Saturday, December 30, 2006


Laughing Waters

Mary Eastman, Dahcotah: Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling (1849):
The scenery about Fort Snelling is rich in beauty. The falls of St. Anthony are familiar to travellers, and to readers of Indian sketches. Between the fort and these falls are the "Little Falls," forty feet in height, on a stream that empties into the Mississippi. The Indians called them Mine-hah-hah, or "laughing waters."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha (1855) repeats this folk etymology several times, e.g.
  Only once his pace he slackened,
Only once he paused or halted,
Paused to purchase heads of arrows
Of the ancient Arrow-maker,
In the land of the Dacotahs,
Where the Falls of Minnehaha
Flash and gleam among the oak-trees,
Laugh and leap into the valley.
  There the ancient Arrow-maker
Made his arrow-heads of sandstone,
Arrow-heads of chalcedony,
Arrow-heads of flint and jasper,
Smoothed and sharpened at the edges,
Hard and polished, keen and costly.
  With him dwelt his dark-eyed daughter,
Wayward as the Minnehaha,
With her moods of shade and sunshine,
Eyes that smiled and frowned alternate,
Feet as rapid as the river,
Tresses flowing like the water,
And as musical a laughter;
And he named her from the river,
From the water-fall he named her,
Minnehaha, Laughing Water.
Even today the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, on its web page for Minnehaha Park, claims that Minnehaha means "laughing waters."

The etymology is half correct: mni does mean water, but haha means falls or rapids, not laughing.

There are a few passages from ancient literature that refer to laughing waters. The first is Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 88-91 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
O thou bright sky of heaven, ye swift-winged breezes, ye river-waters, and multitudinous laughter of the waves of ocean, O universal mother Earth, and thou, all-seeing orb of the sun, to you I call!

ὦ δῖος αἰθὴρ καὶ ταχύπτεροι πνοαί,
ποταμῶν τε πηγαί, ποντίων τε κυμάτων
ἀνήριθμον γέλασμα, παμμῆτόρ τε γῆ,
καὶ τὸν πανόπτην κύκλον ἡλίου καλῶ.
Catullus refers to laughing waters twice, first at 31.12-14 (tr. F.W. Cornish):
Welcome, lovely Sirmio, and rejoice in your master, and rejoice ye too, waters of the Lydian lake, and laugh out aloud all the laughter you have in your home.

salve, o venusta Sirmio, atque ero gaude
gaudete vosque, o Lydiae lacus undae,
ridete quidquid est domi cachinnorum.
and also at 64.272-273 (tr. F.W. Cornish):
The waters slowly at first, driven by gentle breeze, step on and lightly sound with plash of laughter.

quae tarde primum clementi flamine pulsae
procedunt leviterque sonant plangore cachinni.


Caesar, Cicero, and Horace

Chilson D. Aldrich, The Real Log Cabin (1928), chap. 1:
In my extremely brief and unsatisfactory study of Latin -- because the high school course required it -- there was only one person who seemed to me to have a few regular human feelings. Why in thunder Julius Caesar should want to fight all the time -- and why in double thunder he should want to write about his wars, and why in triple thunder anybody should want to read about them, even if written in English, passed my comprehension. My private opinion of Cicero was that he was a conceited old bore who talked entirely too much in public about people he did not like. But the fellow who came on after him. I could understand the gentleman by the name of Quintus Horatius Flaccus even though he considered himself a poet.

Signor Flaccus -- or to get right down to chumminess at once, Friend Horace -- sounded to me a lot like a Boy Scout. He believed in the out-of-door life. Already -- in the early thirties B.C. he was longing for a return of the good old times when a man was not harassed by the shackles of civilization. (Which meant to me that he did not have to wear a tie and could spread a whole piece of bread at once if he liked.)

Translation was easy. Not that I knew Latin, but I knew Friend Horace. I could tell exactly what he was going to say. Not only did I render his feelings in my mother tongue with great gusto, but I interpolated a few sentiments of my own. These a narrow-minded professor repudiated for the inadequate reason that they did not appear in the original. Anyway, I made Quint Flaccus a regular fellow. Yet in my heart he created a poignant yearning. With a vast envy I envied him. Not his literary triumphs -- Heavens, no! Though two thousand years have established pretty definitely the fact that he wielded no mean stylus in satire and also that he watched his feet pretty carefully in meter.

It is when I read of that plutocrat Maecenas placing him "above the anxieties of a literary life" and presenting him casually -- offhand -- just like that -- with a Sabine farm because he talked so much about wanting one, that even now I rise to a point of disorder in my envy of him. The good old custom of presenting farms to people who are tired of city life ought never to have been allowed to fall into disrepute. Time came -- and very shortly -- when I could not have told you a word that Horace wrote, but I never forgot Maecenas and that farm.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Epistolary Truce of God

Hector Hugh Munro (Saki), 'Down Pens':
'I'm going to write to the editor of every enlightened and influential newspaper in the Kingdom. I'm going to suggest that there should be a sort of epistolary Truce of God during the festivities of Christmas and New Year. From the twenty-fourth of December to the third or fourth of January it shall be considered an offence against good sense and good feeling to write or expect any letter or communication that does not deal with the necessary events of the moment. Answers to invitations, arrangements about trains, renewal of club subscriptions, and, of course, all the ordinary everyday affairs of business, sickness, engaging new cooks, and so forth, these will be dealt with in the usual manner as something inevitable, a legitimate part of our daily life. But all the devastating accretions of correspondence, incident to the festive season, these should be swept away to give the season a chance of being really festive, a time of untroubled, unpunctuated peace and good will.'

'But you would have to make some acknowledgment of presents received,' objected Janetta; 'otherwise people would never know whether they had arrived safely.'

'Of course, I have thought of that,' said Egbert; 'every present that was sent off would be accompanied by a ticket bearing the date of dispatch and the signature of the sender, and some conventional hieroglyphic to show that it was intended to be a Christmas or New Year gift; there would be a counterfoil with space for the recipient's name and the date of arrival, and all you would have to do would be to sign and date the counterfoil, add a conventional hieroglyphic indicating heartfelt thanks and gratified surprise, put the thing into an envelope and post it.'

'It sounds delightfully simple,' said Janetta wistfully, 'but people would consider it too cut-and-dried, too perfunctory.'

'It is not a bit more perfunctory than the present system,' said Egbert; 'I have only the same conventional language of gratitude at my disposal with which to thank dear old Colonel Chuttle for his perfectly delicious Stilton, which we shall devour to the last morsel, and the Froplinsons for their calendar, which we shall never look at. Colonel Chuttle knows that we are grateful for the Stilton, without having to be told so, and the Froplinsons know that we are bored with their calendar, whatever we may say to the contrary, just as we know that they are bored with the bridge-markers in spite of their written assurance that they thanked us for our charming little gift. What is more, the Colonel knows that even if we had taken a sudden aversion to Stilton or been forbidden it by the doctor, we should still have written a letter of hearty thanks around it. So you see the present system of acknowledgment is just as perfunctory and conventional as the counterfoil business would be, only ten times more tiresome and brain-racking.'

'Your plan would certainly bring the ideal of a Happy Christmas a step nearer realisation,' said Janetta.
Note the asyndetic privative adjectives: "untroubled, unpunctuated."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Cleon the Tanner

Aristophanes' Knights is a thinly disguised attack on the Athenian demagogue Cleon, who appears in the play as Paphlagon, a slave from Paphlagonia.

Aristophanes calls Cleon βορβοροτάραξις (Knights 309), which means dung-stirrer, from βόρβορος (dung, filth) and ταράσσω (stir up). For similar scatological insults directed against Cleon, see Jeffery Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Greek Comedy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 192-193, ## 414 and 417.

Cleon was a leather tanner (βυρσοδέψης, Knights 44). I'm unable to consult a commentary on Aristophanes' Knights, and I don't have access to R.J. Forbes' Studies in Ancient Technology. But in some times and places, dung has been used as an ingredient to tan leather.

See the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. pure B.5, as a noun meaning "dogs' dung or other substance used as an alkaline dye for steeping hides." Among other sources the OED quotes Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1851). I located on the Internet an extended passage from Mayhew (vol. 2, pp. 142-143) on this topic:
Dogs'–dung is called 'pure' from its cleansing and purifying properties.

The name of 'pure finders' however has been applied to the men engaged in collecting dogs'-dung from the public streets only within the last twenty or thirty years. Previous to this period there appears to have been no men engaged in the business, old women alone gathered the substance, and they were known by the name of 'bunters,' which signifies properly the gatherers of rags; and thus plainly intimates that the rag gatherers originally added the collecting of 'pure' to their original and proper vocation. Hence it appears that the bone grubbers, rag gatherers and pure finders, constituted formerly but one class of people, and even now they have, as I have stated, kindred characteristics.

The pure finders meet with a ready market for all the dogs'-dung they are able to collect, at the numerous tanyards in Bermondsey, where they sell it by the stable bucket full, and get from 8d. to 10d. per bucket, and sometimes from 1s. to 1s.2d. for it, according to its quality. The 'dry limy–looking sort' fetches the highest price at some yards as it is found to possess more of the alkaline or purifying properties; but others are found to prefer the dark moist quality. Strange as it may appear, the preference for a particular kind has suggested to the finders of Pure the idea of adulterating it to a very considerable extent; this is effected by means of mortar broken away from old walls, and mixed up with the whole mass, which it closely resembles; in some cases however the mortar is rolled into small balls similar to those found. Hence it would appear, that there is no business or trade, however insignificant or contemptible, without its own peculiar and appropriate tricks.

The pure-finders are in their habits and mode of proceeding nearly similar to the bone-grubbers. Many of the pure-finders are however, in better circumstances, the men especially, as they earn more money. They are also to a certain extent, a better educated class. Some of the regular collectors of the substance have been mechanics and other small tradesmen, who have been reduced. Those pure-finders who have 'a good connection' and have been granted permission to cleanse some kennels, obtain a very fair living at the business, earning from 10s. to 15s. a week. These however are very few; the majority have to seek the article in the streets, and by such means they can obtain only from 6s. to 10s. a week. The average weekly earnings of this class are thought to be about 7s. 6d.

From all the enquiries I have made on this subject, I have found that there cannot be less than 200 to 300 persons constantly engaged solely in this business. There are about 30 tanyards large and small in Bermondsey, and these all have their regular pure collectors from whom they obtain the article. Leomont and Roberts's, Bavingtons', Beech's, Murrell's, Cheeseman's, Powell's, Jones's, Jourdans', Kent's, Moorcroft's, and Davis's, are among the largest establishments, and some idea of the amount of business done in some of these yards may be formed from the fact, that the proprietors severally employ from 300 to 500 tanners. At Messrs Leomont and Roberts there are 23 regular street finders who supply them with pure; moreover, Messrs. Leomont and Roberts do more business in the branch of tanning in which the article is principally used, viz., in dressing the leather for book-covers, kid-gloves, and a variety of articles. Besides these, it may be said that the numbers of the starving and destitute Irish have taken to picking up the material, but not knowing where to sell it, or how to dispose of it, they part with it for 2d. or 3d. a pail full to regular purveyors of it to the tanyards who of course make a considerable profit by the transaction. The children of the poor Irish are usually employed in this manner, but they also pick up rags and bones, and anything else which may fall in their way.

I have stated that some of the pure-finders, especially the men, earn a considerable sum of money per week; their gains sometimes as much as 15s.; indeed I am assured that seven years ago when they got from 3s. to 4s. per pail for the pure, that many of them would not exchange their position with that of the best paid mechanic in London. Now however the case is altered, for there are twenty now at the business for every one who followed it then; hence each collects so much less for the article. Some of the collectors at present do not earn 3s. a week, but these are mostly old women who are feeble and unable to get over the ground quickly; others make 5s. to 6s. in the course of the week, while the most active and those who clean the kennels of the dog fanciers may occasionally make 9s. and 10s. and even 15s. a week still, but this is a very rare occurrence. Allowing the finders, one with the other, to earn on an average 5s. per week, it would give the annual earnings of each to be 13l., while the income of the whole 200 would amount to 50l. a week, or 2600l. per annum. The kennel pure is not much valued, indeed many of the tanners will not even buy it, the reason is that the dogs of the 'fanciers' are fed on almost anything, to save expense; the kennel cleaners consequently take the precaution of mixing it with what is found in the street, previous to offering it for sale.

The pure-finder may at once be distinguished from the bone-grubber and rag-gatherer; the latter as I have before mentioned, carries a bag, and usually a stick armed with a spike, while he is most frequently to be met with in back streets, narrow lanes, yards, and other places, where dust and other rubbish are likely to be thrown out from the adjacent houses. The pure-finder, on the contrary is often found in the open streets as dogs wander where they like. The pure-finders always carry a handle basket, generally with a cover, to hide the contents, and have their right hand covered with a black leather glove; many of them however dispense with the glove, as they say it is much easier to wash their hands than to keep the glove fit for use. Thus equipped, they may be seen pursuing their avocation in almost every street in and about London, excepting such streets as are now cleansed by the 'street orderlies' of whom the pure-finders grievously complain as being an unwarrantable interference in the privileges of their class.

The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners, and more especially by those engaged in the manufacture of morocco and kid leather from the skins of old and young goats, of which skins great numbers are imported, and of the roans and lambskins which are the sham morocco and kids of the “slop” leather trade, and are used by the better class of shoemakers, bookbinders, and glovers, for the inferior requirements of their business. Pure is also used by tanners, as is pigeon‘s dung, for the tanning of the thinner kinds of leather, such as calf-skins, for which purpose it is placed in pits with an admixture of lime and bark.

In the manufacture of moroccos and roans the pure is rubbed by the hands of the workman into the skin he is dressing. This is done to 'purify' the leather, I was told by an intelligent leatherdresser, and from that term the word 'pure' has originated. The dung has astringent as well as highly alkaline, or, to use the expression of my informant, 'scouring,' qualities. When the pure has been rubbed into the flesh and grain of the skin (the 'flesh' being originally the interior, and the 'grain' the exterior part of the cuticle), and the skin, thus purified, has been hung up to be dried, the dung removes, as it were, all such moisture as, if allowed to remain, would tend to make the leather unsound or imperfectly dressed. This imperfect dressing, moreover, gives a disgreeable smell to the leather -- and leather-buyers often use both nose and tongue in making their purchases -- and would consequently prevent that agreeable odour being imparted to the skin which is found in some kinds of morocco and kid. The peculiar odour of the Russia leather, so agreeable in the libraries of the rich, is derived from the bark of young birch trees. It is now manufactured in Bermondsey.

Among the morocco manufacturers, especially among the old operatives, there is often a scarcity of employment, and they then dress a few roans, which they hawk to the cheap warehouses, or sell to the wholesale shoemakers on their own account. These men usually reside in small garrets in the poorer parts of Bermondsey, and carry on their trade in their own rooms, using and keeping the pure there; hence the 'homes' of these poor men are peculiarly uncomfortable, if not unhealthy. Some of these poor fellows or their wives collect the pure themselves, often starting at daylight for the purpose; they more frequently, however, buy it of a regular finder.

The number of pure-finders I heard estimated, by a man well acquainted with the tanning and other departments of the leather trade, at from 200 to 250. The finders, I was informed by the same person, collected about a pail-full a day, clearing 6s. a week in the summer -- 1s. and 1s. 2d. being the charge for a pail-full; in the short days of winter, however, and in bad weather, they could not collect five pail-fulls in a week.
To return to Aristophanes' Knights, Douglas M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 107, states:
Some of the invective against Kleon may be regarded as conventional, perhaps taken over from the tradition of abuse in iambic verse, and therefore not to be taken literally. This applies particularly to the first part of the contest, when Paphlagon and the Sausage-seller are slanging each other, and it applies above all to the obscenities.
MacDowell also (p. 81) doubts that Cleon "spent every day tanning leather with his hands."

But perhaps the obscenity at Knights 309 is to be taken literally. Did Aristophanes call Cleon a dung-stirrer because he actually stirred liquefied dung while tanning leather?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Twelve Days of Christmas

G.K. Chesterton, Utopia for Usurers:
To anyone who knows any history it is wholly needless to say that holidays have been destroyed. As Mr. Belloc, who knows much more history than you or I, recently pointed out in the "Pall Mall Magazine," Shakespeare's title of "Twelfth Night: or What You Will" simply meant that a winter carnival for everybody went on wildly till the twelfth night after Christmas. Those of my readers who work for modern offices or factories might ask their employers for twelve days' holidays after Christmas. And they might let me know the reply.

Monday, December 25, 2006


The New Dark Ages

The budgetary axe is falling on Sanskrit at Berlin and Cambridge, on Greek and Latin at Lund.

Lund's web site says:
Welcome to Lund University where a European cultural tradition going back hundreds of years lives side by side with dynamic developments in education and research for the benefit of society, today and tomorrow.
This should read:
Welcome to Lund University where a European cultural tradition going back hundreds of years is being jettisoned in favor of trendy developments in education and research to the detriment of society, today and tomorrow.


Lux in Tenebris Lucet

Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), Über die Geburt Jesu (On the Birth of Jesus, tr. Leonard Forster):

Night, brighter-than-bright night! night brighter than the day;
night brighter than the sun, in which that light is born
which God, who is light, dwelling in light, has chosen for himself:
O night, which can defy all nights and days!
O joyous night, in which wailing and lamenting
and darkness and everything that conspires with the world,
and dread and fear of hell and horror all were lost.
The sky breaks open, but no thunderbolt falls now.
He who made time and nights has come this night
and taken upon himself the law of time and flesh,
and has given our flesh and time to eternity.
The dismal night of sorrow, the black night of sin,
the darkness of the grave must vanish through this night.
Night, brighter than the day! Night, brighter-than-bright night!

Nacht, mehr denn lichte Nacht! Nacht, lichter als der Tag,
Nacht, heller als die Sonn', in der das Licht geboren,
Das Gott, der Licht, in Licht wohnhaftig, ihm erkoren:
O Nacht, die alle Nächt' und Tage trotzen mag!
O freudenreiche Nacht, in welcher Ach und Klag
Und Finsternis, und was sich auf die Welt verschworen,
Und Furcht und Höllenangst und Schrecken war verloren!
Der Himmel bricht, doch fällt nunmehr kein Donnerschlag.
Der Zeit und Nächte schuf, ist diese Nacht ankommen
Und hat das Recht der Zeit und Fleisch an sich genommen
Und unser Fleisch und Zeit der Ewigkeit vermacht.
Der Jammer trübe Nacht, die schwarze Nacht der Sünden,
Des Grabes Dunkelheit muß durch die Nacht verschwinden.
Nacht, lichter als der Tag! Nacht, mehr denn lichte Nacht!

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Home for the Holidays

Al Stillman, Home for the Holidays:
Oh! There's no place like home for the holidays,
'Cause no matter how far away you roam,
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home!
Mary Boykin Chesnut, Diary, August 29, 1861:
Peace, comfort, quiet, happiness, I have found away from home. Only your own family, those nearest and dearest, can hurt you. Wrangling, rows, heart-burnings, bitterness, envy, hatred, malice, unbrotherly love, family snarls, neighborhood strife and ill blood -- a lovely brood I have conjured up.


Then for hurting you, who is as likely as a relative? They do it from a sense of duty. For stinging you, for cutting you to the quick, who like one of your own household? In point of fact, they alone can do it. They know the sore, and how to hit it every time. You are in their power.

Saturday, December 23, 2006



Mary Boykin Chesnut, Diary, June 29, 1862:
A lady interrupted with a story of schoolboys. "Don't call yourself Jule. Give your whole name." "Julius." The next boy, whose name was Bill, called himself "Billious." Then came Tom -- "Thomas." Then Jack, who knew no other way to give himself a proper name than "Jackass."
March 24, 1864:
These Virginians, with their proud names! Miss Page Walker married Captain Lee Page the other day. Now she is Mrs. Page Page. Someone said she had turned over a new leaf, but she was still the same Page.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Caganer, Mistletoe, and Sancho Panza

Associated Press (Dec. 20, 2006):
The Virgin Mary. The three kings. A few wayward sheep. These are the figures one expects to find in a traditional Christmas nativity scene. Not a smartly dressed peasant squatting behind a rock with his rear-end exposed.

Yet statuettes of "El Caganer," or the great defecator in the Catalan language, can be found in nativity scenes, and increasingly on the mantelpieces of collectors, throughout Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, where for centuries symbols of defecation have played an important role in Christmas festivities.

During the holiday season, pastry shops around Catalonia sell sweets shaped like feces, and on Christmas Eve Catalan children beat a hollow log, called the tio, packed with holiday gifts, singing a song that urges it to defecate presents out the other end.

These traditions, in the case of the caganer dating back as far as the 17th century, come from an agricultural society where defecation was associated with fertility and health.

While the traditional caganer is a red-capped peasant, more modern renditions have gained popularity in recent years.
The Catalan noun caganer comes from the verb cagar (defecate), itself from Latin cacare, a word discussed on this blog before. There is a good Wikipedia article on El Caganer, which mentions equivalent figures in other cultures (Kakkers or Schijterkes in Dutch, Père la Colique in French, Choleramännchen or Hinterlader in German).

I am curious about the word for the sweets shaped like feces, and also about the lyrics of the song sung by Catalan children as they beat the tió, which is apparently similar to the piñata. The Gran Diccionari del la llengua catalana derives tió from Latin tĭtĭo (half-burned log) and defines it thus:
Tronc gros que per Nadal hom fingeix que, a força de bastonades de les criatures, arriba a cagar dolços i altres regals.
On a related note, Anatoly Liberman (the Oxford Etymologist) discusses the scatological etymology of mistletoe:
The element -toe meant "twig" and originally ended in -n (Old Engl. misteltan), which was probably taken for a marker of the plural and therefore shed. Mistel- may be connected with the Germanic word for "dung" (Modern German Mist has retained that meaning; the relatedness of Engl. mist to its German homonym needs some elaboration). The mistletoe is said to be disseminated by birds; allegedly, they eat the berries and disperse the undigested seeds in their droppings. If mist in mistel indeed refers to the plant's life cycle, then -el is an obscure suffix. The Latin for mistletoe is viscum. From viscum we have the adjective viscous, and, since birdlime is made from the glutinous substance found in the berries of the mistletoe (or from the inner bark of the holly!), the Latin noun meant both "mistletoe" and "birdlime." Hence the cynical Latin proverb "the thrush defecates its own destruction" (turdus sibi malum cacat). According to another suggestion, mistel is an ignorant alteration of viscum, but the old etymology seems to be more trustworthy.
To return to El Caganer, the defecating peasant reminds me of a funny passage in Cervantes' Don Quixote (tr. John Ormsby):
Just then, whether it was the cold of the morning that was now approaching, or that he had eaten something laxative at supper, or that it was only natural (as is most likely), Sancho felt a desire to do what no one could do for him; but so great was the fear that had penetrated his heart, he dared not separate himself from his master by as much as the black of his nail; to escape doing what he wanted was, however, also impossible; so what he did for peace's sake was to remove his right hand, which held the back of the saddle, and with it to untie gently and silently the running string which alone held up his breeches, so that on loosening it they at once fell down round his feet like fetters; he then raised his shirt as well as he could and bared his hind quarters, no slim ones. But, this accomplished, which he fancied was all he had to do to get out of this terrible strait and embarrassment, another still greater difficulty presented itself, for it seemed to him impossible to relieve himself without making some noise, and he ground his teeth and squeezed his shoulders together, holding his breath as much as he could; but in spite of his precautions he was unlucky enough after all to make a little noise, very different from that which was causing him so much fear.

Don Quixote, hearing it, said, "What noise is that, Sancho?"

"I don't know, senor," said he; "it must be something new, for adventures and misadventures never begin with a trifle." Once more he tried his luck, and succeeded so well, that without any further noise or disturbance he found himself relieved of the burden that had given him so much discomfort. But as Don Quixote's sense of smell was as acute as his hearing, and as Sancho was so closely linked with him that the fumes rose almost in a straight line, it could not be but that some should reach his nose, and as soon as they did he came to its relief by compressing it between his fingers, saying in a rather snuffing tone, "Sancho, it strikes me thou art in great fear."

"I am," answered Sancho; "but how does your worship perceive it now more than ever?"

"Because just now thou smellest stronger than ever, and not of ambergris," answered Don Quixote.

"Very likely," said Sancho, "but that's not my fault, but your worship's, for leading me about at unseasonable hours and at such unwonted paces."

"Then go back three or four, my friend," said Don Quixote, all the time with his fingers to his nose; "and for the future pay more attention to thy person and to what thou owest to mine; for it is my great familiarity with thee that has bred this contempt."

"I'll bet," replied Sancho, "that your worship thinks I have done something I ought not with my person."

"It makes it worse to stir it, friend Sancho," returned Don Quixote.
For more on fright as a cause of defecation, see The Smell of Fear.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Why Wage War?

Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus 14.2-7 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
It was this Cineas, then, who, seeing that Pyrrhus was eagerly preparing an expedition at this time to Italy, and finding him at leisure for the moment, drew him into the following discourse. "The Romans, O Pyrrhus, are said to be good fighters, and to be rulers of many warlike nations; if, then, Heaven should permit us to conquer these men, how should we use our victory?"

And Pyrrhus said: "Thy question, O Cineas, really needs no answer; the Romans once conquered, there is neither barbarian nor Greek city there which is a match for us, but we shall at once possess all Italy, the great size and richness and importance of which no man should know better than thyself." After a little pause, then, Cineas said: "And after taking Italy, O King, what are we to do?"

And Pyrrhus, not yet perceiving his intention, replied: "Sicily is near, and holds out her hands to us, an island abounding in wealth and men, and very easy to capture, for all is faction there, her cities have no government, and demagogues are rampant now that Agathocles is gone." "What thou sayest," replied Cineas, "is probably true; but will our expedition stop with the taking of Sicily?"

"Heaven grant us," said Pyrrhus, "victory and success so far; and we will make these contests but the preliminaries of great enterprises. For who could keep his hands off Libya, or Carthage, when that city got within his reach, a city which Agathocles, slipping stealthily out of Syracuse and crossing the sea with a few ships, narrowly missed taking? And when we have become masters here, no one of the enemies who now treat us with scorn will offer further resistance; there is no need of saying that."

"None whatever," said Cineas, "for it is plain that with so great a power we shall be able to recover Macedonia and rule Greece securely. But when we have got everything subject to us, what are we going to do?" Then Pyrrhus smiled upon him and said: "We shall be much at ease, and we'll drink bumpers, my good man, every day, and we'll gladden one another's hearts with confidential talks."

And now that Cineas had brought Pyrrhus to this point in the argument, he said: "Then what stands in our way now if we want to drink bumpers and while away the time with one another? Surely this privilege is ours already, and we have at hand, without taking any trouble, those things to which we hope to attain by bloodshed and great toils and perils, after doing much harm to others and suffering much ourselves."

Monday, December 18, 2006


A Favorite Topic of Conversation

La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 314:
The extreme pleasure that we take in talking of ourselves should make us afraid of giving little pleasure to our listeners.

L'extrême plaisir que nous prenons à parler de nous-mêmes nous doit faire craindre de n'en donner guère à ceux qui nous écoutent.


Apes in Gold and Silk and Purple

Lucian, The Ignorant Book Collector 4 (tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler):
An ape is still an ape, says the proverb, though his trappings be of gold.

πίθηκος γὰρ ὁ πίθηκος, ἡ παροιμία φησί, κἂν χρύσεα ἔχῃ σύμβολα.
Claudian, Against Eutropius 1.303-306 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
'Twas as though an ape, man's imitator, had been decked out in sport with precious silken garments by a boy who had left his back and quarters uncovered to amuse the guests at supper.

humani qualis simulator simius oris,
quem puer adridens pretioso stamine Serum
velavit nudasque nates ac terga reliquit,
ludibrium mensis.
Spanish proverb:
Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.

Although the monkey dresses in silk, she remains a monkey.
Erasmus, Praise of Folly 17:
According to the proverb of the Greeks, an ape is always an ape, even if it's dressed in purple.

iuxta Graecorum proverbium, simia semper est simia, etiam si purpura vestiatur.



Confucius, The Analects 8.12 (tr. D.C. Lau):
The Master said, 'It is not easy to find a man who can study for three years without thinking about earning a salary.'
The Master said, 'Men of antiquity studied to improve themselves; men today study to impress others.'

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Hence Loathèd Melancholy

Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465), Rondel (tr. A.S. Kline):
Off with you now, away, away,
Grief and Care and Melancholy!
Think you to take control of me
All my life, like yesterday?

I promise you, no, never, I say:
Reason shall have the mastery.
Off with you now, away, away,
Grief and Care and Melancholy!

If you ever come back this way
You and your whole company,
May God curse you, all you three,
And whatever brought you, I pray:
Off with you now, away, away,
Grief and Care and Melancholy!

Alez vous en, alez, alez,
Soussy, Soing et Merencolie,
Me cuidez vous toute ma vie
Gouverner, comme fait avez?

Je vous promet que non ferez,
Raison aura sur vous maistrie.
Alez vous en, alez, alez,
Soussy, Soing et Merencolie.

Se jamais plus vous retournez
Avecques vostre compaignie,
Je pri à Dieu qu'il vous maudie,
Et ce par qui vous revendrez.
Alez vous en, alez, alez,
Soussy, Soing et Merencolie.
Stevie Smith:
Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
Away melancholy.

The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Away, melancholy.

Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.

Man of all creatures
Is superlative
(Away melancholy)
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
(Away melancholy)
Into the stone, the god,
Pours what he knows of good
Calling good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.

Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying Can God,
Stone of man's thought, be good?

Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man's good, growing,
By man's called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.

Man aspires
To good,
To love

Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.

Away, melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.


Roman Numerals

Stevie Smith, Tenuous and Precarious:
Tenuous and Precarious
Were my guardians,
Precarious and Tenuous,
Two Romans.

My father was Hazardous,
Dear old man,
Three Romans.

There was my brother Spurious,
Spurious Posthumous,
Spurious was Spurious,
Was four Romans.

My husband was Perfidious,
He was Perfidious,
Five Romans.

Surreptitious, our son,
Was Surreptitious,
He was six Romans.

Our cat Tedious
Still lives,
Count not Tedious

My name is Finis,
Finis, Finis,
I am Finis,
Six, five, four, three, two,
One Roman,


Burning the Midnight Oil

Montaigne, Essays 1.39 (tr. Donald M. Frame):
This fellow, all dirty, with running nose and eyes, whom you see coming out of his study after midnight, do you think he is seeking among his books how to make himself a better, happier and wiser man? No such news. He is going to teach posterity the meter of Plautus' verses and the true spelling of a Latin word, or die in the attempt.

Saturday, December 16, 2006



At Pratie Place, Melinama writes about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Thomas Hardy wrote a series of poems entitled De Profundis (meaning "from the depths"). The first poem of the series unflinchingly describes deep sadness, and it is probably no accident that the first line of each stanza refers to some aspect of the winter season.

Thomas Hardy, De Profundis, I:
"Percussus sum sicut foenum, et aruit cor meum."
- Ps. ci

  Wintertime nighs;
But my bereavement-pain
It cannot bring again:
  Twice no one dies.

  Flower-petals flee;
But, since it once hath been,
No more that severing scene
  Can harrow me.

  Birds faint in dread:
I shall not lose old strength
In the lone frost's black length:
  Strength long since fled!

  Leaves freeze to dun;
But friends can not turn cold
This season as of old
  For him with none.

  Tempests may scath;
But love can not make smart
Again this year his heart
  Who no heart hath.

  Black is night's cope;
But death will not appal
One who, past doubtings all,
  Waits in unhope.


The Study of Latin

E.B. White, letter to Mitchell Uscher (Feb. 1974):
I studied Latin when I was in high school. I had a good time with it and have never regretted the experience.

A great many words in the letter you wrote to me had their roots in Latin -- a word like "curriculum," for example, or "relevance." And although the skilful writer of English prose tries to avoid words derived from Latin in favor of Anglo-Saxon words, there is, I believe, a great advantage in knowing Latin. It helps you find your way around in the English language, so that when you encounter a common word like "opera" you know you are dealing with the plural of "opus." Or when you come across the word "interpose," you can immediately dissect it: inter-, between + ponere, to put or place.

I recommend the study of Latin for today's students in today's world -- a world that closely resembles yesterday's world. You speak in your letter of modern education "tending toward career-oriented goals." In my day, fifty years ago, we did not tack the word "oriented" onto everything, but we were just as interested in a career, just as eager to reach our goal, as are the young students of today. Latin is good discipline, good reading, and the study of it makes good sense. When you know Latin, you know enough to say "guts" instead of "intestinal fortitude."

Friday, December 15, 2006



Jared Blohm , 7-'legged' deer killed near Waucousta , Fond du Lac Reporter (Dec. 14, 2006):
What has seven legs, male and female reproductive organs and nub antlers?

It sounds like a bad joke, but it's what Rick Lisko found in his driveway late last month.

Lisko hit the seven-legged nub buck while driving his truck through the woods along his mile-long driveway near Mud Lake, east of Waucousta in the Fond du Lac County town of Osceola on Nov. 22.

"It was definitely a freak of nature," Lisko said. "I guess it's a real rarity." Lisko had slowed down as a buck and two does ran across the driveway.

"All of a sudden we felt the truck stop," he said.

The small buck had run underneath his truck, Lisko said. When he got out to look at the deer he noticed three- to four-inch appendages growing from the rear legs and later found a smaller appendage growing from one of the front legs.

"It's a pretty weird deer. It kind of gives you the creeps when you look at it," said Lisko, who described the extra legs as looking like "crab pinchers."

The appendages were moving when he first saw them, Lisko said.

"They were actually functional," he said.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Warden Doug Bilgo came to Lisko's property to tag the deer.

"I have never seen anything like that in all the years that I've been working as a game warden and being a hunter myself," Bilgo said. "It wasn't anything grotesque or ugly or anything. It was just unusual that it would have those little appendages growing out like that."

Bilgo took pictures and sent the information to DNR wildlife managers. He thinks the anomaly is a birth defect.

John Hoffman has worked at Eden Meat Market — which processed over 1,000 deer this year — for over 40 years. He skinned the deer for Lisko.

"I see a lot of deer and I've never seen anything like that," he said. "It just was a rarity. It was something different that you never see."
It is probably just ignorance of ancient history that prevents Wisconsin and federal authorities from taking this prodigy with the seriousness and attention that it deserves. See William Ramsay, s.v. prodigium in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: John Murray, 1875):
PRODIGIUM in its widest acceptation denotes any sign by which the gods indicated to men a future event, whether good or evil, and thus includes omens and auguries of every description .... It is, however, generally employed in a more restricted sense to signify some strange incident or wonderful appearance which was supposed to herald the approach of misfortune, and happened under such circumstances as to announce that the calamity was impending over a whole community or nation rather than private individuals .... Since prodigies were viewed as direct manifestations of the wrath of heaven, and warnings of coming vengeance, it was believed that this wrath might be appeased, and consequently this vengeance averted, by prayers and sacrifices duly offered to the offended powers. This being a matter which deeply concerned the public welfare, the necessary rites were in ancient times regularly performed, under the direction of the pontifices, by the consuls before they left the city, the solemnities being called Procuratio prodigiorum .... [W]hen the prodigy was of a very terrible or unprecedented nature it was usual to seek counsel from some renowned Tuscan seer, from the Sibylline books, or even from the Delphic oracle.
Livy's history of Rome contains many reports of prodigies. Livy 3.10 (tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt) seems especially relevant, in view of recent, current, and possibly future events in the United States:
The year was marked by ominous signs: fires blazed in the sky, there was a violent earthquake, and a cow talked -- there was a rumour that a cow had talked the previous year, but nobody believed it: this year they did. Nor was this all: it rained lumps of meat. Thousands of birds (we are told) seized and devoured the pieces in mid air, while what fell to the ground lay scattered about for several days without going putrid. The Sybilline Books were consulted by two officials, who found in them the prediction that danger threatened from 'a concourse of alien men', who might attack 'the high places of the City, with the shedding of blood'. There was also found, among other things, a warning to avoid factious politics.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Old Slow Coach

From Robert Frost, Some Science Fiction:
The chance is the remotest
Of its going much longer unnoticed
That I'm not keeping pace
With the headlong human race.

And some of them may mind
My staying back behind
To take life at a walk
In philosophic talk;

Though as yet they only smile
At how slow I do a mile,
With tolerant reproach
For me as an Old Slow Coach.



Phil Flemming writes:
You have been celebrating the gospels of silence and solitude lately-- that's preaching to the converted around here. May I point to a third leg of the stool: simplicity.

Amongst the classical partisans of this ideal, Epictetus is probably the best. But let me give you a short passage from that wandering indigent Marcus Aurelius. I paraphrase and edit Meditations IV. 24:

Do but a few things if you wish to be happy. The better course is always to attend only to necessities and what reason demands, and let the rest go. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary, and if we can persuade ourselves to jettison these superfluous things, we will claim the rewards of true leisure and peace of mind. Always remember to ask yourself: are these words and deeds necessary? And our thoughts also should be examined in this fashion, for most of them are superfluous too.

That's a interesting view of what it is to live a simple life, don't you agree?



Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod (1928), chap. 4:
As I muse here, it occurs to me that we are not sufficiently grateful for the great symphony of natural sound which insects add to the natural scene; indeed, we take it so much as a matter of course that it does not stir our fully conscious attention. But all those little fiddles in the grass, all those cricket pipes, those delicate flutes, are they not lovely beyond words when heard in midsummer on a moonlight night?
Henry David Thoreau, Journals (May 22, 1854):
First observe the creak of crickets. It is quite general amid these rocks. The song of only one is more interesting to me. It suggests lateness, but only as we come to a knowledge of eternity after some acquaintance with time. It is only late for all trivial and hurried pursuits. It suggests a wisdom mature, never late, being above all temporal considerations, which possesses the coolness and maturity of autumn amidst the aspirations of spring and the heats of summer. To the birds they say: "Ah! you speak like children from impulse; Nature speaks through you; but with us it is ripe knowledge. The seasons do not revolve for us; we sing their lullaby." So they chant, eternal, at the roots of the grass. It is heaven where they are, and their dwelling need not be heaved up. Forever the same, in May and in November. Serenely wise, their song has the security of prose. They have drunk no wine with the dew. It is no transient love-strain, hushed when the incubating season is past, but a glorifying of God and enjoying of him forever. They sit aside from the revolution of the seasons. Their strain is unvaried as Truth. Only in their saner moments do men hear the crickets. It is balm to the philosopher. It tempers his thoughts. They dwell forever in a temperate latitude. By listening to whom, all voices are tuned. In their song they ignore our accidents. They are not concerned about the news. A quire has begun which pauses not for any news, for it knows only the eternal.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006



The Greek letter sigma is equivalent to s in our alphabet. Those who have not studied Greek but who have studied mathematics may be familiar with sigma in its capital form Σ, which is the mathematical summation symbol. One lower case form of sigma is σ, sometimes called initial-medial sigma because it appears in any position of a Greek word except for the final letter. Another is ς, known as final sigma cause it appears only at the end of Greek words. The English adjective sigmoid refers to something shaped like sigma, such as the lower colon in the human body.

Some editions of Greek texts don't use the symbols Σ, σ, and ς, but instead represent sigma by a semicircular character that resembles our letter C (upper case), c (lower case). This is known as lunate sigma because its crescent shape resembles a half moon (the Latin word for moon is luna). According to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon,
Aeschrio (Fr.1) calls the new moon τὸ καλὸν οὐρανοῦ νέον σῖγμα [the beautiful new sigma of heaven]: hence the orchestra is called τὸ τοῦ θεάτρου σῖγμα [the sigma of the theater], Phot., AB 286: and Lat. writers used sigma of a semicircular couch, Mart.10.48.6, etc.
An example of a modern edition of a classical text that uses lunate sigma is F.H. Sandbach's edition of Menander in the Oxford Classical Text series.

To some (including me) who learned Greek with Σ, σ, and ς, lunate sigma looks a bit odd. William Annis recently posted an entertaining piece called The Lunacy of the Lunate Sigma: A Rant. See also Michael Hendry, What Ever Happened to Lunate Sigmas?

If lunate sigma irritates you, one way to escape from it would be to read or write only asigmatic (sigma-less) texts. The term for a text that intentionally avoids a certain letter is lipogram. A modern example is Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadsby (1939), written entirely without the letter e.

The ancients Greeks, who invented so much else, invented the lipogram as well. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Literary Composition 14 (tr. William H. Race), writes:
The sigma is neither charming nor pleasant and is very offensive when overused, for a hiss is considered to pertain more to the sound of a wild and irrational animal than to that of a rational being. And so a number of the ancient poets used it sparingly and guardedly, and some even composed entire odes without sigmas.
These ancient poets included Pindar, Lasus of Hermione, Lucius Septimius Nestor, and Tryphiodorus. For more on these lipogrammatists, see Max Nelson, "Pangrams and Lipograms," The Seasonal Stentorian: The University of Windsor Classics Newsletter 2.2 (Winter/Spring 2003) (pdf file format).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Solitude and Society

Henry David Thoreau, Journals (Aug. 14, 1854):
Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon, — to behold and commune with something grander than man. Their mere distance and unprofanedness is an infinite encouragement. It is with infinite yearning and aspiration that I seek solitude, more and more resolved and strong; but with a certain weakness that I seek society ever.

Monday, December 11, 2006



What does RMLID mean? Read Roger Kuin to find out.


Joking About Latin

Mike Salter writes:
Your most recent post, the excerpt from John Mortimer's autobiography, brought back happy memories of reading it a few years ago. He's a wonderfully funny writer (have you ever read the "Rumpole" books?), who's given me many hours of pleasure over the years.

Something that might amuse you: a similar little excerpt from the book of the Yes, Prime Minister series (seems it's always the British who slip in little jokes about Latin):


The meeting started well enough. "Only one item on the agenda - abolition of the DES," I began cheerfully.

I noticed Humphrey was in much better spirits than I had expected. "If it's only one item, it's an agendUM," he corrrected me arrogantly as he sat across the table from me.

Bernard leapt to my defence. "I don't think the Prime Minister got as far as the second declension," he said. At least, I think he was leaping to my defence.

Sunday, December 10, 2006



John Mortimer, Clinging to the Wreckage (1982), chap. 3:
'Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes. Translate, Mortimer.'

'Thus you don't make honey for yourselves, you apes, sir.'

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Picky, Picky

Classics Majors Embark on Groundbreaking Scholarly Research in Homeric Poetry:
"What we are doing is using the apparati critici of the text — that is, the very small, dense and exhaustive system of abbreviated footnotes on the sources and variants of different words and phrases that appear in the different papyri and codices."
There are 23,700 Google hits for apparati critici versus 338 for apparatus critici. Nevertheless, the latter is correct. Apparatus is a fourth declension noun in Latin. See e.g. Carolus Hude in the preface to the Oxford Classical Text edition of Herodotus:
Restat ut breviter exponam quas in apparatu critico constituendo secutus sim rationes.
Its nominative plural is therefore apparatūs, not apparati.

Loeb Classical Library edition of Ovid's Heroides (4.156, Phaedra speaking):
Da veniam fasse duraque corda doma.
In a medieval manuscript the spelling fasse would not be unusual; it is out of place in a modern text. Read fassae, as the Loeb translation makes clear:
Forgive me my confession, and soften your hard heart!
The same phrase da veniam fassae occurs also at 17.225 and 19.4 in the Heroides.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Horace's Birthday

Today is the birthday of the Roman poet Horace. We know the exact date from Suetonius' Life of Horace (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He was born on the sixth day before the Ides of December in the consulate of Lucius Cotta and Lucius Torquatus.

natus est VI Idus Decembris L. Cotta et L. Torquato consulibus.
The temperature was 2 degrees Fahrenheit when I awoke yesterday. Horace knew what to do when the weather was cold and stormy.

Odes 1.11:

Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Epodes 13.1-6:

A wild storm has caused the sky to frown, and rain and snow are drawing down Jupiter; now the sea, now the woods echo with the north wind from Thrace. Let us seize, my friend, the opportunity which the day presents. While our knees are strong and it is seemly, let old age be erased from the clouded brow. Uncork the wine pressed when my Torquatus was consul.

Horrida tempestas caelum contraxit, et imbres
  nivesque deducunt Iovem; nunc mare, nunc silvae
Threicio Aquilone sonant. rapiamus, amice,
  occasionem de die, dumque virent genua
et decet, obducta solvatur fronte senectus.
  tu vina Torquato move consule pressa meo.

Odes 1.9.1-15:

You see how Soracte stands out white with deep snow, and the struggling trees can no longer sustain the burden, and the rivers are frozen with sharp ice. Dispel the cold by liberally piling logs on the fireplace, and draw out more generously, o Thaliarchus, four-year-old unmixed wine from the two-handled Sabine jar. Entrust everything else to the gods; as soon as they have stilled the winds battling on the heaving sea, neither the cypress trees nor the ancient ash trees are shaken. Leave off asking what tomorrow will bring, and whatever days fortune will give, count them as profit.

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte, nec iam sustineant onus
  silvae laborantes, geluque
  flumina constiterint acuto.
dissolve frigus ligna super foco
large reponens atque benignius
  deprome quadrimum Sabina,
  o Thaliarche, merum diota:
permitte divis cetera, qui simul
stravere ventos aequore fervido
  deproeliantis, nec cupressi
  nec veteres agitantur orni.
quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere et
quem fors dierum cumque dabit lucro

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I'm Like

Anatoly Liberman, the Oxford Etymologist, discusses misuse of the word like. But he doesn't touch on the most annoying misuse, one that makes me gag whenever I hear it, "I'm like" for "I said". Of course, I'm just a linguistic troglodyte. Laxicographers have probably already enshrined this solecism in their dictionaries.

I looked around for a discussion of "I'm like" for "I said", and happened on Isabelle Buchstaller's article He goes and I'm like: the new Quotatives re-visited. But I couldn't get past the first two sentences:
The new quotatives, like and go, have assumed quite a number of functions outside the quotative frame. So far, all models proposed to explain their polyfunctionality rely on the postulate of unidirectionality in grammaticalization.


Greek Particles

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Blood for the Ghosts: Classical Influences in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 82:
We are told that when Gaisford said to his pretty daughter 'You can't turn down Jelf; he knows more about γε than any man in Oxford', Miss Gaisford is said to have replied that she knew something about μέν.
Transliterated, γε is ge and μέν is mén. Jelf was probably Richard William Jelf.


Kierkegaard's Tomb

According to a BBC story, during Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey a protester displayed a placard that read:
We spit on the tomb of Jesus' S Kikeerguard.
Presumably this has some obscure connection with Christianity and Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed.

In his Journals (May 14, 1847, tr. Alexander Dru), Kierkegaard wrote:
I wish that on my grave might be put "the individual."
This wish was not granted. You can find a photograph of Kierkegaard's tomb here, with an inscription translated as:
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. Born May 5, 1813. Died November 11, 1855. Just a short while, then I have won. Then the whole struggle entirely disappears. Then I can rest in halls of roses and talk with my Jesus without ceasing.
The words after the death date are not from Kierkegaard's writings, but from Hans Adolph Brorson's hymn "Halleluja, jeg har min Jesum funden."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Mating Patterns

Maverick Philosopher:
The book is a study of the basic mating patterns.
Ovid's Ars Amatoria? The Kama Sutra? No, something quite different.


Wheel of Fortune

Homer, Odyssey 18.130-137 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):

Of all creatures that breathe and walk on the earth there is nothing
more helpless than a man is, of all that the earth fosters;
for he thinks that he will never suffer misfortune in future
days, while the gods grant him courage, and his knees have spring
in them. But when the blessed gods bring sad days upon him,
against his will he must suffer it with enduring spirit.
For the mind in men upon earth goes according to the fortunes
the Father of Gods and Men, day by day, bestows upon them.

The same, tr. William Cowper:

Earth nourishes, of all that breathe or creep,
No creature weak as man; for while the Gods
Grant him prosperity and health, no fear
Hath he, or thought, that he shall ever mourn;
But when the Gods with evils unforeseen
Smite him, he bears them with a grudging mind;
For such as the complexion of his lot
By the appointment of the Sire of all,
Such is the colour of the mind of man.

The same, tr. Alexander Pope:

Of all that breathes, or grovelling creeps on earth,
Most man in vain! calamitous by birth:
To-day, with power elate, in strength he blooms;
The haughty creature on that power presumes:
Anon from Heaven a sad reverse he feels:
Untaught to bear, 'gainst Heaven the wretch rebels.
For man is changeful, as his bliss or woe!
Too high when prosperous, when distress'd too low.

The same, tr. E.V. Rieu:

Of all creatures that breathe and creep about on Mother Earth, there is none so helpless as a man. As long as heaven leaves him in prosperity and health, he never thinks hard times are on their way. Yet when the blessed gods have brought misfortune on his head, he simply has to steel himself and bear it. In fact our outlook here on earth depends entirely on the way in which Providence is treating us at the moment.

The same, tr. A.T. Murray and George E. Dimock:

Nothing feebler does earth nurture than man, of all things that on earth breathe and move. For he thinks that he will never suffer evil in time to come, so long as the gods give him success and his knees are quick; but when again the blessed gods decree him misfortune, this too he bears in sorrow with such patience as he can, for the spirit of men upon the earth is just such as the day which the father of gods and men brings upon them.

The same, tr. Samuel Butler:

Man is the vainest of all creatures that have their being upon earth. As long as heaven vouchsafes him health and strength, he thinks that he shall come to no harm hereafter, and even when the blessed gods bring sorrow upon him, he bears it as he needs must, and makes the best of it; for God Almighty gives men their daily minds day by day.

The same, tr. S.H. Butcher and A. Lang:

Nought feebler doth the earth nurture than man, of all the creatures that breathe and move upon the face of the earth. Lo, he thinks that he shall never suffer evil in time to come, while the gods give him happiness, and his limbs move lightly. But when again the blessed gods have wrought for him sorrow, even so he bears it, as he must, with a steadfast heart. For the spirit of men upon the earth is even as their day, that comes upon them from the father of gods and men.

The Greek original:

οὐδὲν ἀκιδνότερον γαῖα τρέφει ἀνθρώποιο,
πάντων ὅσσα τε γαῖαν ἔπι πνείει τε καὶ ἕρπει.
οὐ μὲν γάρ ποτέ φησι κακὸν πείσεσθαι ὀπίσσω,
ὄφρ᾽ ἀρετὴν παρέχωσι θεοὶ καὶ γούνατ᾽ ὀρώρῃ·
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ καὶ λυγρὰ θεοὶ μάκαρες τελέσωσι,
καὶ τὰ φέρει ἀεκαζόμενος τετληότι θυμῷ·
τοῖος γὰρ νόος ἐστὶν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων
οἷον ἐπ᾽ ἦμαρ ἄγησι πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


What Is So Terrible About Latin?

E.B. White, telegram to Cass Canfield (Nov. 3, 1938):
White won this skirmish with his editor. His book appeared as Quo Vadimus? Or, The Case for the Bicycle. Quo Vadimus? means "Whither Are We Going?" and recalls Henryk Sienkiewicz's 1895 historical novel Quo Vadis? ("Whither Goest Thou?"), which has the subtitle A Narrative of the Time of Nero. Sienkiewicz borrowed his title from the Vulgate of John's Gospel (13.36):
Dicit ei Simon Petrus: Domine, quo vadis? Respondit Jesus: Quo ego vado non potes me modo sequi: sequeris autem postea.

Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.
We see traces of the Latin word vado (go, walk) also in English evade, invade, and pervade. The phrase vade mecum (go with me) means a pocket reference book. There is nothing so terrible or scary about Latin, whose influence pervades our own English language.

The use of whither is withering away in English, alas, just like whence, although both words usefully distinguish notions that we now force where alone to bear, e.g. in the New International Version of John 13.36:
Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
The Latin words corresponding to whither, whence, and where are quo, unde, and ubi. When one Roman met another in the street, he might ask "Unde et quo?" (Horace, Satires 2.4.1), that is to say, "Whence and whither?" Similarly the Greeks asked ποῖ δὴ καὶ πόθεν; ("Whither and whence?" Plato, Phaedrus 227a). Today our query is more apt to be along the lines of
"How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?" said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. (Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail, chap. XXVI)
Merriam Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage discusses these words under (1) from whence, from thence, from hence and (2) hither, where we read that hither, thither, and whither "have been described by various commentators as old-fashioned, archaic, obsolescent, formal, pompous, and literary." All the more reason for antediluvians to embrace them.

Related post: Whence and Whither?

Monday, December 04, 2006


Planting Trees

Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland:
But there is a frightful interval between the seed and timber. He that calculates the growth of trees, has the unwelcome remembrance of the shortness of life driven hard upon him. He knows that he is doing what will never benefit himself; and when he rejoices to see the stem rise, is disposed to repine that another shall cut it down.
In the back of Johnson's mind may have been some lines from Horace's Postumus ode (2.14.21-24), which Johnson himself translated on another occasion thus:
Your shady groves, your pleasing wife,
And fruitful fields, my dearest friend,
You'll leave together with your life:
Alone the cypress shall attend.

linquenda tellus et domus et placens
uxor, neque harum quas colis arborum
  te praeter invisas cupressos
    ulla brevem dominum sequetur.
Or, in a more literal translation:
You must leave earth, home, and affectionate wife. None of those trees which you're tending will accompany you (their short-lived master), except for the hated cypresses.
Among the Romans, the cypress tree was associated with funeral pyres, the houses of families in mourning, and tombs.

Cicero, On Old Age 7.24-25, had a different view on planting trees:
They expend effort on things which they know won't benefit them at all: "He plants trees to benefit another age," as our Caecilius Statius says in his Young Comrades. If you ask a farmer, no matter how old he is, for whom he's planting, he doesn't hesitate to say, "For the immortal gods, who not only were willing for me to receive these things from my ancestors, but also for me to hand them on to my descendants."

in eis elaborant, quae sciunt nihil ad se omnino pertinere: "serit arbores, quae altero saeclo prosint," ut ait Statius noster in Synephebis. nec vero dubitat agricola, quamvis sit senex, quaerenti cui serat respondere: "dis immortalibus, qui me non accipere modo haec a maioribus voluerunt, sed etiam posteris prodere."
See also Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (New York: The Free Press, 1995), p. 43:
Here, the widespread propagation for the first time in Greek history of permanent crops -- trees and vines -- seems to me every bit as significant as the more heralded intellectual, social, and military renaissance of the Greek eighth and seventh centuries. The spread of grafting and budding, which so helped to tie the new Greek tree and vine farmer to the soil -- was as important as the rediscovery of writing and the rise of philosophical speculation.

Do not arboriculture and viticulture also become diagnostic criteria of a farmer's success over an entire lifetime of work? Trees and vines are to be passed down to children and grandchildren. They force the agriculturalist to invest for the future, rather than for the current year alone. They harness him bodily to his orchard and vineyard, changing his way of thinking from mere production to stewardship of a lifetime's investment.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Via Negativa

Patrick Kurp discusses the via negativa - "Those following the via negativa attempt to express knowledge of God by describing what He is not."

One way to do this is to use asyndetic, privative adjectives to describe God, as we find in 1 Timothy 1.17:
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ, τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
I have combined examples of asyndetic, privative adjectives from all my previous posts into a single web page. This page contains some new examples as well, many of them borrowed from Detlev Fehling, Die Wiederholungsfiguren und ihr Gebrauch bei den Griechen vor Gorgias (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1969), II (Die einzelnen Wiederholungen und Figuren in systematischer Anordnung), D (Wortteilwiederholungen), 1 (Mehrer Adjektive mit α privativum zusammengestellt), on pp. 235-241. Fehling mentions asyndeton (pp. 235, 237, 239), but in general does not distinguish examples joined by conjunctions from those with asyndeton. He discusses combinations of privative adjectives under the following headings:


Mad Old Men

William Butler Yeats, Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?
Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Portrait of the Curmudgeon as a Young Man

This photo was taken when I was 15 years old:

Mike and Tina

It's inscribed as follows on the back:
To Mike

This is a great picture of you. I love it. I'm going to get another one made up for me.

Keep it. And remember me always.

And also remember all the fun we had together. And hope we will have more of it. And also remember how much I like you.

Love always
I do remember.

Friday, December 01, 2006


A Gloomy View

Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
There is some wisdom in taking a gloomy view, in looking upon the world as a kind of Hell, and in confining one's efforts to securing a little room that shall not be exposed to the fire.

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