Monday, April 30, 2007


The Curse of Immortality

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, tr. R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 40:
To live when you do not want to is dreadful, but it would be even more terrible to be immortal when you did not want to be. As things are, however, the whole ghastly burden is suspended from me by a thread which I can cut in two with a penny-knife.
In classical mythology, who was immortal but did not want to be? Perhaps Eos' consort Tithonus, who was granted immortality but not eternal youth. Certainly the nymph Juturna in Vergil's Aeneid 12.879-884 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), who lamented:
Wherefore gave me he [Jove] life eternal? Why of the law of death am I bereaved? Now surely could I end such anguish, and pass at my poor brother's [Turnus'] side amid the shadows! I immortal! Nay, will aught of mine be sweet to me without thee, my brother? O what deepest earth can gape enough for me, and send me down, a goddess, to the nethermost shades?

quo vitam dedit aeternam? cur mortis adempta est
condicio? possem tantos finire dolores
nunc certe, et misero fratri comes ire per umbras!
immortalis ego? aut quicquam mihi dulce meorum
te sine, frater, erit? o quae satis ima dehiscat
terra mihi, Manisque deam demittat ad imos?

Sunday, April 29, 2007


A Fragment of Heraclitus?

The Maine School for Feeble-Minded was founded in 1908. Over the years its name changed, to Pownal State School and later to Pineland Hospital and Training Center. By the time it closed its doors in 1996, it was officially called Pineland: A Comprehensive Center for the Developmentally Disabled. Unofficially (according to my mother, who grew up in a nearby town), the locals called it the Snakepit. In a history of the school, Richard S. Kimball, Pineland's Past: The First One Hundred Years (Portsmouth: Peter E. Randall, 2001), p. xiii, quotes the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus:
History is a child building a sandcastle by the sea, and that child is the whole majesty of human power in the world.
Kimball may have obtained the quotation from Guy Davenport, The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (New York: Counterpoint, 1996), p. 4:
"History is a child building a sandcastle by the sea," said Heraclitus two and a half millennia earlier, "and that child is the whole majesty of man's power in the world."
The closest I can find to this is Heraclitus, fragment 52 (tr. John Burnet, from Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 9.4):
αἰὼν παῖς ἐστι παίζων, πεσσεύων· παιδὸς ἡ βασιληίη.

Time is a child playing draughts; the kingly power is a child's.
I don't know where the sandcastle and the sea came from, although one possible source is Nietzsche's discussion of Heraclitus in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (tr. Marianne Cowan):
In this world only play, play as artists and children engage in it, exhibits coming-to-be and passing away, structuring and destroying, without any moral additive, in forever equal innocence. And as children and artists play, so plays the ever-living fire. It constructs and destroys, all in innocence. Such is the game that the aeon plays with itself. Transforming itself into water and earth, it builds towers of sand like a child at the seashore, piles them up and tramples them down.

Dave Lull writes:
I found this fragment cited thusly: Herakleitos and Diogenes, pt. 1, fragment 24, trans. by Guy Davenport (1976):

I think this may be referring to GD's Herakleitos & Diogenes, or to an earlier article by him:

Herakleitos & Diogenes. Translated from the Greek, by Guy Davenport. Bolinas, CA: Grey Fox Press, 1979. (Grey Fox Press Books) paperbound edition.

Acknowledgement (verso title page): "'Herakleitos: The Extant Fragments' was published in Contemporary Literature in Translation No. 23 (Spring 1976), and reprinted in The American Poetry Review Vol. 7, No 1 (January/February 1978)

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Political Parties and the Vast Majority

Thomas De Quincey, Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets:
Listen to a Whig, or to a Tory, and you will suppose that the great bulk of society range under his banner; all, at least, who have any property at stake. Listen to a Radical, and you will suppose that all are marshalled in the same ranks with himself, unless those who have some private interest in existing abuses, or have aristocratic privileges to defend. Yet, upon going extensively into society as it is, you find that a vast majority of good citizens are of no party whatsoever, own no party designation, care for no party interest, but carry their good wishes by turns to men of every party, according to the momentary purpose they are pursuing.


O My Sorrow

I first read Baudelaire's sonnet Recueillement when I was an undergraduate at the University of Maine, in a French class taught by Olga Wester Russell. Here is Francis Scarfe's translation, followed by the original.
Have patience, O my sorrow, and be still. You longed for evening, and look, it is falling now. A dusky atmosphere enfolds the city, to some men bringing peace, to others care.

While the base herd of mortals, beneath the lash of pleasure, that pitiless torturer, sets out to reap remorse in slavish entertainment, my sorrow, give me your hand, come this way, far from them.

See where the bygone years are leaning from the balconies of heaven, in their faded robes of yesteryear; where Regret, with a smile on her lips, rises from the fountain's depths;

where the dying sun falls asleep beneath an arch; and, like a long shroud drifting from the East, listen, my darling, O listen to the gentle night's approach.

Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Pendant que des mortels la multitude vile,
Sous le fouet du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci,
Va cueillir des remords dans la fête servile,
Ma Douleur, donne-moi la main; viens par ici,

Loin d'eux. Vois se pencher les défuntes Années,
Sur les balcons du ciel, en robes surannées;
Surgir du fond des eaux le Regret souriant;

Le soleil moribond s'endormir sous une arche,
Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l'Orient,
Entends, ma chère, entends la douce Nuit qui marche.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Here I Sit, Brokenhearted ...

Mac Daniel, "Air traffic controller's 'bathroom break' delays three planes," Boston Globe (April 11, 2007):
Two Southwest Airlines flights were forced to circle Manchester-Boston Regional Airport last Friday when the lone air traffic controller had to go to the bathroom.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said another controller was in the tower at the time but was not certified to land the planes, forcing flights from Chicago and Orlando, Fla., to delay their landings by 18 minutes. In addition, a medical flight carrying lungs to a New Jersey airport had its takeoff delayed by what FAA log books referred to as a bathroom break.
My brother is an emergency (911) telephone operator in a small town, and sometimes he has to work alone. When he is the only operator on duty, he cannot leave his post under any circumstances. At such times, he keeps a sort of chamberpot under his desk.

But 18 minutes does seem like a long time. Even with a good book to keep me company, I don't think I've ever lingered 18 minutes on the pot.

The gastrointestinal problems of the air traffic controller reminded me of an anecdote from the life of Aesop, found in Ben Edwin Perry, Babrius and Phaedrus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), Appendix, No. 380 = Vita Aesopi 67 (tr. L.W. Daly):
Xanthus said to him (Aesop), "Can you tell me why it is that when we defecate we look often at our own droppings?" Aesop: "Because long ago there was a king's son, who, as a result of the looseness of his bowels and his loose way of living, sat there for a long time relieving himself -- for so long that before he knew it he had passed his own wits. Ever since then, when men relieve themselves, they look down for fear that they, too, have passed their wits. But don't you worry about this. There's no danger of you passing your wits, for you don't have any."
This fable gives new meaning to the slang expression "shit for brains".


An Impious Lumberjack

Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), pp. 127-128:
In the year 194/5, "Stratonicos, son of Euangelos, in ignorance cut down an oak of Zeus of the Twin Oak Trees and because of Stratonicos's lack of faith, Zeus summoned up his own power." He almost killed the offender, who "recovered from great danger and made this dedication by way of thanks"; "and I proclaim, let no one belittle Zeus's powers nor cut down an oak again."
On p. 703, n. 13, Fox cites "T.A.M. V. 179 B with F. Petzl (1978) 253." F. Petzl is a mistake for Georg Petzl, and the reference is to his "Inschriften aus der Umgebung von Saittai (I)," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 30 (1978) 249-273, which I have not seen. T.A.M. is Tituli Asiae Minoris. Here is the inscription:
μέγας Ζεὺς ἐγ διδύμων δρυ-
ῶν. Στρατόνεικος Εὐανγέ-
λου διὰ τὸ ἀγνοεῖν αὐτὸν Δι-
ὸς Διδυμείτου ἔκκοψε δρῦ-
ν, κὲ ἀναζητήσας ὁ θεὸς τὴν
ἰδίαν δύναμιν διὰ τὸ ἀπιστῖν
αὐτὸν κατέθηκεν ΟΛΟΔΟΥΜΕ
ἰσοθανάτους, καὶ σωθεὶς ἐγ
μεγάλου κινδύνου εὐχαρισ-
τῶν ἀνέθηκεν· παρανγέλ-
λω δέ, αὐτοῦ τὰς δυνάμις μή
τίς ποτε κατευτελήσι καὶ
κόψει δρῦν. ἔτους σοθʹ, μη(νὸς) Πα-
νήμου ηιʹ.
Related posts:

Thursday, April 19, 2007



These are miscellaneous notes to myself on solitude.

A Greek word for "loner" is μονότροπος (monótropos). Liddell & Scott s.v.:
living alone, solitary, νεανίας E.Andr.281 (lyr.), cf. LXX Ps.67(68).6: title of plays by Phrynichus, Anaxilas, and Ophelio; ἄφιλοι καὶ ἄμικτοι καὶ μ. Plu.2.479c; μ. βίος Phld.Ir.p.49 W., Ph.1.551, Plu. Pel.3; μ. λῃστής J.BJ2.21.1; μ. ζῷα Gal.UP1.2.
J.M. Edmonds translated a fragment from Phrynicus' play Monotropos as follows (accurate despite the rhymes):
I'm called the Solitary, and the life
I lead is Timon's, without mate or wife,
Sour-visaged, quick to anger, ill to meet,
Averse to talk, wise in my own conceit.
Persius 4.52: tecum habita (live with yourself). I haven't seen Pierre Courcelle, "Habitare secum selon Perse et selon Grégoire le Grand," Revue des études anciennes 69 (1967) 266-279.

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 105.6: nihil tamen aeque proderit quam quiescere et minimum cum aliis loqui, plurimum secum (nothing will be so advantageous as to keep still and speak very little with others, very much with oneself).

Montaigne 1.39 (On Solitude, tr. E.J. Trechmann):
We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude. In this retreat we should keep up our ordinary converse with ourselves, and so private, that no acquaintance or outside communication may find a place there.
Rousseau, Emile, Book I (tr. Barbara Foxley):
Men are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together, the more corrupt they become. Disease and vice are the sure results of over-crowded cities. Of all creatures, man is the least fitted to live in herds. Huddled together like sheep, men would very soon die. Man's breath is fatal to his fellows. This is literally as well as figuratively true.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Bible Thumpers

Mankato, Minn. (Associated Press):
A jail guard has been suspended after allegedly thumping an inmate with a Bible.

James Lee Sheppard, 56, has been charged with two gross misdemeanors for allegedly swatting a Blue Earth County Jail inmate with the book, grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against steel bars on Feb. 8, according to the criminal complaint.

A video shows a guard entering the cell of inmate Jeremy Hansen, 26. The guard then takes Hansen's Bible and strikes him in the side of the face with the book.
Compare this passage from one of Erasmus' Colloquies (Cyclops, or The Gospel Bearer, tr. Craig R. Thompson):
Cannius. Then why do you insist you love the Gospel?

Polyphemus. I'll tell you. A certain Franciscan in our neighborhood kept babbling from the pulpit against Erasmus' New Testament. I met the man privately, grabbed him by the hair with my left hand, and punched him with my right. I gave him a hell of a beating; made his whole face swell. What do you say to that? Isn't that promoting the Gospel? Next I gave him absolution by banging him on the head three times with this very same book, raising three lumps, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Cannius. The evangelical spirit, all right! This is certainly defending the Gospel with the Gospel.

Ca. Unde igitur declaras te amare Evangelium?

Po. Dicam. Franciscanus quidam apud nos non desinebat e suggesto deblaterare in Novum Testamentum Erasmi: conveni hominem privatim, laevam inieci capillis, dextra pugilem egi, suggillavi illum magnifice, totamque faciem tuber reddidi. Quid ais? non est hoc favere evangelio? Deinde absolvi illum a commissis, hoc ipso codice ter in verticem impacto, fecique tria tubera, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Ca. Satis quidem evangelice. Istuc nimirum est Evangelium Evangelio defendere.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Kinky Friedman and Herodotus

Kinky Friedman, Cowards Kick Away Another Piece of America's Soul (on Don Imus), ad fin.:
I believe New York will miss its crazy cowboy and America will miss the voice of a free-thinking independent-minded, rugged individualist. I believe MSNBC will lose many viewers and CBS radio many listeners.

Too bad for them. That's what happens when you get rid of the only guy you've got who knows how to ride, shoot straight and tell the truth.
Compare Herodotus 1.136.2 (on the Persians, tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt):
The period of a boy's education is between the ages of five and twenty, and they are taught three things only: to ride, to use the bow, and to speak the truth.

παιδεύουσι δὲ τοὺς παῖδας ἀπὸ πενταέτεος ἀρξάμενοι μέχρι εἰκοσαέτεος τρία μοῦνα, ἱππεύειν καὶ τοξεύειν καὶ ἀληθίζεσθαι.



Excerpts from William Hazlitt, On Pedantry:
He who is not in some measure a pedant, though he may be a wise, cannot be a very happy man.


Learning and pedantry were formerly synonymous; and it were well when they were so. Can there be a higher satisfaction than for a man to understand Greek, and to believe that there is nothing else worth understanding?


It may be considered as a sign of the decay of piety and learning in modern times, that our divines no longer introduce texts of the original Scriptures into their sermons. The very sound of the original Greek or Hebrew would impress the hearer with a more lively faith in the sacred writers than any translation, however literal or correct.



Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Oct. 5, 1856):
It is well to find your employment and amusement in simple and homely things. These wear best and yield most. I think I would rather watch the motions of these cows in their pasture for a day, which I now see all headed one way and slowly advancing, -- watch them and project their course carefully on a chart, and report all their behavior faithfully, -- than wander to Europe or Asia and watch other motions there; for it is only ourselves we report in either case, and perchance we shall report a more restless and worthless self in the latter case than in the first.
John Burroughs, Phases of Farm Life:
Indeed, all the ways and doings of cattle are pleasant to look upon, whether grazing in the pasture, or browsing in the woods, or ruminating under the trees, or feeding in the stall, or reposing upon the knolls. There is virtue in the cow; she is full of goodness; a wholesome odor exhales from her; the whole landscape looks out of her soft eyes; the quality and the aroma of miles of meadow and pasture lands are in her presence and products. I had rather have the care of cattle than be the keeper of the great seal of the nation. Where the cow is, there is Arcadia; so far as her influence prevails, there is contentment, humility, and sweet, homely life.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Radaratoo, Radarate

James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (Sept. 22, 1773):
He said, he could never get the meaning of an Erse song explained to him. They told him, the chorus was generally unmeaning. 'I take it,' said he, 'Erse songs are like a song which I remember: it was composed in Queen Elizabeth's time, on the Earl of Essex; and the burthen was
"Radaratoo, radarate, radara tadara tandore."'
'But surely,' said Mr M'Queen, 'there were words to it, which had meaning.' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, sir, I recollect a stanza, and you shall have it:
"O! then bespoke the prentices all,
Living in London, both proper and tall,
For Essex's sake they would fight all.
Radaratoo, radarate, radara, tadara, tandore."'
When Mr M'Queen began again to expatiate on the beauty of Ossian's poetry, Dr Johnson entered into no further controversy, but, with a pleasant smile, only cried, 'Ay, ay; Radaratoo, radarate.'
(Footnote omitted). Johnson's retort "Radaratoo, radarate" reminds me a bit of a passage from Chekhov's story The Two Volodyas:
"Here, you are a clever man, Volodya," said Sofya Lvovna. "Show me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent. Life isn't easy for me," she added after a brief pause. "Tell me what to do .... Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me something, if it's only one word."

"One word? By all means: tarara-boom-dee-ay."
I also recently encountered some nonsense syllables in Cato, On Agriculture 160 (tr. W.D. Hooper and H.B. Ash):
Any kind of dislocation may be cured by the following charm: Take a green reed four or five feet long and split it down the middle, and let two men hold it to your hips. Begin to chant: "motas uaeta daries dardares astataries dissunapiter" and continue until they meet. Brandish a knife over them, and when the reeds meet so that one touches the other, grasp with the hand and cut right and left. If the pieces are applied to the dislocation or the fracture, it will heal. And none the less chant every day, and, in the case of a dislocation, in this manner, if you wish: "huat haut haut istasis tarsis ardannabou dannaustra."
Nonsense syllables like this are of course common in magical charms, especially in ancient curse tablets and magical papyri. For more examples, see the notes by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III for a course on Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World (scroll down to EPHESIA GRAMMATA).

Related post: Gibberish.

Buce of Palookaville, author of Underbelly, adds ducdame from Shakespeare, As You Like It (Act 2, Scene 5):
If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease,
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame:
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.
What's that 'ducdame'?
'Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Don Imus: Aptronym?

Andrew MacGillivray writes in an email:
For speakers of British English, nappy is, or least used to be, also ‘strong ale, beer’ ( the etymology seems to be 'fuzzy' > 'cloudy' or 'frothy' liquid), as in John Clare's 'And while I have sixpence left, I'll spend it In cheering nappy' and the opening lines of Burns' Tam O Shanter:
When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors neebors meet,
As market-days are wearin' late,
An' folk begin to tak' the gate;
While we sit bousin' at the nappy,
An' gettin' fou an' unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, an' stiles,
That lie between us an' our hame,
Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gath'rin' her brows like gath'rin' storm,
Nursin' her wrath to keep it warm.
So nappy-headed, in the context of Don Imus, would suggest a kind of befuddled alcoholic ranting (perhaps with a bit of foaming at the mouth). But I wonder if anyone called Don Imus needs much context? With a little Spanish and Latin, doesn’t the name tell all – Don Nadir, Mr. Lowest-of-the-Low, Mr. Plumb-the-Depths?
Spanish don means "sir, mister"; Latin imus (superlative of inferus) means "lowest".



I'm so insulated from the outside world that I'd never even heard of Don Imus before the recent kerfuffle. At first I didn't understand the insult he directed at the women basketball players from Rutgers University, either. I mistakenly thought that the nappy in nappy-headed referred to a diaper, and that nappy-headed was therefore similar to the derogatory terms towel-head and rag-head.

Some people claim that hair is called nappy because it looks like its wearers just woke up from a nap. That is bogus. Here are the relevant entries from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
nap (n.): "downy surface of cloth," 1440, from M.Du. or M.L.G. noppe "nap, tuft of wool," probably introduced by Flem. cloth-workers. Cognate with O.E. hnappian "to pluck," ahneopan "pluck off," O.Swed. niupa "to pinch," Goth. dis-hniupan "to tear."

nappy (adj.): "downy," 1499, from nap (n.). Meaning "fuzzy, kinky," used in colloquial or derogatory ref. to the hair of black people, is from 1950.
Herodotus, in his catalogue of foreign fighters in Xerxes' army, includes the Ethiopians (7.70.1, tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt) and mentions their hair:
The eastern Ethiopians -- for there were two sorts of Ethiopians in the army -- served with the Indians. These were just like the southern Ethiopians, except for their language and their hair: their hair is straight, while that of the Ethiopians in Libya is the crispest and curliest in the world.
Frank M. Snowden Jr., who died just a couple of months ago at the age of 95, was the preeminent expert on blacks in classical times. His writings on the subject include:A synonym of the adjective nappy is woolly. A secondary meaning of woolly is "lacking sharp detail or clarity; blurry; fuzzy: woolly thinking." In this sense, one could say that Don Imus (who sports a rather bold head of hair himself) is woolly-headed. And because woolly is nappy, one could also call him nappy-headed. As we used to say when we were children and someone insulted us, "Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you."

Friday, April 13, 2007


Under the Greenwood Tree

Edwin Way Teale, North with the Spring (1951; rpt. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1957), pp. 266-267:
The birds of Monticello provide one of the outstanding memories of a naturalist's visit. The trees provide another. Here, rooted where Thomas Jefferson had planted them in the eighteenth century, stood ancient tulips, lindens, copper beeches, sugar maples, European larches. Here were noble trees, patriarchs that brought to mind Sir Thomas Browne's observation of long ago: "Generations pass while some trees stand and old families last not three oaks."

In beginning one of his Socratic dialogues, Plato wrote: "Scene: Under a plane tree ..."

Under a tree ... That phrase recurs frequently in the history of human thought. Thinkers as diverse and as far removed as Gautama beneath his Bo tree in the Far East and Ralph Waldo Emerson under a New England pine have been associated with trees. "He spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall." So the Book of Kings in the Bible describes King Solomon, whose wisdom was proverbial in his time.
Under a tree ... that phrase recurs frequently not just in the history of human thinking, but also in the history of human drinking. Horace (Ode 2.3.9-12) asks:
To what end do the tall pine and the white poplar delight with their branches to join their hospitable shade? Why does the fleeting water fret its quivering way along the winding stream?

Quo pinus ingens albaque populus
umbram hospitalem consociare amant
  ramis? Quid obliquo laborat
    lympha fugax trepidare rivo?
The answer to the questions "To what end" and "Why" do these pleasant surroundings exist, is obviously "For our enjoyment." Few pleasures can compare with drinking wine beneath a shade tree on soft grass beside a babbling brook. W.Y. Sellar, The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Horace and the Elegaic Poets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899), p. 126, says that "In the older Greek poets wine and song were glorified as the restorers of life and spirit in trouble and danger," whereas "In the Latin poets wine is glorified rather as a bond of companionship, and as affording relief from the monotony of existence; and the enjoyment of it is more often associated with bright weather and the grace and freshness of trees and running water than with rain and tempest."

Here is a sampler of passages from ancient literature extolling the pleasures of lolling or drinking under the shade of a tree.

Plato, Phaedrus 230 b-c (tr. R. Hackforth):
Upon my word, a delightful resting place, with this tall, spreading plane, and a lovely shade from the high branches of the agnos. Now that it's in full flower, it will make the place ever so fragrant. And what a lovely stream under the plane tree, and how cool to the feet! Judging by the statuettes and images I should say it's consecrated to Achelous and some of the nymphs. And then too, isn't the freshness of the air most welcome and pleasant, and the shrill summery music of the cicada choir! And as crowning delight the grass, thick enough on a gentle slope to rest your head on most comfortably.
Horace, Ode 1.1.19-22:
There is one who doesn't scorn cups of old Massic wine, who doesn't scorn to steal a vacation from business hours, stretching his limbs out now beneath the green shrub, now by the gentle fountain-head of a holy stream.

est qui nec veteris pocula Massici
nec partem solido demere de die
spernit, nunc viridi membra sub arbuto
stratus nunc ad aquae lene caput sacrae.
Horace, Ode 2.7.17-20:
Therefore give to Jove the sacrificial feast you owe, and put your battle-wearied body beneath my laurel tree, and don't spare the bottles saved for you.

ergo obligatam redde Iovi dapem,
longaque fessum militia latus
depone sub lauru mea nec
parce cadis tibi destinatis.
Horace, Ode 2.11.13-17:
Why don't we lie beneath the tall plane tree or the pine tree just as we are, and crown our white hair with fragrant roses and anoint ourselves with Syrian perfume, and drink, while we may?

cur non sub alta vel platano vel hac
pinu iacentes sic temere et rosa
canos odorati capillos,
dum licet, Assyriaque nardo
potamus uncti?
Horace, Epode 2.23-28:
It is a pleasure to lie now beneath an old oak tree, now on the firm grass. In the meantime streams flow between their tall banks, birds twitter in the forest, and fountains plash with dripping waters, which invites soft sleep.

libet iacere modo sub antiqua ilice,
modo in tenaci gramine.
labuntur altis interim ripis aquae,
queruntur in silvis aves,
fontesque lymphis obstrepunt manantibus,
somnos quod invitet levis.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Post Mortem Hazlitti

Eric Thomson writes in an email:
Ardent taphophile that I am, I couldn't read Post Mortem without thinking of a small act of restorative justice performed four years ago in a Soho cemetery. No 'damnatio memoriae' for Hazlitt, thank goodness. The original engraved encomium actually mentions his Lucretian 'On the Fear of Death' essay (which, incidentally, I wonder if he would have written if he hadn't, like Arnold, lost two chidren in infancy).
The act of justice was the restoration in 2003 of a memorial inscription which was removed from Hazlitt's grave in 1870 as being too provocative:
Here rests
Born April 10, 1778, Died 18 September, 1830
He lived to see his deepest wishes gratified
as he has expressed them in his Essay,
'on the Fear of Death'.
'To see the downfall of the Bourbons.
And some prospect of good to mankind':
(Charles X
was driven from France 29th July, 1830).
'To leave some sterling work to the world':
(He lived to complete his 'Life of Napoleon').
His desire
That some friendly hand should consign
Him to the grave was accomplished to a
Limited but profound extent; on
These conditions he was ready to depart,
And to have inscribed on his tomb,
'Grateful and Contented'.
He was
The first (unanswered) Metaphysician of the age.
A despiser of the merely Rich And Great:
A lover of the People, poor or oppressed:
A hater of the Pride and Power of the Few,
As opposed to the happiness of the Many;
A man of true moral courage,
Who sacrificed Profit and present Fame
To Principle,
And a yearning for the good of Human Nature.
Who was a burning wound to an Aristocracy,
That could not answer him before men,
And who may confront him before their maker.
He lived and died
The unconquered champion
Truth, Liberty, and Humanity,
'Dubitantes opera legite'.
This stone
Is raised by one whose heart is
With him, in his grave.
I couldn't find the Latin tag Dubitantes opera legite in any ancient author. It means, "You who doubt, read his works."

Eric also writes:
I love the way Hazlitt probes, in 'our room is not unfrequently thought ...', the earliest Old English sense of 'rum' as unpartitioned space (which underlies [the Latin] cognate 'rus'); it seems to be the corporeal space that death obliges us to vacate, but he also manages to give a hint of room as coffin; our death doesn't leave much of a 'gap' > the wound doesn't gape but quickly heals, tomb doesn't gape but is quickly shovelled in.
There is also an eerily prescient quality to Hazlitt's sentence, "Nay, our room is not unfrequently thought better than our company." When Hazlitt died, his landlady shoved his body out of sight under a bed, so that she could show his room to prospective renters without upsetting them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Post Mortem

William Hazlitt, On the Fear of Death:
We do not leave so great a void in society as we are inclined to imagine, partly to magnify our own importance, and partly to console ourselves by sympathy. Even in the same family the gap is not so great; the wound closes up sooner than we should expect. Nay, our room is not unfrequently thought better than our company. People walk along the streets the day after our deaths just as they did before, and the crowd is not diminished. While we were living, the world seemed in a manner to exist only for us, for our delight and amusement, because it contributed to them. But our hearts cease to beat, and it goes on as usual, and thinks no more about us than it did in our lifetime. The million are devoid of sentiment, and care as little for you or me as if we belonged to the moon. We live the week over in the Sunday's paper, or are decently interred in some obituary at the month's end! It is not surprising that we are forgotten so soon after we quit this mortal stage: we are scarcely noticed while we are on it. It is not merely that our names are not known in China -- they have hardly been heard of in the next street.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Seneca Comicus

No, this isn't about Seneca's one comic work, the Apocolocyntosis. Instead, it's about a couple of unintentionally funny passages from the Senecan tragedies. At least they're funny to me, with my perhaps perverted sense of humor. Translations are by John G. Fitch.

Hercules Oetaeus 181-184

In ancient tragedy, grief-stricken women often express their grief by beating their breasts. There is a rare medical condition called polymastia (or polymazia), in which a woman has an extra breast. Ann Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives, had this condition.

At any rate, Iole in Hercules Oetaeus wishes she had more than two breasts, the better to express her mourning:
What shall I mourn? What grieve for last?
I want to weep for all together,
but my sex did not grant me breasts enough
to resound with blows worthy of my fate.
Note: some scholars think Seneca did not write Hercules Oetaeus.

Phaedra 1256-1268

Hippolytus' father is Theseus, and his step-mother is Phaedra. Phaedra falls in love with Hippolytus, who does not reciprocate. Scorned, Phaedra falsely accuses Hippolytus of rape. Theseus begs the god Poseidon to destroy Hippolytus. Poseidon answers Theseus' prayer, and causes a bull to emerge from the sea to frighten Hippolytus' horses, which are drawing a chariot on the sea shore. Hippolytus falls from the chariot and gets tangled in the reins. The horses drag him to his death. There is nothing funny in all that.

But when Theseus learns the truth, he mourns Hippolytus' death and tries to reassemble the torn pieces of his body. This passage reminds me of someone trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle:
Arrange in order, father, his torn body's sundered limbs, put back in place the straying parts. This is the place for his strong right hand; here must be set his left hand, skilled in controlling the reins -- I recognize the signs of his left side. How great the part still lacking for my tears! Trembling hands, be firm for this sad service; eyes, be dry, check your copious tears, while the father is portioning out limbs to his son and fashioning his body. What is this ugly formless thing, that multiple wounds have severed on every side? What part it may be is uncertain, but it is part of you. Here, set it down here, in an empty place if not in its proper place.
In Seneca's defence, most scholars think that his plays were meant only to be recited or read, not acted on the stage.

Monday, April 09, 2007



Herodotus 1.155.4 (tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt):
As for the Lydians, forgive them -- but all the same, if you want to keep them loyal and to prevent any danger from them in future, I suggest that you put a veto upon their possession of arms. Make them wear tunics under their cloaks, and high boots, and tell them to teach their sons to play the zither and harp, and to start shopkeeping. If you do that, my lord, you will soon see them turn into women instead of men, and there will not be any more danger of them rebelling against you.

Λυδοῖσι δὲ συγγνώμην ἔχων τάδε αὐτοῖσι ἐπίταξον, ὡς μήτε ἀποστέωσι μήτε δεινοί τοι ἔωσι· ἄπειπε μέν σφι πέμψας ὅπλα ἀρήια μὴ ἐκτῆσθαι, κέλευε δὲ σφέας κιθῶνάς τε ὑποδύνειν τοῖσι εἵμασι καὶ κοθόρνους ὑποδέεσθαι, πρόειπε δ᾽ αὐτοῖσι κιθαρίζειν τε καὶ ψάλλειν καὶ καπηλεύειν παιδεύειν τοὺς παῖδας. καὶ ταχέως σφέας, ὦ βασιλεῦ, γυναῖκας ἀντ᾽ ἀνδρῶν ὄψεαι γεγονότας, ὥστε οὐδὲν δεινοί τοι ἔσονται μὴ ἀποστέωσι.



E.B. White, Letter to Mason Trowbridge (Nov. 18, 1972):
Geese are great to have around, because they stir the air. They are sagacious, contentious, storm-loving, and beautiful. They are natural hecklers, delight in arguing a point, and are possessed of a truly remarkable sense of ingratitude. They never fail to greet you on your arrival, and the greeting is tinged with distaste and sarcasm. They take parenthood seriously, are protective of their young but never indulgent. When my young gander is impatient for grain, he seizes the food-box in his mouth and bangs it against the wall, and this racket can be heard all over the place. You've never seen a hen do anything like that. Another fine thing about geese is that they are as easily steered as a modern car -- a great convenience. Their bowel activity is, of course, legendary.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


This Is The Night

From the Exultet:
This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Haec nox est,
in qua primum patres nostros, filios Israel
eductos de Aegypto,
Mare Rubrum sicco vestigio transire fecisti.

Haec igitur nox est,
quae peccatorum tenebras columnae illuminatione purgavit.

Haec nox est,
quae hodie per universum mundum in Christo credentes,
a vitiis saeculi et caligine peccatorum segregatos,
reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati.

Haec nox est,
in qua, destructis vinculis mortis,
Christus ab inferis victor ascendit.

Nihil enim nobis nasci profuit,
nisi redimi profuisset.
O mira circa nos tuae pietatis dignatio!
O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis:
ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti!

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum,
quod Christi morte deletum est!
O felix culpa,
quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

O vere beata nox,
quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam,
in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit!

Haec nox est, de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur:
et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis.

Huius igitur sanctificatio noctis fugat scelera, culpas lavat:
et reddit innocentiam lapsis
et maestis laetitiam.
Fugat odia, concordiam parat
et curvat imperia.

O vere beata nox,
in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur!

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Sartor Resartus

Dennis Mangan mocks "educator and designer Kelly Cobb," who "decided to make a man's suit only from materials produced within 100 miles of her home." An ancient designer who made his own suit was Hippias, of whom we read in [Plato], Hippias Minor (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
You said that upon one occasion, when you went to the Olympic games, all that you had on your person was made by yourself. You began with your ring, which was of your own workmanship, and you said that you could engrave rings; and you had another seal which was also of your own workmanship, and a strigil and an oil flask, which you had made yourself; you said also that you had made the shoes which you had on your feet, and the cloak and the short tunic; but what appeared to us all most extraordinary and a proof of singular art, was the girdle of your tunic, which, you said, was as fine as the most costly Persian fabric, and of your own weaving.
Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe by necessity made his own clothes from locally produced materials:
I had a great high shapeless cap, made of a goat's skin, with a flap hanging down behind, as well to keep the sun from me as to shoot the rain off from running into my neck, nothing being so hurtful in these climates as the rain upon the flesh under the clothes.

I had a short jacket of goat's skin, the skirts coming down to about the middle of the thighs, and a pair of open-kneed breeches of the same; the breeches were made of the skin of an old he-goat, whose hair hung down such a length on either side that, like pantaloons, it reached to the middle of my legs; stockings and shoes I had none, but had made me a pair of somethings, I scarce knew what to call them, like buskins, to flap over my legs, and lace on either side like spatterdashes, but of a most barbarous shape, as indeed were all the rest of my clothes.

I had on a broad belt of goat's skin dried, which I drew together with two thongs of the same instead of buckles, and in a kind of a frog on either side of this, instead of a sword and dagger, hung a little saw and a hatchet, one on one side and one on the other. I had another belt not so broad, and fastened in the same manner, which hung over my shoulder, and at the end of it, under my left arm, hung two pouches, both made of goat's skin too, in one of which hung my powder, in the other my shot. At my back I carried my basket, and on my shoulder my gun, and over my head a great clumsy, ugly, goat's-skin umbrella, but which, after all, was the most necessary thing I had about me next to my gun.
Here is N.C. Wyeth's illustration of Crusoe:

Henry David Thoreau did not make his own clothes, but was more concerned with utility than beauty in what he wore (Journal, May 8, 1857):
Within a week I have had made a pair of corduroy pants, which cost when done $1.60. They are of that peculiar clay-color, reflecting the light from portions of their surface. They have this advantage, that, being very strong, they will look about as well three months hence as now -- or, as ill, some would say. Most of my friends are disturbed by my wearing them.
The citizens of Concord were apparently more than once shocked by the outlandish garb of the Thoreau family. Walter Harding tells this story about Thoreau's mother in The Days of Henry Thoreau (New York: Knopf, 1965), p. 350:
In 1857 his mother at the age of seventy, wearing bright yellow ribbons on her bonnet, called on Mary Moody Emerson. During the entire conversation Miss Emerson kept her eyes tightly shut and when Mrs. Thoreau got up to leave, she remarked: "Perhaps you noticed, Mrs. Thoreau, that I closed my eyes during your call. I did so because I did not wish to look on the ribbons you are wearing, so unsuitable for a child of God and a person of your years."

Friday, April 06, 2007


Perfect Happiness and Pleasant Atrocity

Edward Fitzgerald, Letter to John Allen (April 28, 1839):
Here I live with tolerable content: perhaps with as much as most people arrive at, and what if one were properly grateful one would perhaps call perfect happiness. Here is a glorious sunshiny day: all the morning I read about Nero in Tacitus lying at full length on a bench in the garden: a nightingale singing, and some red anemones eyeing the sun manfully not far off. A funny mixture all this: Nero, and the delicacy of Spring: all very human however. Then at half past one lunch on Cambridge cream cheese: then a ride over hill and dale: then spudding up some weeds from the grass: and then coming in, I sit down to write to you, my sister winding red worsted from the back of a chair, and the most delightful little girl in the world chattering incessantly. So runs the world away. You think I live in Epicurean ease: but this happens to be a jolly day: one isn't always well, or tolerably good, the weather is not always clear, nor nightingales singing, nor Tacitus full of pleasant atrocity. But such as life is, I believe I have got hold of a good end of it.


Liddell and Scott

Greek Comedy, Hellenistic Literature, Greek Religion, and Miscellanea: The Academic Papers of Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 235:
When boys at Westminster School used to defend eccentric interpretations criticized by their Head Master, H.G. Liddell, by saying they had found them in the lexicon of which he was an editor, Liddell used to say, 'Scott wrote that part.'

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Erysichthon in Ovid

Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), The Tree of Crows

For comparison with Callimachus' narrative of the myth of Erysichthon, here is Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.738-842 (tr. Frank Justus Miller):
[738] No less power had the wife of Autolycus, Erysichthon's daughter. This Erysichthon was a man who scorned the gods and burnt no sacrifices on their altars. He, so the story goes, once violated the sacred grove of Ceres with the axe and profaned those ancient trees with steel. There stood among these a mighty oak with strength matured by centuries of growth, itself a grove. Round about it hung woollen fillets, votive tablets, and wreaths of flowers, witnesses of granted prayers. Often beneath this tree dryads held their festive dances, often with hand linked to hand in line they would encircle the great tree whose mighty girth was full fifteen ells. It towered as high above other trees as they were higher than the grass that grew beneath.

[751] Yet not for this did Triopas' son withhold his axe, as he bade his slaves cut down the sacred oak. But when he saw that they shrank back, the wretch snatched an axe from one of them and said: 'Though this be not only the tree that the goddess loves, but even the goddess herself, now shall its leafy top touch the ground.' He spoke; and while he poised his axe for the slanting stroke, the oak of Deo trembled and gave forth a groan; at the same time its leaves and its acorns grew pale, its long branches took on a pallid hue. But when that impious stroke cut into the trunk, blood came streaming forth from the severed bark, even as when a huge sacrificial bull has fallen at the altar, and from his smitten neck the blood pours forth.

[765] All were astonied, and one, bolder than the rest, tried to stop his wicked deed and stay his cruel axe. But the Thessalian looked at him and said: 'Take that to pay you for your pious thought!' and, turning the axe from the tree against the man, lopped off his head. Then, as he struck the oak blow after blow, from within the tree a voice was heard: 'I, a nymph most dear to Ceres, dwell within this wood, and I prophesy with my dying breath, and find my death's solace in it, that punishment is at hand for what you do.' But he accomplished his crime; and at length the tree, weakened by countless blows and drawn down by ropes, fell and with its weight laid low a wide stretch of woods around.

[777] All the dryad sisters were stupefied at their own and their forest's loss and, mourning, clad in black robes, they went to Ceres and prayed her to punish Erysichthon. The beautiful goddess consented, and with a nod of her head shook the fields heavy with ripening grain. She planned in her mind a punishment that might make men pity (but that no man could pity him for such deeds), to rack him with dreadful Famine. But, since the goddess herself could not go to her (for the fates do not permit Ceres and Famine to come together), she summoned one of the mountain deities, a rustic oread, and thus addressed her:

[788] 'There is a place on the farthest borders of icy Scythia, a gloomy and barren soil, a land without corn, without trees. Sluggish Cold dwells there, and Pallor, Fear, and gaunt Famine. So, bid Famine hide herself in the sinful stomach of that impious wretch. Let no abundance satisfy her, and let her overcome my utmost power to feed. And, that the vast journey may not daunt you, take my chariot and my winged dragons and guide them aloft.'

[796] And she gave the reins into her hands. The nymph, borne through the air in her borrowed chariot, came to Scythia, and on a bleak mountain-top which men call Caucasus, unyoked her dragon steeds. Seeking out Famine, she saw her in a stony field, plucking with nails and teeth at the scanty herbage. Her hair hung in matted locks, her eyes were sunken, her face ghastly pale; her lips were wan and foul, her throat rough with scurf; her skin was hard and dry so that the entrails could be seen through it; her skinny hip-bones bulged out beneath her hollow loins, and her belly was but a belly's place; her breast seemed to be hanging free and just to be held by the framework of her spine; her thinness made her joints seem large, her knees were swollen, and her ankles were great bulging lumps.

[809] When the nymph saw her in the distance (for she did not dare approach her), she delivered to her the goddess' commands. And, though she tarried but a little while, though she kept far from her and had but now arrived, still she seemed to feel the famine. Then, mounting high in air, she turned her course and drove the dragons back to Thessaly.

[814] Famine did the bidding of Ceres, although their tasks are ever opposite, and flew though the air on the wings of the wind to the appointed mansion. Straight she entered the chamber of the impious king, who was sunk in deep slumber (for it was night); there she wrapped her skinny arms about him and filled him with herself, breathing upon his throat and breast and lips; and so in his hollow veins she planted hunger. When her duty was done, she left the fertile world, and returned to the homes of want and her familiar caverns.

[823] Still gentle Sleep, hovering on peaceful wings, soothes Erysichthon. And in his sleep he dreams of feasting, champs his jaws on nothing, wearies tooth upon tooth, cheats his gullet with fancied food; for his banquet is nothing but empty air.

[828] But when he awakes, a wild craving for food lords it in his ravenous jaws and in his burning stomach. Straightway he calls for all that sea and land and air can furnish; with loaded tables before him, he complains still of hunger; in the midst of feasts seeks other feasts. What would be enough for whole cities, enough for a whole nation, is not enough for one. The more he sends down into his maw the more he wants.

[835] And as the ocean receives the streams from a whole land and is not filled with his waters, but swallows up the streams that come to it from afar; and as the all-devouring fire never refuses fuel, but burns countless logs, seeks ever more as more is given it, and is greedy by reason of the quantity; so do the lips of impious Erysichthon receive all those banquets, and ask for more. All food in him is but the cause of food, and ever does he become empty by eating.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Erysichthon in Callimachus

Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), Trees in the Moonlight

An early environmental villain is the figure of Erysichthon in Greek mythology. His crime was cutting down a tree in a grove sacred to the goddess Demeter, and his punishment was insatiable hunger. There are extended narratives of this myth in Callimachus and Ovid. I'll present the passage from Callimachus today, and the passage from Ovid another day.

Callimachus tells the story in his Hymn to Demeter. G. Karl Galinsky summarizes Callimachus' account in Ovid's Metamorphoses: An Introduction to the Basic Aspects (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 5-6:
Because he wants to build a house for himself, Erysichthon, the young son of Triopas, goes with twenty attendants to cut trees in the forest. They happen on a grove sacred to Demeter. The first tree they cut down there cries out aloud and Demeter, disguised as a priestess, asks Erysichthon to desist. He replies that he needs a house for banqueting, whereupon the goddess appears in her true form -- her step touching the earth, her head reaching unto Olympus -- and sends perpetual hunger upon him. In the subsequent and longer part of the narrative (lines 68-118), the poet focuses on the destructive effects of Erysichthon's affliction upon his family and their social status. The parents desperately want to maintain their respectability and try to conceal the true state of Erysichthon's condition by keeping him at home and devising ever new excuses for declining invitations. Meanwhile, the boy impoverishes them by eating up everything, even the family cat. Finally, with no edibles or money for edibles left at home, the parents' struggle is lost as Erysichthon has to go to the crossroads as a beggar and eat refuse.
Here is a translation of Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter 17-117 by A.W. Mair. I found a scanned version with errors on the World Wide Web. I fixed some of the obvious errors, but others may remain. I haven't yet had the chance to compare it with the printed version.
[17] Nay, nay, let us not speak of that which brought the tear to Deo! Better to tell how she gave cities pleasing ordinances; better to tell how she was the first to cut straw and holy sheaves of corn-ears and put in oxen to tread them, what time Triptolemus was taught the good craft; better to tell – a warning to men that they avoid transgression – how <she made the son of Triopas hateful and pitiful> to see.

[24] Not yet in the land of Cnidus, but still in holy Dotium dwelt the Pelasgians and unto thyself they made a fair grove abounding in trees; hardly would an arrow have passed through them. Therein was pine, and therein were mighty elms, and therein were pear-trees, and therein were fair sweet-apples; and from the ditches gushes up water as it were of amber. And the goddess loved the place to madness, even as Eleusis, as Triopum, as Enna.

[31] But when their favouring fortune became wroth with the Triopidae, then the worse counsel took hold of Erysichthon. He hastened with twenty attendants, all in their prime, all men-giants able to lift a whole city, arming them both with double axes and with hatchets, and they rushed shameless into the grove of Demeter. Now there was a poplar, a great tree reaching to the sky, and thereby the nymphs were wont to sport at noontide. This poplar was smitten first and cried a woeful cry to the others. Demeter marked that her holy tree was in pain, and she as angered and said: “Who cuts down my fair tree?” Straightway she likened her to Nicippe, whom the city had appointed to be her public priestess, and in her hand she grasped her fillets and her poppy, and from her shoulder hung her key. And she spake to soothe the wicked and shameless man and said: “My child, who cuttest down the trees which are dedicated to the gods, stay, my child, child of thy parents’ many prayers, cease and turn back thine attendants, lest the lady Demeter be angered, whose holy place thou makest desolate.”

[50] But with a look more fierce than that wherewith a lioness looks on the hunter on the hills of Tmarus – a lioness with new-born cubs, whose eye they say is of all most terrible – he said: “Hie back, lest I fix my great axe in thy flesh! These trees shall make my tight dwelling wherein evermore I shall hold pleasing banquets enough for my companions.” So spake the youth and Nemesis recorded his evil speech. And Demeter was angered beyond telling and put on her goddess shape. Her steps touched the earth, but her head reached unto Olympus. And they, half-dead when they beheld the lady goddess, rushed suddenly away, leaving the bronze axes in the trees. And she left the others alone – for they followed by constraint beneath their master’s hand – but she answered their angry king: “Yea, yea, build thy house, dog, dog, that thou art, wherein thou shalt hold festival; for frequent banquets shall be thine hereafter.” So much she said and devised evil things for Erysichthon.

[66] Straightway she sent on him a cruel and evil hunger – a burning hunger and a strong – and he was tormented by a grievous disease. Wretched man, as much as he ate, so much did he desire again. Twenty prepared the banquet for him, and twelve drew wine. For whatsoever things vex Demeter, vex also Dionysus; for Dionysus shares the anger of Demeter. His parents for shame sent him not to common feast or banquet, and all manner of excuse was devised. The sons of Ormenus came to bid him to the games of Itonian Athene. Then his mother refused the bidding: “He is not at home: for yesterday he is gone unto Crannon to demand a debt of a hundred oxen.” Polyxo came, mother of Actorion – for she was preparing a marriage for her child – inviting both Triopas and his son. But the lady, heavy-hearted, answered with tears: “Triopas will come, but Erysichthon a boar wounded on Pindus of fair glens and he hath lain abed for nine days.” Poor child-loving mother, what falsehood didst thou not tell? One was giving a feast: “Erysichthon is abroad.” One was bringing home a bride: “A quoit hath struck Erysichthon,” or “he hath had a fall from his car,” or “he is counting his flocks on Othrys.” Then he within the house, an all-day banqueter, ate all things beyond reckoning. But his evil belly leaped all the more as he ate, and all the eatables poured, in vain and thanklessly, as it were into the depths of the sea. And even as the snow upon Mimas, as a wax doll in the sun, yea, even more that these he wasted to the very sinews: only sinews and bones had the poor man left. His mother wept, and greatly groaned his two sisters, and the breast that suckled him and the ten handmaidens over and over.

[96] And Triopas himself laid hands on his grey hairs, calling on Poseidon, who heeded not, with such words as these: “False father, behold this the third generation of thy sons – if I am son of thee and of Canace, daughter of Aeolus, and this hapless child is mine. Would that he had been smitten by Apollo and that my hands had buried him! But now he sits an accursed glutton before mine eyes. Either do thou remove from him his cruel disease or take and feed him thyself; for my tables area already exhausted. Desolate are my folds and empty my byres of four-footed beasts; for already the cooks have said me “no.”

[107] But even the mules they loosed from the great wains and he ate the heifer that his mother was feeding for Hestia and the racing horse and the war charger, and the cat at which the little vermin trembled.

[111] So long as there were stores in the house of Triopas, only the chambers of the house were aware of the evil thing; but when his teeth dried up the rich house, then the king’s son sat at the crossways, begging for crusts and the cast out refuse of the feast. O Demeter, never may that man be my friend who is hateful to thee, nor ever may he share party-wall with me; ill neighbours I abhor.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Seeds and Roots

Sara B. Stein, My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany (New York: Harper & Row, 1988; rpt. 1990), occasionally confuses Greek and Latin roots of English words, e.g. at p. 136:
To the evolutionist, the most advanced flora in the ancient swamp assemblage were pteridosperms. The name comes from the Latin words for fern and seed; the seed-ferns made seeds.
and at p. 143:
The name "gymnosperm," which is applied to all seed-bearing plants that lack flowers, comes from the Latin for "naked seed."
"Pteridosperm" and "gymnosperm" come from Greek roots, not Latin ones. English "fern" is πτέρις (ptéris) in Greek, filix in Latin. English "naked" is γυμνός (gymnós) in Greek, nudus in Latin. English "seed" is σπέρμα (spérma) in Greek, semen in Latin.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Rectal Music

I have not read Greer Ramsey, "A breath of fresh air: rectal music in Gaelic Ireland," Archaeology Ireland 16.1 (Spring 2002) 22-23, but apparently the article discusses the braigeteóir, or professional farter. The title is intriguing and reminded me of the following passages which mention rectal music.

Greek Anthology 11.395 (Nicarchus, tr. W.R. Paton):
A fart which cannot find an outlet kills many a man; a fart also saves, sending forth its lisping music. Therefore if a fart saves, and on the other hand kills, a fart has the same power as kings.

Πορδὴ ἀποκτέννει πολλοὺς ἀδιέξοδος οὖσα·
  πορδὴ καὶ σώζει τραυλὸν ἱεῖσα µέλος.
οὐκοῦν εἰ σώζει, καὶ ἀποκτέννει πάλι πορδή,
  τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν ἴσην πορδὴ ἔχει δύναµιν.
St. Augustine, City of God 14.24 (tr. Marcus Dodds):
Some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing.

nonnulli ab imo sine pudore ullo ita numerosos pro arbitrio sonitus edunt, ut ex illa etiam parte cantare videantur.
Dante, Inferno 21.136-139 (tr. John D. Sinclair):
They wheeled round by the dike on the left; but first each pressed his tongue between his teeth at their leader for a signal and he made a trumpet of his rear.

Per l'argine sinistro volta dienno;
ma prima avea ciascun la lingua stretta
coi denti, verso lor duca, per cenno;
ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.
Piers Plowman W5.349-353 (tr. Henry W. Wells):
His guts began to grumble like greedy porkers.
He had pissed a pot in a pater noster minute,
He blew the bugle at his ridge bone's bottom,
So that all who heard that horn held their nose after,
And wished it had been wiped with a wisp of rushes.

Hise guttes bigonne to goþelen · as two gredy sowes
He pissed a potel · in a pater noster while
And blew his rounde ruwet · at his ruggebones ende
That alle þat herde þat horn · helde hir noses after
And wisshed it hadde ben wexed · wiþ a wispe of firses
I have not seen the anonymous pamphlet Arse Musica; or, The Lady's Back Report to Don Fart-in-hand-o Puff-in dorst (1722), which is apparently a reply to The benefit of farting explain'd: or, the fundament-all cause of the distempers incident to the fair-sex, enquired into. Proving à posteriori most of the dis-ordures in-tail'd upon them, are owning to flatulencies not seasonably vented. Written in Spanish by Don Fartinando Puff-indorst, professor of bombast in the University of Crackow. And translated into English at the request, and for the use, of the Lady Damp-fart of Her-fart-shire. By Obadiah Fizzle, Groom of the Stool to the Princess of Arsimini in Sardinia. Long-Fart: (Longford in Ireland), printed by Simon Bumbubbard, at the sign of the Wind-Mill opposite Twattling-Street, 1722.

In modern times, Joseph Pujol (whose stage name was Le Pétomane) could generate rectal music at will.

Detail from Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Sunday, April 01, 2007


The Devil's Classical Dictionary: Zeus

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, s.v. Zeus, n.:
The chief of Grecian gods, adored by the Romans as Jupiter and by the modern Americans as God, Gold, Mob and Dog. Some explorers who have touched upon the shores of America, and one who professes to have penetrated a considerable distance to the interior, have thought that these four names stand for as many distinct deities, but in his monumental work on Surviving Faiths, Frumpp insists that the natives are monotheists, each having no other god than himself, whom he worships under many sacred names.


The Devil's Classical Dictionary: Myrmidon

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, s.v. Myrmidon, n.:
A follower of Achilles -- particularly when he didn't lead.


Root or Stump Fences

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Nov. 11, 1850):
I am attracted by a fence made of white pine roots. There is, or rather was, one (for it has been tipped into the gutter this year) on the road to Hubbard's Bridge which I can remember for more than twenty years. It is almost as indestructible as a wall and certainly requires fewer repairs. It is light, white, and dry withal, and its fantastic forms are agreeable to my eye. One would not have believed that any trees had such snarled and gnarled roots. In some instances you have a coarse network of roots as they interlaced on the surface perhaps of a swamp, which, set on its edge, really looks like a fence, with its paling crossing at various angles, and root repeatedly growing into root, -- a rare phenomenon above ground, -- so as to leave open spaces, square and diamond-shaped and triangular, quite like a length of fence. It is remarkable how white and clean these roots are, and that no lichens, or very few, grow on them; so free from decay are they. The different branches of the roots continually grow into one another, so as to make grotesque figures, sometimes rude harps whose resonant strings of roots give a sort of musical sound when struck, such as the earth spirit might play on. Sometimes the roots are of a delicate wine-color here and there, an evening tint. No line of fence could be too long for me to study each individual stump. Rocks would have been covered with lichens by this time. Perhaps they are grown into one another that they may stand more firmly.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal (July 19, 1851):
The stump or root fences on the Corner road remind me of fossil remains of mastodons, etc., exhumed and bleached in sun and rain.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Dec. 23, 1855):
I admire those old root fences which have almost entirely disappeared from tidy fields, -- white pine roots got out when the neighboring meadow was a swamp, -- the monuments of many a revolution. These roots have not penetrated into the ground, but spread over the surface, and, having been cut off four or five feet from the stump, were hauled off and set up on their edges for a fence. The roots are not merely interwoven, but grown together into solid frames, full of loopholes like Gothic windows of various sizes and all shapes, triangular and oval and harp-like, and the slenderer parts are dry and resonant like harp-strings. They are rough and unapproachable, with a hundred snags and horns which bewilder and balk the calculation of the walker who would surmount them. The part of the trees above ground present no such fantastic forms. Here is one seven paces, or more than a rod, long, six feet high in the middle, and yet only one foot thick, and two men could turn it up, and in this case the roots were six or nine inches thick at the extremities. The roots of pines growing in swamps grow thus in the form of solid frames or rackets, and those of different trees are interwoven with all so that they stand on a very broad foot and stand or fall together to some extent before the blasts, as herds meet the assault of beasts of prey with serried front. You have thus only to dig into the swamp a little way to find your fence, -- post, rails, and slats already solidly grown together and of material more durable than any timber. How pleasing a thought that a field should be fenced with the roots of the trees got out in clearing the land a century before! I regret them as mementoes of the primitive forest. The tops of the same trees made into fencing-stuff would have decayed generations ago. These roots are singularly unobnoxious to the effects of moisture.
Benson J. Lossing, The Hudson from the Wilderness to the Sea (New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1866), chap. 3, part 2:
As we approached it we came to a wide plain, over which lay -- in greater perfection than any we had yet seen -- stump fences, which are peculiar to the Upper Hudson country. They are composed of the stumps of large pine-trees, drawn from the soil by machines made for the purpose, and they are so disposed in rows, their roots interlocking, as to form an effectual barrier to the passage of any animal on whose account fences are made. The stumps are full of sap (turpentine), and we were assured, with all the confidence of experience, that these fences would last a thousand years, the turpentine preserving the woody fibre. One of the stump-machines stood in a field near the road. It was a simple derrick, with a large wooden screw hanging from the apex, where its heavy matrix was fastened. In the lower end of the screw was a large iron bolt, and at the upper end, or head, a strong lever was fastened. The derrick is placed over a stump, and heavy chains are wound round and under the stump and over the iron bolt in the screw. A horse attached to the lever works the screw in such a manner as to draw the stump and its roots clean from the ground. The stump fences formed quite a picturesque feature in the landscape, and at a distance have the appearance of masses of deer horns.
Richard Le Gallienne, October Vagabonds (1911), chap. XVII:
His delight in a form of skill which has always been as magical to me as it seemed to him, was charmingly boyish, and Colin turned over his sketch-book, and showed him the notes he had made as we went along. One of a stump fence particularly delighted him -- those stump fences made out of the roots of pine trees set side by side, which had been a feature of the country some miles back, and which make such a weird impression on the landscape, like rows of gigantic black antlers, or many-armed Hindoo idols, or a horde of Zulus in fantastic war-gear drawn up in battle-array, or the blackened stumps of giants' teeth -- Colin and I tried all those images and many more to express the curious weird effect of coming upon them in the midst of a green and smiling landscape.
Emil P. Kruschke, "Lacing the Countryside: A Profile on the Evolution of the Fence," Wisconsin Academy Review (Summer 1971), pp. 3-4:
The stump fence, though a transient in northern Wisconsin and in Michigan, also left its mark. These appeared mostly in northern sandy areas where the pines (red and white) had been sawed out and the big shallow-rooted pine stumps remained. Often in clearing this land the stumps were blasted or pulled out by teams of horses or heavy tractors and towed to the would-be fence line. There, each was tipped on its side with the broad wheel-like radiating root system directed parallel to the line of the fence. The stumps, with roots outstretched and interlocking, made a fence that was both effective and durable. Stump fences bordering cleared fields and even old graveyards are still visible in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and occasionally in lower Michigan, particularly in Allegan County (Allegan-Otsego-Plainwell area) bordering the Kalamazoo River. However, few of the old stump fences remain for most of them have been consumed by fire or as Robert McCabe described it, "have given up the ghost in the form of wood and smoke."
Susan Allport, Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990; rpt. 1994), pp. 36-37:
Stump fences, as their name implies, were made by dragging the stumps of trees to the edge of a field and placing them side by side, with their interlacing roots facing outward and their trunks inward. In the days when "ugly as a stump fence" was a simile in common usage, the stump fence had its critics, but in 1837 one observer called it "a singular fence...needing no mending, and lasting the 'for ever' of this world." "The devil himself couldn't move a stump fence," farmers used to say, an opinion borne out by the fact that stump fences well over a hundred years old can still be seen in parts of Canada and in the Midwest.

Stumps were often the product of the first clearing of the land, but stump fences didn't appear in the first generation of a settlement's fences because stumps need to sit in the ground for six to ten years before they are loose enough to be pulled out and hauled away. Extracting even a loosened stump was never easy; it required oxen and strong chains, something that many settlers lacked at first. In the 1800s, stump pulling would become a cash business and one way that a man could make a good living. Twenty-five cents a stump was the standard price in 1850 when men operating such mechanical stump pullers as the "Portable Goliath," "The Little Giant," and "Roger's Patent Extractor" could extract from twenty to fifty stumps a day.
There are some photographs of the remains of root fences in Earle F. Layser, "Story In a Stump Fence," New Holland News (Jan.-Feb. 2003).

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