Sunday, August 31, 2008


Odi et Amo

In the First Line Index to the Poetry of John Clare, I count 54 poems that start with the words "I love..." In most of them, what Clare loves is some aspect of nature or some outdoor activity. In only a few does Clare mention a person whom he loves.

According to the Index, only two of Clare's poems start with the words "I hate...": "I hate the very noise of troublous man..." and "I hate to see mans strength employd..." Here is the latter:
I hate to see mans strength employd
To desolate the wood
To see a favourite tree destroyd
That has for ages stood
To see the stript oak stretchd its length
A mournful thought the scene attends
Those seem thats left still green in strength
To mourn their fallen friends
In an autobiographical sketch, Clare recalls some of his favorite trees that were destroyed:
I usd to be fondly attached to spots about the fields and there were 3 or 4 were I used to go visit on sundays    one of these was under an old Ivied Oak in Oxey wood were I twisted a sallow stoven into a harbour which grew into the cramped way in which I had made it    two others were under a broad oak in a field called the Barrows and Langley Bush and all my favourite places have met with misfortunes    the old ivied tree was cut down    when the wood was cut down and my bower was destroyed the woodmen fancied it a resort for robbers and some thought the crampd way in which the things grew were witch knotts and that the spot was a haunt were witches met    I never unriddeld the mystery and it is believd so still for I got there often to hide myself and was ashamed to acknowledge it—Lee Close Oak was cut down in the inclosure and Langley bush was broken up by some wanton fellows while kidding furze on the heath—the Carpenter that bought Lee Close oak hearing it was a favourite tree of mine made two rules and sent me and I prese[r]ved a piece of the old Ivy the thickest I have ever seen
A good article on Clare's fondness for trees is Eric Robinson,"'To an Oaken Stem': John Clare's Poem Recovered and Reconsidered," The Review of English Studies, n.s. 38.152 (Nov. 1987) 483-491, in which the passages quoted above and many others are discussed.

Related posts:

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The Enemy of All

John Clare, Summer Evening:
The frog half fearful jumps across the path,
And little mouse that leaves its hole at eve
Nimbles with timid dread beneath the swath;
My rustling steps awhile their joys deceive,
Till past,—and then the cricket sings more strong,
And grasshoppers in merry moods still wear
The short night weary with their fretting song.
Up from behind the molehill jumps the hare,
Cheat of his chosen bed, and from the bank
The yellowhammer flutters in short fears
From off its nest hid in the grasses rank,
And drops again when no more noise it hears.
Thus nature's human link and endless thrall,
Proud man, still seems the enemy of all.
Related posts:

Thursday, August 28, 2008


The Ages of Man

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 8.9 (on Pythagoras, tr. R.D. Hicks):
He divides man's life into four quarters thus: "Twenty years a boy, twenty years a youth, twenty years a young man, twenty years an old man; and these four periods correspond to the four seasons, the boy to spring, the youth to summer, the young man to autumn, and the old man to winter," meaning by youth one not yet grown up and by a young man a man of mature age.

Διαιρεῖται δὲ καὶ τὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου βίον οὕτως· "Παῖς εἴκοσι ἔτεα, νεηνίσκος εἴκοσι, νεηνίης εἴκοσι, γέρων εἴκοσι. αἱ δὲ ἡλικίαι πρὸς τὰς ὥρας ὧδε σύμμετροι· παῖς ἔαρ, νεηνίσκος θέρος, νεηνίης φθινόπωρον, γέρων χειμών." ἔστι δ' αὐτῷ ὁ μὲν νεηνίσκος μειράκιον, ὁ δὲ νεηνίης ἀνήρ.
By Pythagoras' reckoning I'm still a young man, but by no other.

Philo, Creation of the World 103-105 (tr. C.D. Yonge), follows Solon and Hippocrates in adopting seven-year divisions:
[103] And besides what has been already said, the growth of men from infancy to old age, when measured by the number seven, displays in a most evident manner its perfecting power; for in the first period of seven years, the putting forth of the teeth takes place. And at the end of the second period of the same length, he arrives at the age of puberty: at the end of the third period, the growth of the beard takes place. The fourth period sees him arrive at the fullness of his manly strength. The fifth seven years is the season for marriage. In the sixth period he arrives at the maturity of his understanding. The seventh period is that of the most rapid improvement and growth of both his intellectual and reasoning powers. The eighth is the sum of the perfection of both. In the ninth, his passions assume a mildness and gentleness, from being to a great degree tamed. In the tenth, the desirable end of life comes upon him, while his limbs and organic senses are still unimpaired: for excessive old age is apt to weaken and enfeeble them all.

[104] And Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, described these different ages in the following elegiac verses:
In seven years from th' earliest breath,
The child puts forth his hedge of teeth;
When strengthened by a similar span,
He first displays some signs of man.
As in a third, his limbs increase,
A beard buds o'er his changing face.
When he has passed a fourth such time,
His strength and vigour's in its prime.
When five times seven years o'er his head
Have passed, the man should think to wed;
At forty two, the wisdom's clear
To shun vile deed of folly or fear:
While seven times seven years to sense
Add ready wit and eloquence.
And seven years further skill admit
To raise them to their perfect height.
When nine such periods have passed,
His powers, though milder grown, still last;
When God has granted ten times seven,
The aged man prepares for heaven.
[105] Solon therefore thus computes the life of man by the aforesaid ten periods of seven years. But Hippocrates the physician says that there are seven ages of man, infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, manhood, middle age, old age; and that these too, are measured by periods of seven, though not in the same order. And he speaks thus: "In the nature of man there are seven seasons, which men call ages; infancy, childhood, boyhood, and the rest. He is an infant till he reaches his seventh year, the age of the shedding of his teeth. He is a child till he arrives at the age of puberty, which takes place in fourteen years. He is a boy till his beard begins to grow, and that time is the end of a third period of seven years. He is a youth till the completion of the growth of his whole body, which coincides with the fourth seven years. Then he is a man till he reaches his forty-ninth year, or seven times seven periods. He is a middle aged man till he is fifty-six, or eight times seven years old; and after that he is an old man."
Censorinus, On the Day of Birth 14, also discusses the periods of life. I don't have access to the translations of Censorinus by William Maude (New York: Cambridge Encyclopedia Co., 1900) or Holt Parker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), and I don't have time to translate this lengthy chapter myself, but here is the Latin:
[1] Igitur expositis iis, quae ante diem natalem sunt, nunc ut climactericoe anni noscantur, quid de gradibus aetatis humanae sensum sit, dicam. [2] Varro quinque gradus aetatis aequabiliter putat esse divisos, unumquemque scilicet praeter extremum in annos XV. itaque primo gradu usque annum XV pueros dictos, quod sint puri, id est inpubes. secundo ad tricensimum annum adulescentes, ab alescendo sic nominatos. in tertio gradu qui erant usque quinque et quadraginta annos, iuvenis annos appellatos eo quod rem publicam in re militari possent iuvare. in quarto autem adusque sexagensimum annum seniores vocitatos, quod tunc primum senescere corpus inciperet. inde usque finem vitae uniuscuiusque quintum gradum factum, in quo qui essent, senes appellatos, quod ea aetate corpus iam senio laboraret. [3] Hippocrates medicus in septem gradus aetates distribuit. finem primae putavit esse septimum annum, secundae quartum decimum, tertiae duodetricensimum, quartae tricensimum quintum, quintae duo et quadragensimum, sextae quinquagensimum sextum, septimae novissimum annum vitae humanae. [4] Solon autem decem partes fecit, et Hippocratis gradum tertium et sextum et septimum singulos bifariam divisit, ut unaquaeque aetas annos haberet septenos. [5] Staseas peripateticus ad has Solonis decem hebdomadas addidit duas, et spatium plenae vitae quattuor et octoginta annorum esse dixit; quem terminum si quis praeterit, facere idem quod stadiodromoe ac quadrigae faciunt, cum extra finem procurrunt. [6] Etruscis quoque libris fatalibus aetatem hominis duodecim hebdomadibus discribi Varro commemorat; quae duo ** ad decies septenos annos posse fatalia deprecando rebus divinis proferre, ab anno autem LXX nec postulari debere nec posse ab deis impetrari. ceterum post annos LXXXIIII a mente sua homines abire, neque his fieri prodigia. [7] sed ex eis omnibus proxime videntur adcessisse naturam, qui hebdomadibus humanam vitam emensi sunt. fere enim post septimum quemque annum articulos quosdam et in his aliquid novi natura ostendit, ut et in elegia Solonis cognoscere datur. ait enim in prima hebdomade dentes homini cadere, in secunda pubem apparere, in tertia barbam nasci, in quarta vires, in quinta maturitatem ad stirpem reliquendam, in sexta cupiditatibus temperari, in septima prudentiam linguamque consummari, in octava eadem manere (in qua alii dixerunt oculos albescere), in nona omnia fieri languidiora, in decima hominem morti fieri maturum. ** tamen in secunda hebdomade vel incipiente tertia vocem crassiorem et inaequabilem fieri, quod Aristoteles appellat tragizin, antiqui nostri irquitallire, et ipsos inde putant irquitallos appellari, quod tum corpus ircum olere incipiat. [8] de tertia autem aetate adulescentulorum tres gradus esse factos in Graecia priusquam ad viros perveniatur, quod vocent annorum XIIII παῖδα, μελλέφηβον autem XV, dein sedecim ἔφηβον, tunc septemdecim ἐξέφηβον. [9] praeterea multa sunt de his hebdomadibus quae medici ac philosophi libris mandaverunt, unde apparet, ut in morbis dies septimi suspecti sunt et crisimoe dicuntur, ita per omnem vitam septimum quemque annum periculosum et velut crisimon esse et climactericum vocitari. [10] sed ex his genethliaci alios aliis difficiliores esse dixerunt, et nonnulli eos potissimum, quos ternae hebdomades conficiunt, putant observandos, hoc est unum et vicensimum, et quadragensimum secundum, dein tertium et sexagensimum, postremum octogensimum et quartum, in quo Staseas terminum vitae defixit. [11] alii autem non pauci unum omnium difficillimum climactera prodiderunt, anno scilicet undequinquagensimo, quem conplent anni septies septeni; ad quam opinionem plurimorum consensus inclinat: nam quadrati numeri potentissimi ducuntur. [12] denique Plato ille veniat, veteris philosophiae sanctissimus, qui quadrato numero annorum vitam humanam consummari putavit, sed novenario, qui conplet annos octoginta et unum. fuerunt etiam qui utrumque reciperent numerum, undequinquagensimum et octogensimum unum, et minorem nocturnis genesibus, maiorem diurnis scriberent *. [13] plerique [aliter moti] duos istos numeros subtiliter dicreverunt, dicentes septenarium ad corpus, novenarium ad animum pertinere; hunc medicinae corporis et Apollini adtributum, illum Musis, quia morbos animi, quos appellant pathe, musice lenire ac sanare consueverit. [14] itaque primum climactera annum quadragensimum et nonum esse prodiderunt, ultimum autem octogensimum et unum; medium vero ex utroque permixtum anno tertio et sexagensimo, vel quem hebdomades novem vel septem enneades conficiunt. [15] hunc licet quidam periculosissimum dicant, quod ad corpus et ad animum pertineat, ego tamen ceteris duco infirmiorem. nam utrumque quidem supra dictum continet numerum, sed neutrum quadratum, et ut est ab utroque non alienus, ita in neutro potens. nec multos sane, quos vetustas claro nomine celebrat, hic annus absumpsit. [16] Aristotelen Stagiriten reperio; sed hunc ferunt naturalem stomachi infirmitatem crebrasque morbidi corporis offensiones adeo virtute animi diu sustentasse, ut magis mirum sit ad annos LXIII eum vitam pertulisse quam ultra non protulisse.
In the Λέξεις (Words) of Aristophanes of Byzantium, one of the sections is περὶ ὀνομασίας ἡλικιῶν (on the naming of periods of life). I don't have access to the edition of W. Slater, Aristophani Byzantii Fragmenta (Berlin, 1986), but the old edition of A. Nauck is available in its entirety in Google Book Search — Aristophanis Byzantii Grammatici Alexandrini Fragmenta (Halle, 1848), and in Nauck's edition the fragments on the naming of periods of life are on pp. 87-127.

Among modern authors, Sir Thomas Browne discusses the ages of man in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica 4.12. Shakespeare's lines in As You Like It are well-known:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 10.1 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Avoid the many, avoid the few, avoid even the individual.

Fuge multitudinem, fuge paucitatem, fuge etiam unum.
For more on withdrawal (ἀναχώρησις, anachōrēsis) see André-Jean Festugière, O.P., Personal Religion among the Greeks (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954), chap. IV (pp. 53-67) = The Inclination to Retirement.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Advice for Language Learners

George Borrow, The Bible in Spain, chapter 1:
Those who wish to make themselves understood by a foreigner in his own language, should speak with much noise and vociferation, opening their mouths wide. Is it surprising that the English are, in general, the worst linguists in the world, seeing that they pursue a system diametrically opposite? For example, when they attempt to speak Spanish, the most sonorous tongue in existence, they scarcely open their lips, and putting their hands in their pockets, fumble lazily, instead of applying them to the indispensable office of gesticulation. Well may the poor Spaniards exclaim, THESE ENGLISH TALK SO CRABBEDLY, THAT SATAN HIMSELF WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEM.



I received a 2009 calendar as a birthday present, published by Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, an important source of rare, heirloom seeds. The calendar has attractive photographs of fruits, herbs, and vegetables, with informative descriptions and tasty recipes. I noticed what looks like a misprint on the calendar page devoted to the month of April and the herb basil:
The ancient Greeks and Romans thought basil would only grow if the gardener screamed wild curses and shouted intelligibly while planting the seed.
The same sentence occurs at, but I suspect that "intelligibly" is a mistake for "unintelligibly." Cf.
Ancient Greek and Roman doctors believed that basil would grow only if its cultivators sowed the seeds while screaming wild curses and shouting unintelligibly.
What about the curses? I had never heard of this custom before. When I tried to find corroborating evidence from ancient writers, I discovered that Polyglot Vegetarian, Sowing Cumin and Basil, had already collected the relevant passages, with original texts and translations. To summarize, Theophrastus (Enquiry into Plants 7.3.3) and Plutarch (Convivial Questions 7.2.3) connect the custom of cursing with sowing cumin, Pliny (Natural History 19.36.120) with ocimum, and Palladius (On Farming 4.9) with rue.

Some authorities deny that ocimum (ὤκιμον) in ancient writers is the same as our basil (scientific name Ocimum basilicum) — see e.g. Berthold Laufer, Sino-Iranica: Chinese Contributions to the History of Civilization in Ancient Iran, with Special Reference to the History of Cultivated Plants and Products (Chicago, 1919 = Field Museum of Natural History, Publication 201, Anthropological Series XV.3), Appendix IV = The Basil, pp. 586-590.

It's safer to correct misprints on one's blog than out in the field. Jim K. drew my attention to an Associated Press story, from which I excerpt the following:
Two self-styled vigilantes against typos who defaced a more than 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at Grand Canyon National Park were sentenced to probation and banned from national parks for a year.

Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson pleaded guilty August 11 for the damage done March 28 at the park's Desert View Watchtower. The sign was made by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who designed the rustic 1930s watchtower and other Grand Canyon-area landmarks.

Deck and Herson, both 28, toured the United States this spring, wiping out errors on government and private signs. They were interviewed by NPR and the Chicago Tribune, which called them "a pair of Kerouacs armed with Sharpies and erasers and righteous indignation."

An affidavit by National Park Service agent Christopher A. Smith said investigators learned of the vandalism from an Internet site operated by Deck on behalf of the Typo Eradication Advancement League.
There but for the grace of God go I.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Gloomy Walk in Summer Time

John Clare, Sonnet:
Give me the gloomy walk in summer time
That intersects the woods where nature weaves
Her bowers at will that close encumberd climb
Dark over head their many mingling leaves
While curious anxiousness the bosom heaves
The hidden beautys of the shade to find
That in the negligence of summer lives
Each herb leaf noting of peculear kind
& many a flower & many a namless weed
Where eye scarce marks em ere theyre run to seed
& where the mossy stulp invites to rest
& woodbines up the hazels stem proceed
Drop down & muse wi' in ones shelterd nest
Or from ones pocket take a book & read
Ivan Shishkin, Backwoods

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Contentus Parvo

Joachim Du Bellay (1525-1560), Les Regrets XXXVIII (tr. C.H. Sisson):
O happy the man who can spend his life
Among his own kind: and who, without pretence,
Without fear, without envy, and in full content
Reigns peacefully at his own poor fireside.
The wretched trouble of acquiring more
Does not tyrannise over his affections,
His highest desire, a desire without passion,
Extends only to what his father had before him.
He does not bother with other people's affairs,
His main hope is for what is already there,
He is his own master in all that he does.
He does not waste what he has abroad,
He does not waste his life for a foreign cause,
And he does not want to be richer than he is.
Prose version by Richard Helgerson:
O happy the man who can spend his life with people like himself, and who, without feigning, without fear, without envy, and without ambition, reigns peacefully in his own poor household!

The miserable trouble of acquiring more does not tyrannize over his free inclinations, and his greatest desire, a desire without passion, reaches no further than his own inheritance.

He does not trouble himself with the business of others. His chief hope depends only on himself. He is his own court, his king, his benefactor, and his master.

He does not devour his wealth in a foreign country. He does not put his life in danger for others. And he would not want to be richer than he is.
French original:
O qu'heureux est celuy qui peult passer son aage
Entre pareils à soy! et qui sans fiction,
Sans crainte, sans envie, et sans ambition,
Regne paisiblement en son pauvre mesnage!

Le miserable soing d'acquerir d'avantage
Ne tyrannise point sa libre affection,
Et son plus grand desir, desir sans passion,
Ne s'estend plus avant que son propre heritage.

Il ne s'empesche point des affaires d'autry,
Son principal espoir ne depend que de luy,
Il est sa court, son roy, sa faveur, et son maistre.

Il ne mange son bien en païs estranger,
Il ne met pour autry sa personne en danger,
Et plus riche qu'il est ne voudroit jamais estre.

Saturday, August 23, 2008



Athenaeus 5.187 c (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
Again, Epicurus (fr. 57 Usener) poses questions in his Symposium about indigestion as a means of obtaining omens, and then immediately after this discusses fevers.

πάλιν Ἐπίκουρος ἐν τῷ Συμποσίῳ ζητεῖ περὶ δυσπεψίας ὥστ' οἰωνίσασθαι, εἶθ' ἑξῆς περὶ πυρετῶν.
Epicurus appears to be referring to gastromancy, or divination by means of the belly. The noun γαστρομαντεία (gastromanteia) doesn't occur in ancient Greek, at least according to the lexicon of Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), although the corresponding verb γαστρομαντεύομαι (gastromanteuomai) does occur once, with details about the practice, in Alciphron 2.4.15-16 (alternate numbering 4.19.15-16, tr. Allen Rogers Benner and Francis H. Fobes):
I have a woman who recently came from Phrygia and has had very great experience in gastromancy [γαστρομαντεύεσθαι δεινὴν] by observing the tension of the strings at night and in the evocation of the gods. We don't have to believe what she says, but must see for ourselves, as they say. I will send her a message. As a matter of fact, so the woman said, she has to make a preliminary purification, and prepare some animals for sacrifice, and some strong frankincense, and a long stalk of styrax, and moon-cakes, and leaves of the wild chaste tree.
Similar words in Greek are ἐγγαστρίμαντις (engastrimantis, defined by LSJ as "one that prophesies from the belly") and ἐγγαστρίμυθος (engastrimythos, defined by LSJ as "ventriloquist, mostly of women who delivered oracles by this means").

The first known gastromancer was Eurycles, of whom Aristophanes says in the parabasis of Wasps (1016-1020, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Our poet wants to chastise the audience today. He claims they've wronged him without provocation, even though he's treated them abundantly well, at first not openly but secretly, by helping other poets, taking his cue from the prophetic device of Eurycles, slipping into other mens' bellies and making lots of comic material pour out.

μέμψασθαι γὰρ τοῖσι θεαταῖς ὁ ποιητὴς νῦν ἐπιθυμεῖ.
ἀδικεῖσθαι γάρ φησιν πρότερος πόλλ᾽ αὐτοὺς εὖ πεποιηκώς·
τὰ μὲν οὐ φανερῶς ἀλλ᾽ ἐπικουρῶν κρύβδην ἑτέροισι ποιηταῖς,
μιμησάμενος τὴν Εὐρυκλέους μαντείαν καὶ διάνοιαν,
εἰς ἀλλοτρίας γαστέρας ἐνδὺς κωμῳδικὰ πολλὰ χέασθαι.
See also Plato, Sophist 252 c (tr. F.M. Cornford), says, "[L]ike that queer fellow Eurycles, they carry about with them wherever they go a voice in their own bellies to contradict them." Plutarch, Obsolescence of Oracles 9 (Moralia 2.414 e, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt), mentions people like Eurycles:
Certainly it is foolish and childish in the extreme to imagine that the god himself after the manner of ventriloquists [ὥσπερ τοὺς ἐγγαστριμύθους] (who used to be called 'Eurycleis,' but now 'Pythones') enters into the bodies of his prophets and prompts their utterances, employing their mouths and voices as instruments.
Douglas M. MacDowell, in his commentary on Aristophanes' Wasps (line 1019), writes:
Eurykles was a prophet whose voice came from the bellies of other people; in other words, besides being a prophet he was a ventriloquist....Ar., Plato, and Plutarch all make it quite clear that what happened was that the voice of Eurykles came from the belly of someone else; consequently those scholars (from Σ Pl. Soph. 252 c onwards) who say that the voice came from the belly of Eurykles are mistaken. Plutarch's use of the plural shows that the name was applied to a number of people; presumably the original Eurykles had subsequent imitators.
Note that, according to Plutarch, those who used to be called 'Eurycleis' were now called 'Pythones.' It was apparently from such a "belly-diviner" that St. Paul cast out an evil spirit (Acts 16.16-18):
16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination [ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα πύθωνα, literally "having a Python spirit"] met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: 17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. 18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.

16 Ἐγένετο δὲ πορευομένων ἡμῶν εἰς τὴν προσευχὴν παιδίσκην τινὰ ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα πύθωνα ὑπαντῆσαι ἡμῖν, ἥτις ἐργασίαν πολλὴν παρεῖχεν τοῖς κυρίοις αὐτῆς μαντευομένη. 17 αὕτη κατακολουθοῦσα τῷ Παύλῳ καὶ ἡμῖν ἔκραζεν λέγουσα, Οὗτοι οἱ ἄνθρωποι δοῦλοι τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου εἰσίν, οἵτινες καταγγέλλουσιν ὑμῖν ὁδὸν σωτηρίας. 18 τοῦτο δὲ ἐποίει ἐπὶ πολλὰς ἡμέρας. διαπονηθεὶς δὲ Παῦλος καὶ ἐπιστρέψας τῷ πνεύματι εἶπεν, Παραγγέλλω σοι ἐν ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐξελθεῖν ἀπ' αὐτῆς· καὶ ἐξῆλθεν αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ.
To return to Epicurus, his system of philosophy had no place for divination of any sort. Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.162, says that Epicurus mocks nothing so much as the prediction of future events (nihil tam inridet Epicurus quam praedictionem rerum futurarum; see the commentary of Arthur Stanley Pease on Cicero, On Divination 1.3.5, for more evidence). It's just a fancy of mine, but I like to imagine that in Epicurus' Symposium, the belly of one of the diners growled, i.e. made the sort of noise known in Greek as βορβορυγμός (borborygmos), or else one of the diners broke wind, and from this embarrassing circumstance Epicurus started a discussion of "indigestion as a means of obtaining omens."

Related posts:

Friday, August 22, 2008


The Enjoyment of Nature

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (January 8):
Along the trails through the woods today, my tracks record where I have turned aside in the snow to examine the form and feel of winter buds. A few I cannot name. I pick them to take home for the pleasure of an indoor identification. But as I see them now, their names unknown, they seem no less beautiful, no less attractive. We can respond to the beauty of a colored cliff without ever knowing whether it is formed of granite or sandstone. We can enjoy the pure hue of a wild flower without ever hearing it referred to as Oenothera biennis or even as the evening primrose. Our enjoyment of nature is not based primarily on instant recognition.

There is something else besides technical knowledge that takes precedence. It is an intensely felt relationship—a relationship compounded of a sense of wonder, a response to beauty, an undying curiosity. This may or may not be associated with an immediate recognition of the identity and an awareness of the the accepted scientific name of the things observed. Gaining that knowledge is a lifelong pursuit. Its attainment represents an added dimension in our nature contacts. But it is the second step. First glance for beauty and interest; second glance for knowledge. It is rarely the man with all the scientific names at the tip of his tongue that has impressed me as enjoying the richest relationship with nature. I have come to believe that it is something else—a simpler, more primitive, more deeply affecting response—that is the common denominator in those to whom their hours out-of-doors have meant the most.
Related post: The Desire for Knowledge and the Names for Things.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Lament of an Office Worker

Liu Cheng (died 217 A.D.), tr. Burton Watson:
Office work: a wearisome jumble;
ink drafts, a crosshatch of deletions and smears.
Racing the writing brush, no time to eat,
sun slanting down but never a break;
swamped and muddled in records and reports,
head spinning till it's senseless and numb—
I leave off and go west of the wall,
climb the height and let my eyes roam:
square embankments hold back the clear water,
wild ducks and geese at rest in the middle—
Where can I get a pair of whirring wings
so I can join you to bob on the waves?
Related post: Escape.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Carpe Diem

Carpe diem ("seize the day") is a familiar Latin phrase. It comes from the last line of Horace, Odes 1.11. Here is Horace's poem in English translations by two 20th century poets.

Louis MacNeice:

Do not, Leúconoé, seek to inquire what is forbidden, what
End the gods have assigned to you or to me; nor do you meddle with
Astrological numbers. What shall arise count to your balance if
God marks down to you more winters—or perhaps this very one is the
Last which now on the rocks wears out the fierce Mediterranean
Sea; but be wise and have wine, wine on the board, prune to a minimum
Long-drawn hopes. While we chat, envious time threatens to give us the
Slip; so gather the day, never an inch trusting futurity.

C.H. Sisson:

You do not ask — useless to ask, Leuconoë —
What end the gods will give, to me, to you.
Consult no augurers. Suffer what comes,
Whether some winters still, or this one only
Which now wears out the sea under the cliffs.
Think, take your wine. You are better off with sleep
And no long hopes. For, while we speak, age falls.
Collect your day, and have it. The next, you may not.

Here is Horace's Latin:

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

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The Pronunciation of Arctic and Antarctic

In a fit of dudgeon, I once wrote the following about the pronunciation of arctic and antarctic:
Modern dictionaries, which are descriptive and not prescriptive, give the pronunciation without the -c- as an acceptable alternative.

Despite the long pedigree of this offensive pronunciation (dating back to the Middle Ages) and the absolution given to it by modern laxicographers, I'll never be able to hear it without regarding the speaker as a dolt and a nincompoop, especially when the speaker is a professional who should know better. The modern spelling and correct pronunciation allow us to see and hear the root of the words, Greek arktos (bear). The slovenly pronunciation obscures the contour and the history of the words. It's like looking at a beautiful woman dressed in a shapeless burlap sack. You miss the delectation of the curves.
The pedigree is even longer than I thought. It goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, as attested by [Aristophanes], fragment 955:
It is inarticulate, and he calls / the bear [arkton] bread [arton]...

ψελλόν ἐστι καὶ καλεῖ / τὴν ἄρκτον ἄρτον...
The pun with inarticulate is intended.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


The Ancient Classics

Andrew Lang, Adventures among Books:
The true scholar is one whom I envy, almost as much as I respect him; but there is a kind of mental short-sightedness, where accents and verbal niceties are concerned, which cannot be sharpened into true scholarship. Yet, even for those afflicted in this way, and with the malady of being "idle, careless little boys," the ancient classics have a value for which there is no substitute. There is a charm in finding ourselves—our common humanity, our puzzles, our cares, our joys, in the writings of men severed from us by race, religion, speech, and half the gulf of historical time—which no other literary pleasure can equal. Then there is to be added, as the university preacher observed, "the pleasure of despising our fellow-creatures who do not know Greek." Doubtless in that there is great consolation.
The university preacher was Thomas Gaisford (1779-1855). According to Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Blood for the Ghosts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 82, what Gaisford really said in a sermon was:
And in conclusion, let me urge upon you the study of the ancient tongues, which not only refines the intellect and elevates above the common herd, but also leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.
For an opposing view, see William Hazlitt, On the Conduct of Life; or, Advice to a School-Boy:
Because, however, you have learnt Latin and Greek, and can speak a different language, do not fancy yourself of a different order of beings from those you ordinarily converse with. They perhaps know and can do more things than you, though you have learnt a greater variety of names to express the same thing by. The great object indeed of these studies is to be "a cure for a narrow and selfish spirit," and to carry the mind out of its petty and local prejudices to the idea of a more general humanity. Do not fancy, because you are intimate with Homer and Virgil, that your neighbours who can never attain the same posthumous fame are to be despised, like those impudent valets who live in noble families and look down upon every one else. Though you are master of Cicero's Orations, think it possible for a cobbler at a stall to be more eloquent than you. "But you are a scholar, and he is not." Well, then, you have that advantage over him, but it does not follow that you are to have every other.
As for "positions of considerable emolument," Richard Porson thought differently. See Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana (New York, 1856), p. 300:
At the house of the same gentleman I introduced Cogan to Porson, saying, "This is Mr. Cogan, who is passionately fond of what you have devoted yourself to, — Greek."

Porson replied, "If Mr. Cogan is passionately fond of Greek, he must be content to dine on bread and cheese for the rest of his life."

Friday, August 15, 2008



Henry David Thoreau, Life without Principle:
This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once. It is nothing but work, work, work. I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in; they are commonly ruled for dollars and cents. An Irishman, seeing me making a minute in the fields, took it for granted that I was calculating my wages. If a man was tossed out of a window when an infant, and so made a cripple for life, or scared out of his wits by the Indians, it is regretted chiefly because he was thus incapacitated for — business! I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008



Dirk Obbink, "Vergil's De pietate: From Ehoiae to Allegory in Vergil, Philodemus, and Ovid," in David Armstrong et al., edd. Vergil, Philodemus, and the Augustans (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), pp. 175-209 (at 205):
As Mark Twain said, "You can derive Moses from Mississippi by substituting 'o' for the 'i,' and 'es' for 'issippi.'"
Obbink's article is dense with footnotes, but there is no citation for this quotation from Mark Twain. It is the sort of thing one wishes Twain had said, but did he really do so?

The source may be an attack on Fitzedward Hall by Richard Grant White, "Punishing a Pundit," The Galaxy: A Magazine of Entertaining Reading XVI (July-Dec. 1878), p. 783:
That the verb conjecture is formed by adding ure to conject, who could venture to say but the man who would derive church from ἐκκλησία? True, there are two k's in church (kirk) and two kappas in ἐκκλησία, "and there is salmons in both." Such a formation of conjecture (unavoidably from conjecturo, or conjectural through the French conjecturer) rivals the feat of the etymologist who derived Moses from Middletown by the simple plan of taking off the iddletown and putting on the oses.
Mark Twain also wrote for The Galaxy, but, so far as I can tell, he is not the source of the quotation attributed to him by Obbink.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Free from the World's Dust

T'ao Ch'ien (365-427), Returning to the Fields (tr. Arthur Waley):
When I was young, I was out of tune with the herd:
My only love was for the hills and mountains.
Unwitting I fell into the Web of the World's dust
And was not free until my thirtieth year.
The migrant bird longs for the old wood:
The fish in the tank thinks of its native pool.
I had rescued from wildness a patch of the Southern Moor
And, still rustic, I returned to field and garden.
My ground covers no more than ten acres:
My thatched cottage has eight or nine rooms.
Elms and willows cluster by the eaves:
Peach trees and plum trees grow before the hall.
Hazy, hazy the distant hamlets of men.
Steady the smoke of the half-deserted village,
A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes,
A cock crows at the top of the mulberry tree.
At gate and courtyard — no murmur of the World's dust:
In the empty rooms — leisure and deep stillness.
Long I lived checked by the bars of a cage:
Now I have turned again to Nature and Freedom.
Another translation of the same by A.S. Kline:
Young, I was always free of common feeling.
It was in my nature to love the hills and mountains.
Mindlessly I was caught in the dust-filled trap.
Waking up, thirty years had gone.
The caged bird wants the old trees and air.
Fish in their pool miss the ancient stream.
I plough the earth at the edge of South Moor.
Keeping life simple, return to my plot and garden.
My place is hardly more than a few fields.
My house has eight or nine small rooms.
Elm-trees and Willows shade the back.
Plum-trees and Peach-trees reach the door.
Misted, misted the distant village.
Drifting, the soft swirls of smoke.
Somewhere a dog barks deep in the winding lanes.
A cockerel crows from the top of the mulberry tree.
No heat and dust behind my closed doors.
My bare rooms are filled with space and silence.
Too long a prisoner, captive in a cage,
Now I can get back again to Nature.


Two Footnotes

Thanks to Pierre Wechter for the following interesting email (links added, image of the page from the Regrets provided below rather than above):
The first line in Du Bellay’s last tercet [Homecoming (Wednesday, July 23, 2008)] is limping and should read:
Plus mon Loire gaulois, que le Tibre latin
as you may see above in the original (1558) edition of the Regrets.

Reading I Was My Best Companion (Friday, July 18, 2008) and Fere and Mate (Saturday, July 19, 2008) put me in mind of Latin cŏmĕs, cŏmĭtis (Lewis & Short: ‘one who goes with another’), etymon of Italian conte, Spanish conde, French comte and therefore English count, and semantically comparable to ġefēra (Middle-English ifēre, ivēre) and German Gefährte.

Incidentally, fere is to be found in Chaucer — for instance in Troilus an Criseyde:
As proude Bayard gynneth for to skippe
Out of the weye, so pryketh him his corn,
Til he a lasshe have of the longe whippe,
Than thynketh he, “Though I praunce al byforn
First in the trays, ful fat and newe shorn,
Yet am I but an hors, and horses lawe
I moot endure, and with my feres drawe”
and in Spenser (‘But faire Charissa to a lovely fere Was lincked, and by him had many pledges dere’).
I have updated Homecoming to fix the error in my quotation of du Bellay's sonnet.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Mushroom Cultivation in Antiquity

Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A to Z (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 224:
Petronius, in a mood of fantasy, talks of the sending of 'mushroom seed' from India for planting in Italy. In reality, cultivation of mushrooms is a modern development.
Dalby cites Petronius, Satyricon 38.4:
Behold, within these past days he has written for seed of mushrooms to be sent to him from India.

Ecce intra hos dies scripsit, ut illi ex India semen boletorum mitteretur.
Contrary to Dalby's assertion, there is plausible evidence for mushroom cultivation in antiquity, e.g. Nicander, Georgics, fragment 79 Schneider, quoted by Athenaeus 2.61 a (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
Whenever you bury the trunk of a fig tree deep in dung,
and keep it moist with constant streams of water,
harmless mushrooms will grow on its lower parts. You may cut
any of these that grow from the root and not from the ground.
and Dioscorides, De Materia Medica 1.81 (tr. Lily Y. Beck):
Some report that the bark of the white and of the black poplar, cut up into small pieces and strewn on garden-plots that were previously fertilized with manure, grows mushrooms in all seasons.
These methods of cultivation roughly correspond with modern techniques. See Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running (Berkeley: TenSpeed Press, 2005), chapters 10 (Cultivating Mushrooms on Straw and Leached Cow Manure) and 11 (Cultivating Mushrooms on Logs and Stumps). Also, the edible mushroom Flammulina velutipes is sometimes called Flammulina populicola because it is fond of poplars.

I haven't seen Geoponica 12.41, which may mention the cultivation of mushrooms. Only part of Dalby's entry on mushrooms was available to me through Google Book Search.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


A Climax in Epicharmus

[Cicero], Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.25.34, defines the rhetorical device known as gradatio (Greek κλῖμαξ = climax, English ladder) as follows:
Gradatio is the figure of speech whereby you don't go down to the next word before climbing back up to the previous one, in this manner:

"As for the other things that a hope of freedom entails, if something pleases these men, it is lawful for them; what is lawful, is possible; what is possible, they dare; what they dare, they do; and what they do, is it not troublesome to you?"

Gradatio est, in qua non ante ad consequens verbum descenditur, quam ad superius ascensum est, hoc modo:

"Nam quae reliqua spes manet libertatis, si illis et quod libet, licet; et quod licet, possunt; et quod possunt, audent; et quod audent, faciunt; et quod faciunt, vobis molestum non est?"
There is a good example of this rhetorical device in Epicharmus, fragment 146, quoted by Athenaeus 2.36 c-d (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
                                    (A.) † A sacrifice leads to a feast,
and a feast leads to drinking. (B.) Sounds good to me, at least!
(A.) But drinking leads to wandering the streets drunk, and wandering the streets drunk leads to acting like a pig,
and acting like a pig leads to a lawsuit, <and a lawsuit leads to being found guilty>,
and being found guilty leads to shackles, stocks, and a fine.

                                    (A.) † ἐκ μὲν θυσίας θοίνα <. . .>,
ἐκ δὲ θοίνας πόσις ἐγένετο.
(B.) χαρίεν, ὥς γ' ἐμοὶ <δοκεῖ>.
(A.) ἐκ δὲ πόσιος κῶμος, ἐκ κώμου δ' ἐγένεθ' ὑανία,
ἐκ δ' ὑανίας δίκα, <'κ δίκας δ' ἐγένετο καταδίκα>,
ἐκ δὲ καταδίκας πέδαι τε καὶ σφαλὸς καὶ ζαμία.
What Olson translates as "wandering the streets drunk" is in Greek κῶμος (kōmos). Milton, Paradise Lost 1.500-502, describes a kōmos:
                                                When night
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.
Related posts:

Update: Thanks to Jacqueline Haney for this example from Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act V, Scene 2, all the more interesting because of the stair-climbing, which recalls the name given to the rhetorical device:
O, I know where you are: nay, 'tis true: there was never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams and Caesar's thrasonical brag of 'I came, saw, and overcame:' for your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage which they will climb incontinent, or else be incontinent before marriage: they are in the very wrath of love and they will together; clubs cannot part them.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Nature and Health

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Aug. 23, 1853):
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines. In August live on berries, not dried meats and pemmican, as if you were on shipboard making your way through a waste ocean, or in a northern desert. Be blown on by all the winds. Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons. Miasma and infection are from within, not without. The invalid, brought to the brink of the grave by an unnatural life, instead of imbibing only the great influence that Nature is, drinks only the tea made of a particular herb, while he still continues his unnatural life,—saves at the spile and wastes at the bung. He does not love Nature or his life, and so sickens and dies, and no doctor can cure him. Grow green with spring, yellow and ripe with autumn. Drink of each season's influence as a vial, a true panacea of all remedies mixed for your especial use. The vials of summer never made a man sick, but those which he stored in his cellar. Drink the wines, not of your bottling, but of Nature’s bottling; not kept in goatskins or pigskins, but the skins of a myriad fair berries. Let nature do your bottling and your pickling and preserving. For all Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist her. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick. Men have discovered—or think they have discovered—the salutariness of a few wild things only, and not of all nature. Why, "nature" is but another name for health, and the seasons are but different states of health. Some men think that they are not well in spring, or summer, or autumn, or winter; it is only because they are not well in them.

Friday, August 08, 2008


Spotted Spurge

One of the most persistent weeds in my yard is spotted spurge, Euphorbia maculata.

Copyright 1993 to 2008 University of Missouri. Published by MU Extension, all rights reserved.

The spotted of the common name means the same as the maculata of the scientific name. The Latin noun macula means spot or stain, and that which is immaculate is without spot or stain.

The Online Etymology Dictionary derives spurge
from O.Fr. espurge, from espurgier "to purge," from L. expurgare, from ex- "out" + purgare "to purge" (see purge). So called from the plant's purgative properties.
Besides the noun spurge, there is an obsolete verb spurge, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "To cleanse, purify (a person, the body, etc.); to free from or rid of impurity." One could therefore say of me, "He was spotted trying to spurge his yard of spotted spurge."

Euphorbia is an eponym, and we know the history of its coinage from Pliny, Natural History 25.38.77-78 (tr. John Bostock & H.T. Riley):
In the time, too, of our fathers, King Juba discovered a plant, to which he gave the name of "euphorbia," in honour of his physician, Euphorbus, the brother of the same Musa, whom we have mentioned as having saved the life of the late Emperor Augustus. It was these brothers who introduced the practice of douching the body with large quantities of cold water, immediately after the bath, for the purpose of bracing the system: whereas in former times, as we find stated in the works of Homer even, it was the practice to wash the body with warm water only.

With reference to euphorbia, there is a treatise still in existence, written upon it by King Juba, in which he highly extols its merits: he discovered it growing upon Mount Atlas, and describes it as resembling a thyrsus in appearance, and bearing leaves like those of the acanthus.

Invenit et patrum nostrorum aetate rex Iuba quam appellavit Euphorbeam medici sui nomine. frater is fuit Musae, a quo divum Augustum conservatum indicavimus. iidem fratres instituere a balineis frigida multa corpora adstringere; antea non erat mos nisi calida tantum lavari, sicut apud Homerum etiam invenimus.

sed Iubae volumen quoque extat de ea herba et clarum praeconium. invenit eam in monte Atlante, specie thyrsi, foliis acanthinis.
King Juba's treatise is lost, alas. There is supposed to be a similar story in Galen, De Compositione Medicamentorum Secundum Locos 9.4, which I haven't seen. The plant discovered by King Juba was not Euphorbia maculata, but probably Euphorbia officinarum.

Like most names, Euphorbus itself is more than just a collection of meaningless syllables. It is derived from the Greek adverb εὖ (eu = well) and the verb φέρβω (pherbō = feed, nourish). Therefore from an etymological point of view Euphorbus means well nourished, i.e. corpulent, fat.

Thursday, August 07, 2008



William H. Gass, A Defense of the Book, in A Temple of Texts: Essays (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), p. 167:
In the ideal logotopia, every person would possess their own library and add at least weekly, if not daily, to it. The walls of each home would seem made of books—wherever one looked one would only see spines; because every real book (as opposed to dictionaries, almanacs, and other compilations) is a mind, an imagination, a consciousness. Together they comprise a civilization, or even several.
Edgar Degas, Portrait of Edmond Duranty



Theodore Dalrymple, "Of Death and Transfiguration," New English Review (August 2008):
The pedants of the world do serve a useful function, however: they instill a respect for facts among those who might otherwise be inclined to play fast and loose with them.
Hat tip: Patrick Kurp.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Behavior of Flatterers

Diodorus of Sinope, The Heiress, fragment 2, lines 35-40, quoted by Athenaeus 6.239 e-f (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
When someone burps in their direction
after he eats radishes or rotten sheatfish,
they insist he's had violets and roses for lunch.
And if the host is lying on a couch with one of them
and lets a fart, the other guy leans over to sniff it and begs to be told:
"Where do you get that incense from?"

                οἷς ἐπειδὰν προσερύγῃ
ῥαφανῖδας καὶ σαπρὸν σίλουρον καταφαγών,
ἴα καὶ ῥόδα φασὶν αὐτὸν ἠριστηκέναι.
ἐπὰν δ' ἀποπάρδῃ μετά τινος κατακείμενος
τούτων, προσάγων τὴν ῥῖνα δεῖθ' αὑτῷ φράσαι·
"πόθεν τὸ θυμίαμα τοῦτο λαμβάνεις;"
This reminds me of Juvenal 3.100-108 (tr. G.G. Ramsay):
They are a nation of play-actors. If you smile, your Greek will split his sides with laughter; if he sees his friend drop a tear, he weeps, though without grieving; if you call for a bit of fire in winter-time, he puts on his cloak; if you say 'I am hot,' he breaks into a sweat. Thus we are not upon a level, he and I; he has always the best of it, being ready at any moment, by night or by day, to take his expression from another man's face, to throw up his hands and applaud if his friend gives a good belch or piddles straight, or if his golden basin make a gurgle when turned upside down.

natio comoeda est. rides, maiore cachinno
concutitur; flet, si lacrimas conspexit amici,
nec dolet; igniculum brumae si tempore poscas,
accipit endromidem; si dixeris 'aestuo,' sudat.
non sumus ergo pares: melior, qui semper et omni
nocte dieque potest aliena sumere vultum
a facie, iactare manus, laudare paratus,
si bene ructavit, si rectum minxit amicus,
si trulla inverso crepitum dedit aurea fundo.
I don't see the parallel discussed in J.D. Duff's commentary on Juvenal (1898; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929) or in Gilbert Highet's Juvenal the Satirist (1954; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), which are the only books about Juvenal on my shelves. John E.B. Mayor's commentary, 4th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1889), available through Google Book Search, doesn't note the parallel. I do see it mentioned in N. Lemaire's 1823 edition of Juvenal. Newer commentaries, e.g. by Edward Courtney (London: Athlone, 1980) and Susanna Morton Braund (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), are unavailable to me, as is Otto Ribbeck, Kolax: Eine ethologische Studie (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1883) = Abhandlungen der Philologisch-Historischen Klasse der Königl. Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Bd. 9, no. 1.

Ben Jonson, Sejanus: His Fall, Act I, Scene 1, lines 33-41, imitates Juvenal:
Laugh when their patron laughs; sweat, when he sweats;
Be hot, and cold with him; change every mood,
Habit and garb, as often as he varies;
Observe him, as his watch observes his clock;
And true, as turquoise in the dear lord's ring,
Look well, or ill with him: ready to praise
His lordship, if he spit, or but piss fair,
Have an indifferent stool, or break wind well,
Nothing can scape their catch.
Cf. also Karl Marx, letter to Friedrich Engels (Nov. 19, 1859 = Werke XXIX, 513), quoted by S.S. Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 199:
This fellow finds it natural to hear cries of 'Hurrah' when he has broken wind.
"This fellow" is Ferdinand Freiligrath.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Happy the Man

Edwin Way Teale, Journey Into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), p. 150:
The happy men—who are they? A hundred times during our travels with the seasons I asked these same questions of those with whom we became acquainted along the way:

"Who is the happiest person you know? What does he do? What is he like?"

I scarcely expected to find a common denominator of happiness, and I did not. Those who were named were infinitely various. Many were poor, a few were rich, several were sick, one or two were not what would be called strictly law-abiding. With only a solitary exception, in which one person named himself, the happiest person was always someone else. The only similarity I could find was that almost all of those mentioned had lost themselves in activities which they enjoyed tremendously. These activities were often of no great importance. Not infrequently they appeared trivial and even ridiculous to others.
Related posts:

Monday, August 04, 2008



W.H. Auden, Bucolics, 2. Woods, lines 33-36:
And where should an austere philologist
Relax but in the very world of shade
From which the matter of his field was made.
What is the matter of the philologist's field? Words, especially the words found in old books. Perhaps beech trees provide the shade — a philologist would know that there is an etymological connection between books and beeches. See Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), p. 162:
And on the beech was written, probably, the first page of European literature. For, it is said the earliest Sanskrit characters were carved on strips of beech bark; the custom of inscribing the temptingly smooth boles of Beeches came to Europe with the Indo-European people who entered the continent from Asia. Indeed, our word "book" comes from the Anglo-Saxon boc, meaning a letter or character, which in turn derives from the Anglo-Saxon beece, for Beech.
Or is Auden possibily alluding to the Latin adjectives umbraticus and umbratilis? Lewis and Short define umbraticus as "of or belonging to the shade, i.e. to retirement, seclusion, or leisure," and umbratiilis as "remaining in the shade, in retirement, or at home; private, retired, contemplative." The pursuit of philology requires retirement, seclusion, and leisure.

Auden's poem ends with these lines (49-54):
A small grove massacred to the last ash,
An oak with heart-rot, give away the show;
This great society is going smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods!
A culture is no better than its woods.

Sunday, August 03, 2008



Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), p. 176:
Ishi felt quite sure that he knew the chief causes for men's sickening in civilization. They were, briefly, the excessive amount of time men spent cooped up in automobiles, in offices, and in their own houses. It is not a man's nature to be too much indoors, and especially within his own house with women constantly about.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal (April 26, 1841):
The charm of the Indian to me is that he stands free and unconstrained in Nature, is her inhabitant and not her guest, and wears her easily and gracefully. But the civilized man has the habits of the house. His house is a prison, in which he finds himself oppressed and confined, not sheltered and protected. He walks as if he sustained the roof; he carries his arms as if the walls would fall in and crush him, and his feet remember the cellar beneath. His muscles are never relaxed. It is rare that he overcomes the house, and learns to sit at home in it, and roof and floor and walls support themselves, as the sky and trees and earth.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal (April 26, 1857):
A great part of our troubles are literally domestic or originate in the houses and from living indoors. I could write an essay to be entitled "Out of Doors,"—undertake a crusade against houses.
Henry David Thoreau, Walking:
When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them,—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon,—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour of four o'clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for,—I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, ay, and years almost together.


A Classical Education

W.H. Auden, Doggerel by a Senior Citizen, lines 41-44:
Dare any call Permissiveness
An educational success?
Saner those class-rooms which I sat in,
Compelled to study Greek and Latin.
Cf. William Hazlitt, On the Ignorance of the Learned:
Anyone who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Close, But No Cigar

William Hazlitt, in his essay On People with One Idea, writes, "There are people who have but one idea: at least, if they have more, they keep it a secret, for they never talk but of one subject." Further on in the same essay, he asks, "What is the use of a man's always revolving round his own little circle? He must, one should think, be tired of it himself, as well as tire other people."

My circle of topics is little, and I probably do tire other people by harping on them. A topic to which I often return, without tiring of it myself, is the rhetorical device known as asyndetic, privative adjectives. Michael Hendry, proprietor of Curculio, found a possible bilingual example in Pliny's Letters (2.3.8, tr. P. G. Walsh):
To fail to regard as worthwhile an acquaintance which is as pleasant, charming, and civilized as can be, is an attitude which is malappris, uneducated, sluggish, and virtually degrading.

Aphilókalon inlitteratum iners ac paene etiam turpe est, non putare tanti cognitionem qua nulla est iucundior, nulla pulchrior, nulla denique humanior.
Michael Hendry asks, "Too bad Pliny tacks on a fourth, non-privative adjective with an ac. Does that make the whole list non-asyndetic?"

Unfortunately it does, at least in my book. This excludes many otherwise attractive possibilities, such as this near-miss from P.G. Wodehouse:
You wish to woo, court, and become betrothed, engaged, affianced to this girl, but you find yourself unable, incapable, incompetent, impotent, and powerless. Every time you attempt it, your vocal cords, fail, fall short, are insufficient, wanting, deficient, and go blooey.
I've recently found a couple of short but genuine examples in Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus (tr. W.A. Oldfather, slightly revised).

1.4.18: as to make it finally harmonious with nature, elevated, free, unhindered, untrammelled, faithful, honorable.

ὥστε σύμφωνον ἀποτελέσαι τῇ φύσει, ὑψηλὴν ἐλευθέραν ἀκώλυτον ἀνεμπόδιστον πιστὴν αἰδήμονα.
He has given them to us free from all restraint, compulsion, hindrance.

ἀκώλυτον τοῦτο ἔδωκεν, ἀνανάγκαστον, ἀπαραπόδιστον.
Here are two more examples in English, from the first lines of poems by W.H. Auden:

Iceland Revisited:
Unwashed, unshat,
He was whisked from the plane
To a lunch in his honor.
At the Party:
Unrhymed, unrhythmical, the chatter goes:
Yet no one hears his own remarks as prose.
Lists of adjectives can occur with asyndeton (no conjunctions separating them) and polysyndeton (a conjunction separating each adjective). Is there any special term to describe a series in which only the last item is separated from the others by a conjunction?

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