Thursday, July 31, 2008



William Hazlitt, On Personal Character:
A self-tormentor is never satisfied, come what will. He always apprehends the worst, and is indefatigable in conjuring up the apparition of danger. He is uneasy at his own good fortune, as it takes from him his favourite topic of repining and complaint. Let him succeed to his heart's content in all that is reasonable or important, yet if there is any one thing (and that he is sure to find out) in which he does not get on, this embitters all the rest. I know an instance. Perhaps it is myself.
Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary defines seeksorrow as "One who contrives to give himself vexation," i.e. self-tormentor, in Greek ἑαυτὸν τιμωρούμενος (heauton timoroumenos).

Baudelaire wrote a poem titled L'Héautontimorouménos that ends with these lines (tr. Francis Scarfe):
I am both the wounded and the knife, both the blow and the cheek, the limbs and the rack, the victim and the torturer.

I am my own heart's vampire, one of the thoroughly abandoned, condemned to eternal laughter, but who can never smile again.

Je suis la plaie et le couteau!
Je suis le soufflet et la joue!
Je suis les membres et la roue,
Et la victime et le bourreau!

Je suis de mon coeur le vampire,
— Un de ces grands abandonnés
Au rire éternel condamnés
Et qui ne peuvent plus sourire!
Related posts:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre

Guy Davenport, The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1996), p. 59:
Just around the corner from my house in Lexington, Kentucky, there stood for well over fifty years a pear tree and an apple tree that had grown around each other in a double spiral. In the twenty years I have walked past them daily, they have always got into my thoughts, and always benignly. They were a husband and wife, as in Ovid's poem in which an inseparable couple become trees side-by-side in an eternal existence. They generated in my imagination a curiosity about the myths our culture has told itself about apples and pears. Apple is the symbol of the Fall, pear of Redemption. Apple is the world, pear heaven. Apple is tragic. A golden one given first as a false wedding gift and later presented by a shepherd to a goddess began the Trojan War and all that Homer recorded in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The apple that fell at Newton's feet also fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is right now embedded in thousands of bombs mounted in the heads of rockets, glowing with elemental fire that is, like Adam and Eve's apple, an innocent detail of creation if untouched and all the evil of which man is capable if plucked.

The day before yesterday this intertwined apple and pear were in full bloom. In every season these trees have been lovely, in autumn with their fruit, in winter a naked grace, in summer a round green puzzle of two kinds of leaves; but in spring they have always been a glory of white, something like what I expect an angel to look like when I see one. But I shall not see these trees again. Some developer has bought the property and cut down the embracing apple and pear, in full bloom, with a power saw, the whining growl of which is surely the language of devils at their business, which is to cancel creation.
Related posts:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


A Place for Reading

Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow:
For, he argues in the third chapter of his 'Priuy Counsels', the necessities of nature are so base and brutish that in obeying them we are apt to forget that we are the noblest creatures of the universe. To counteract these degrading effects he advised that the privy should be in every house the room nearest to heaven, that it should be well provided with windows commanding an extensive and noble prospect, and that the walls of the chamber should be lined with bookshelves containing all the ripest products of human wisdom, such as the Proverbs of Solomon, Boethius's 'Consolations of Philosophy', the apophthegms of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, the 'Enchiridion' of Erasmus, and all other works, ancient or modern, which testify to the nobility of the human soul.
James Joyce, Ulysses:
He kicked open the crazy door of the jakes. Better be careful not to get these trousers dirty for the funeral. He went in, bowing his head under the low lintel. Leaving the door ajar, amid the stench of mouldy limewash and stale cobwebs he undid his braces. Before sitting down he peered through a chink up at the nextdoor windows. The king was in his countinghouse. Nobody.

Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: MATCHAM'S MASTERSTROKE. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers' Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six.

Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone. Hope it's not too big bring on piles again. No, just right. So. Ah! Costive. One tabloid of cascara sagrada. Life might be so. It did not move or touch him but it was something quick and neat. Print anything now. Silly season. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell. Neat certainly. MATCHAM OFTEN THINKS OF THE MASTERSTROKE BY WHICH HE WON THE LAUGHING WITCH WHO NOW. Begins and ends morally. HAND IN HAND. Smart. He glanced back through what he had read and, while feeling his water flow quietly, he envied kindly Mr Beaufoy who had written it and received payment of three pounds, thirteen and six.


He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it. Then he girded up his trousers, braced and buttoned himself. He pulled back the jerky shaky door of the jakes and came forth from the gloom into the air.
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.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I Don't Want To Die An Idiot

Guy Davenport, The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art (Washington: Counterpoint, 1996), p. 215:
Je ne veux pas mourir idiot. French student demanding that Greek be put back in the curriculum.


Forest Murmurs

The only magazine I subscribe to is Mother Earth News. In the April/May 2008 issue there is an article about the sounds of nature by Terry Krautwurst with the title "The Careful Art of Listening" (pp. 38-42). Apart from some mumbo-jumbo in the fifth paragraph ("Take deep, easy breaths. Focus entirely on the in and out of your breathing," etc.), it's an article worth reading.

I sometimes see people walking in the woods who are listening to a Walkman or an iPod or whatever. That might help to block out the sounds of airplanes screaming overhead or the dull roar of nearby automobiles, but it also blocks out "the whispers of yon pine tree that makes / low music o'er the spring" (Theocritus, Idyll 1.1-2, tr. C.S. Calverley, Ἁδύ τι τὸ ψιθύρισμα καὶ ἁ πίτυς, αἰπόλε, τήνα / ἁ ποτὶ ταῖς παγαῖσι μελίσδεται — the onomatopoeic word ψιθύρισμα, psithyrisma, suggests rustling and whispering).

Does any book have a more inviting title than The Wind in the Willows? Romantic composers used to give titles like Forest Murmurs, Woodland Whispers, Waldesrauschen, and the like to their Charakterstücke.

In Birds and Man, W.H. Hudson writes appreciatively of the sound of the wind in the forest:
To lie or sit thus for an hour at a time listening to the wind is an experience worth going far to seek. It is very restorative. That is a mysterious voice which the forest has: it speaks to us, and somehow the life it expresses seems nearer, more intimate, than that of the sea. Doubtless because we are ourselves terrestrial and woodland in our origin; also because the sound is infinitely more varied as well as more human in character. There are sighings and moanings, and wails and shrieks, and wind-blown murmurings, like the distant confused talking of a vast multitude. A high wind in an extensive wood always produces this effect of numbers. The sea-like sounds and rhythmic volleyings, when the gale is at its loudest, die away, and in the suceeding lull there are only low, mysterious, agitated whisperings; but they are multitudinous; the suggestion is ever of a vast concourse—crowds and congregations, tumultuous or orderly, but all swayed by one absorbing impulse, solemn or passionate. But not always moved simultaneously. Through the near whisperings a deeper, louder sound comes from a distance. It rumbles like thunder, falling and rising as it rolls onwards; it is antiphonal, but changes as it travels nearer. Then there is no longer demand and response; the smitten trees are all bent one way, and their innumerable voices are as one voice, expressing we know not what, but always something not wholly strange to us—lament, entreaty, denunciation.
One book in which I wouldn't have expected a description of forest sounds is The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson. But there is a fine paragraph in the third chapter that ends with a sylvan symphony:
One of my favorite approaches to a rocky seacoast is by a rough path through an evergreen forest that has its own peculiar enchantment. It is usually an early morning tide that takes me along that forest path, so that the light is still pale and fog drifts in from the sea beyond. It is almost a ghost forest, for among the living spruce and balsam are many dead trees—some still erect, some sagging earthward, some lying on the floor of the forest. All the trees, the living and the dead, are clothed with green and silver crusts of lichens. Tufts of the bearded lichen or old man's beard hang from the branches like bits of sea mist tangled there. Green woodland mosses and a yielding carpet of reindeer moss cover the ground. In the quiet of that place even the voice of the surf is reduced to a whispered echo and the sounds of the forest are but the ghosts of sound—the faint sighing of evergreen needles in the moving air; the creaks and heavier groans of half-fallen trees resting against their neighbors and rubbing bark against bark; the light rattling fall of a dead branch broken under the feet of a squirrel and sent bouncing and ricocheting earthward.
A Wind-Storm in the California Forest, after a sketch by John Muir

Sunday, July 27, 2008


A Scholar

I can't find the source of Benjamin's Jowett's definition of a scholar, mentioned by Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Blood for the Ghosts: Classical Influences in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1982; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 158:
Jowett defined a scholar as a man who read Thucydides with his feet on the mantlepiece; by that test he was a scholar, scarcely by any other.
There is a similar definition in G.O. Trevelyan's Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay:
He defined a scholar as one who reads Plato with his feet on the fender.
Or one who reads Herodotus and Aeschylus before breakfast (Macaulay, Letter to Thomas Flower Ellis, Dec. 16, 1834):
I read much, and particularly Greek; and I find that I am, in all essentials, still not a bad scholar. I could, I think, with a year's hard study, qualify myself to fight a good battle for a Craven's scholarship. I read, however, not as I read at College, but like a man of the world. If I do not know a word, I pass it by unless it is important to the sense. If I find, as I have of late often found, a passage which refuses to give up its meaning at the second reading, I let it alone. I have read during the last fortnight, before breakfast, three books of Herodotus, and four plays of Aeschylus.
Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, Old Man with a Book

Related post: Light Reading.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Getting an Education

Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri, X (tr. W.S. Di Piero):
We can be sure that most of the people we appoint to educate our children have not been educated. Yet we assume that they can give something they have not themselves received, and that this is the only way one can get an education.

La maggior parte delle persone che deputiamo a educare i figliuoli, sappiamo di certo non essere state educate. Né dubitiamo che non possano dare quello che non hanno ricevuto, e che per altra via non si acquista.

Friday, July 25, 2008


The Noise Needers

Edwin Way Teale, Journey into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), pp. 21-22:
Sitting relaxed, aware of all the little sounds around me, enjoying the peaceful calm of these mountain heights, I remembered the young barber who had cut my hair in a small town a few days before. His great ambition, he said, was to work in New York. There was a city! For a good many years, he explained, each summer he had visited his grandfather on his farm in the country. But he couldn't stand it any more. Everything was so quiet! It gave him the creeps. He felt like going out and blowing a trumpet or pounding a drum—anything to make a racket. He represented that new breed, growing in numbers, the Noise Needers.

From the outboard motor to the jet airplane, through the radio and TV, the electric razor and the power lawnmower, almost every mechanical advance has added to the noise of the world. Each successive generation lives in a less quiet environment. In consequence, evolution is at work in massed urban centers. For evolution concerns the present as well as the past, ourselves as well as the dinosaurs. Noise is evolving not only the endurers of noise but the needers of noise.

Those whose nervous systems are disturbed by uproar are handicapped under such conditions. They are less fitted to maintain good health, to endure and to increase their kind than are those who thrive on clamor. What is strain and distraction to one is a stimulant and a tonic to the other. In step with noisier times, the number of Noise Needers is growing. I was told recently of the art editor of a chain of magazines who carries a pocket radio with him all day long and even places it, turned on, under his pillow when he goes to bed at night. Noise is comforting and reassuring to him. He seems in his proper environment when quiet is eliminated. The metallic clangor of rock-and-roll music is, perhaps, symptomatic of the steady rise in the number of Noise Needers. For them, quiet is somehow unnatural, stillness is somehow unfriendly. They feel better, more at home, when they are surrounded by a din—any kind of din. They do not merely tolerate noise. They like noise. They need noise.
See also Schopenhauer on noise.

Related posts:

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The Just

Jorge Borges, The Just (Los Justos, tr. Alastair Reid):

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a cafe in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well, though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

Un hombre que cultiva su jardín, como quería Voltaire.
El que agradece que en la tierra haya música.
El que descubre con placer una etimología.
Dos empleados que en un café del Sur juegan un silencioso ajedrez.
El ceramista que premedita un color y una forma.
El tipógrafo que compone bien esta página, que tal vez no le agrada.
Una mujer y un hombre que leen los tercetos finales de cierto canto.
El que acaricia a un animal dormido.
El que justifica o quiere justificar un mal que le han hecho.
El que agradece que en la tierra haya Stevenson.
El que prefiere que los otros tengan razón.
Esas personas, que se ignoran, están salvando el mundo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008



A common way in literature to express a recipe for happiness is by means of a macarism. A macarism (from Greek μακαρισμός) is just a fancy word for beatitude. It consists of an adjective meaning happy, a relative or indefinite pronoun, and whatever action or state is supposed to lead to happiness.

A poem by Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) exquisitely expresses the happiness of returning home after a long absence. It starts out with a macarism. Here are some translations into English, followed by the French original.

Translated by Richard Wilbur:
Happy the man who, journeying far and wide
As Jason or Ulysses did, can then
Turn homeward, seasoned in the ways of men,
And claim his own, and there in peace abide!

When shall I see the chimney-smoke divide
The sky above my little town: ah, when
Stroll the small gardens of that house again
Which is my realm and crown, and more beside?

Better I love the plain, secluded home
My fathers built, than bold façades of Rome;
Slate pleases me as marble cannot do;

Better than Tiber's flood my quiet Loire,
Those little hills than these, and dearer far
Than great sea winds the zephyrs of Anjou.
Translated by Austin Dobson:
Happy the man, like wise Ulysses tried,
Or him of yore that gat the Fleece of Gold,
Who comes at last, from travels manifold,
Among his kith and kindred to abide!

When shall I see, from my small hamlet-side,
Once more the blue and curling smoke unrolled?
When the poor boundaries of my house behold—
Poor, but to me as any province wide?

Ah, more than these imperious piles of Rome
Laugh the low portals of my boyhood's home!
More than their marble must its slate-roof be!

More than the Tiber's flood my Loire is still!
More than the Palatine my native hill,
And the soft air of Anjou than the sea!
Translated by G.K. Chesterton:
Happy, who like Ulysses or that lord
That raped the fleece, returning full and sage,
With usage and the world's wide reason stored,
With his own kin can wait the end of age.

When shall I see, when shall I see, God knows
My little village smoke; or pass the door,
The old dear door of that unhappy house
That is to me a kingdom and much more?

Mightier to me the house my fathers made
Than your audacious heads, O Halls of Rome!
More than immortal marbles undecayed,
The thin sad slates that cover up my home.

More than your Tiber is my Loire to me,
Than Palatine my little Lyre there;
And more than all the winds of all the sea
The quiet kindness of the Angevin air.
Richmond Lattimore and C.H. Sisson also translated du Bellay's poem, but I can't find their translations on the World Wide Web. Here is the French original:
Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup davantage?

Plus me plaît le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l'ardoise fine:

Plus mon Loire gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la doulceur angevine.
In his book Avril: Being Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance, Hilaire Belloc discusses this poem:
It was of a large gray house, moated, a town beside it, yet not far from woods and standing in rough fields, pure Angevin, Tourmélière, the Manor house of Liré, his home, that Du Bellay wrote this, the most dignified and perhaps the last of his sonnets. The sadness which is the permanent, though sometimes the unrecognized, moderator of his race, which had pierced through in his latter misfortunes, and which had tortured him to the cry that has been printed on the preceding page, here reached a final and a most noble form: something much higher than melancholy, and more majestic than regret. He turned to his estate, the mould of his family, a roof, the inheritance of which had formed his original burden and had at last crushed him; but he turned to it with affection. If one may use so small a word in connection with a great poet, the gentleman in him remembered an ancestral repose.

There is very much in the Sonnet to mark that development of French verse in which Du Bellay played so great a part. The inversion of the sentence, a trick which gives a special character to all the later formal drama is prominent: the convention of contrast, the purely classical allusion, are mixed with a spirit that is still spontaneous and even naïf. But every word is chosen, and it is especially noteworthy to discover so early that restraint in epithet which is the charm but also the danger of what French style has since become. Of this there are two examples here: the eleventh line and the last, which rhymes with it. To contrast slate with marble would be impossible prose save for the exact adjective "fine," which puts you at once into Anjou. The last line, in spite of its exquisite murmur, would be grotesque if the "air marin" were meant for the sea-shore. Coming as it does after the suggestions of the Octave it gives you suddenly sea-faring: Ulysses, Jason, his own voyages, the long way to Rome, which he knew; and in the "douceur Angevine" you have for a final foil to such wanderings, not only in the meaning of the words, but in their very sound, the hearth and the return.
Related posts:Update: Thanks to Pierre Wechter for pointing out a misprint in my quotation of du Bellay (Loir, now corrected to Loire).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Brüderschaft Trinken

W.H. Riehl, Der Flucht der Schönheit. Edited for School Use by Mary A. Frost (New York: American Book Company, 1897), p. 25, n. 11:
In the ceremony known as Brüderschaft trinken the two participants interlock their right arms, drain their glasses, kiss each other and ever afterward as "brothers" address each other as du (dutzen). This ceremony is sometimes described by the verb schmollieren, from the Latin sis mihi mollis amicus (be my good friend).
Some authorities consider the derivation of schmollieren from Latin to be a folk etymology. It is, for example, rejected by the Brothers Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. schmollis:
die herkunft ist zweifelhaft; die entstehung aus sis mihi mollis ist wol mit recht abzuweisen; vermutet ist ein zusammenhang mit dem niederländ. smullen, schlemmen, prassen, schmul, gasterei.
There is a detailed Wikipedia article on Brüderschaft trinken (in German). The expression literally means "to drink brotherhood." Needless to say, the drink is usually beer. Brüderschaft trinken strikes me as a civilized way to mark the formal beginning of a friendship. Like most old-fashioned customs, it seems to be dying out.


Life and Death

A painting of inanimate objects is a "still life" in some languages (English, German "Stilleben," Dutch "stilleven"), "dead nature" in others (French "nature morte," Italian "natura morta," Spanish "naturaleza muerta").

Georg Flegel (1566-1638), Still Life with Bouquet and Roast Pheasant

Monday, July 21, 2008


Amusements of Old Age

Dugald Stewart, Biographical Memoirs, of Adam Smith, LL.D., of William Robertson, D.D., and of Thomas Reid, D.D. (Edinburgh: G. Ramsay and Co., 1811), p. 501:
The revival, at this period, of Dr Reid's first scientific propensity, has often recalled to me a favourite remark of Mr Smith's, That of all the amusements of old age, the most grateful and soothing is a renewal of acquaintance with the favourite studies, and favourite authors, of our youth; a remark which, in his own case, seemed to be more particularly exemplified, while he was re-perusing, with the enthusiasm of a student, the tragic poets of ancient Greece. I heard him at least, repeat the observation more than once, while Sophocles or Euripides lay open on his table.
Carl Spitzweg, Ein Besuch

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The Desire for Knowledge and the Names for Things

In Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow, Dr. Gruner's ne'er-do-well son Wallace has a scheme for a new business (chapters 2-3):
Here's what we've come up with, as an enterprise. Aerial photographs of country houses. Then the salesman arrives with the picture—not just contacts but the fully developed picture—and offers you a package deal. We will identify the trees and shrubs on the place and band them handsomely, in Latin and English. People feel ignorant about the plants on their property.


'All men by nature desire to know.' That's the first sentence of Aristotle's Metaphysics. I never got much further, but I figured that the rest must be out of date anyway. However, if they desire to know, it makes them depressed if they can't name the bushes on their own property. They feel like phonies. The bushes belong. They themselves don't. And I'm convinced that knowing the names of things braces people up.
You could hire people to tell you the names of the plants on your property. Or you could figure out the names for yourself. Here are two accounts of people whose desire to know impelled them to learn the names of things.

Donald Culross Peattie, The Road of a Naturalist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941; rpt. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986), pp. 121-122:
I went out into the rambling wide yard, over the uncut spring grass beneath the tall oaks that I had always known. But I did not know them; it came to me, with Gray's Manual in my hand, that I had never known them at all. Two had been cut down, and the others were marked for felling, for most of this tract had been bought already and houses were to be crowded upon it. The city was shouldering its ugliness close. This sweet May day was outgrown. An era was over when there was plenty of time, and money enough, and you could still put off making up your mind. The world was at war, and I was twenty; and my father was working too hard in New York. Time for me to get to work, then. No time left to learn.

Except the oaks. I wanted to salute them, once, by name before I left them. Standing beneath their old green boughs, I opened my book and with a forefinger went tracing through the keys and their descriptions. These trees, whose burning garnet autumn foliage, whose fringed and top-shaped acorn cups I had known so long, whose yellow inner bark of twigs my teeth had discovered early, now were proved to me by these evidences to be black oaks. Quercus velutina. They became fixed for me, like stars. Let the axe take them. They were in their place. And like a firmament slowly broke over me the grandeur of a system where every oak puts down its roots eternal and unshakable, yes, and every transient flower. Like stars, I saw, each plant, perhaps each animal, had not only its place but its relation with all others, its measurable distances from them, as if, in evolution's slow tremendous course, all exerted pulls of varying strength upon the others. Species and genus and family, class and subkingdom and kingdom and kingdom glittered, still dimly, in that infinity. This, with the breath of lilac in my nostrils, the watchman's rattle of a flicker calling after me, was Nature. I closed the book, and walked away from the old address that I would never give again. I had no other, but I had at least a new sense of direction overhead, astronomically sure, and spreading over all the living earth.
Baron Wormser, The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living Off the Grid (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2006), p. 131:
We walked the old roads to learn. Initially we knew next to nothing. We could not name a tree or flower or bird beyond the simplest ones—pine, daisy, blue jay. We had field guides to go by; we had our lived-here-forever neighbors to consult. Often the combination of a field guide and Stanton was confusing. Was rock maple the same as sugar maple, ironwood the same as hophornbeam, quaking aspen the same as trembling poplar? Was a porcupine the same creature as a hedgehog? What kind of mock orange was it that we dug up from around an old house foundation? It was fragrant, but the ones at the nursery weren't. What sorts of old apple trees were across the road from us? How come tamarack (also known as hackmatack and not to be confused with tacamahac) dropped all its needles in the fall? Wasn't it an evergreen? It looked like an evergreen. Identifying terms grew up like trees in a field—here and there, at once random and yet trying to make something like sense. The old-timers laughed and snorted at our books. What, Ella wondered out loud, had the world come to that people needed such things?

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Fere and Mate

Yesterday I quoted the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. companion:
1297, from O.Fr. compaignon "fellow, mate," from L.L. companionem (nom. companio), lit. "bread fellow, messmate," from L. com- "with" + panis "bread." Found first in 6c. Frankish Lex Salica, and probably a translation of a Gmc. word (cf. Gothic gahlaiba "messmate," from hlaib "loaf of bread"). Replaced O.E. gefera "traveling companion," from faran "go, fare."
After reading that, I wondered whether English fere was related to gefera, and so it is. I knew the obsolete word fere from Ezra Pound's Ballad of the Goodly Fere, where the goodly fere is Jesus Christ. Pound prefaces his poem with the words "Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion," and he offers the gloss "Fere = Mate, Companion." I love Pound's poem, which ends:
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha' slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha' seen him eat o' the honey-comb
Sin' they nailed him to the tree.
The element ge- in gefera means "together, with" and is cognate with the com- in companion: see Calvert Watkins, Indo-European Roots, s.v. kom. In the transition from gefera to fere, ge- disappeared by aphesis (the loss of an initial, usually unstressed syllable). The loss of the same initial, unstressed syllable occurred in the history of the English word mate. See the Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. mate:
"companion, associate, fellow, comrade," c.1380, from M.L.G. mate, gemate "one eating at the same table, messmate," from P.Gmc. *ga-maton "having food (*matiz) together (*ga-)," which is etymologically identical with companion (q.v.).
Meat can mean food in general, not just animal flesh.

D.H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 194, has some illuminating remarks on companion and mate:
Our last military example is of quite a different kind, for it represents not a loanword into Latin as hitherto, but a loan-translation. Lat, companio is attested in all the western Romance languages (originally in the sense of 'comrade' in the language of the army). Its formation (collective prefix cum + stem meaning 'loaf' + personal ending) suggests a meaning 'someone with whom one shares a loaf', which corresponds to Germanic terms with the same meaning and a comparable formation (collective prefix ga + stem meaning 'loaf' + personal ending), as in Go. gahláiba and OHG gileibo. If we accept a causal connection between these closely similar Latin and German forms it is possible that the impetus came from Germanic. Latin may have other personal compounds with con- (coniux, consors), but they are not -n- stems, as companio is, whilst on the Germanic side Gothic alone has five such examples (e.g. gadáila 'participant'). This still makes it difficult, in view of the wide spread of the Romance examples of companio, to decide whether the word was borrowed from Germanic in the imperial period or only later in the context of the Frankish army. What might settle the issue in favour of the former is the presence of a Latin formation with con- which is an -n stem, namely concibo in a similar sense 'someone with whom food is shared' and likewise a term of soldier's Latin (it is found on a Roman soldier's gravestone from North Africa). Like companio, it also has a parallel in Germanic from which it was probably derived: WG gimato, OHG gimazzo 'table-companion', cf. English 'mate' (all formed with the word for 'meat, food'). These two Latin nouns were probably introduced into imperial Latin as technical terms of an army now based on growing numbers of German mercenaries.
The Roman soldier's gravestone from North Africa is Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VIII.9060:
D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum). Titulus Itamoris Ituueri (?) ex p(rouincia) G(ermania) S(uperiore) n(umeri) Melenuens(ium) st(ipendiorum?) XIII. concibones f(ecerunt) et d(e)d(icauerunt).
I quote the inscription from J.N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 279, who emphasizes, "What stands out here is that the referent is a German."

Friday, July 18, 2008


I Was My Best Companion

M.F.K. Fisher, "A is for dining Alone," An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949), rpt. in The Art of Eating: The Collected Gastronomical Works of M.F.K. Fisher (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1954), pp. 577-583 (at 581):
I felt firmly then, as I do this very minute, that snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality. If One could not be with me, "feasting in silent sympathy," then I was my best companion.
Companion is the mot juste here. See Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. companion:
1297, from O.Fr. compaignon "fellow, mate," from L.L. companionem (nom. companio), lit. "bread fellow, messmate," from L. com- "with" + panis "bread." Found first in 6c. Frankish Lex Salica, and probably a translation of a Gmc. word (cf. Gothic gahlaiba "messmate," from hlaib "loaf of bread"). Replaced O.E. gefera "traveling companion," from faran "go, fare."
Related posts:


Serial Filer

I recently came across the expression serial filer, used to describe a litigious person, who files lots of lawsuits.

In the earliest examples, the expression referred to those who filed repeatedly for bankruptcy, e.g.
Unless the court reverses that result, lawyers generally would have every incentive to encourage — whether consciously or subconsciously — debtors to join the pattern of "repeat" or "serial" filers to maximize their own fees to the prejudice of creditors.
In re Mellard, 117 B.R. 716, 721 (Bankr. D.Fla. 1990); see also In re Huerta, 137 B.R. 356, 378 (Bankr. D.Cal. 1992) and In re Felberman, 196 B.R. 678, 681 (Bankr. D.N.Y. 1995).

The first example from a case not in bankruptcy or tax court seems to be the following:
That provision is intended to prevent serial filers of frivolous litigation like Luedtke from pursuing claims unrelated to the prevention of serious physical injury.
Luedtke v. Bertrand, 32 F. Supp. 2d 1074, 1077 (D.Wis. 1999).

The expression is becoming more frequent, as the practice becomes more common. LexisNexis has 17 examples in the decade before 2000 and 115 since 2000. The expression was probably influenced by serial killer.



R.H. Blyth, Japanese Life and Character in Senryu (1949; rpt. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1960):
Farting while planting rice
Sound and smell
Rise away to the sky

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Reading Tacitus

Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), p. 194:
Stan Brakhage, the filmmaker, once banned the newspaper from his house and substituted Tacitus, which he read to his family daily.
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man, chap. 5:
"Pray, now," with a sort of sociable sorrowfulness, slowly sliding along the rail, "Pray, now, my young friend, what volume have you there? Give me leave," gently drawing it from him. "Tacitus!" Then opening it at random, read: "In general a black and shameful period lies before me."

"Dear young sir," touching his arm alarmedly, "don't read this book. It is poison, moral poison. Even were there truth in Tacitus, such truth would have the operation of falsity, and so still be poison, moral poison. Too well I know this Tacitus. In my college-days he came near souring me into cynicism. Yes, I began to turn down my collar, and go about with a disdainfully joyless expression."

"Sir, sir, I — I — "

"Trust me. Now, young friend, perhaps you think that Tacitus, like me, is only melancholy; but he's more — he's ugly. A vast difference, young sir, between the melancholy view and the ugly. The one may show the world still beautiful, not so the other. The one may be compatible with benevolence, the other not. The one may deepen insight, the other shallows it. Drop Tacitus. Phrenologically, my young friend, you would seem to have a well-developed head, and large; but cribbed within the ugly view, the Tacitus view, your large brain, like your large ox in the contracted field, will but starve the more. And don't dream, as some of you students may, that, by taking this same ugly view, the deeper meanings of the deeper books will so alone become revealed to you. Drop Tacitus. His subtlety is falsity. To him, in his double-refined anatomy of human nature, is well applied the Scripture saying — 'There is a subtle man, and the same is deceived.' Drop Tacitus. Come, now, let me throw the book overboard."


"Whatever our lot, we should read serene and cheery books, fitted to inspire love and trust. But Tacitus! I have long been of opinion that these classics are the bane of colleges; for — not to hint of the immorality of Ovid, Horace, Anacreon, and the rest, and the dangerous theology of Aeschylus and others — where will one find views so injurious to human nature as in Thucydides, Juvenal, Lucian, but more particularly Tacitus? When I consider that, ever since the revival of learning, these classics have been the favorites of successive generations of students and studious men, I tremble to think of that mass of unsuspected heresy on every vital topic which for centuries must have simmered unsurmised in the heart of Christendom. But Tacitus — he is the most extraordinary example of a heretic; not one iota of confidence in his kind. What a mockery that such an one should be reputed wise, and Thucydides be esteemed the statesman's manual! But Tacitus — I hate Tacitus; not, though, I trust, with the hate that sins, but a righteous hate."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Mesomedes, Hymn To Nemesis

William S. Annis in an email drew my attention to an example of asyndetic, privative adjectives in Mesomedes 3 (Hymn to Nemesis), line 7:
ὑπὸ σὸν τροχὸν ἄστατον ἀστιβῆ    7
χαροπὰ μερόπων στρέφεται τύχα

"Beneath your unresting, trackless(?) wheel
the grim fate of mortals turns."

The second one is a bit tricky. It can mean trackless, but it can also mean "not to be stepped on" or "holy."
The entire hymn is interesting. Here are a couple of translations, followed by the Greek text.

Translation by M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 307-308:
Nemesis, winged one that tilts life's balance, dark-eyed goddess, daughter of Justice, that curbest the vain neighings of mortals with thy adamant bit, and in thy hatred of their pernicious insolence drivest out black resentment: under thy wheel that neither stands still nor follows a fixed track men's gleaming fortune turns about. Unobserved, thou treadest at their heel; the haughty neck thou bendest; under thy forearm thou measurest off life, and ever thou turnest thy frowning gaze into men's hearts, with the scales in thy hand. Be gracious, blest dispenser of justice, Nemesis, winged one that tilts life's balance.

Of Nemesis we sing, undying goddess, stern Victory with spreading wings, infallible, seated by the throne of Justice; of thee that resentest man's arrogance and sweepest it down to Tartarus.
Translation by D. Yeld reprinted in Michael B. Hornum, Nemesis, the Roman State & the Games (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993), p. 116:
Winged Nemesis, turner of the scales of life, blue-eyed goddess, daughter of justice, who with your unbending bridle, dominate the vain arrogance of men and, loathing man's fatal vanity, obliterate black envy; beneath your wheel unstable and leaving no imprint, the fate of men is tossed; you who come unnoticed, in an instant, to subdue the insolent head. You measure life with your hand, and with frowning brows, hold the yoke. Hail, blest immortal goddess, winged Nemesis, turning the scales of life, imperishable and holy goddess Nemesis; Victory of unfurled wings, powerful, infallible, who shares the altar of justice and, furious at human pride, casts man into the abyss of Tartarus.
Greek text from the very helpful edition with notes by William S. Annis:
Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά,
κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας
ἃ κοῦφα φρυάγματα θνατῶν
ἐπέχεις ἀδάμαντι χαλινῷ,
ἔχθουσα δ’ ὕβριν ὀλοὰν βροτῶν
μέλανα φθόνον ἐκτὸς ἐλαύνεις.
ὑπὸ σὸν τροχὸν ἄστατον ἀστιβῆ
χαροπὰ μερόπων στρέφεται τύχα,
λήθουσα δὲ πὰρ πόδα βαίνεις,
γαυρούμενον αὐχένα κλίνεις.
ὑπὸ πῆχυν ἀεὶ βίοτον μετρεῖς,
νεύεις δ’ †ὑπὸ κόλπον ὀφρῦν ἀεί†
ζυγὸν μετὰ χεῖρα κρατοῦσα.
ἵλαθι μάκαιρα δικασπόλε
Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά.

Νέμεσιν θεὸν ᾄδομεν ἄφθιτον,
Νίκην τανυσίπτερον ὀμβρίμαν
νημερτέα καὶ πάρεδρον Δίκας,
ἃ τὰν μεγαλανορίαν βροτῶν
νεμεσῶσα φέρεις κατὰ Ταρτάρου.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The Honey Dew of Solitude

John Clare, Summer Images, lines 22-49:
Me not the noise of brawling pleasure cheers,
  In nightly revels or in city streets;
But joys which soothe, and not distract the ears,
  That one at leisure meets
In the green woods, and meadows summer-shorn,
  Or fields, where bee-fly greets
    The ear with mellow horn.

The green-swathed grasshopper, on treble pipe,
  Sings there, and dances, in mad-hearted pranks;
There bees go courting every flower that's ripe,
  On baulks and sunny banks;
And droning dragon-fly, on rude bassoon,
  Attempts to give God thanks
    In no discordant tune.

The speckled thrush, by self-delight embued,
  There sings unto himself for joy's amends,
And drinks the honey dew of solitude.
  There Happiness attends
With inbred Joy until the heart o'erflow,
  Of which the world's rude friends,
  Nought heeding, nothing know.

There the gay river, laughing as it goes,
  Plashes with easy wave its flaggy sides,
And to the calm of heart, in calmness shows
  What pleasure there abides,
To trace its sedgy banks, from trouble free:
  Spots, Solitude provides
  To muse and happy be.

Monday, July 14, 2008


An Anachronism in Babette's Feast?

In the movie Babette's Feast, sisters Philippa and Martine are the daughters of a Protestant minister in a seaside village in Denmark. The beautiful sisters attracted admirers. Philippa resisted the invitation of singer Achille Papin to run off to Paris, and Martine refused the attentions of army officer Lorens Loewenhielm. Papin returned to Paris, Loewenhielm to service in the army and life in high society. In one scene in the movie, Loewenhielm, still a young man, is shown at a ball, dancing to music that I recognized as a waltz by Brahms (Opus 39, Number 15).

This seems to be an anachronism. Some dates are mentioned in Babette's Feast. Babette arrived in the Danish village in September 1871, 35 years after Papin's stay there. If we assume that the early love affairs took place around 1836 and the ball not too long afterwards, then the waltz written by Brahms probably could not have been played at that ball. Brahms' Opus 39 was not published until 1865. The composer was born in 1833.

Michael Quinion, World Wide Words, Issue 594 (Saturday, 12 July 2008), discussed the word doryphore, introduced by Sir Harold Nicolson and defined by him as a "questing prig, who derives intense satisfaction from pointing out the errors of others." Nicolson spelled the word doriphore. The Oxford English Dictionary defines doryphore as "One who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly." One who draws attention to a minor anachronism in an otherwise splendid movie probably qualifies as a doryphore.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Blanket Flower

This is the third in a series of notes to myself about some flowers recently planted in my yard.

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

There is some confusion among authorities about exactly where the genus name Gaillardia comes from. David Gledhill, The Names of Plants (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) p. 145, says it was named "for Gaillard de Charentonneau (Marentonneau), patron of Botany." Well, is it Charentonneau or Marentonneau? Rudolf Köster, Eigennamen im deutschen Wortschatz: Ein Lexikon (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2003), p. 54, can't make up his mind either: "nach dem Blumenfreund und Botaniker Gaillard de Marentonneau (18. Jh.), nach anderen: G. de Charentonneau."

Auguste Denis Fougeroux de Bondaroy named the genus, so let's see what he said about it in "Description d'un nouveau genre de Plante," Mémoires de Mathématique et de Physique, tirés des Registres de l'Académie Royale des Sciences (1786):
Nous la nommerons gaillardia (pulchella) foliis alternis lanceolatis semi-amplexantibus, floribus subsolitariis terminalibus purpureoflavis (act. R. Par.), du nom de M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, qui, aux devoirs de la Magistrature, a su réunir, comme délassement, la culture des plantes & l'étude de la botanique.
Clearly the genus is named after Gaillard de Charentonneau, not Gaillard de Marentonneau.

Britton & Brown (III, 511) describe the genus thus:
Branching or scapose, pubescent herbs, with alternate or basal leaves, and large peduncled heads of both tubular and radiate flowers, or rays wanting. Involucre depressed-hemispheric, or flatter, its bracts imbricated in 2 or 3 series, their tips spreading or reflexed. Receptacle convex or globose, bristly, fimbrillate or nearly naked. Rays cuneate, yellow, purple, or parti-colored, neutral or rarely pistillate, 3-toothed or 3-lobed. Disk-flowers perfect, fertile, their corollas with slender tubes and 5-toothed limbs, the teeth pubescent with jointed hairs. Anthers minutely sagittate or auricled at the base. Style-branches tipped with filiform or short appendages. Achenes turbinate, 5-ribbed, densely villous, at least at the base. Pappus of 6-12 1-nerved awned scales, longer than the achene.
Frederick Pursh, Flora americae Septentrionalis; or, A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America (London: White, Cochrane, and Co., 1814), p. 573, named the species from a specimen collected by Meriweather Lewis on July 7, 1806. The species designation aristata means having an awn or top like an ear of grain (cf. Latin arista = top of an ear of grain).

Britton & Brown (III, 512) describe the species Gaillardia aristata thus:
Perennial; stem simple, or little branched, hirsute, or densely pubescent with jointed hairs, 1°-3° high. Leaves firm, densely and finely pubescent, the lower and basal ones petioled, oblong or spatulate, laciniate, pinnatifid or entire, mostly obtuse, 2'-5'long; upper leaves sessile, lanceolate or oblong, or slightly spatulate, smaller, entire or dentate, rarely pinnatifid; heads 1 1/2'-4' broad, long-peduncled; bracts of the involucre lanceolate, acuminate, hirsute; achenes villous, at least at the base. On plains and prairies, Minnesota to Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon. May-Sept.
The specimens in my yard are just on the verge of blooming, and I wonder what they will look like. I was puzzled to see that most photographs on the Internet show different-looking flowers, until I read in Donald Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia (New York: Macmillan, 1977), p. 418, that "Seedsmen have hybridized these to such an extent that there are many varieties."

The common name blanket flower refers to the resemblance of the colors of the flower to brightly colored Indian blankets.

Related posts:

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Charges of Murder When Corpses are Missing

English jurist Matthew Hale said, "I would never convict any person of murder or manslaughter, unless the fact were proven to be done, or at least the body found dead." 2 Hale, Pleas of the Crown 290 (1678). A few months ago I discussed two cases in which there was an accusation of murder, but the person supposed to be murdered later turned up alive. One was the case of the Boorn brothers, wrongly accused of murdering Russell Colvin. 6 American State Trials 73 (J. Lawson ed. 1916). Another was the case of Cratinus, wrongly accused of the murder of a female slave by Callimachus and Callimachus' brother-in-law. Isocrates, Against Callimachus 52-54. I just came across another such case in Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 44 (tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler):
On one occasion, indeed, an Epicurean got himself into great trouble by daring to expose him before a great gathering. He came up and addressed him in a loud voice. 'Alexander, it was you who induced So-and-so the Paphlagonian to bring his slaves before the governor of Galatia, charged with the murder of his son who was being educated in Alexandria. Well, the young man is alive, and has come back, to find that the slaves had been cast to the beasts by your machinations.' What had happened was this. The lad had sailed up the Nile, gone on to a Red Sea port, found a vessel starting for India, and been persuaded to make the voyage. He being long overdue, the unfortunate slaves supposed that he had either perished in the Nile or fallen a victim to some of the pirates who infested it at that time; so they came home to report his disappearance. Then followed the oracle, the sentence, and finally the young man's return with the story of his absence.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Kenneth Rexroth, Mrs. Manley, and Sappho

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), An Autobiographical Novel (New York: New Directions, 1991), chapter 14:
[W]e all took Latin from Mrs. Manley. She was one of the few perfect pedagogues I've ever met. She taught Latin by the direct method. If you couldn't ask to go to the toilet in Latin, you had to sit and swelter. Her classes were extremely hard and much in advance of the Chicago curriculum requirements. In the second year you were reading Ovid in addition to the required Caesar. But anyone with any pretension to brains in the school studied with her. She didn't only teach Latin but everything else. She was a heavy, gray-haired woman with the face of a benevolent St. Bernard, and she had opinions, all of them absolutely sound, on every subject under the sun. She was a sort of female Sam Johnson and we were her Boswells. We believed everything she said about everything from birth control to arctic exploration, and well we might, because as I look back I can think of no one who ever gave me more useful lessons in life and living. I have known other schoolteachers who were of help to me in a small way, but not many of them. She is the only teacher I ever knew who was a major help and who really aided me to start off in the kind of life I wanted to live. I can still remember her oratorical pronouncements—a compound of Johnson, Cherterton, Belloc, and Clarence Darrow—on manners and morals and the understamding and use of life.
Mrs. Manley was probably Florence B. Manley, who taught Latin at Englewood High School in Chicago. In 2005 Englewood High School had the lowest test scores of any high school in Chicago, and it was on a list of schools to be closed. The school web site has an alumni hall of fame, but it doesn't include Rexroth, who was expelled from Englewood and never graduated.

Rexroth also mentions Mrs. Manley in this passage about learning Greek (chapter 16):
About this time, under the stimulus of Plato, I started to teach myself Greek. I got some help from Mrs. Manley, but mostly I did it on my own. Eventually I was able to read the lustrous opening pages of the Republic, the starlike watchfires of the Greeks before the walls of Troy, and a poem of Sappho's. In spite of the crossword puzzle method by which I ferreted them out, I can still relive the ecstacy those words gave me.

Having taught myself the rudiments of Greek, I sat down to translate what are left of the poems of Sappho. One of the great experiences of my life is a long evening spent with a friend who was an undergraduate student of Paul Shorey's. Working on that Japanese-like fragment about the apple orchard, we analyzed and weighed and discussed exhaustively every word. A whole night was spent in a kind of fury and for the next few days I wandered around in a trance, overcome with joy.
Here is Rexroth's translation:
... about the cool water
the wind sounds through sprays
of apple, and from the quivering leaves
slumber pours down....
When Rexroth made his translation, only four lines survived of this poem by Sappho, but more were later discovered scratched on an Egyptian potsherd, first published in 1937. The poem is now known to be a prayer to Aphrodite (numbered as fragment 2 in Voigt's collection). The bibliography on this poem is enormous. My knowledge of it comes primarily from the discussion in Anne Pippin Burnett, Three Archaic Poets: Archilochus, Alcaeus, Sappho (London: Duckworth, 1983; rpt. 1988), pp. 259-276. Here is Burnett's translation (p. 259):
Come, [if to Cretans you came,]
for here in this sacred haunt
apple trees crowd in a gracious grove, shrines
    are perfumed with smoke.

Here the cool water sings its song
deep in the apple-boughs;
all is rose-shadowed and restless leaves
    drop sleep like a spell.

Here is a meadow fit for horse,
thriving with early bloom; sweet
breezes are blowing their honied breath

Take up a [crown] then, Cyprian;
Pour, for our cups of gold,
suave mixture of nectar with festive joy —
    be thou our bearer of wine!
For comparison, see also C.M. Bowra's translation, from his Greek Lyric Poetry from Alcman to Simonides, 2nd rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 197:
Come hither from Crete to this holy temple, where is your graceful grove of apple-trees, and altars smoking with frankincense. In it cool water sounds through apple-boughs; all the place is shadowed with roses, and from the quivering leaves sleep comes down. In it a meadow blossoms with spring flowers, where horses pasture, and there the breezes breathe sweetly....There, Cyprian, take chaplets and pour softly in gold cups nectar mingled with our feasting.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Ich bin ein Boeotier

I used to love the story that President John Kennedy, when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner," uttered the equivalent of "I am a jelly donut." Unfortunately, it turns out that his German was correct in every way, and any German speaker hearing him would have understood him to mean "I am a Berliner." I have not seen Jurgen Eichhoff, "'Ich bin ein Berliner': A History and Linguistic Clarification," Monatshefte für den deutschen Unterricht, deutsche Sprache und Kultur 85 (1993) 71–80, who vindicated Kennedy in this matter.

I thought of President Kennedy and this story when I read the following fragment from Mnesimachus' Busiris (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
A. I'm a Boeotian and I act as such, / Speaking but little — B. Good! A. And eating much.

A. εἰμι γὰρ Βοιώτιος / ὀλίγα μὲν λαλῶν — (B. δίκαια ταῦτα.) A. πολλὰ δ' ἐσθίων.

λαλῶν: ἄλλων codd.
There is independent evidence to corroborate both of these characteristics of the Boeotians. Plato, Symposium 182 b, says that the Boeotians are unskilled in speaking (μὴ σοφοὶ λέγειν), and Alcibiades (see Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades 2.5), says that the sons of the Thebans don't know how to converse (διαλέγεσθαι γὰρ οὐκ ἴσασιν). The fragment from Mnesimachus' Busiris comes from Athenaeus, who discusses the gluttony of the Boeotians at length in his Deipnosophistae (10.417 b - 418 b). I share both of these characteristics, taciturnity and voracity, and so imitating President Kennedy I say, "Ich bin ein Boeotier."

As a minimal conversationalist, I am on a par with Dr. John Taylor, of whom Dr. Johnson told the following anecdote (April 25, 1778, reported by James Boswell):
Demosthenes Taylor, as he was called, (that is, the Editor of Demosthenes) was the most silent man, the merest statue of a man that I have ever seen. I once dined in company with him, and all he said during the whole time was no more than Richard. How a man should say only Richard, it is not easy to imagine. But it was thus: Dr. Douglas was talking of Dr. Zachary Grey, and ascribing to him something that was written by Dr. Richard Grey. So, to correct him, Taylor said, (imitating his affected sententious emphasis and nod,) "RICHARD."
Thomas De Quincey went through an aphasic phase. In Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets, ed. David Wright (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 118, he said of himself, "For the first two years of my residence at Oxford, I compute that I did not utter one hundred words." I once computed that actor Sylvester Stallone did not utter one hundred words, including grunts, in his first Rambo movie. De Quincey expanded on his ailment (id. p. 124):
In early youth I labored under a peculiar embarrassment and penury of words, when I sought to convey my thoughts adequately upon interesting subjects: neither was it words only that I wanted; but I could not unravel, I could not even make perfectly conscious to myself, or properly arrange the subsidiary thoughts into which one leading thought often radiates; or, at least, I could not do this with anything like the rapidity requisite for conversation. I laboured like a Sibyl instinct with the burden of prophetic wo, as often as I found myself dealing with any topic in which the understanding combined with deep feelings to suggest mixed and tangled thoughts: and thus partly — partly also from my invincible habit of reverie — at that era of my life, I had a most distinguished talent 'pour le silence.'
De Quincey outgrew his taciturn ways, however, and became a much sought after conversationalist. Jane Carlyle said of De Quincey, "What wouldn't one give to have him in a Box, and take him out to talk!"

I've never outgrown my shyness and taciturnity. An embarrassing but accurate description of me at most social gatherings can be found in Rabelais, The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, I, 16 (tr. J.M. Cohen): "It was no more possible to draw a word from him than a fart from a dead donkey."

On the other hand, when I am forced to attend some social gathering, you can usually find me, like the ancient Boeotians, stuffing myself with food. I am a member not only of the Theban League, but also of the Panzeatic League, and my escutcheon is:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Protection of Sacred Groves

Thanks very much to Professor David Whitehead for the following email (links added):
Dear Mr Gilleland,

Your recent posting on this subject put me in mind of an Athenian inscription (late fourth century BC) that I once had occasion to study: the edict of the priest of Apollo Erithaseos. (In conjunction with the secular arm, both "national" and local, he prescribes what will happen to offenders, slave or free, in this regard.)

Googling that deity's name then brought up Aslak Rostad, Human Transgression - Divine Retribution: a study of religious transgressions and punishments in Greek cultic regulations and Lydian-Phrygian reconciliation inscriptions (diss. Bergen, undated). At pp.118-122 Rostad briefly discusses a total of 9 documents that bear upon this topic.

The invaluable Dr Google also came up with a full on-line text of: M.P.J.Dillon, 'The ecology of the Greek sanctuary', ZPE 118 (1997) 113-127.

With best wishes,

David Whitehead
There is also a full on-line text of Rostad's dissertation (see the link above), from which I excerpt the following list of documents (p. 119):
1) LSCG 37, Attica, 4th century BC; Apollo Erithaseos.
2) LSCG 84, Korope (Magnesia, Thessaly); ca. 100 BC, Apollo Koropaios.
3) LSCG 91, Euboia, 4th century; Apollo.
4) LSCG 111, Paros, late 5th century BC; the name of the deity is damaged.
5) LSCG 116, Chios, 4th century BC; the name of the deity is not mentioned.
6) LSCG 148, Gortyn (Crete), 3rd century BC; the name of the deity is damaged.
7) LSCG 150 A, Kos, late 5th century BC; probably regulation of an Asklepieion.
8) LSCG 150 B, Kos, 4th century BC; Apollo Kyparissios and Asklepios (?).
9) LSS 81, Samos, 1st century AD; the name of the deity is damaged.
LSCG stands for F. Sokolowski, Lois sacrées des cités grecques (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1969), LSS for F. Sokolowski, Lois sacrées des cités grecques: Supplement (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1962).

Rostad also presents the Greek text and an English translation of some of these inscriptions in his dissertation:To supplement my earler post on the Lex Luci Spoletina, here is another translation, this one by E.H. Warmington, Remains of Early Latin, vol. 4 = Archaic Inscriptions (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940), p. 155:
Let no one damage this grove. No one must cart or carry away anything that belongs to the grove, or cut wood in it, except on the day when holy worship takes place every year. On that day, person may without offence cut wood as required for the procedure of worship. If any one does damage, he shall make sin-offering to Jupiter with an ox; if any one does damage knowingly and with wrongful intent, he shall make sin-offering to Jupiter with an ox, and moreover let there be a fine of 300 as-pieces. The duty of exacting the said sin-offering and fine shall be with the dedicator.

Monday, July 07, 2008


The Open Road

Edward Payson Weston (1839-1929), article in the Saturday Evening Post, quoted by Christopher Wren, Walking to Vermont (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 268:
Most of the men I have met between the ages of forty and seventy could make themselves feel years younger by taking to the open road and—barring hearts that are too far gone to be salvaged—could be assured of longer and happier lives. More than that, all of them would be astonished at the vigor that comes of long, regular, easy-gaited walking, and the positive eagerness it will develop for more distance.
Weston's "long, regular, easy-gaited walking" ended in 1927 when he was struck by a car.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


An Old Man and His Books

Lu Yu (1125-1209), The Wind and the Rain (tr. Pai Chwen-yu):

Though I am seventy, I do not want to leave my books;
I fear that only death will be able to snatch me away from them.
I wake and poke at the lamp beneath my window,
And so I pass through this night of wind and rain.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


Asyndetic, Privative Adjectives in Sophocles

"Asyndetic" means not joined by conjunctions, and "privative" means altering the meaning of a term from positive to negative, by means of a prefix (e.g. a-, in-, non-, un-) or suffix (e.g. -less).

I recently noticed two examples of asyndetic, privative adjectives in Sophocles. The first example is Sophocles, fragment 386 (from the lost Women of Lemnos, tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
...the creature unapproachable, inexplicable, which I reared.

ἄπλατον ἀξύμβλητον ἐξεθρεψάμην
Lloyd-Jones thinks the speaker may have been Hypsipyle's old nurse Polyxo.

It is often difficult to translate short fragments because context is unavailable. Lloyd-Jones translates ἀξύμβλητον here as "inexplicable," which conforms to Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), s.v. ἀσύμβλητος, II ("not to be guessed, unintelligible"). But the LSJ definition III for the same word is "unsocial," for which this fragment of Sophocles is cited. Hesychius gives ἀσυνάντητος ("not to be met, unsocial") as a synonym of ἀξύμβλητος.

The meaning "unsocial" arose from the failure of someone to pay his contribution to a common meal. In ancient Greek, a potluck was ἔρανος, and individual contributions were συμβολαί. The guest who arrived without a contribution was ἀσύμβολος or ἀσύμβλητος.

The same adjective ἀξύμβλητον occurs in another passage from Sophocles (Trachiniae 693-694, tr. Lloyd-Jones) as the second half of a pair of asyndetic, privative adjectives:
And when I was going out I saw a thing too strange for words, beyond human understanding.

ἔξω δ᾽ ἀποστείχουσα δέρκομαι φάτιν
ἄφραστον, ἀξύμβλητον ἀνθρώπῳ μαθεῖν.

ἔξω Lloyd-Jones: εἴσω codd.
Here the context makes it clear that "unintelligible" is the meaning of ἀξύμβλητον.

Other examples of asyndetic, privative adjectives in Sophocles are:I also just came across a good example of asyndetic, privative adjectives in English, in a paragraph from Edwin Way Teale, Journey Into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), p. 345 (on Pike's Peak, emphasis added):
As we stood discussing such things, two businessmen struck up an acquaintance nearby. They talked endlessly, loudly, always on the same subject: the clubs they had belonged to, how one had presided over a grand conclave, how the other had headed a committee that brought in twenty-two new members. All the while the great spiritual experience of the mountain was passing them by. Unseen, unfelt, unappreciated, the beauty of the land unfolded around them. The clubs of the world formed their world entire. It enclosed them like the home of a snail wherever they went. For them, the scene would have been just as moving if they had been hemmed in by billboards.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Out of It

I once saw someone wearing a Remo Germani Fan Club t-shirt with the motto "Out of It and Proud of It." The Oxford English Dictionary, under out of, prep., includes the following definitions:
15. to be out of it.
a. Not involved or included in an action or event.

b. Removed or distant from the centre or heart of something; isolated; uninformed.

c. slang (orig. U.S.). Confused, stupefied, or unconscious, esp. after consuming drink or drugs; (also) unable to think or react properly as a result of being tired.
I'm out of it in sense 15.b.

Sometimes, when I read something, I get the odd sensation that I'm looking at myself in a mirror. So it was when I read Joseph Epstein's essay Nicely Out of It, published in his collection With My Trousers Rolled (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995). T.S. Eliot wrote, "I grow old...I grow old...I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled." I actually do wear the bottom of my trousers rolled much of the time. Here are some excerpts from Epstein's essay:
As best as I can date such an event, I believe I began to feel out of it roughly in 1966. Around that time the curtain fell, dividing the country between the young and the not-young, and I found myself, even though only twenty-nine, on the not-young side of that curtain. The student revolution had begun, and I—in taste, in temperament, in point of view—had ancien régime so clearly written all over me that I might as well have worn a powdered wig.


I nowadays steer clear of all talk shows and am proud to report that a number of currently famous people are at least still obscure to me. Nevertheless, by osmosis of a mystical kind, I know rather more than I wish I did about people with no possible relevance to my life and whose minds I find more than a jot less than fascinating. I feel I would be leading a better, a more elevated life if I didn't recognize the names Burt Reynolds, Marv Albert, Madonna, Connie Chung, Willie Nelson, David Gergen, Regis Philbin, and Dan Dierdorf. But, alas, I do.


I feel I am progressing nicely when, standing in the checkout line at the supermarket, glimpsing the grocery-store press (our version of England's gutter press), I don't recognize the names of the people involved in scandals, or when I haven't a clue about the person on the cover of People. Yet there is no gainsaying that I do know the names Dolly Parton, Loni Anderson, and Tina Turner (not to speak of Keena Turner, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker). So many, after all, are the old names I do not know enough about: Callimachus, Hypatia, Erasmus, Palestrina. I know, I fear, altogether too much about the Barbarians and not nearly enough about the Hellenes.


If I lived to be eighty, there was no telling how far out of it I might eventually go; perhaps I could slip all the way back into the eighteenth century, which has always seemed to me a nice place to visit.


A decade or so ago, for example, I discovered that I had ceased to read much contemporary fiction. Faster than you can say Italo Calvino, I had fallen two Malamuds, three Roths, a Bellow and a half, four Mailers, and five or six Updikes behind. I had let John Irving pass me by. So, too, Ann Beattie, Joan Didion, Gabriel García Márquez. Every book you read is a book you don't read, by my reckoning, and there were too many important non-contemporary books I had not yet read.


I prefer being out in the cold with my own well-worn but comfortably out-of-it notions. These include: that there are a number of unchanging ideas—none of them particularly stylish—worth fighting for; that honor is immitigable; that so, too, is dignity, despite the almost inherent ridiculousness of human beings; that one's life is a work of art, however badly botched, which can be restored and touched up here and there but not fundamentally changed; that, in connection with this, integrity includes coherence of personality; that elegance, where possible, is very nice, but there are many things more important than style, loyalty and decency among them; that a cello is a finer instrument than an electric guitar; and that a man ought to start out the day with a clean handkerchief. I hope I speak for others who are out of it when I say that we take these truths to be self-evident. And, as those of us who are out of it have learned, when it comes to the really important truths, no other kind of evidence is usually available.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Lex Luci Spoletina

From Richard F. Thomas, "Tree Violation and Ambivalence in Virgil," Transactions of the American Philological Association 118 (1988) 261-273 (at 263, n. 8), I learned about a law that regulated tree cutting in a sacred grove. The law is preserved in a 3rd century B.C. inscription from Spoleto, published in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XI 4766 = I² 366, in Hermann Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, n. 4911, and in V. Arangio-Ruiz, Fontes iuris Romani anteiustiniani, III (Firenze, 1943), p. 223, n. 71a.

There are a couple of recent English translations of this inscription. One is by John Scheid, "Oral tradition and written tradition in the formation of sacred law in Rome," in Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke, edd. Religion and Law in Classical and Christian Rome (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2006 = Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge, 15), pp. 14-33 (at 23):
Nobody shall violate this grove, export or take away what belongs to the grove. Nobody shall cut (wood) except for the requirements of the annual divine sevice; on that day it shall be allowed to cut without malice for the requirements of divine service. If someone violates (this rule), he shall offer a piaculum of an ox to Jupiter; if someone violates (it) intentionally with malice, an expiatory sacrifice of an ox shall be offered to Jupiter, and three hundred asses shall be perceived as a fine. The offering of the piaculum and the collection of the fine shall be the responsibility of the dictator.
The other is by Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 108:
Let no-one violate this grove nor carry out anything that is in the grove nor set foot in it [or possibly 'cut it'] except annually on the day of the rite; on the day when it is done because of the rite it shall be permitted to enter (cut) it with impunity. Whosoever violates the grove shall give a purificatory offering of an ox to Jupiter; whoever violates it knowingly and maliciously shall give a purificatory offering of an ox to Jupiter and shall be fined 300 asses [a unit of currency]. The chief magistrate shall be responsible for the exaction of the offering and fine.
Here is the Latin:
Honce loucom ne qu<i>s uiolatod neque exuehito neque exferto quod louci siet, neque cedito nesei quo die res deina anua fiet; eod die quod rei dinai cau[s]a [f]iat, sine dolo cedre [l]icetod, seiquis uiolasit Ioue bouid piaclum datod, si quis scies uiolasit dolo malo, Iouei bouid piaclum datod et a(sses) CCC moltai suntod; eius piacli moltaique dicator[ei] exactio est[od].
I'm not sure where "perceived" in Scheid's translation comes from. I would just leave it out. In Dowden's version the alternative "cut" seems better than "enter" as a translation of cedito and cedre.

I haven't seen the discussions by Rudolf Wachter, Altlateinische Inschriften: Sprachliche und epigraphische Untersuchungen zu den Dokumenten bis etwa 150 v. Chr. (Bern: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 426-432, and Silvio Panciera, "La Lex Luci Spoletina e la legislazione sui boschi sacri in età Romana," in Monteluco e i Monti Sacri: Atti dell'incontro di studio (Spoleto, 30 settembre-2 ottobre 1993) (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull'Alto Medievo, 1994), reprinted in Panciera's Epigrafi, epigrafia, epigrafisti: Scritti vari editi e inediti (1956-2005) (Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2006).

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008



Ezra Pound (1885-1972) coined the word pejorocracy. It occurs in one of the Pisan Cantos, dated 1948 (Canto LXXIX: "in short the snot of pejorocracy"). Charles Olson (1910-1970) also used it in The Kingfisher and The Maximus Poems. I recently saw the word in Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), p. 20:
We do not notice that we are ruled by the worst rather than the best of men: Olson took over a word coined by Pound, pejorocracy.
The word doesn't occur in the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I don't know whether it appears in any other dictionary. It's a hybrid formation from Latin pejor (peior = worse, which serves as the comparative degree of the adjective malus = bad) and Greek -κρατία (-kratia = rule, dominion). We see the root pejor also in English pejorative.

It's interesting to compare what is said about hybrids in various editions of Fowler's Modern English Usage. I don't own a copy of the first edition, but I do have the second edition by Ernest Gowers and the third by R.W. Burchfield. The second edition has an entry on "hybrids and malformations," in which hybrids are defined as "words formed from a stem or word belonging to one language by applying to it a suffix or prefix belonging to another," malformations as words "in which all the elements belong indeed to one language, but are so put together as to outrage that language's principles of word-formation." The second edition goes on to say:
At this point it may be well to clear the ground by collecting a small sample of words that may be accused of being misformed in either of the senses explained above—i.e. as made of heterogeneous elements, or as having their homogeneous elements put together in an alien fashion: amoral, automation, backwardation, bi-weekly, bureaucracy, cablegram, climactic, coastal, coloration, dandiacal, flotation, funniment, gullible, impedance, pacifist, speedometer. (Extreme examples, stillborn it may be hoped, are breathalyser and triphibious). An ill-favoured list, of which all readers will condemn some, and some all. It will not be possible here to lay down rules for word-formation, which is a complicated business; but a few remarks on some of the above words may perhaps instil caution, and a conviction that word-making, like other manufactures, should be done by those who know how to do it. Others should neither attempt it for themselves, nor assist in the deplorable activities of amateurs by giving currency to fresh coinages before there has been time to test them.
The third edition is more hospitable to hybrids:
If such words had been submitted to an absolute monarch of etymology, some perhaps would not have been admitted to the language. But our language is not governed by an absolute monarch, nor by an academy, far less by a European Court of Human Rights, but by a stern reception commitee, the users of the language themselves. Homogeneity of language origin comes low in their ranking of priorities; euphony, analogy, an instinctive belief that a word will settle in if there is a need for it and will disappear if there is not—these are the factors that operate when hybrids (like any other new words) are brought into the language. If the coupling of mixed-language elements seems too gross, some standard speakers write (now fax) severe letters to the newspapers. Attitudes are struck. This is all as it should be in a democratic country. But amoral, bureaucracy, and the other mixed-blood formations persist, and the language has suffered only invisible dents.
We can assume that Pound knew exactly what he was doing when he coined the hybrid pejorocracy. Maybe he even intended it as a stick in the eye of language purists.

One thing that puzzles me about pejorocracy is this — why the comparative degree and why not the superlative (pessimocracy, from Latin pessimus = worst)?

There is a more well-established word, not a hybrid, that expresses much the same thing, and that is kakistocracy, first used in English by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829, and preceded by kakistocratical in 1641, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Aristocracy is rule by the best (ἄριστος, aristos), kakistocracy is rule by the worst (κάκιστος, kakistos), as in the phrase "the Bush kakistocracy." In ancient Greek ἀριστοκρατία occurs, but κακιστοκρατία apparently does not.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius

Valerius Maximus 1.1.19 (tr. Henry J. Walker):
Apollo's son, Aesculapius, was just as effective in avenging himself when his cult was insulted. Turullius, Antony's prefect, cut down a large part of a sacred grove belonging to his temple in order to build ships for Antony. While Turullius was performing this wicked task, Antony's forces were utterly defeated. Augustus commanded that Turullius be put to death, and the god revealed his divine powers by having him dragged into the very place he had desecrated. The god made sure that Augustus' soldiers killed him there rather than anywhere else. By his death, Turullius paid the penalty for those trees he had already cut down and guaranteed that the trees still standing would be protected from such a violation. The god thereby increased the extraordinary devotion that his worshippers had always felt for him.

nec minus efficax ultor contemptae religionis filius quoque eius Aesculapius, qui (consecratum templo suo lucum a Turullio praefecto Antonii ad naves ei faciendas magna ex parte succisum dolens) inter ipsum nefarium ministerium, devictis partibus Antonii, imperio Caesaris morti destinatum Turullium manifestis numinis sui viribus in eum locum, quem violaverat, traxit effecitque ut ibi potissimum a militibus Caesarianis occisus eodem exitio et eversis iam arboribus poenas lueret et adhuc superantibus inmunitatem consimilis iniuriae pareret suamque venerationem, quam apud colentes maximam semper habuerat, deus multiplicavit.
Cassius Dio 51.8.3 (tr. Earnest Cary):
Caesar put Turullius to death (it chanced that this man had cut wood for the fleet from the grove of Aesculapius in Cos, and since he was executed in Cos, he was thought to be making amends to the god as well as to Caesar), but this time also he gave no answer to Antony.

Καῖσαρ δὲ τὸν μὲν Τουρούλλιον ἀπέκτεινε (καὶ ἔτυχε γὰρ ἐκ τῆς ἐν Κῷ τοῦ Ἀσκληπιοῦ ὕλης ξύλα ἐς ναυτικὸν κεκοφώς, δίκην τινὰ καὶ τῷ θεῷ, ὅτι ἐκεῖ ἐδικαιώθη, δοῦναι ἔδοξε), τῷ δ´ Ἀντωνίῳ οὐδὲν οὐδὲ τότε ἀπεκρίνατο.
Lactantius, Divine Institutes 2.8 (tr. William Fletcher):
Turullius also, the lietenant of Mark Antony, when he had cut down a grove of Aesculapius in Cos, and built a fleet, was afterwards slain at the same place by the soldiers of Caesar.

praefectus etiam M. Antonii Turullius, cum apud Coos everso Aesculapii luco classem fecisset, eodem postea loco a militibus Caesaris interfectus est.
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