηλέμαχος ἴδεν ἀντίον οὐδ᾽ ἐνόησεν,
οὐ γὰρ πω πάντεσσι θεοὶ φαίνονται ἐναργεῖς,
ἀλλ᾽ Ὀδυσεύς τε κύνες τε ἴδον, καί ῥ᾽ οὐχ ὑλάοντο
κνυζηθμῷ δ᾽ ἑτέρωσε διὰ σταθμοῖο φόβηθεν.
In Sophocles' Ajax 14-17 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones), Athena again manifests herself to Odysseus. But this time he can only hear her, not see her:
Voice of Athena, dearest of the gods to me, how easily do I hear your words and grasp them with my mind, even if I cannot see you, as though a Tyrrhenian trumpet spoke with brazen mouth.

ὦ φθέγμ᾽ Ἀθάνας, φιλτάτης ἐμοὶ θεῶν,
ὡς εὐμαθές σου, κἂν ἄποπτος ᾖς ὅμως,
φώνημ᾽ ἀκούω καὶ ξυναρπάζω φρενὶ
χαλκοστόμου κώδωνος ὡς Τυρσηνικῆς.



Hilaire Belloc, The Pacifist:
Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.


Friends and Enemies

The notion that you should "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5.44) was largely alien to ancient Greeks before the time of Christ. They commonly thought instead that it was right and proper to help their friends and harm their enemies.

In fact, a friendship could be based on little more than a shared hatred of the same enemies. We see this in Sophocles' Philoctetes 389-390 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
That is all I have to say; and may he who loathes the sons of Atreus be dear alike to me and to the gods!

λόγος λέλεκται πᾶς· ὁ δ᾽ Ἀτρείδας στυγῶν
ἐμοί θ᾽ ὁμοίως καὶ θεοῖς εἴη φίλος.
Lloyd-Jones translates φίλος (philos) as "dear," but it could also be translated "friend" here. Cf. Thomas Francklin's translation:
I've told thee all, and him who hates the Atreidae
I hold a friend to me and to the gods.
Philoctetes utters a similar sentiment at 585-586 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I am their enemy; and this man is my great friend, because he hates the sons of Atreus.

ἐγώ εἰμ᾽ Ἀτρείδαις δυσμενής· οὗτος δέ μοι
φίλος μέγιστος, οὕνεκ᾽ Ἀτρείδας στυγεῖ.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Antediluvian, Bibliomaniac, Curmudgeon

For my blogging persona, I describe myself as an antediluvian, bibliomaniac, and curmudgeon. In real life, I'm a party-loving sixteen year-old girl who prefers television and movies to books ;-)

The word antediluvian comes from the Latin words ante (before) and diluvium (flood). Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) supposedly coined it. Webster's dictionary (1913) defines it as
a. Of or relating to the period before the Deluge in Noah's time; hence, antiquated; as, an antediluvian vehicle. -- n. One who lived before the Deluge.
Somewhere I have a little collection of Greek and Latin phrases of the form "older than <some hoary mythological figure>." One who is older than Noah is apt to be forgetful, and I forget right now where my notes for this collection are. I think one of the phrases was "older than Deucalion." Deucalion is the equivalent in Greek mythology of Noah.

The word bibliomaniac comes from Greek βίβλος (biblos = book) and μανία (mania = madness). It means one who is crazy about books. The classic description of this malady is Holbrook Jackson's Anatomy of Bibliomania, inspired by Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. I have most of the symptoms of this disease. Once upon a time, when I was moving from North Carolina to Georgia, the driver of the moving truck said he'd never seen so many books. Almost twenty years have passed, and the situation has gotten much worse. Like the Maverick Philosopher, I prefer books to people:
It would be a hard choice, but if I were forced to choose between books and people, I would choose books. In any case, a book is a man at his best. So it is in one sense a false alternative: choose books, and you get people, distilled, reduced to their essence, and in a form that makes it easy to 'close the book' on their irritating particularisms. But people without books? That would be hell.
The etymology of curmudgeon is a mystery. The Online Etymology Dictionary states:
1577, of unknown origin; Johnson's suggestion that it is from Fr. coeur mechant "evil heart" is no longer taken seriously; the first syllable may be cur "dog."
Webster's dictionary (1913) defines curmudgeon as "An avaricious, grasping fellow; a miser; a niggard; a churl." I am a penny-pincher, but the churlish part of this definition fits me better. The same dictionary defines churl as "A rough, surly, ill-bred man." Fellow curmudgeon Dennis Mangan penned an excellent analysis of the elements of curmudgeonry, in which he recognized that the curmudgeon and the cynic have much in common. A cur is a mongrel dog, and cynic is another canine word (Greek κύων, κυνός = kyōn, kynos).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006



Horace, Epistles 2.2.180-182 (tr. C. Smart):
Gems, marble, ivory, Tuscan statues, pictures, silver-plate, robes dyed with Getulian purple, there are who can not acquire; and there are others, who are not solicitous of acquiring.

gemmas, marmor, ebur, Tyrrhena sigilla, tabellas,
argentum, vestes Gaetulo murice tinctas
sunt qui non habeant, est qui non curat habere.


Motto for a Birthday Card

Horace, Epistles 2.2.55-56 (tr. C. Smart):
The advancing years rob us of every thing: they have taken away my mirth, my gallantry, my revelings, and play.

singula de nobis anni praedantur euntes;
eripuere iocos, venerem, convivia, ludum.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Reorganizing the Week

Christopher Morley, Mince-Pie, essay What Men Live By:
In fact, we would reorganize the week altogether. We would have one day for Worship (let each man devote it to worship of whatever he holds dearest); one day for Work; one day for Play (probably fishing); one day for Talking; one day for Reading, and one day for Smoking and Thinking. That would leave one day for Resting, and (incidentally) interviewing employers.


An Ancient Wedgie

The Wikipedia article on wedgies doesn't mention the self-inflicted kind described by Martial 11.99 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Whenever you get up from your chair (I have noticed it again and again), your unfortunate tunic sodomizes you, Lesbia. You try and try to pluck it with your left hand and your right, till you extract it with tears and groans. So firmly is it constrained by the twin Symplegades of your arse as it enters your oversized, Cyanean buttocks. Do you want to correct this ugly fault? I'll tell you how. Lesbia, I advise you neither to get up nor sit down.

De cathedra quotiens surgis -- iam saepe notavi --,
  pedicant miserae, Lesbia, te tunicae.
quas cum conata es dextra, conata sinistra
  vellere, cum lacrimis eximis et gemitu:
sic constringuntur gemina Symplegade culi
  et nimias intrant Cyaneasque natis.
emendare cupis vitium deforme? docebo:
  Lesbia, nec surgas censeo nec sedeas.
The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, s.v. Symplegades:
the 'clashing' ones, also called Kuaneai [Cyaneae], the 'dark-blue' ones, two fabulous rocks that stood in the sea at the N. end of the Bosporus, forming the gate to the Euxine Sea. They were believed to clash together, crushing ships that passed between them.


The Gods

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, I, 21:
I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable. But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blindman's buff, and mere jugglery? Why must holy places be dark places?

I say, therefore, that there is no creature (toad, scorpion, or serpent) so noxious to man as the gods.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


My Intellectual Desire

George Gissing, By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy, chap. 1 (From Naples):
Every man has his intellectual desire; mine is to escape life as I know it and dream myself into that old world which was the imaginative delight of my boyhood. The names of Greece and Italy draw me as no others; they make me young again, and restore the keen impressions of that time when every new page of Greek or Latin was a new perception of things beautiful. The world of the Greeks and Romans is my land of romance; a quotation in either language thrills me strangely, and there are passages of Greek and Latin verse which I cannot read without a dimming of the eyes, which I cannot repeat aloud because my voice fails me.


Notes to Myself

To the examples of φυλλοβολία (phyllobolia) collected here, add Lucretius 2.624-628 (cult of Magna Mater, tr. R.E. Latham):
So, when first she is escorted into some great city and mutely enriches mortals with wordless benediction, they strew her path all along the route with a lavish largesse of copper and silver and shadow the Mother and her retinue with a snow of roses.

ergo cum primum magnas invecta per urbis
munificat tacita mortalis muta salute,
aere atque argento sternunt iter omne viarum
largifica stipe ditantes ninguntque rosarum
floribus umbrantes matrem comitumque catervam.

A parallel to ΣR's comment ("a metaphor from donkeys; for when they are joyful, they fart") on Aristophanes, Peace 335, from Hesychius (tr. J.M. Edmonds in his Elegy and Iambus, vol. 2, pp. 306-307):
Fitz-Stinkards on the father's side because mules are the offspring of asses.

πατρόθεν πορδηκίδαι (mss πορδικάδαι) ὅτι πατέρων ὄνων εἰσὶν ἡμίονοι.
Cf. Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, I, 16 (tr. J.M. Cohen):
It was no more possible to draw a word from him than a fart from a dead donkey.

Greek words for tambourine:

On bearded philosophers, see Pliny, Letters 1.10.6 (on the philosopher Euphrates, tr. Betty Radice):
He is moreover tall and distinguished to look at, with long hair and a flowing white beard, and though these may sound like natural advantages of no real importance, they help to make him widely respected.

Ad hoc proceritas corporis, decora facies, demissus capillus, ingens et cana barba; quae licet fortuita et inania putentur, illi tamen plurimum venerationis acquirunt.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Domitian and 666

Revelation 13.18:
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.

Ὧδε ἡ σοφία ἐστίν· ὁ ἔχων νοῦν ψηφισάτω τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ θηρίου, ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν· καὶ ὁ ἀριθμὸς αὐτοῦ ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ.
The usual suspect is the Roman emperor Nero. But from David E. Aune's excellent commentary on Revelation (vol. 2, p. 771), I learned about another candidate, the Roman emperor Domitian. Ethelbert Stauffer made the identification in an article unavailable to me, "666," Coniectanea Neotestamentica 11 (1947) 237-244.

Stauffer apparently reasoned as follows:

1. If you combine Domitian's name with his Greek titles, you get:
ΑΥΤΟΚΑΤΩΡ (Autokrator)
ΚΑΙΣΑΡ (Kaisar)
ΔΟΜΕΤΙΑΝΟΣ (Dometianos)
ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΣ (Sebastos)
ΓΕΡΜΑΝΙΚΟΣ (Germanikos)
2. Abbreviations for these words found on ancient coins are:
3. Greek letters double as numbers, and the numerical equivalents of these abbreviations are:
Α = 1
ΚΑΙ = 20 + 1 + 10
ΔΟΜΕΤ = 4 + 70 + 40 + 5 + 300
ΣΕΒ = 200 + 5 + 2
ΓΕ = 3 + 5
4. These numbers (1 + 31 + 419 + 207 + 8) total 666.

An ingenious theory, if a little far-fetched. But I tried to find a single ancient coin with exactly this combination of abbreviations on it and was unable to do so. I searched Wildwinds, admittedly not a complete collection. I wonder if Stauffer was able to cite an actual coin.


Sharp Eyes

John Burroughs, Locusts and Wild Honey, chap. II (Sharp Eyes):
Nevertheless the habit of observation is the habit of clear and decisive gazing: not by a first casual glance, but by a steady, deliberate aim of the eye, are the rare and characteristic things discovered. You must look intently, and hold your eye firmly to the spot, to see more than do the rank and file of mankind.


Rotten Squash

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (Nov. 20, 1858):
Who are the religious? They who do not differ much from mankind generally, except that they are more conservative and timid and useless, but who in their conversation and correspondence talk about kindness of heavenly Father. Instead of going bravely about their business, trusting God ever, they do like him who says "Good sir" to the one he fears, or whistles to the dog that is rushing at him. And because they take his name in vain so often they presume that they are better than you. Oh, their religion is a rotten squash.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Laws and Courts

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (Oct. 12, 1858):
I have heard of judges, accidentally met at an evening party, discussing the efficacy of the laws and courts, and deciding that, with the aid of the jury system, "substantial justice was done." But taking those cases in which honest men refrain from going to law, together with those in which men, honest and dishonest, do go to law, I think that the law is really a "humbug," and a benefit principally to the lawyers .... The judges may discuss the question of the courts and law over their nuts and raisins, and mumble forth the decision that "substantial justice is done," but I must believe they mean that they do really get paid a "substantial" salary.


Good Advice

Horace, Epistles 1.4.12-14 (tr. John Conington):
Let hopes and sorrows, fears and angers be,
And think each day that dawns the last you'll see;
For so the hour that greets you unforeseen
Will bring with it enjoyment twice as keen.

Inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras,
omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum;
grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora.
See also:


Portrait of A Middle-Aged Loner

My mock personal ad reminded me of two modern American poems.

Charles Bukowski, Poem For My 43rd Birthday:
To end up alone
in a tomb of a room
without cigarettes
or wine--
just a lightbulb
and a potbelly,
and glad to have
the room.
Kenneth Rexroth, The Advantages of Learning:
I am a man with no ambitions
And few friends, wholly incapable
Of making a living, growing no
Younger, fugitive from some just doom.
Lonely, ill-clothed, what does it matter?
At midnight I make myself a jug
Of hot white wine and cardamon seeds.
In a torn grey robe and old beret,
I sit in the cold writing poems,
Drawing nudes on the crooked margins,
Copulating with sixteen year old
Nymphomaniacs of my imagination.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Some Effects of Wine

Euripides, Cyclops 168-174 (tr. David Kovacs):
The man who does not enjoy drinking is mad: in drink one can raise this to a stand, catch a handful of breast and look forward to stroking her boscage, there's dancing and forgetfulness of cares. Shall I not kiss such a drink and tell the bone-head Cyclops--and the eye in the middle of his head, too--to go hang?

ὡς ὅς γε πίνων μὴ γέγηθε μαίνεται:
ἵν' ἔστι τουτί τ' ὀρθὸν ἐξανιστάναι
μαστοῦ τε δραγμὸς καὶ παρεσκευασμένον
ψαῦσαι χεροῖν λειμῶνος ὀρχηστύς θ' ἅμα
κακῶν τε λῆστις. εἶτ' ἐγὼ κυνήσομαι
τοιόνδε πῶμα, τὴν Κύκλωπος ἀμαθίαν
κλαίειν κελεύων καὶ τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν μέσον;
Here are just a few of many parallels about the effects of wine described by Euripides in this passage.

1. Wine prompts love-making:2. Wine encourages dancing:3. Wine banishes cares:4. Wine drives out fear and instills courage:

Wednesday, August 16, 2006



Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, chapter 4:
General Booth of the Salvation Army came on board. I saw him walking backward in the dusk over the uneven wharf, his cloak blown upwards, tulip-fashion, over his grey head, while he beat a tambourine in the face of the singing, weeping, praying crowd who had come to see him off....I talked much with General Booth during that voyage. Like the young ass I was, I expressed my distaste at his appearance on Invercargill wharf. "Young feller," he replied, bending great brows at me, "if I thought I could win one more soul to the Lord by walking on my head and playing the tambourine with my toes, I'd -- I'd learn how."
The trouble, of course, is that such antics drive away just as many souls as they win.

As is natural for an antediluvian and curmudgeon, I cringe whenever I hear tambourines, guitars, bongo drums, and the like during Mass. All of these instruments have their place. Their place is just not in church.

But the tambourine, or something like it, actually has a very long pedigree in religious ceremonies. S.C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language (1910), and G.M. Edwards, An English-Greek Lexicon, (1914) don't have entries for tambourine. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon at the Perseus web site is out of commission, as it has been practically every time I've tried to access it lately. I thought τύμπανον (tympanon) would be a good ancient Greek equivalent of tambourine, but Richard Seaford, in his commentary on Euripides' Cyclops (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), line 65, points out that the tympanon is covered on both sides with hide, whereas the tambourine is covered only on one side. Seaford also states (on line 205):
τύμπανα (65n.), unlike κρόταλα [krotala = castanets], appear to be, at least in the 5th cent. BC, exclusively instruments of cult (Wegner, op. cit. 40n, 62-3, 64-5, 212-14). The two are associated in the cult of Dionysos and Kybele at h. hom. 14.3; Pi. fr. 70b.9-10 (cf. Hel. 1308-9; Sapph. fr. 44.25; Hdt. 2.60). And they are both played, in 5th-cent. vase painting, by satyrs and maenads dancing in the company of their god (Wegner 212-14, 228-9; particularly striking is ARV2 371.14 by the Brygos painter).
So the tympanon was not only used in ancient Greek religious ceremonies, but was apparently used nowhere else! Perhaps General Booth was on to something after all.

Wegner is M. Wegner, Das Musikleben der Griechen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1949), which is unavailable to me.



I was inspired to write this post by Dating tip: Quality dates quality (hat tip to Dennis Mangan). This is a parody, with each item in the list (except the last one) echoing one of the original items.

I am a very low-quality man. I know that sounds self-disparaging, but let's consider the facts:


Mr. Fiske

George Santayana, Persons and Places (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944), chapter X (The Latin School):
I was an unprofitable though not unappreciative pupil to Mr. Fiske, because I didn't learn my Greek properly. That was not his fault. If I could have had him for a private tutor I should have become a good Grecian; it would have added immensely to my life and to my philosophy. But I was only one of forty; I was expected to study dryly, mechanically, without the side-lights and the stimulus of non-verbal interest attached to the words .... I didn't study enough. I learned and remembered well what I could learn from Mr. Fiske without studying. He was an exceedingly nervous, shy man; evidently suffered at having to address any one, or having to find words in which to express his feelings. His whole body would become tense, he would stand almost on tiptoe, with two or three fingers in the side pocket of his trousers, and the other two or three moving outside, as if reaching for the next word. These extreme mannerisms occasioned no ridicule; the boys all knew that there was a clear mind and a goodwill behind them; and Mr. Fiske was universally liked and admired. This, although his language was as contorted as his gestures. He always seemed to be translating literally and laboriously from the Greek or the German. When he wished to fix in our minds the meaning of a Greek word he would say, for instance: "χαράδρα, a ravine, from which our word character, the deeply graven result of long-continued habit." Or "καταρρέω, to flow down, whence our word catarrh, copious down-flowings from the upper regions of the head." We didn't laugh, and we remembered.
Who was Mr. Fiske? According to the index of Persons and Places, he was George Alfred Fiske. But Santayana says he later became headmaster, and a history of Boston Latin School on the World Wide Web says:
Arthur Irving Fiske became Head Master in 1902. One of the ablest scholars in Massachusetts, he was loved and respected by his pupils.
Mr. Fiske's remark on χαράδρα (or Santayana's recollection of it) is a little misleading, because χαρακτήρ doesn't come from χαράδρα. Both have a common origin in χαράσσω, to cut into furrows, to furrow, scratch.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Philoxenus and Other Solitary Eaters

Chrysippus, quoted by Athenaeus 1.5e, on Philoxenus (tr. Charles Burton Gulick):
I remember a certain gourmand, who was so far lost to all feelings of shame before his companions, no matter what happened, that in the public baths he accustomed his hand to heat by plunging it into hot water, and gargled his throat with hot water that he might not shrink from hot food. For they used to say that he had actually won the cooks over to serving the dishes very hot, his object being to eat up everything alone [μόνος καταναλίσκῃ], since nobody else was able to follow his example.
See also Athenaeus 1.8e:
Yet the notion of eating alone [τὸ μονοφαγεῖν] was not unknown among the ancients. Antiphanes: "You eat alone [μονοφαγεῖς]! That's a wilful injury to me." Ameipsias: "To the devil with you, solitary eater [μονοφάγε] and housebreaker!"
For more on this subject see:


Cowboy Aptronyms

Roy Rogers was known as the King of the Cowboys, an apt designation because Roy is from French roi = king. Tex Ritter also had an aptronym, because like all cowboys he rode a horse, and Ritter is a German noun meaning rider or knight.


Seen and Unseen

Calvert Watkins, How To Kill a Dragon. Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), chapter 17, deals with Some Indo-European prayers: Cato's lustration of the fields. He calls expressions like visos invisosque (seen and unseen) from that lustration prayer Argument plus Negated Argument, and cites parallels from Umbrian, Vedic, and Hittite (pp. 208-209). A little closer to home is the phrase all things visible and invisible in the Credo of the Mass (Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.).

Sunday, August 13, 2006



Recent essays by Theodore Dalrymple:

Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River points out that in ancient times teachers often sat while their students stood. Try that in the modern college classroom! This is a particular application of the general rule that the superior sits and the inferior stands. See Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 2.2.1-10, where the governor of Crete and his father visited the philosopher Taurus. There was one seat, and Taurus asked the father to take it. The father replied that his son should sit by virtue of his rank. Taurus discussed the matter and concluded that in public the father should stand in deference to his son the magistrate, but in private the son should show respect for his father by giving him the seat.

Cf. President Lyndon Johnson and what someone called "his amazing predilection for conducting business while sitting on the toilet doing his business." His aides presumably stood at attention in the fog (or should I say the bog?) and took notes.

Language Log, C*m sancto spiritu:
Yes, another triumph of the iTunes automatic asterisking program: the innocent Latin preposition "cum" 'with' loses its "u" because of its dirty homograph .... This wonderful fact from Barbara Partee, who downloaded "Carmina Burana" from iTunes and was confronted with "Si puer c*m puellula."

Curculio has an amusing collection of Worst Classical Typos, including the first word of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and the last word of Horace's Ars Poetica.

Linguistic pet peeves:

Deogolwulf at the Joy of Curmudgeonry gives us "mehr Licht" with a post entitled A Little More Lichtenberg, containing a translation of Lichtenberg's Sudelbücher E170:
That one can convince one’s opponents with printed reasons, I have not believed since the year 1764. It is not for that purpose that I have taken up my pen, but rather merely to annoy them, and to give strength and courage to those on our side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.

Among the malapropisms in Dicken's Our Mutual Friend are "Alfred David" for "affidavit" and "diseased" for "deceased." I have actually seen "diseased" for "deceased" in a transcription of legal dictation, and examples can also be found in Google, e.g. from an obituary, "The diseased was an old and highly esteemed citizen of this county."

Saturday, August 12, 2006


White Lead

Reuters correspondent Mohammed Abbas, in a sad story entitled In Sudan, pale is beautiful but price is high, writes:
At the crowded Beauty Queen parlor in Sudan's capital Khartoum, beautician Selma Awa says she just cannot understand why so many of her clients want to get their skin lightened.

"One hundred percent of women who come here have it done," she said. "People think it's prettier to look white. In my opinion, dark is prettier. I don't know who they want to look like."

In many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia lighter-colored skin is considered prettier and paler women are believed to be wealthier, more educated and more desirable.

This attitude has led to a boom in the use of skin-lightening products in Sudan, a vast country torn by war where skin color also has political connotations.

Rasha Moussa, a maid, pulls some skin-whitening cream from her handbag. "I use it on my face to make my face shine. The Sudanese see the light color as better than dark. I think it's a complex that we have," she said.

"People judge you here by your color ... If they see me and someone else with lighter skin wearing the same clothes, they would say she is living a comfortable life and I'm a poor woman," she added.

Millions of women throughout Africa use creams and soaps containing chemicals, like hydroquinone, to lighten the color of their skin. But the creams can cause long-term damage.

Dermatologists say prolonged use of hydroquinone and mercury-based products, also found in some creams, destroys the skin's protective outer layer.

Eventually the skin starts to burn, itch or blister, becomes extremely sensitive to sunlight and then turns even blacker than before.

Prolonged use can damage the nerves or even lead to kidney failure or skin cancer and so prove fatal.

"It's a very bad problem here. It sometimes kills the patient ... It's bad, bad news," said a doctor at a Khartoum hospital. He said the number of women coming to the dermatology department with problems caused by skin-whitening treatments had grown to at least one in four of all dermatology patients.
In earlier posts on umbrellas and pallor, I pointed out that in ancient Greece, a man was supposed to look sun-burned, a woman pale. Not content with cultivating a pale complexion by staying indoors, some women artificially whitened their skin by means of cosmetics made of white lead, known in Greek as ψιμύθιον (psimythion), in Latin as cerussa. English ceruse is derived from Latin cerussa. I used to think English bismuth was derived from Greek psimythion, but apparently it isn't.

We see the use of white lead in a passage from Xenophon's Oeconomicus (10.2, tr. E.C. Marchant):
Thereupon Ischomachus took up his parable. "Well, one day, Socrates, I noticed that her face was made up: she had rubbed in white lead in order to look even whiter than she is, and alkanet juice to heighten the rosy colour of her cheeks; and she was wearing boots with thick soles to increase her height."
In Lysias' speech On the Murder of Eratosthenes, the defendant Euphiletus says he began to suspect that his wife was unfaithful when she started using white lead on her face (14, 17, tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
I asked her why the doors made a noise in the night; she told me that the child's lamp had gone out, and she had lit it again at our neighbour's. I was silent and believed it was so. But it struck me, sirs, that she had powdered her face [ἐψιμυθιῶσθαι], though her brother had died not thirty days before; even so, however, I made no remark on the fact, but left the house in silence.

All that had happened came into my mind, and I was filled with suspicion, -- reflecting first how I was shut up in my chamber, and then remembering how on that night the inner and outer doors made a noise, which had never occurred before, and how it struck me that my wife had put on powder.
Two fragments of Greek comedy preserved in book 13 of Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae (tr. C.B. Gulick) indicate that the use of white lead and other cosmetics was frowned upon by the censorious:
Now our married women are not like those described by Eubulus in The Wreath-Sellers: "They are not, Zeus knows, plastered over with layers of white lead, and they have not, like you, their jowls smeared with mulberry juice. And if you go out on a summer's day, two rills of inky water flow from your eyes, and the sweat rolling from your cheeks upon your throat makes a vermilion furrow, while the hairs blown about on your faces look grey, they are so full of white lead."

Alexis, in the play entitled Fair Measure, sets forth the elaborate devices of the prostitutes and the artful tricks by which they care for their bodies in these words...."Another woman has eyebrows too light: they paint them with lamp-black. Still another, as it happens, is too dark: she plasters herself over with white lead. One has a complexion too white: she rubs on rouge."
See also Plautus, Mostellaria 258-264 (tr. E.L. Bassett and L.W. Jarcho, rev. Charles T. Murphy), where the courtesan Philematium wants to put on makeup, but is dissuaded by her maid Scapha. Philematium's lover Philolaches is hiding and watching.
PHILETAMIUM: Bring me the powder.
SCAPHA. Powder? What for?
PHILETAMIUM: Why, to put on my cheeks.
SCAPHA. You might as well try to bleach ivory with shoe-polish!
PHILOLACHES (aside): Chalk one up for you, Scapha. Ivory and shoe-polish -- darn good.
PHILETAMIUM: Well, let's have the rouge.
SCAPHA: I will not. You're too smart -- gilding the lily, eh? A young thing like you doesn't need a jot of rouge, lipstick, mascara, or any other war-paint.

PHILEM. cedo cerussam. SC. quid cerussa opust nám? PHILEM. qui malas oblinam.
SC. una operá | ebur atramento candefacere postules.
PHILOL. lepide dictum de atramento atque ebore. eugae! plaudo Scaphae.
PHILEM. tum tu igitur cedo purpurissum. SC. non do. scita es tu quidem.
nova pictura interpolare vis opus lepidissimum?
non istanc aetatem oportet pigmentum ullum attingere,
neque cerussam neque Melinum neque aliam ullam offuciam.
That quintessential grumpy old man, Saint Jerome, fulminates against the use of white lead and other worldly adornments in the following passages from his Letters (tr. W.H. Freemantle).

The women who ought to scandalize Christians are those who paint their eyes and lips with rouge and cosmetics; whose chalked faces, unnaturally white, are like those of idols; upon whose cheeks every chance tear leaves a furrow; who fail to realize that years make them old; who heap their heads with hair not their own; who smooth their faces, and rub out the wrinkles of age; and who, in the presence of their grandsons, behave like trembling school-girls. A Christian woman should blush to do violence to nature, or to stimulate desire by bestowing care upon the flesh. "They that are in the flesh," the apostle tells us, "cannot please God."

illae Christianos oculos potius scandalizent, quae purpurisso et quibusdam fucis ora oculosque depingunt, quarum facies gypseae et nimio candore deformes idola mentiuntur, quibus si forte inprovidens lacrimarum stilla eruperit, sulco defluit, quas nec numerus annorum potest docere, quod vetulae sunt, quae capillis alienis verticem instruunt et praeteritam iuventutem in rugis anilibus poliunt, quae denique ante nepotum gregem trementes virgunculae conponuntur. erubescat mulier Christiana, si naturae cogit decorem, si carnis curam facit ad concupiscentiam, in qua qui sunt, secundum apostolum Christo placere non possunt.
In the gospel a harlot wins salvation. How? She is baptized in her tears and wipes the Lord's feet with that same hair with which she had before deceived many. She does not wear a waving headdress or creaking boots, she does not darken her eyes with antimony. Yet in her squalor she is lovelier than ever. What place have rouge and white lead on the face of a Christian woman? The one simulates the natural red of the cheeks and of the lips; the other the whiteness of the face and of the neck. They serve only to inflame young men's passions, to stimulate lust, and to indicate an unchaste mind.

meretrix illa in evangelio baptizata lacrimis suis et crine, quo multos ante deceperat, pedes domini tergente servata est. non habuit crispantes mitras nec stridentes calceolos nec orbes stibio fulginatos, quanto foedior, tanto pulchrior. quid facit in facie Christianae purpurissus et cerussa? quorum alterum ruborem genarum labiorumque mentitur, alterum candorem oris et colli: ignes iuvenum, fomenta libidinum, inpudica mentis indicia.
Let her very dress and garb remind her to Whom she is promised. Do not pierce her ears or paint her face consecrated to Christ with white lead or rouge. Do not hang gold or pearls about her neck or load her head with jewels, or by reddening her hair make it suggest the fires of gehenna.

ipse habitus et vestitus doceat eam, cui promissa sit. cave, ne aures perfores, ne cerussa et purpurisso consecrata Christo ora depingas, ne collum margaritis et auro premas, ne caput gemmis oneres, ne capillum inrufes et ei aliquid de gehennae ignibus auspiceris.
In one way, I agree with Saint Jerome. I wish women would not wear makeup. But in another way I disagree with him. He seems to think that women are more alluring and enticing and dangerously attractive with makeup. So far as I am concerned, the natural look is more alluring and enticing and attractive. Makeup, jewelry, tattoos, painted nails, etc. all turn me off.

Friday, August 11, 2006



My friend Jim K. sent me a couple of paragraphs from Alain De Botton, Status Anxiety (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), p. 75:
The word "snobbery" came into use for the first time in England during the 1820s. It was said to have derived from the habit of many Oxford and Cambridge colleges of writing sine nobilitate (without nobility), or "s.nob," next to the names of ordinary students on examination lists in order to distinguish them from their aristocratic peers.

In the word's earliest days, a snob was taken to mean someone without high status, but it quickly assumed its modern and almost diametrically opposed meaning: someone offended by a lack of high status in others, a person who believes in a flawless equation between social rank and human worth. In his Book of Snobs (1848), a pioneering essay on the subject, William Thackeray observed that over the previous twenty-five years, snobs had "spread over England like the railroads. They are now known and recognized throughout an Empire on which the sun never sets".
The derivation from "sine nobilitate" smells like a folk etymology to me. Ernest Weekley, The Romance of Words (1911), chapter XIII (Etymological Fact and Fiction) gives a good rule of thumb:
An etymology that has anything to do with a person or an anecdote is to be regarded with suspicion. For both we want contemporary evidence, and, in the case of an anecdote, we never, to the best of my knowledge, get it.
Here, contemporary evidence would be the survival of an examination list from the 1820s with the notation "s.nob." next to the names of ordinary students. The word snob occurs before 1820. See the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. snob:
1781, "a shoemaker, a shoemaker's apprentice," of unknown origin. It came to be used in Cambridge University slang c.1796 for "townsman, local merchant," and by 1831 it was being used for "person of the ordinary or lower classes." Meaning "person who vulgarly apes his social superiors" arose 1843, popularized 1848 by William Thackeray's "Book of Snobs." The meaning later broadened to include those who insist on their gentility, in addition to those who merely aspire to it, and by 1911 had its main modern sense of "one who despises those considered inferior in rank, attainment, or taste."
But De Botton is correct in his observation that the word snob, viewed historically, is an auto-antonym, a word with opposite meanings. At one point snob meant a "person of the ordinary or lower classes," but now it means "one who despises those considered inferior in rank, attainment, or taste," with the implication that the snob is or considers himself to be a member of the privileged class.

Books about snobs that I haven't read but would like to are:Jasper Griffin is a well-known classical scholar.

Here are some earlier posts on auto-antonyms:

Thursday, August 10, 2006


There Is One

Yes, there is one who makes us all lay down
Our mushroom vanities, our speculations,
Our well-set theories and calculations,
Our workman's jacket or our monarch's crown!
To him alike the country and the town,
Barbaric hordes or civilized nations,
Men of all names and ranks and occupations,
Squire, parson, lawyer, Jones, or Smith, or Brown!
He stops the carter: the uplifted whip
Falls dreamily among the horses' straw;
He stops the helmsman, and the gallant ship
Holdeth to westward by another law;
No one will see him, no one ever saw,
But he sees all and lets not any slip.

George MacDonald (1824-1905), Death


Better Unspoken

From Deputy James Mee's report of the arrest of Mel Gibson for drunk driving:
Gibson blurted out a barrage of anti-Semitic remarks about "F***g Jews." Gibson yelled out, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked, "Are you a Jew?"
Homer, Odyssey 14.462-466 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Hear me now, Eumaios and all you other companions.
What I say will be a bit of boasting. The mad wine tells me
to do it. Wine sets even a thoughtful man to singing,
or sets him into softly laughing, sets him to dancing.
Sometimes it tosses out a word that was better unspoken.

κέκλυθι νῦν, Εὔμαιε καὶ ἄλλοι πάντες ἑταῖροι,
εὐξάμενός τι ἔπος ἐρέω· οἶνος γὰρ ἀνώγει
ἠλεός, ὅς τ᾽ ἐφέηκε πολύφρονά περ μάλ᾽ ἀεῖσαι
καί θ᾽ ἁπαλὸν γελάσαι, καί τ᾽ ὀρχήσασθαι ἀνῆκε,
καί τι ἔπος προέηκεν ὅ περ τ᾽ ἄρρητον ἄμεινον.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal (November 11, 1842):
Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.


The Party Line

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal (June 20, 1831):
A sect or party is an elegant incognito designed to save a man from the vexation of thinking.


Philanthropy and Misanthropy

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal (March 1846):
I like man, but not men.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Renaming the Passive Voice

The blog languagehat is sponsoring a contest to rename the unjustly maligned passive voice. With tongue in cheek I suggest the pathic voice, because Greek παθικός (pathikós) is the equivalent of Latin passivus. English pathic means "passive, suffering" as an adjective and "the passive partner in a homosexual act" as a noun. Another grammatical term with a double meaning is the verb conjugate, meaning not only "to inflect a verb" but also "to have sexual relations."

Monday, August 07, 2006


Nouns of Agency

A recent post by Maverick Philosopher William Vallicella on altered photographs is entitled A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words? Caveat Videtor! The noun videtor does not occur in Latin. Bill evidently wants videtor to be a noun derived from the verb video and meaning viewer, so that caveat videtor would mean let the viewer beware. A better Latin equivalent for viewer might be spectator. From the standpoint of morphology, videtor could also be 3rd person singular future passive imperative of video, but I don't know if there are any actual examples of this in ancient Latin either. Don't trust Google -- many of its examples of videtor are actually mistakes for videtur.

Why doesn't the noun videtor occur in Latin? We have laudator from laudo, laudare; auditor from audio, audire; etc. In English we call these nouns of agency -- see Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar § 236. In Latin we call them nomina agentis. Are there any nomina agentis ending in -etor derived from second conjugation verbs? If not, why not? From moneo there is monitor, but not monetor. I don't have the reference works needed to answer these questions. Maybe a real grammarian could answer them. Calling Bestiaria Latina, Campus Mawrtius, Curculio, Sauvage Noble, other bloggers, and all you classical scholars who should have blogs but don't -- help!

Stephen C. Carlson:
I agree that "spectator" is better Latin--certainly better than "videtor." If one searches the English definitions of Lewis and Short, one finds that "inspector" is glossed as "viewer," but that is a late usage.

If one wants a term derived from "video," I suppose that would be "visor." Unfortunately, the L&S entry for the term is "a scout, only in a gloss ap. Tac. A. 16, 2; omitted by Draeg. and Halm."
David Carruth:
These nomina agentis, as you call them, are derived from the fourth principle part (the supine stem). Hence from moneo, monere, monui, monitus, we make monitor - monit- + -or. The default form from video would be - you guessed it - visor (from vis-, the supine stem), which does exist as a word in English, obviously, though I've never seen it used in Latin. Consider raptor, laudator, dictator (from dicto (1)), actor, and others. (I do agree that spectator is the best choice.)

Also, I have a contribution for your list of asyndetic, privative adjectives. Unfortunately, it's not a classical reference.. but maybe you'll enjoy it all the same.

"Consciousness of place came ebbing back to him slowly over a vast tract of time unlit, unfelt, unlived." Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin, 1964: 141.
Michael Salter:
Nouns of agency, to the best of my knowledge, are generally formed simply by replacing the -um ending of the supine with an -or ending, so you'd be looking for verbs with supines in -etum, such as deleo and (de-)cerno. I seem to remembering seeing a noun "deletor" occasionally in CL, but when I googled it the examples seemed to come mainly from Medieval/Ecclesiastical Latin. Ditto for "decretor", which was the other possibility that came to mind. For your friend, I'd suggest "caveant videntes" as being more CL in style...
Angelo Mercado:
A brief reply to Laudator Temporis Acti on the formation of agent nouns in Latin: †videtor is not possible, for -tōr- m. is essentially suffixed to the perfect passive participle stem, formed the same way as the supine (Leumann § 319), so *vīsor (unattested, historically *vid-t-). Compare victor but not †vincitor. So also monitor, †monetor.
Laura Gibbs contributes a list of Latin nouns of agency ending in -or but not -tor, too long to quote here but well worth reading.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Polly Beeious, Commodious, and Vittle-us

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, Book 1, Chapter 5 (Boffin's Bower):
'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter of the first wollume of the Decline and Fall off--' here he looked hard at the book, and stopped.

'What's the matter, Wegg?'

'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with an air of insinuating frankness (having first again looked hard at the book), 'that you made a little mistake this morning, which I had meant to set you right in, only something put it out of my head. I think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?'

'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'

'No, sir. Roman. Roman.'

'What's the difference, Wegg?'

'The difference, sir?' Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of breaking down, when a bright thought flashed upon him. 'The difference, sir? There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin. Suffice it to observe, that the difference is best postponed to some other occasion when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her company. In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it.'

Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a chivalrous air, and not only that, but by dint of repeating with a manly delicacy, 'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it!' turned the disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had committed himself in a very painful manner.

Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task; going straight across country at everything that came before him; taking all the hard words, biographical and geographical; getting rather shaken by Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at Polybius (pronounced Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be responsible for that necessity of dropping it); heavily unseated by Titus Antoninus Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with Augustus; finally, getting over the ground well with Commodus: who, under the appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr Boffin to have been quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up to his name' in his government of the Roman people. With the death of this personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long before which consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's candle behind her black velvet disc, would have been very alarming, but for being regularly accompanied by a potent smell of burnt pens when her feathers took fire, which acted as a restorative and woke her. Mr Wegg, having read on by rote and attached as few ideas as possible to the text, came out of the encounter fresh; but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his unfinished pipe, and had ever since sat intently staring with his eyes and mind at the confounding enormities of the Romans, was so severely punished that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night, and articulate 'Tomorrow.'

'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after letting Wegg out at the gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights in that wild-beast-show, seven hundred and thirty-five times, in one character only! As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred lions is turned into the same wild-beast-show all at once! As if that wasn't stunning enough, Commodious, in another character, kills 'em all off in a hundred goes! As if that wasn't stunning enough, Vittle-us (and well named too) eats six millions' worth, English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy, but upon-my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers. And even now that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering ourselves.' Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards the Bower and shook his head, 'I didn't think this morning there was half so many Scarers in Print. But I'm in for it now!'


The Web Is Too Much With Us

Austin Dobson, A Pleasant Invective Against Printing:
"Flee fro the PREES, and dwelle with sothfastnesse."--CHAUCER, Balade de Bon Conseil.

The Press is too much with us, small and great:
We are undone of chatter and on dit,
Report, retort, rejoinder, repartee,
Mole-hill and mare's nest, fiction up-to-date,
Babble of booklets, bicker of debate,
Aspect of A., and attitude of B.--
A waste of words that drive us like a sea,
Mere derelict of Ourselves, and helpless freight!

"O for a lodge in some vast wilderness!"
Some region unapproachable of Print,
Where never cablegram could gain access,
And telephones were not, nor any hint
Of tidings new or old, but Man might pipe
His soul to Nature,--careless of the Type!
The first line of the octet echoes the first line of William Wordworth's sonnet:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—-Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
The first line of the sestet is a quotation from the beginning of William Cowper's The Task, book 2, which starts thus:
Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,
My soul is sick with every day's report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.

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