Thursday, May 31, 2007


Marks of the Intellectual

H.H. Munro (Saki), Reginald's Choir Treat:
Annabel was accounted a beauty and intellectually gifted; she never played tennis, and was reputed to have read Maeterlinck's Life of the Bee. If you abstain from tennis and read Maeterlinck in a small country village, you are of necessity intellectual.


Hot Tub Tom and the Hot Gates

Jeffrey Goldberg, Party Unfaithful: The Republican Implosion, The New Yorker (June 4, 2007):
Earlier this year, he [Tom DeLay] published a memoir called "No Retreat, No Surrender" (his spokeswoman says that he was not stealing from Bruce Springsteen, and that the phrase has been used many times throughout history, including by the Spartans and as the title of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie), in which he claimed that as a young congressman he would on occasion drink ten to twelve Martinis at a time. In this period, he earned the nickname Hot Tub Tom.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching cheesy martial arts movies, and I confess that I have seen Jean-Claude Van Damme's "No Retreat, No Surrender." Bruce Springsteen is a different matter. I know he's some kind of singer, but if you offered me $1000 to hum "No Retreat, No Surrender" or any other Bruce Springsteen ditty, I would perforce retreat emptyhanded.

What about the Spartans? Did they ever say the equivalent of "No retreat, no surrender?" Apparently in the movie The 300 (which I haven't seen), Leonidas the Spartan says, "Never retreat, never surrender," but Hollywood is not exactly an impeccable source for ancient history.

The Spartans may well have said something like "No retreat, no surrender," although I can't recall offhand ever seeing such a phrase in Greek literature. It is definitely a laconic, if not a Laconic, statement. The Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. laconic, says:
"concise, abrupt," 1589, from Gk. Lakonikos, from Lakon "person from Lakonia," the district around Sparta in southern Greece in ancient times, whose inhabitants were famous for their brevity of speech. When Philip of Macedon threatened them with, "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta to the ground," the Spartans' reply was, "If."
There is an implied prohibition against retreat or surrender in the famous statement of the Spartan mother as she handed her son his shield: ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς, "either it or on it," in other words, "either bring back your shield or be carried back from battle dead on top of your shield." It was the quintessential mark of cowardice in ancient times to drop your shield on the battlefield and run away. The poet Archilochus bragged about doing just this, and there is a story that as a result the Spartans forbade him even to set foot in Sparta, lest he be a corrupting influence.

I'll be on the lookout for "No retreat, no surrender" in my reading from now on. I did check book 7 of Herodotus, a major source for the Battle of Thermopylae (Hot Gates). The closest I could find to any statement about retreating was 7.207 (tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt):
The Persian army was now close to the pass, and the Greeks, suddenly doubting their power to resist, held a conference to consider the advisability of retreat [ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ ἀπαλλαγῆς]. It was proposed by the Peloponnesians generally that the army should fall back upon the Peloponnese and hold the Isthmus; but when the Phocians and Locrians expressed their indignation at this suggestion, Leonidas gave his voice for staying where they were and sending, at the same time, an appeal for reinforcements to the various states of the confederacy, as their numbers were inadequate to cope with the Persians.
Hot Tub Tom has now become Hot Gospeller Tom, according to Jeffrey Goldberg's article:
"God has spoken to me," he said. "I listen to God, and what I've heard is that I'm supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party."
Heaven preserve us! Far be it from me to encourage backsliding, but perhaps the United States of America and even the Republican Party might be better off if Tom DeLay would retreat from the political fray and surrender to the pleasures of his hot tub, there to sip a martini (or ten, or twelve).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Independence and Autonomy

Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple), Blood & smashed glass:
We are all in thrall to scores, hundreds, thousands perhaps, of mechanisms of whose workings we have no conception. We like to think of ourselves as independent and autonomous, but in fact we are far less independent and autonomous than the villeins of the feudal age. What happens when all the mechanisms and organizations that allow us to lead our lives break down and dissolve?


The Fox and the Grapes

Aesop 32A Chambry:
A famished fox, when she saw grapes hanging from a vine, wanted to reach them and could not. Going away, she said to herself, "They are unripe grapes."
Varro, On Rustic Topics 1.8 (tr. by "a Virginia farmer"), also mentions foxes and grapes:
The least expensive kind of a vineyard is that which brings wine to the jug without the aid of any sort of prop. There are two of this kind, one in which the earth serves as a bed for the grapes, as in many places in Asia, and where usually the foxes share the crop with man....
Aesop was supposed to be a slave from Phrygia in Asia Minor, and some (including the "Virginia farmer" in a footnote) think the fable of the fox and the grapes reflects Asiatic agricultural practices: the fox, accustomed to grapes growing low on the ground, was frustrated when she first encountered them growing high on a trellis beyond her reach.

However that may be, foxes were the bane of ancient farmers who grew grapes, as the following passages attest.

Aristophanes, Knights 1076-77 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Soldiers are like fox cubs because they eat grapes in the farmlands.
Song of Songs 2.15:
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
Theocritus 1.48-49 (describing an embossed cup, tr. A.S.F. Gow):
About him hang two foxes, and one goes to and fro among the vine-rows plundering the ripe grapes.
Theocritus 5.112-13 (tr. A.S.F. Gow):
I hate the foxes with their busy tails that come ever at evening and plunder Micon's vineyard.
Alciphron, 3.22 (Polyalsus to Eustaphylus, tr. anon.):
I set a trap for those confounded foxes, and hung some pieces of meat on the trap. They ravaged my vines, and, not content with picking a few grapes, carried off whole bunches and pulled up the plants.
There is a variety of grape known as the fox grape (Vitis vulpina).

Thoreau (Journal, Sept. 23, 1860) noted the omnivirous fox's diet, which included huckleberries as well as small animals:
I see on the top of the Cliffs to-day the dung of a fox, consisting of fur, with part of the jaw and one of the long rodent teeth of a woodchuck in it, and the rest of it huckleberry seeds with some whole berries. I saw exactly the same beyond Goose Pond a few days ago, on a rock,--except that the tooth (a curved rodent) was much smaller, probably of a mouse. It is evident, then, that the fox eats huckleberries and so contributes very much to the dispersion of this shrub, for there were a number of entire berries in its dung,--in both the last two I chanced to notice. To spread these seeds, Nature employs not only a great many birds but this restless ranger the fox. Like ourselves, he likes two courses, rabbit and huckleberries.
And grapes, if he can reach them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A Cherished Superstition

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Feb. 3, 1860):
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, -- as that a sentence must never end with a particle, -- and perceive how implicitly even the learned obey it, I think --
Any fool can make a rule
And every fool will mind it.
According to Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2002), p. 609, John Dryden was the fool who made the rule, in his criticism of a line from Ben Jonson's Catiline:
The bodies that those souls were frighted from.
Dryden wrote:
The Preposition in the end of the sentence; a common fault with him, and which I have but lately observ'd in my own writings.
One of the learned who obeyed and promulgated the rule was Hugh Blair in Lecture XII of his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783):
A fifth rule for the strength of Sentences; which is, to avoid concluding them with an adverb, a preposition, or any inconsiderable word. Such conclusions are always enfeebling and degrading....Agreeably to this rule, we should always avoid concluding with any of those particles which mark the case of nouns,--of, to, from, with, by. For instance, it is a great deal better to say, "Avarice is a crime of which wise men are often guilty," than to say, "Avarice is a crime which wise men are often guilty of." This is a phraseology which all correct writers shun, and with reason. For, besides the want of dignity which arises from these monosyllables at the end, the imagination cannot avoid resting, for a little, on the import of the word which closes the Sentence: And, as those prepositions have no import of their own, but only serve to point out the relations of other words, it is disagreeable for the mind to be left pausing on a word, which does not, by itself, produce any idea, nor form any picture in the fancy.
Thoreau's alma mater, Harvard, adopted Blair's Lectures as a textbook in 1788. The biographies of Thoreau available to me (Henry Seidel Canby, Walter Harding, Robert D. Richardson Jr.) don't mention Blair's name in their indices, and so I cannot be certain that the book was still in use during Thoreau's years at Harvard, although I suspect it was.

John Lesslie Hall, English Usage: Studies in the History and Uses of English Words and Phrases (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1917), § XCIV, pp. 213-217, discusses the history of this taboo in other textbooks. The usually strict H.W. Fowler, Modern English Usage (1926), condemns the rule as a "cherished superstition."

Thoreau alludes to this rule elsewhere in his Journal (Jan. 2, 1859):
When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs, -- Mr. Webster, perhaps, not having spoken according to Mr. Kirkham's rule, -- I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially, your truest poetical sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb's bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks that he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk, -- turning your toes out, perhaps, excessively, -- but so the beautiful walkers are not made.

Monday, May 28, 2007



Attributed to Robert Wilensky:
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing, was sometimes represented as a baboon.

Cf. also:

Sunday, May 27, 2007



Adrian Morgan, Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Mythology & Cultural Oddities of This Strange Association (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1995), pp. 11-12:
Puffballs were sometimes called in English puckfists, a term that meant "fairy fart." .... They were also called fistballs, or bullfists, which again referred to farting. Continental Europe has long associated the puffball with anal evacuations: in ancient Rome it was crepitus lupi; in parts of Spain it was pedo de lobo; in France, pet de loup. All of these names mean "fart of the wolf," referring to noisy eruptions. In ancient Greece, the puffball was called lycoperdon, in Spain cuesco de lobo, in France vesse de loup, meaning fart of the wolf--defining here the "silent-but-deadly" variety. Another English title, recorded in 1597 by the herbalist John Gerard, was Woolfes Fistes, again meaning (silent) fart of the wolf, a creature with a longstanding reputation for magic and malevolence.
I transcribed this from Google Book Search (which gives only a limited preview), and I haven't seen the actual book. I don't find lycoperdon in Liddell & Scott's Greek-English Lexicon or the combination crepitus lupi in Thesaurus Linguae Latinae s.v. crepitus. Despite Morgan's words "in ancient Greece" and "in ancient Rome," I suspect that lycoperdon and crepitus lupi are both modern coinages, scholarly renderings of a vernacular name (cf. Melanchthon = Schwarzerde and Xylander = Holtzmann). To Morgan's list add Italian vescia di lupo and Portuguese bufa de lobo.

Related post: Noctes Scatologicae: Coprophagy (puffballs are edible).

References for my own use:

Saturday, May 26, 2007


The Dregs of Life

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life 3.4-5 (tr. John W. Basore):
You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: "After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties." And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!

tamquam semper victuri vivitis, numquam vobis fragilitas vestra succurrit, non observatis quantum iam temporis transierit; velut ex pleno et abundanti perditis, cum interim fortasse ille ipse qui alicui vel homini vel rei donatur dies ultimus sit. omnia tamquam mortales timetis, omnia tamquam immortales concupiscitis. audies plerosque dicentes: "a quinquagesimo anno in otium secedam, sexagesimus me annus ab officiis dimittet." et quem tandem longioris vitae praedem accipis? quis ista sicut disponis ire patietur? non pudet te reliquias vitae tibi reservare et id solum tempus bonae menti destinare quod in nullam rem conferri possit? quam serum est tunc vivere incipere cum desinendum est? quae tam stulta mortalitatis oblivio in quinquagesimum et sexagesimum annum differre sana consilia et inde velle vitam inchoare quo pauci perduxerunt?
John Dryden, Aureng-Zebe, IV.i:
When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat;
Yet fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think tomorrow will repay;
Tomorrow's falser than the former day;
Lies worse; and while it says, we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;
And from the dregs of life think to receive,
What the first sprightly running could not give.
I'm tired with waiting for this Chymick gold,
Which fools us young, and beggars us when old.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Smutty Postcards, Panzeatic League, and Caledonian Antisyzygy

Dear Mr. Gilleland,

I like the escutcheon – a roundel with porc statant azure, which leaves dignity intact. The heraldic wallowing of ‘porc couchant’, possibly framed dexter and sinister by knife and fork, is best left to the hardline sybarites. Purists and the bellicose might insist on a boar tusked, unguled and bristled, but ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’.

Your post on ‘The Art of Donald McGill’ inspired me to dig out the original since I have a crumbling and tatty but much prized collection of Horizons (about three-quarters complete). I like to think that some of them at any rate are salt-stained from convoy duty, were rescued at Dunkirk, or parched in the African desert. You are usually impeccable bibliographically but I eventually found the essay (along with a short memoir of Robert Byron) in the September 1941 issue (vol. IV, no. 21) and not February 1942.

I was struck by the close of the essay:
“Like the music halls, they [saucy cartoons] are a sort of saturnalia, a harmless rebellion against virtue. ...a whole category of humour integral to our literature till 1800 or thereabouts, has dwindled down to these ill-drawn postcards, leading a barely legal existence in cheap stationers’ windows. The corner of the human heart that they speak for might easily manifest itself in worse forms, and I for one should be sorry to see them vanish.”
Prophetic words. Orwell didn’t live to see the “barely legal” become incontrovertibly illegal, when McGill was prosecuted for obscenity in 1951 and his postcards did indeed all but vanish. ‘Hard Rock’ below was used in the case for the, on the face of it, rock-hard prosecution.

Compare this to an etching by another London Scot, James Gillray, 1757-1815 (The Satirical Etchings of James Gillray, ed. Draper Hill, Dover 1976) and you can appreciate Orwell’s point concerning eighteenth century antecedents.

What connects Gillray, McGill and the occasional scatologist Michael Gilleland is of course – nomen omen – Scottish Gaelic ‘gille’ – servant, the word which would be the likely candidate to render Spanish ‘escudero’ - squire in any Gaelic translation of Cervantes. So you could say there was a sort of hard-wired earthiness there (a Panzeatic League) - as there is indeed in the Scottish tradition - locked in creative tension with the elevated.

The critic Kurt Wittig gives some credence to the notion of ‘Caledonian Antisyzygy’:
“From the beginning to end, Scots poetry showed a combination of two or more seemingly irreconcilable qualities: of high pathos and everyday realism, of stark tragedy and grim humour, of high seriousness and grotesquerie, of tenderness and sarcasm. ...This emotional and intellectual dualism – the “Caledonian Antisyzygy,” as Gregory Smith called it – may possibly have been reinforced by the schizophrenic tendencies of a nation which came to use one language to express thought, another to express feeling. It may also have been hardened by the stern intellectual discipline of Calvinism; and, as the impact of the Reformation gradually wore off, people may have become increasingly conscious of the latent emotional and moral dualism implicit in the overt contradiction between the Scottish Sabbath and the Scottish Saturday (or Friday) night.”
(The Scottish Tradition in Literature, Oliver & Boyd 1958, pg. 250).

The point I suppose that Orwell makes is that the voyeur eyeing voluptuous figures on the beach, who might laugh at one of McGill’s smutty postcards, may also be the person who gazes the next moment wistfully out to sea, and then opens a novel, a novel, say, that begins:
“The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine. With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam. Near to the horizon it is a luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green. At the horizon it is indigo. Near to the shore, where my view is framed by rising heaps of humpy yellow rock, there is a band of lighter green, icy and pure, less radiant, opaque however, not transparent. We are in the north and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea.”
“The sea lost nothing of the swallowing identity of its great outer mass of waters in the emphatic, individual character of each particular wave. Each wave, as it rolled in upon the high-pebbled beach was an epitome of the whole body of the sea, and carried with it all the vast mysterious quality of the earth’s ancient antagonist.”
“The sun had not yet risen: The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Gradually, as the sky whitened a dark line lay on the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became barred with thick strokes moving, one after another, beneath the surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually.”
Barring distractions, he might read on, or then again he might not.

Kind Regards,

Andrew MacGillivray

Mr. MacGillivray's final three quotations come from (1) Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea; (2) John Cowper Powys, Weymouth Sands; and (3) Virginia Woolf, The Waves. Panzeatic League (league of men with paunches) is of course a pun on Hanseatic League.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Vacation Idea

Pliny the Younger, Letter 7.9.1-3 (to Fuscus Salinator, tr. Betty Radice):
You ask me what course of study I think you should follow during your present prolonged holiday. The most useful thing, which is always being suggested, is to translate Greek into Latin and Latin into Greek. This kind of exercise develops in one a precision and richness of vocabulary, a wide range of metaphor, and power of exposition, and, moreover, imitation of the best models leads to a like aptitude for original composition. At the same time, any point which might have been overlooked by a reader cannot escape the eye of a translator. All this cultivates perception and critical sense.

Quaeris quemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. quo genere exercitationis proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. intellegentia ex hoc et iudicium acquiritur.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Ramada, Bower, Pergola, Trellis, Sukkah

This week's theme for A.Word.A.Day is words borrowed from Spanish. Yesterday's word was
ramada (ruh-MAH-duh) noun

  An open shelter roofed with branches.

[From Spanish, from rama (branch), from Vulgar Latin rama, from Latin ramus (branch). The word "ramify" branches out from the same root "ramus".]
In my ignorance, I first thought that English bower might be a sort of calque for Spanish ramada (or vice versa), but etymologically bower has nothing to do with bough, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. bower:
O.E. bur "room, hut, dwelling," from P.Gmc. *buraz (cf. Ger. bauer "birdcage"), from base *bu- "to dwell." Modern spelling developed after 1350. Sense of "leafy arbor" (place closed in by trees) is first attested 1523. Hence, too, Australia's bower-bird (1847). New York City's Bowery (1787) was originally a homestead farm (Du. bowerij); used attributively for its squalor since 1840.
Cousin to the ramada is the pergola, which The American Heritage Dictionary defines as
An arbor or passageway with a roof of trelliswork on which climbing plants are trained to grow.
Pergola is originally an Italian word, itself derived from Latin pergula, one of whose meanings (Lewis and Short 5) is "vine-arbor." Horace refers to a vine-arbor in Ode 1.38 (tr. John Addington Symonds):
Boy, I dislike this Persian frippery,
These linden-twisted chaplets please not me.
Pray take no pains to find for me where grows
  The latest lingering rose.

Twine not the myrtle spray with studious care,
Plain myrtle leaves we both may fitly wear, --
Thou as my page, I, as I sip my wine
  Beneath my thick-leaved vine.

Persicos odi, puer, apparatus;
displicent nexae philyra coronae;
mitte sectari rosa quo locorum
  sera moretur.

Simplici myrto nihil adlabores
sedulus curo; neque te ministrum
dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta
  vite bibentem.
Nisbet and Hubbard translate arta vite as "my shady pergola." In their note they say:
Such bowers of vines were and remain popular in Mediterranean lands; cf. Gow on Theocr. 15.119, copa 8 'triclia umbrosis frigida harundinibus', Plin. nat. 14.11 'una vitis Romae in Liviae porticibus subdiales inambulationes umbrosis pergulis opacat', Colum. 11..32, Plin. epist. 5.6.36 with Sherwin-White's note, D.-S. 4.392f.
The phrase from the copa cited by Nisbet and Hubbard (triclia umbrosis frigida harundinibus = bower cool with shady reeds) contains the word triclia, sometimes spelled trichlia. Some authorities derive English trellis from Latin trichlia.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot (huts or booths) intrigues me. I've never seen a sukkah, but apparently the roof is supposed to be thatched with fronds or branches (schach) that provide more shade than sun, yet through which you can see the stars at night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Shared Rhythm

Garrison Keillor, The Pleasures of Perfect Cadence:
Somehow Thoreau missed out on the pleasure of being in tempo. He never drilled with the Concord militia, and if he ever attended dances, he didn't mention it in his journal. And when he matriculated at Harvard in 1833, there was no marching band where he could've played his flute and learned how thrilling it is when 50 or 60 people hit the cadence, the bass drum going BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM and the snares setting up a back beat and the saxophones swinging back and forth and all the shoes going slapslapslapslap up the street — this is electrifying to the whole town and the populace lines the curbs to watch the parade go by. Rhythm, Henry — shared rhythm — is a powerful thing, compared to which your personal drummer who goes BOOMBOOMboinkBOOMboinkBOOMBOOM is a puny thing. So get over yourself, O Great One. Get with the program.
Thoreau may have marched to his own drumbeat, but he was perfectly capable of singing and dancing in time to someone else's piano accompaniment and so participating in "shared rhythm," as the following passage demonstrates, from F.B. Sanborn, Recollections of Seventy Years, vol. 2 (Boston: Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1909), pp. 397-398:
The Ricketsons said, when asked about the visit of Thoreau, Alcott, and Channing at their New Bedford house (Brooklawn) in April, 1857, that Thoreau sang and danced there to the accompaniment of Mrs. Ricketson's piano....As Mrs. R. struck up a lively Scotch air ("The Campbells are Comin'"), Thoreau felt moved to try a dance, and did so,—keeping time to the music perfectly, but executing some steps more like Indian dances than the usual ballroom figures. Anna was so amused at the sight, which she saw through the window, that she ran and called her father and Channing, who came and looked on,—Alcott sitting on the sofa, meanwhile, and watching the dance. Thoreau continued the performance for five or ten minutes; it was earnest and spontaneous, but not particularly graceful.

During this visit of 1857 Thoreau sang his two favorite pieces,—Moore's "Row, Brothers, Row," and Dibdin's "Tom Bowling,"—both of which, no doubt, reminded him of his brother John. Mrs. Ricketson accompanied him on the piano, and presently Anna procured for him the music of "Tom Bowling," which he had before sung by rote, with spirit and in good time, but not quite in tune, perhaps.
Note the descriptions "keeping time to the music perfectly" and "in good time."

Monday, May 21, 2007


Look Back in Memory

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life 3.3 (tr. John W. Basore):
Look back in memory and consider when you ever had a fixed plan, how few days have passed as you had intended, when you were ever at your own disposal, when your face ever wore its natural expression, when your mind was ever unperturbed, what work you have achieved in so long a life, how many have robbed you of life when you were not aware of what you were losing, how much was taken up in useless sorrow, in foolish joy, in greedy desire, in the allurements of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will perceive that you are dying before your season!

Repete memoria tecum quando certus consilii fueris, quotus quisque dies ut destinaveras recesserit, quando tibi usus tui fuerit, quando in statu suo vultus, quando animus intrepidus, quid tibi in tam longo aevo facti operis sit, quam multi vitam tuam diripuerint te non sentiente quid perderes, quantum vanus dolor, stulta laetitia, avida cupiditas, blanda conversatio abstulerit, quam exiguum tibi de tuo relictum sit: intelleges te immaturum mori.


Reading Homer

Richard John Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (London: Blackie and Son Limited, 1924; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), p. viii:
Let a man once acquire the power to read Homer as he reads Spenser or Milton, and he will have a possession which he would change for no other, an unfailing source of solace and of the purest pleasure. Homer is like Shakespeare in this, that he cannot be exhausted, that the more he is read the more there is found, and that while the effects are more and more felt, the means by which they are got remain more and more mysterious.


Two Principles

George Orwell, "The Art of Donald McGill," Horizon (February 1942 September 1941):
[T]wo principles, noble folly and base wisdom, exist side by side in nearly every human being. If you look into your own mind, which are you, Don Quixote or Sancho Panza? Almost certainly you are both. There is one part of you that wishes to be a hero or a saint, but another part of you is a little fat man who sees very clearly the advantages of staying alive with a whole skin. He is your unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting against the soul. His tastes lie towards safety, soft beds, no work, pots of beer and women with 'voluptuous' figures. He it is who punctures your fine attitudes and urges you to look after Number One, to be unfaithful to your wife, to bilk your debts, and so on and so forth. Whether you allow yourself to be influenced by him is a different question. But it is simply a lie to say that he is not part of you, just as it is a lie to say that Don Quixote is not part of you either, though most of what is said and written consists of one lie or the other, usually the first.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Dalrymple Watch

Here are some recent essays by Theodore Dalrymple:


From the Mailbag

Eric Thomson sent me a witty and erudite email, in which he commented on a couple of my blog posts.

Anent my paunch, he wrote:
A motto for your escutcheon: 'Omo de panza omo de sostanza'.
In English this means, "A man with a paunch is a man of substance." The rhyming motto is some dialect of Italian. Panza also occurs in Spanish. Hence the apt name of Don Quixote's pot-bellied squire Sancho Panza. The ultimate source of both paunch and panza is the rare Latin word pantex. Here is the entry in Lewis & Short's Latin Dictionary:
pantex, ĭcis, and usu. plur., pantĭces, um, m.,

I. the paunch, the bowels (syn.: venter, ilia): eo vos vostrosque pantices madefacitis, quom ego sim hic siccus, Plaut. Ps. 1, 2, 50: et aestuantes docte solvis pantices, i.e. sausages, Verg. Cat. 5, 31; Mart. 6, 64, 28.--In sing., Auct. Priap. 83, 19 dub.
I've taken Eric's advice and designed the following escutcheon:
Epicuri de grege porcum, in the words of Horace (Epist. 1.4.16) -- a pig from Epicurus' herd.

[Update: E.J. Moncada suggests laudator temporis acti me porculo = praiser of time past when I was a piglet, recalling Horace, Ars Poetica 173-4 laudator temporis acti se puero = praiser of time past when he was a boy.]

Eric also humorously suggested an alternative origin for the word sciolist:
We can derive sciolist by aptonymic syncope from the species of charlatan known as the sociologist.
Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2nd edition (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), p. 33 (, explains syncope as follows:
The loss (deletion) of a vowel from the interior of a word (not initially or finally) is called syncope (from Greek sunkopé 'a cutting away', sun- 'with' + kopé 'cut, beat'); such deleted vowels are said to be 'syncopated'. Syncope is a frequently used term.

  (1) The change in many varieties of English which omits the medial vowel of words such as fam(i)ly and mem(o)ry illustrates syncope.

  (2) Starting in Vulgar Latin and continuing in the Western Romance languages, the unstressed vowels other than a were lost in the interior of words three syllables long or longer, as in pópulu- 'people' (pópulu- > poplV-), reflected by French peuple 'people' and Spanish pueblo 'people, town' (English people is borrowed from French); fābulare 'to talk' became hablar 'to speak' in Spanish (fābulare > fablar(e) > hablar /ablar/).

While syncope is normally reserved for loss of vowels, some people sometimes speak of 'syncopated' consonants. It is more common in the case of consonants just to speak of loss or deletion.
If some of the medial letters of sociologist drop out by syncope, we're left with sciolist, which some would say is an fitting description (aptonym or aptronym) of a sociologist.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Table Dogs

Reading Xenophon's Anabasis, I was struck by the expression "looking towards someone's table" at 7.2.33 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
When I became a young man, however, I could not endure to live with my eyes turned toward another's table [εἰς ἀλλοτρίαν τράπεζαν ἀποβλέπων]; so I sat myself down on the same seat with Medocus as a suppliant and besought him to give me as many men as he could, in order that I might inflict whatever harm I could upon those who drove us out, and might live without turning my eyes toward his table [εἰς τὴν ἐκείνου τράπεζαν ἀποβλέπων].
I don't have a commentary, but according to John T. White's school edition of Anabasis book 7 (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1882), in the vocabulary s.v. ἀποβλέπω, "the metaphor is taken from a dog looking for food from his master's table, thus conveying the notion of dependence."

Liddell & Scott define ἀπομαγδαλία as "the crumb or inside of the loaf, on which the Greeks wiped their hands at dinner, and then threw it to the dogs: hence, dog's meat, Ar.Eq.415, Alciphr.3.44, Plu.Lyc.12."

The expression "table dogs" (κύνες τραπεζῆες) occurs in Homer (Iliad 22.69 and 23.173, Odyssey 17.309). Cf. German Tischhund.

In the Gospels, we find:Cf. also Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.19 (tr. F.C. Conybeare):
It was a lazy fellow and malignant who tried to pick holes in him, and remarked that he recorded well enough a lot of things, for example, the opinions and ideas of his hero, but that in collecting such trifles as these he reminded him of dogs who pick up and eat the fragments which fall from a feast. Damis replied thus: "If banquets there be of gods, and gods take food, surely they must have attendants whose business it is that not even the parcels of ambrosia that fall to the ground should be lost."
At Phaedrus 4.19.1-4 the dogs complained to Jove about their fare:
Once upon a time, the dogs sent ambassadors to Jove, to beg him to make the conditions of their life better and to rescue them from the insults of men, because men gave the dogs bread sprinkled with bran.

Canes legatos olim misere ad Iovem
meliora vitae tempora oratum suae,
ut sese eriperet hominum contumeliis,
furfuribus sibi consparsum quod panem darent.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Unusual Uses for Horace's Odes

A correspondent passes on the following anecdote:
As a young man I suffered from chronic flatulence and often gave accidental and embarrassing demonstrations of my affliction in class. This happened several times in Prof. Saupin's Latin Poetry Class. After the last such occasion, he took me aside and, satisfied that I had little or no control over the disruptive ventosities, told me that a sure-fire cure was to read one or two Horatian Odes every morning after getting up. "They are," he said, "the perfect carminatives." To my great delight I found he was right.
To appreciate the joke, you need to know thatHere is another story about Horace and the alimentary canal, from a letter of Lord Chesterfield to his son (Letter XXI, 11 December 1747 Old Style):
I know a gentleman, who was so good a manager of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example. It is better than only doing what you cannot help doing at those moments; and it will make any book, which you shall read in that manner, very present in your mind.


Marks of Respect

Servius on Vergil, Aeneid 11.500:
For there were four things among the Romans that were related to showing respect: to dismount from your horse, to bare your head, to move out of the way, and to stand up. Even the heralds who preceded magistrates were said to shout these instructions.

quattuor namque erant apud Romanos quae ad honorificentiam pertinebant: equo desilire, caput aperire, via decedere, adsurgere. hoc etiam praecones praeeuntes magistratus clamare dicebantur.
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 2.2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe), discusses two of these marks of respect (standing up and dismounting):
What rules of courtesy should be observed by fathers and sons in taking their places at table, keeping their seats, and similar matters at home and elsewhere, when the sons are magistrates and the fathers private citizens; and a discourse of the philosopher Taurus on the subject, with an illustration taken from Roman history.

[1] The governor of the province of Crete, a man of senatorial rank, had come to Athens for the purpose of visiting and becoming acquainted with the philosopher Taurus, and in company with this same governor was his father. [2] Taurus, having just dismissed his pupils, was sitting before the door of his room, and we stood by his side conversing with him. [3] In came the governor of the province and with him his father. [4] Taurus arose quietly, and after salutations had been exchanged, sat down again. [5] Presently the single chair that was at hand was brought and placed near them, while others were being fetched. Taurus invited the governor's father to be seated; [6] to which he replied: [7] "Rather let this man take the seat, since he is a magistrate of the Roman people." "Without prejudicing the case," said Taurus, "do you meanwhile sit down, while we look into the matter and inquire whether it is more proper for you, who are the father, to sit, or your son, who is a magistrate." [8] And when the father had seated himself, and another chair had been placed near by for his son also, Taurus discussed the question with what, by the gods! was a most excellent valuation of honours and duties.

[9] The substance of the discussions was this: In public places, functions and acts the rights of fathers, compared with the authority of sons who are magistrates, give way somewhat and are eclipsed: but when they are sitting together unofficially in the intimacy of home life, or walking about, or even reclining at a dinner party of intimate friends, then the official distinctions between a son who is a magistrate and a father who is a private citizen are at an end, while those that are natural and inherent come into play. [10] "Now, your visit to me," said he, "our present conversation, and this discussion of duties are private actions. Therefore enjoy the same priority of honours at my house which it is proper for you to enjoy in your own home as the older man."

[11] These remarks and others to the same purport were made by Taurus at once seriously and pleasantly. [12] Moreover, it has seemed not out of place to add what I have read in Claudius about the etiquette of father and son under such circumstances. [13] I therefore quote Quadrigarius' actual words, transcribed from the sixth book of his Annals: "The consuls then elected were Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus for the second time and Quintus Fabius Maximus, son of the Maximus who had been consul the year before. The father, at the time proconsul, mounted upon a horse met his son the consul, and because he was his father, would not dismount, nor did the lictors, who knew that the men lived in the most perfect harmony, presume to order him to do so. As the father drew near, the consul said: 'What next?' The lictor in attendance quickly understood and ordered Maximus the proconsul to dismount. Fabius obeyed the order and warmly commended his son for asserting the authority which he had as the gift of the people."

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The Laudator on YouTube

I'm in an amateur chorus that sings mostly Renaissance music. Someone recorded part of a concert we performed last Sunday and put the recording on YouTube. Apparently the batteries were low on the camcorder, so the recording is a bit faint and fuzzy. I'm in the middle of the second tenors, just to the left of the "altar", bellying up to the table, as it were, with my paunch. Don't bother watching unless you have a high-speed Internet connection and headphones or a speaker.



The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Online Word of the Day for today is literator. The first definition is "A pretender to learning, a sciolist. Obs."

The Sciolist would be a good name for a blog like this one. Unfortunately was appropriated by someone who made only two inane blog posts back in 2003. There should be a way to reclaim these abandoned blog names.

Sciolist comes from Latin sciolus, a disparaging diminutive of scius (knowing).

Lewis & Short in their Latin dictionary, s.v. sciolus, cite Arnobius 2.86 (text doubtful) and three passages from St. Jerome's letters (48.18, 58.5, and 125.16).


The Milk Bottle

Seneca, On Anger 2.36.2 (tr. John W. Basore):
If the soul could be shown, if it were in some substance through which it might shine, its black and mottled, inflamed, distorted and swollen appearance would confound us as we gazed upon it.

animus si ostendi et si in ulla materia perlucere posset, intuentis confunderet ater maculosusque et aestuans et distortus et tumidus.
American Catholics of my generation will remember the illustration of the soul in the Baltimore Catechism, as a milk bottle, with black spots representing sins.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007



The niqāb worn by some Muslim women is a type of veil that covers the entire head and face, with a slit for the eyes.

St. Jerome, Letter 130.18 (to the virgin Demetrias), thought it was too provocative for a woman to show both eyes. Only a single eye should be exposed:
Let that one be beautiful in your regard, let that one be lovable, let that one be admitted among your companions who does not know that she is beautiful, who is heedless of her good looks, who when she goes out in public does not expose her breast and neck, who does not unfold her cloak and reveal the nape of her neck, but who instead conceals her face and walks with scarcely one eye showing, to find her way.

illa tibi sit pulchra, illa amabilis, illa habenda inter socias quae se nescit esse pulchram, quae negligit formae bonum, et procedens ad publicum, non pectus et colla denudat, nec pallio evoluto cervicem aperit; sed quae celat faciem, et vix uno oculo, qui viae necessarius est, patente ingreditur.
Related post: Mark Twain on the Muslim Veil.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Memento Mori

Pindar, Nemean Odes 11.13-16 (tr. William H. Race):
But if a man possessing riches surpasses others in beauty of form,
and in contests displays his strength by winning,
let him remember that mortal are the limbs he clothes
and that earth is the last garment of all he will wear.

εἰ δέ τις ὄλβον ἔχων μορφᾷ παραμεύσεται ἄλλους,
ἔν τ' ἀέθλοισιν ἀριστεύων ἐπέδειξεν βίαν,
θνατὰ μεμνάσθω περιστέλλων μέλη,
καὶ τελευτὰν ἁπάντων γᾶν ἐπιεσσόμενος.
The clothing metaphor also appears in 1 Corinthians 15.53-54, although in a different sense:
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

δεῖ γὰρ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀθανασίαν. ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος, Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος.
I don't see the clothing metaphor mentioned in the table of contents of Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963), a book which I wish had an index locorum.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Botanical Nomenclature

Clintonia borealis (Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, photograph by Janice Stiefel)

Thoreau, Journal (June 12, 1852):
The Dracaena borealis (Bigelow) (Clintonia borealis (Gray)) amid the Solomon's-seals in Hubbard's Grove Swamp, a very neat and handsome liliaceous flower with three large, regular, spotless, green convallaria leaves, making a triangle from the root, and sometimes a fourth from the scape, linear, with four drooping, greenish-yellow, bell-shaped flowers. Not in sun. In low shady woods.

It is a handsome and perfect flower, though not high-colored. I prefer it to some more famous. But Gray should not name it from the Governor of New York. What is he to the lovers of flowers in Massachusetts? If named after a man, it must be a man of flowers. Rhode Island botanists may as well name the flowers after their governors as New York. Name your canals and railroads after Clinton, if you please, but his name is not associated with flowers.
Clinton is DeWitt Clinton, governor of New York 1817–1822 and 1825–1828. Throreau's reference to canals and railroads is apposite -- the governor was responsible for the creation of the Erie Canal, and he had a locomotive named after him, as well as a wildflower. If DeWitt Clinton wasn't a "man of flowers" in Thoreau's eyes, his son George William Clinton was -- the Clinton Herbarium in Buffalo, New York, is named after him.

It is not necessarily a mark of honor to have a plant named after you. See Ann-Mari Jönsson, The Reception of Linnæus's Works in Germany with Particular Reference to his Conflict with Siegesbeck:
Initially Linnæus and Siegesbeck had been on friendly terms. There are four very ingratiating letters from Siegesbeck to Linnæus between 1735-1737. But there seems to have been some irritation under the surface. In Hortus Cliffortianus, printed as early as in the summer of 1737, Linnæus had named a newly found plant Siegesbeckia! Now, what sort of a plant is this? It is a small, stinking European weed (Sw. Klibbfrö). Linnæus had probably been warned about Siegesbeck's attack and thus sought to castigate him. One of Linnæus's ideas in Critica botanica (1737, pp. 78-81) is that there should be a link between the plant and the botanist whom it was named after. For example, Magnolia, Linnæus says, has very handsome leaves and flowers, which recall the splendid botanist Magnol. But Dorstenia has insignificant flowers, faded and past their prime, like the works of Dorsten!


When to Walk in the Woods

Thoreau, Journal (Dec. 17, 1851):
The winter morning is the time to see the woods and shrubs in their perfection, wearing their snowy and frosty dress. Even he who visits them half an hour after sunrise will have lost some of their most delicate and fleeting beauties.
Thoreau, Journal (May 13, 1852):
They who do not walk in the woods in the rain never behold them in their freshest, most radiant and blooming beauty.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Saturday Salmagundi

I was intrigued by defeated French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal's first name. It is apparently a Gallicization of German Sieglinde, itself from Sieg (victory) and Linde (shield made of linden wood). See Gerhard Köbler, Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, s.vv. sigu* and linta.

I wondered if English blather was related to Latin blatero or blatio, both meaning babble. Apparently not, although English blatant may come from blatio. Edmund Spenser coined blatant, which originally meant "noisy".

Worth reading:

Seneca (Thyestes 957) on Allen Ginsberg: "It is pleasing to howl." (Ululare libet.)

The Wikipedia article on mooning gives two examples from olden times:I recently happened upon an interesting example of mooning in Renaissance Latin Verse: An Anthology, compiled and edited by Alessandro Perosa and John Sparrow (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979), p. 66 = Giovannantonio Campano (Ioannes Antonius Campanus, 1429-1477), Eleg. epigr. VIII i (In reditu a Germania), line 4. Here are the first two couplets of the poem in my rough translation, followed by the Latin original:
I leave the Tridentine Alps and the Rhaetian rocks,
  Places never to be seen from this day forward by my eyes.
Ye barren Germany, here is Campanus' back,
  Ye barbarian land, here are my bare buttocks.

Linquo Tridentinas Alpes et Rhaetica saxa
  nunquam oculis posthac aspicienda meis.
Accipe Campani, sterilis Germania, terga,
  accipe nudatas, barbara terra, nates.

Tony Prost writes in an email:
Here is one for your apneic collection. This is from the Katomyomachia by Theodoros Prodromos c. 1160, which I recently translated. I am not aware of another English translation of this play at all.

The scene is the the forecourt of the palace of the Mouse King. The Queen and her handmaidens are anxiously awaiting word from the battle field, where the Mice are fighting the Cat. At this point the Chorus sees the messenger approaching:

σίγα σίγα, δέσποινα, δεινόν τι βλέπω.
καὶ μὴν ὁρῶ θέοντά τιν᾽ ἐψευσμένον
καὶ πυκνὸν ἀσθμαίνοντα καὶ πεπληγμένον.

Silence, silence, queen, I see something frightening.
Yes indeed, I see someone rushing, running
And gasping rapidly, and wounded!
Tony also notes that the citizens of Thomas More's Utopia worked only 6 hours a day.

I started this blog just over three years ago, on May 10, 2004. Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, was my inspiration. When I look back at my posts for that first day, I see some themes which I have revisited over the years: Luddism, scatology, and solitude.

Fred Reed discusses honor, and concludes:
Honor seems to me to be little more than systematized, prickly vanity coated inches deep in amour propre. When you find yourself among honorable men, I say run like hell.
In the process of dishonoring honor, Reed also attacks duels:
Dueling is a sure sign of arrested development, goiterous self-love, and perhaps doubt—the exact parallel of meeting your third-grade enemy after school, but with better clothes. Vanity will drive the witless to all manner of ridiculous stupidity. Anyway, the offender and offended proceeded to shoot each other, or perhaps stick each other with swords, much to the genetic betterment of the race. (Galois was an exception, alas, who wasn't witless.)
Before reading Fred Reed's essay, I had been musing about dueling and half-wishing it would revive. The genesis of my wish was disgust over hearing politicians constantly demanding apologies from each other at the slightest whiff of offense. Instead of Nancy Pelosi demanding an apology from Dick Cheney and vice versa, I wish they'd just take their quarrel to the "field of honor," like Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr.

Dueling would also be a good way to defend the honor of your Greek professor. See Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Blood for the Ghosts (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 156 (on Max Müller):
He had an excellent education at a school and later at the university in Leipzig. In that city he consorted with Mendelssohn and Schumann, had Fontane as a fellow student, and fought a duel with someone who had spoken disrespectfully about his Professor of Greek. That Professor happened to be Gottfried Hermann, one of the greatest Hellenists.
Wikipedia has a list of famous duels, and the etymology of the word itself is interesting -- see the Online Etymology Dictionary s.v. duel:
c.1475, from M.L. duellum "combat between two persons," by association with L. duo "two," but originally from L. duellum "war," an Old Latin form of bellum. Retained in poetic and archaic language and apparently given a special meaning in M.L. or L.L. of "one-on-one combat" on fancied connection with duo "two."

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Loeb Classical Library

From the mailbag (links added):
Dear Michael Gilleland:

I enjoyed the poem on the 100th Loeb that you posted. As far as I know no one has been inspired to mark the occasion of the 500th Loeb with verse.

Two comments:

The error in Sophocles: this was brought our attention along with a number of other small slips. Volumes I and II of the Loeb edition are being subjected to a complete proofreading and will be corrected in their next printings.

Your remark about spending a spare $10,000 on the complete Loeb: The complete set is actually available at a 25% discount, $8,097.26 if ordered before July 1, 2007 and $9,036 after that date. We also offer discounts on complete sets of just the Latin or just the Greek volumes.

Feel free to share this information with readers of your blog.

With best wishes,

Jennifer Snodgrass
Administrative Editor
Loeb Classical Library
Harvard University Press


Hell on Earth

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sect. 4, Memb. I (Prognosticks of Melancholy):
One day of grief is an hundred years, as Cardan observes: 'Tis carnificina hominum, angor animi, as well saith Aretaeus, a plague of the soul, the cramp and convulsion of the soul, an epitome of hell; and if there be a hell upon earth, it is to be found in a melancholy man's heart.
The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, tr. Gerda M. Anderson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960; rpt. 1990), p. 200 = Kierkegaards Papirer XI2 A 422 (July 2, 1855):
Of all torments, being a Christian is the most terrible; it is--and that is how it should be--to know hell in this life.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
One might say with truth, Mankind are the devils of the earth, and the animals the souls they torment.
Related post: What Is Hell?

Update -- Phil Flemming writes:
As I write this, it is 101 F in Scottsdale, but I don't intend to present you with mere empirical evidence that we've already descended to Avernus.

My belief that we already reside in Hell comes from theodicy--from trying to explain all the evil and suffering we see in a world supposed created by an omnipotent and benevolent deity. I find no way to reconcile God's perfections and the sad evil world we inhabit, unless we live in a place where it is just to suffer. There is no Problem of Evil if this is Hell where the wicked justly deserve to suffer for their sins. If I believe this is Hell, I can believe in God.

Repentantly yours,


Wednesday, May 09, 2007



Nicolas Sarkozy:
It will never be possible to stress enough the evil that the 35-hour week has done to our country.
I agree -- a 30-hour week (6 hours a day for 5 days) would be much better. An anonymous epigram from the Greek Anthology (10.43, translated by W.R. Paton) recommends a 6-hour work day:
Six hours are most suitable for labour, and the four that follow, when set forth in letters, say to men "Live."
The four numbers following 6 are 7, 8, 9, 10. In ancient Greek, numbers are represented by letters of the alphabet, and the letters corresponding to these numbers are zeta (7), eta (8), theta (9), and iota (10), which spell the Greek imperative meaning "live" (zethi).


Latin: Convincing and Satisfying

John Burroughs, A Sharp Lookout:
I remember that our guide in the Maine woods, seeing I had names of my own for some of the plants, would often ask me the name of this and that flower for which he had no word; and that when I could recall the full Latin term, it seemed overwhelmingly convincing and satisfying to him. It was evidently a relief to know that these obscure plants of his native heath had been found worthy of a learned name, and that the Maine woods were not so uncivil and outlandish as they might at first seem: it was a comfort to him to know that he did not live beyond the reach of botany.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Solitary Confinement

The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, tr. Gerda M. Anderson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960; rpt. 1990), p. 23 = Kierkegaards Papirer VIII1 A 40 (1847):
It is an awful satire, and an epigram on the materialism of our modern age, that nowadays the only use that can be made of solitude is imposing it as a penalty, as jail. What a difference there is between those times when, no matter how secular materialism always was, man believed in the solitude of the convent, when, in other words, solitude was revered as the highest, as the destiny of Eternity--and the present when it is detested as a curse and is used only for the punishment of criminals. Alas, what a change.


Dove's Dung

Kevin P. Edgecomb, author of the blog biblicalia, writes:
I have a slight correction to your recent and thoroughly enjoyable post on coprophagy, etc.

The Hebrew "dove's dung" in 2 Kings 6.25 has been recognized for some time now as a colloquial term for either husks or a particular weed. It's particularly the Akkadian data that clarified things.

This is from Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor's Anchor Bible Commentary on 2 Kings (Doubleday, 1988), page 79:
Josephus thought that the dung was used for salt (Antiquities ix.62); Qimhi, for fuel due to lack of firewood. The translation of NEB ("locust beans") and NJPS ("carob pods") follow the Akkadian evidence: in a lexical list of plants, ḫalla/ze summāti, "dove's dung," is defined as zēr ašāgi = ḫarūbu, "the seed of the (false) carob." This was first recognized by R. Campbell Thompson, Dictionary of Assyrian Botany (London, 1949), 186; and independently by A. L. Oppenheim, JQR 37 (1946-47), 175-76. See also the extensive treatment by M. Held, Studies...Landsberger, AS 16 (1965), 395-98.
From just a few years later, the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), has this listed among Flora (vol. 2, p. 815):
DOVE'S DUNG, STAR OF BETHLEHEM (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is the Heb ḥiryôn (2 Kgs 6:25; see Post 1883: 801; Loew 1928, I: 601; Moldenke 1952: 162). This plant grows profusely on the hills of Samaria, and the white flowers look like bird droppings. It is a small, bulbous plant with umbels of flowers. The bulbs are poisonous, unless roasted or boiled; then they may be ground into meal.
In that respect, "dove's dung" should simply be reclassified in your list, though it's still a fun thing to see.

I also offer you a further biblical example, Ezekiel 4.9-15 (New Revised Standard Version), instructions of the LORD to Ezekiel for a prophetic "bed-in" or whatever one might call it:
And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred ninety days, you shall eat it. The food that you eat shall be twenty shekels a day by weight; at fixed times you shall eat it. And you shall drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; at fixed times you shall drink. You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. The LORD said, "Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them." Then I said, "Ah Lord GOD! I have never defiled myself; from my youth up until now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by animals, nor has carrion flesh come into my mouth." Then he said to me, "See, I will let you have cow's dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread."
(I suspect the prophet to have withheld a sarcastic, "Gee, thanks.")

Monday, May 07, 2007



Vergil, Aeneid 12.788-790 (tr. H. Ruston Fairclough):
At full height, in arms and heart renewed--one trusting to his sword, one fiercely towering with his spear--breathless both, they stand facing the War-god's strife.

olli sublimes, armis animisque refecti,
hic gladio fidens, hic acer et arduus hasta,
adsistunt contra certamina Martis anheli.
Is anheli nominative plural (modifying Turnus and Aeneas) or genitive singular (modifying Mars)? T.E. Page in his commentary favors the former, and states:
Many, however, render 'of breathless Mars' (le combat qui essouffle, Benoist), making anheli gen. sing. on the ground that the combatants were now animis refecti. But surely, however 'refreshed in spirit,' both warriors must have been a little out of breath still, and the description of them as facing each other 'panting' is highly natural, whereas Mars anhelus is a most startling phrase.
On the other hand, Lucio Cristante, La calamita innamorata (Claud. carm. min. 29 Magnes; con un saggio di commento), Incontri triestini di filologia classica 1 (2001-2002) 35-85, cites (at 70) Servius ad loc. (alii 'certamine' legunt, ut sit sensus: adsistunt contra se in Martis anheli certamine), where the word order favors anheli as an attribute of Martis; Dracontius, Romulea 10.576 (no quotation, and the text is unavailable to me); Reposianus, De Concubitu Martis et Veneris 14 (Gravidus anhelat); id. at 117 (ardor (sc. Martis) anhelat); and Carm. Min. App. 5.76 (luctamen anhelum).

Page and Cristante don't cite any Greek parallels. On breathlessness in war, see Homer, Iliad 11.801 = 16.43 = 18.201 (tr. A.T. Murray):
For scant is the breathing-space of battle.

ὀλίγη δέ τ᾽ ἀνάπνευσις πολέμοιο.
Hesiod, Theogony 797 uses ἀνάπνευστος for ἄπνευστος to mean breathless.

See also Homer, Iliad 16.109-111 (tr. Murray):
And evermore was he distressed by laboured breathing, and down from his limbs on every side abundant sweat kept streaming, nor had he any wise respite to get his breath withal, but every way evil was heaped upon evil.

αἰεὶ δ᾽ ἀργαλέῳ ἔχετ᾽ ἄσθματι, κὰδ δέ οἱ ἱδρὼς
πάντοθεν ἐκ μελέων πολὺς ἔρρεεν, οὐδέ πῃ εἶχεν
ἀμπνεῦσαι· πάντῃ δὲ κακὸν κακῷ ἐστήρικτο.
In Homer's Greek (Iliad 16.109) we see the word ἄσθμα, which is the same as our English asthma.


More on Coprophagy

Dr. Max Nelson writes:
I enjoyed your piece on coprophagy. I know that it was not meant to be exhaustive and that you probably know the following references, but I thought I might as well give them to you. Eating excrement is mentioned in Herodotus, 3.22 and is often spoken of in ancient dreambooks, such as the Egyptian dreambook preserved in the British Museum (pap. 10683) in which it is said to be a good sign, one of eating one's own possessions in one's own house (see the translation in N. Lewis, The Interpretations of Dreams and Portents [1976], p. 10).
Links added.

Sunday, May 06, 2007



Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (New York: Random House, 2001), p. 97:
Certainly the rose and peony are Dionysian flowers, deeply sensual and captivating us as much through the senses of touch and smell as sight....The tulip, by contrast, is all Apollonian clarity and order.
But etymologically, it is the peony that is the Apollonian flower. Its name comes from Paean, and among the meanings of Paean are a title or epithet of Apollo, a choral song addressed to Apollo, and a song of triumph after victory addressed to Apollo. See Liddell & Scott s.v. Παιάν. Paean was also the physician of the gods, and it was probably its medicinal qualities that gave the peony its name.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Noctes Scatologicae: Coprophagy

My son drew my attention to the following news item, reported by Craig Mcdonald, Wife Laced Husband's Curry with Dog Dirt: Sick Stunt Ends Marriage, Glasgow Daily Record:
A wife laced her husband's curry with dog dirt after their marriage broke down.

Jill Martin, 47, burst out laughing when he began tucking into the meal, a court heard yesterday.

At first she told husband Donald, 49, that she had put arsenic in his food - but then admitted what she had really done.

Her lawyer, Terry Gallanagh, said the case was "like an episode of Desperate Housewives".

The couple had been married for 21 years but the relationship had gone "completely off the rails". Mr Gallanagh claimed his client had endured "mental abuse" for five years and things had reached an all-time low.

Mr Gallanagh added: "At that time, she believed he had started an affair, although those fears turned out to be unfounded." He added Mr Martin had started a new business venture but had kept his wife in the dark, much to her annoyance.

Paisley Sheriff Court heard Jill Martin had been drinking on the night she spiked the meal.

She appeared from custody at the court after the incident on March 13.

Yesterday, sentence was deferred for six months after she admitted assault by recklessly concealing faeces in her husband's food.

She also admitted breaching the peace.

Martin is banned from approaching her husband or the matrimonial home in Newton Mearns, Glasgow.

She has moved to live in Bishopbriggs. The couple plan to divorce.
This news item gives me an excuse to trot out (pun intended) some notes collected for the coprophagy chapter of a larger work in progress, tentatively entitled Noctes Scatologicae or Horae Scatologicae.

Certain foods that humans eat are jocularly named after, although not actually made from, excrement. H.L. Mencken, Happy Days: 1880-1892 (1936; rpt. New York: Knopf, 1968), pp. 135-136, claims to have eaten a type of pastry known as cow flops:
The humor of the young bourgeoisie males of Baltimore, in those days, was predominantly skatological, and there was no sign of the revolting sexual obsession that Freudians talk of. The favorite jocosities had to do with horse apples, O.E.A. wagons and small boys who lost control of their sphincters at parties or in Sunday school; when we began to spend our summers in the country my brother and I also learned the comic possibilities of cow flops. Even in the city a popular ginger-and-cocoanut cake, round in contour and selling for a cent, was called a cow flop, and little girls were supposed to avoid it, at least in the presence of boys.
[O.E.A. = odorless excavating apparatus, used to clean cesspools and privies.]

Mencken's cow flops remind me of another pastry with a scatological name, pets-de-nonne (in English "nun's farts"). Similarly in Thailand certain small chili peppers are humorously known as prik kii nuu ("mouse dung peppers", scientific name Capsicum annuum).

A spice used in Indian cooking is asafoetida (scientific name Ferula assafoetida). A German word for asafoetida is Teufelsdreck ("devil's dung"). Also of German origin is the type of bread known as pumpernickel, whose name comes from early New High German Pumpern = fart and Nickel = devil. From an etymological point of view, pumpernickel thus means "devil's fart".

From jocular names of foods, we pass on to foods at one remove from dung. Humans ingest with gusto the rare Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, made from coffee beans excreted by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) after it eats coffee cherries.

Mushrooms of the genus Coprinus are also at one remove from excrement. Their scientific name comes from their habitat, which is dung (in Greek κόπρος, kopros). In English these mushrooms are generically known as ink caps. Some of the species of Coprinus are supposedly very tasty, such as Coprinus comatus, aka "shaggy mane" or "lawyer's wig". Dutch mycologist Kees Uljé explains how to "grow your own" varieties of Coprinus mushrooms:
Finally there is the cultivation method. This is of interest mainly for Ink Caps on solid dung. If we collect a cow-pat or droppings of horse, sheep or rabbit on which Ink Caps grow and place it in a covered plastic box we can sometimes cultivate fruit bodies at home – sometimes for quite a while. We can also take dung without mushrooms. Ink Caps will appear for certain. Which species will be a surprise. The only problem is that we have to prevent everything going mouldy. This always happens after some time with completely covered boxes. Last October I filled a flat, round plastic plant dish with cow dung. I put this in the attic covered with a frame of wooden slats with a transparent plastic sheet stretched over it, at a height of about 5 cm above the dung. There are openings beneath the plastic sheet through which air can circulate. At the end of March I still have six kinds of fresh Ink Caps and some other mushrooms. In this way you can study fresh mushrooms throughout the winter.
Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 360, explains the taboo against eating certain animals as follows:
Another mark held against animals as food was the practice of 'eating excrement'.19 It was too common to be an absolute disqualification, but it perhaps not a coincidence that the purifiers of On the Sacred Disease told their patients to abstain from dog, pig, and goat (as well as deer), the three domestic animals that were most commonly charged with scatophagy. By consuming such animals, one becomes a vicarious 'man-eater' and 'dung-eater' oneself. Human flesh and dung were, of course, the supremely impossible foods for a man. Cannibalism is analogous to incest, while 'dung-eater' is an expression used of a man who will stop at nothing, and more loosely as one of those insults that derive, like 'temple-robber', 'murderer', and 'mother-sleeper', from the most degraded or polluting acts.

19 Epicharmus, fr. 63, cf. (mud) Philemon, fr. 79.19. The writers on fish often allude to 'mud-eating'. For scatophagous animals (and men) see J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse, Yale, 1975, 192-4.

Next we look at supposed examples of humans actually eating excrement. In Shakespeare's King Lear (3.4.131-144), Edgar in disguise is asked his name and introduces himself as follows:
Poor Tom, that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the todpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets, swallows the old rat and the ditch-dog, drinks the green mantle of the standing pool; who is whipp'd from tithing to tithing, and stock-punish'd and imprison'd; who hath had three suits to his back, six shirts to his body,
            Horse to ride, and weapons to wear;
            But mice and rats, and such small deer,
            Have been Tom's food for seven long year.
Let's look at one dish in Poor Tom's diet, cow-dung for sallets, that is, cow-dung instead of salads. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5.13.7 (tr. William Whiston) mentions the same dish, eaten by necessity:
Some persons were driven to that terrible distress as to search the common sewers and old dunghills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there; and what they of old could not endure so much as to see they now used for food.
In 2 Kings 6.25 we read of the dung of another animal eaten as food:
And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver.
Similarly in Isaiah 36.12 it is envisioned that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, under siege by Sennacherib, might be driven to extraordinary dietary measures:
But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
On a project to recycle excrement in order to make it more palatable, see Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (visit to the Academy of Lagado):
I went into another chamber, but was ready to hasten back, being almost overcome with a horrible stink. My conductor pressed me forward, conjuring me in a whisper "to give no offence, which would be highly resented;" and therefore I durst not so much as stop my nose. The projector of this cell was the most ancient student of the academy; his face and beard were of a pale yellow; his hands and clothes daubed over with filth. When I was presented to him, he gave me a close embrace, a compliment I could well have excused. His employment, from his first coming into the academy, was an operation to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture which it receives from the gall, making the odour exhale, and scumming off the saliva. He had a weekly allowance, from the society, of a vessel filled with human ordure, about the bigness of a Bristol barrel.
Some vehicles owned by trucking companies sport a bumper sticker asking the question "How's my driving?" and giving an 800 number to call. A wag started selling bumper stickers for ordinary vehicles that said "Don't like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT." That happens to be a real phone number of a real company, although the receptionist will be surprised if you call and start complaining about someone's bad driving. She was when I called.

Someone on the Internet once attempted to translate "Long-tongued Poo Eating Moonbat" into Latin as Macroglossius lunarius abundantia fectum comedo. That's not Latin. I'll give my translation of the phrase.

Let's start with "long-tongued." It should be macroglossus, from Greek μακρός (makros = long) and γλῶσσα (glossa = tongue), not macroglossius. The adjective macroglossus can be found in botanical nomenclature, e.g. Macroglossus minimus, otherwise known as the dagger-toothed flower bat.

For "poo eating," I'd suggest coprophagus, from Greek κοπροφάγος (koprohagos = eating dung), itself from κόπρος (kopros = dung) and φαγέω (phageo = eat). Liddell and Scott s.v. κοπροφάγος cite Galen 12.249, Hesychius, and the Suda S1.v. βοῦς Κύπριος. In English we have coprophagous and coprophagy.

The Latin adjective meaning "pertaining to the moon" is lunaris, not lunarius.

Finally, the ancient Latin word for "bat" is vespertilio, from vesper (evening).

Putting these all together, we get macroglossus coprophagus lunaris vespertilio for "long-tongued poo eating moonbat".

There is of course no such animal in nature as the Long-tongued Poo Eating Moonbat. But there are many of God's creatures that do eat dung. One is mentioned in Sue Hubbell, A Country Year (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 205:
Termites are social. Their eating habits make them so. Although some people call them flying ants, they are not related to ants but to cockroaches. Like some roaches, they contain within their gut microorganisms that process cellulose, transforming it into a food that they pass between one termite and another by anal feeding. This makes social organization necessary.
The parallel with the characteristic posture of another species, Homo sapiens, is obvious, as anyone who has observed the phenomenon of brown nosing in a corporate setting can tell you.

Ralph A. Lewin, in his magisterial Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural, and Socio-Historical Coprology (New York: Random House, 1999), discusses aspects of dung eating by various animals in his chapters on Nutritional Values (pp. 79-86), Dung Beetles (pp. 87-91), and Refection, Transfection, and Dissemination (pp. 92-101).

In Aristophanes' Peace, Trygaeus is sick of the war between Athens and Sparta. He decides to fly to heaven on the back of a dung beetle, to ask Zeus why he's destroying the Greeks with war. On his flight, Trygaeus is worried that he will fall off the dung beetle (149-172, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
(to the spectators) As for all of you, for whose sake I'm performing these labors, stop farting and shitting for a period of three days; because if this thing picks up the scent while airborne, he'll toss me off head first, and go off to pasture.

Now giddyup, Pegasus, and bon voyage;
strike up the rattle of curb chains
on your golden bit, with ears laid back.
What are you doing, what are you doing? Where
are you pointing those nostrils? Toward the alleyways?
Hurl yourself bravely away from the ground,
then spread your racing pinions
and head straight to the halls of Zeus,
averting your nose from poop
and from all mortal feeds.
Man! Man in Piraeus, the one shitting
in the whores' quarter: what are you doing?
You'll get me killed, killed! Do cover it up,
pile plenty of dirt on top,
and plant thyme over it,
and pour on pefume! Because if I fall
from here and suffer any harm, for my death
the Chian state will be fined five talents,
all because of your arsehole!

Friday, May 04, 2007


Stump Fences Again

To my collection of references to root or stump fences, add John Burroughs, A Spray of Pine:
In Pennsylvania the stumps are wrenched from the ground by machinery and used largely for fencing. Laid upon their side with their wide branching roots in the air, they form a barrier before which even the hound-pursued deer may well pause.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Unhappily Ever After

Eric Thompson writes:

I have every sympathy with Phil Flemming. Old Crocks are rotting hulks, or else converted by the lights of perverted science into ‘ships of Theseus’, replaced plank by plank (viz. hips, knees, valves, livers, kidneys, faces) until their continued identity is in jeopardy. As to whether we should all be scuttled at 55, I don’t think somehow it would get through the Senate.

The only contented Tithonos I can imagine would be the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who always had a morbid obsession with remaining alive:
“No quiero morirme, no; no quiero, ni quiero quererlo; quiero vivir siempre, siempre, siempre, y vivir yo este pobre yo que me soy y me siento ser ahora y aquí, y por esto me tortura el problema de la duración de mi alma, de la mía propia.”

I do not want to die – no, I neither want to die nor do I want to want to die; I want to live for ever and ever and ever. I want this ‘I’ to live - this poor ‘I’ that I am and that I feel myself to be here and now, and therefore the problem of the duration of my soul, of my own soul, tortures me. Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida [1913], Alianza: Madrid (1986): 58-9.
Unamuno went out like a light - felix opportunitate mortis in view of the impending Civil War - on New Year’s Eve, 1936.

Decrepit Methuselahs haven’t got much going for them but longevity does give the curmudgeon a certain depth and range that we younger malcontents can’t aspire to. When a 116 year-old Ukrainian bachelor declares that life really was better under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who am I to dissent?

In James Merrill’s ‘The Immortal Husband’ (1956) Tithonos, having cleared up the misunderstanding with Aurora regarding the terms of the contract, foresees that in less than a hundred years he’ll be “a horrible old man, drooling, deaf!”, having earlier assured his father that – “you’ll dry up and die, each year older and sicker, and your mind gone! And I’ll be as I am now, strong, young, a hundred years, a thousand, after you’re in your grave!...”

This raises a dilemma that is really the corollary of Tithonos – the Makropulos Case, from the play (Věc Makropulos, 1922) by Karel Čapek (1890-1938) and which is the subject of a famous essay by Bernard Williams (in Problems of the Self, 1973). Elina Makropulos was guinea pig for an elixir of life devised by her father, Court physician to a sixteenth century Emperor. After 345 years she’s had enough, paralysed by the unbearable tedium. In the powerful climax of the Janáček opera of the same name, she cries out:
Oh, life should not last so long!
If you only realised how easy life is for you!
You are so close to everything!
For you everything makes sense!
For you, everything has value!
Fools, for the trivial reason
That you are going to die soon.

But in me life has come to a halt,
And can go no further!
What hideous solitude!
It’s all in vain, Krista,
Whether you sing or keep silent –
No pleasure in being good,
No pleasure in being bad.
No pleasure on earth,
No pleasure in Heaven.
And one comes to learn
That the soul has died inside one. (Act III, 4)
Phil Flemming’s beau/bow reminded me of Juvenal:
Young men are not all the same,
One is handsome, one a beau,
One is stronger than another.
In old age it’s all the same –
Lips that quiver when they speak,
Hairless head and drivelling nose,
Toothless jaws that cannot chew,
They’re a burden to their wives,
To their children – and themselves ….

Plurima sunt iuvenum discrimina; pulchrior ille
Hoc atque ille alio, multum hic robustior illo:
Una senum facies. Cum voce trementia membra
Et iam leve caput madidique infantia nasi,
Frangendus misero gingiva panis inermi;
Usque adeo gravis uxori natisque sibique… Sat X, 196-201
And also of the gruesome story (apocryphal or not) of Balzac’s wife Eveline cavorting with the painter Gigoux as Balzac lay slowly and painfully dying in the room next door. The occasional groan from both rooms, I imagine.

On ‘the door is open’ solution, there is this chilling caveat from Borges, the closing lines of ‘El Centinela’ from ‘El Libro del Arena’ (1975):
“La puerta del suicida eatá siempre abierta, pero los teólogos afirman que en la sombra ulterior del otro reino estaré yo, eperándome.”

The door to suicide is open, but theologians assert that, in the far shadows of the other kingdom, there will be I, waiting for myself.

If you follow the link, you'll find that Eric's "116 year-old Ukrainian bachelor" has an aptronym, Hryhoriy Nestor. Nestor is the old, garrulous man in Homer's Iliad. Eric's "ship of Theseus" is an allusion to Plutarch, Life of Theseus 23.1 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
The ship on which Theseus sailed with the youths and returned in safety, the thirty-oared galley, was preserved by the Athenians down to the the time of Demetrius Phalereus. They took away the old timbers from time to time, and put new and sound ones in their places, so that the vessel became a standing illustration for the philosophers in the mooted question of growth, some declaring that it remained the same, others that it was not the same vessel.
In Eric's following sentence, "scuttled" is the mot juste for a ship intentionally sunk, and "Senate" is (etymologically speaking) an assembly of old men. Finally, felix opportunitate mortis comes from Tacitus, Agricola 45:
Tu vero felix, Agricola, non vitae tantum claritate, sed etiam opportunitate mortis.

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