Friday, October 31, 2008


Last Week in October

Thomas Hardy, Last Week in October:
      The trees are undressing, and fling in many places—
      On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill—
      Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces;
      A leaf each second so is flung at will,
Here, there, another and another, still and still.

      A spider's web has caught one while downcoming,
      That stays there dangling when the rest pass on;
      Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming
      In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon,
Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Cacata Carta

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that bumf, also spelled bumph, is short for bum-fodder, and defines it as "toilet-paper; hence, paper (esp. with contemptuous implication), documents collectively." OED s.v. bum defines bum-fodder as "worthless literature."

Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek?: Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 31, relates an interesting episode from the annals of bumf, in the context of the controversy between Erasmus and Edward Lee provoked by the latter's book Annotationes ad Annotationes Erasmi = Annotations on the Annotations of Erasmus:
Perhaps the most extraordinary episode, however, concerns the display of Lee's book in a Minorite library. Three days after it went on display, users of the library complained of a foul smell. It was traced to Lee's book which was found to have been smeared by someone with human shit. Erasmus — one of those to recall the story not without pleasure some years later — is still quick to add that he doesn't know who did it. Erasmus' lack of regret at such theological guerilla tactics is matched by the anonymous composers of two poems which offer epigrammatic encomia to the man who smeared shit on the pages of Lee (as Nesen writes delightedly to Lupset, sending him the poems60). The classical paradigm here — always necessary — is Catullus' famous invective of a rival's historical prose as 'cacata carta', 'pages for wiping shit.'61 Thomas More, a few years on, less than saintly: 'Luther has nothing in his mouth but privies, filth and dung...Mad friarlet and privy-minded rascal with his ragings and ravings, with his filth and dung, shitting and beshitted.'62 One reader of Lee seems to have literalized this language of abuse in a gesture of theological disgust — to the pleasure of the supporters of Erasmus.

60 Nesen in Epistolae aliquot eruditorum... (Antwerp: Hillen 1520); Rummel (1989) 113 says that Nesen 'quotes an epigram'; I have been unable to trace such a quotation in Nesen's letters, unless his comment that 'all that remains is to find another temple to keep the volume in, where it can be preserved with a liquid a long way from cedar-sap' is taken as the content of the epigrams. (Books were preserved with what is called succum cedri.) Nesen tells the story with the qualification that the Minorites themselves are beyond reproach, but with great pleasure in the details; see the recollection of Erasmus EE 8:92-3 [ep. 2126] March 1529, to Valdes.

61 Catullus 36.

62 Responsio ad Lutheram (CWM v.i.683).
Goldhill was unable to trace the poems and says they were anonymous. I found them in Epistolae aliquot eruditorum virorum, ex quibus perspicuum quanta sit Eduardi Lei virulentia (Basel: Froben, 1520), at the end of a letter from Wilhelm Nesen to Thomas Lupset. In the letter, Nesen says, "Conrad Goclenius of Westphalia, a gentleman of the most exact judgment and one who is busily occupied in Greek and Latin, composed two witty epigrams on this subject, which I now send to you." ("Edidit super hac re duo epigrammata non illepida Conradus Goclenius Vuestphalus, vir iudicii exactissimi et in utraque lingua gnaviter versatus, quae nunc ad te mitto.")

I have transcribed the epigrams (expanding the abbreviations), but I have not yet translated them. The first is titled Epigramma in quendam qui libros ardelionis Eduardi Lei repositos in bibliotheca Fratrum Minorum merdis inquinavit, praeterito autore, cui potius haec debebatur gratia:
Qui coeno oblevit vecordia scripta Leaenae
  Huic satis haud quaquam mentis adesse reor,
Charta nihil fecit, poenamque pependit abunde,
  Quae tot stulticias, totque aconita ferat,
Debuerat caput insanum rabientis Edardi
  Polluere, iniecto terque quaterque luto.
Ille mali fons est, unde effluit omne venenum,
  Talibus hic claudi debuit obiicibus.
Merdaque si nequit merdam cohibere, petendum
  Auxilium a saxis roboribusque fuit.
The second is titled Excusatio illius, qui librum Eduardi Lei concacavit:
Quisquis es, innocuum versu perstringis iniquo,
  Et falso meritis dicis habere parum,
In matulam si quis mingat, reddatque latrinis
  Ventris onus, sanum nemo negare potest.
Omnibus est foricis merdosior iste Leaenae
  Infelix partus, vipereumque malum
Huc ego deposui quando natura coegit,
  Atque importunum ponere iussit onus.
Certe ego si quicquam reperissem impurius, illuc
  Pondere cum premerer depositurus eram.
Bellua si coram mihi tum scelerata fuisset,
  Furfuream ferret μάζαν in ore Leus.

Title page of Epistolae aliquot eruditorum...

There are also some interesting details about bumf in Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Vol. 5 (with Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin) = Chemistry and Chemical Technology: Paper and Printing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 123 (footnotes omitted):
The use of paper for toilet purposes must have been practised no later than the +6th century. Although Chinese sources are generally silent about the use of paper for cleaning the body after elimination, one reference dated as early as the +6th century refers to the prohibition of paper with characters being used for such purposes. Indeed, the noted scholar-official Yen Chih-Thui (+531-91) said in his family instructions, written about +589, 'Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes', and an early Arab traveller to China, who was obliged by his religion to perform purifying ablutions, commented curiously upon this use of paper. In his report of +851, he says: 'They (the Chinese) are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper.'

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Comical Construes

Hugh E.P. Platt, A Last Ramble in the Classics (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1906), pp. 168-169:
But the most comical of all are the ancient construes, perhaps apocryphal, by boys of

        Vere novo gelidus canis cum montibus umor

and of

        Aulide te fama est vento retinente morari.

I give them for the sake of any reader to whom they may be strange, in the first case veiling an English expression by a Latin word. The boy began: 'Vere novo: strange but true; cum: when; gelidus canis: the cold dog; liquitur: mingit; montibus: on the mountains.' 'Vastly well,' said the master, 'and pray what is umor?' 'Umor, for a joke.'

The other was the translation which so much amused Canon Ainger. 'There is a report, Aulidus, that you are dying from a retention of wind.'
The first quotation comes from Vergil, Georgics 1.43-44, and really means (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), "In the dawning spring, when icy streams trickle from snowy mountains..." Piercing Platt's veil, we see that he has substituted Latin mingit for English pees, so the construe, taken as a whole, is "Strange but true, when the cold dog pees on the mountains for a joke..."

The second quotation comes from Ovid, Heroides 13.3 (Laodamia to Protesilaus), and really means (tr. Grant Showerman, rev. G.P. Goold), "Report says you are held at Aulis by the wind," explained by the translators thus: "With the rest of the Greek fleet, which was under divine displeasure because Agamemnon had killed a stag in the grove of Diana." The schoolboy confused morari (to linger, delay) with mori (to die), and thought that Aulide (at Aulis) was the vocative of a personal name Aulidus.

The "cold dog" in the first comical construe reminds me of Christopher Morley, A Morning in Marathon, from Shandygaff (1918):
As I passed through on my way to the Philadelphia train I was amused by a wicker basket full of Scotch terrier puppies — five or six of them tumbling over one another in their play and yelping so that the station rang. "Every little bit yelps" as someone has said. I was reminded of the last words I ever read in Virgil (the end of the sixth book of the Aeneid) — stant litore puppes, which I always yearned to translate "a litter of puppies."
It really refers to ships and means (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough), "The sterns rest upon the beach."

The Emperor Claudius was concerned about the dangers arising from the "retention of wind," according to Suetonius, Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Some Latin Auto-Antonyms

Hugh E.P. Platt, Byways in the Classics (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1905), p. 139:
It is odd that some words can bear opposite meanings, as victorum, infrenati, immutatus. So too solutus somno can mean either asleep, or awakened from sleep; fugam facere either to rout, or to run away; and molliter ferre either to bear like a coward, or to bear with patience.
Victorum can be the genitive plural of either 1) the noun victor (conqueror), or 2) the participle victus (having been conquered).

Infrenati can mean either 1) without a bridle or harness, unchecked, or 2) with a bridle or harness having been put on.

Immutatus can mean either 1) unchanged, unaltered, or 2) having been changed.

Related posts:


Monday, October 27, 2008


A Piece of Advice

Hugh E.P. Platt, Byways in the Classics (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1905), p. 146:
So I will end this little book, ut vineta egomet caedam mea, with a piece of advice which the first Lord Selborne gave to the late H.M. Wilkins, and Wilkins passed on to me,—we were all Scholars of Trinity, Oxford. It is this: READ THE CLASSICS RATHER THAN BOOKS ABOUT THE CLASSICS.
Similarly, in the Internet Age, "Read the classics rather than blogs about the classics."

J.A. Willis gave similar advice in his article on "The 'Silvae' of Statius and Their Editors," Phoenix 20.4 (Winter 1966) 305-324, but the article is unavailable to me. Willis coined the term metaclassics to mean "books about the classics."

An email from an anonymous reader:
Your blog entry entitled "A Piece of Advice" reminds me of Schopenhauer's words in his preface to On the Will in Nature.

Click here.

He wrote: "Above all, my truth-seeking young friends, beware of letting our professors tell you what is contained in the Critique of Pure Reason. Read it yourselves and you will find in it something very different from what they deem it advisable for you to know."

Dave Lull wrote, "This made me think of CS Lewis on old books in his introduction to Athanasius' De Incarnatione Verbi Dei," advice which is well worth reading:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


A Bug in a Bowl

Han-Shan 235 (tr. Robert G. Henricks):
Man's life in this blanket of dust
Is just like [that of] a bug in a bowl.

All day long he goes 'round and 'round
And never gets out of his bowl.

Immortality he cannot attain;
Delusions he counts without end.

The months and the years flow by like a stream;
In a moment he's become an old man.
The same, tr. Burton Watson:
Man, living in the dust,
Is like a bug trapped in a bowl.
All day he scrabbles round and round,
But never escapes from the bowl that holds him.
The immortals are beyond his reach,
His cravings have no end,
While months and years flow by like a river
Until, in an instant, he has grown old.


Leaving the City

Nicaenetus of Samos, fragment 6 (tr. J.W. Mackail, revised):
I do not wish to feast down in the city, Philotherus, but by the temple of Hera, delighting myself with the breath of the west wind; sufficient couch for me is a strewing of boughs under my side, for at hand is a bed of native willow and osier, the ancient garland of the Carians; but let wine be brought, and the delightful lyre of the Muses, that drinking at our will we may sing the renowned bride of Zeus, lady of our island.

οὐκ ἐθέλω, Φιλόθηρε, κατὰ πτόλιν, ἀλλὰ παρ᾽ Ἥρῃ
  δαίνυσθαι, ζεφύρου πνεύμασι τερπόμενος.
ἀρκεῖ μοι λιτὴ μὲν ὑπὸ πλευροῖσι χαμεύνα·
  ἐγγὺς γὰρ προμάλου δέμνιον ἐνδαπίης,
καὶ λύγος, ἀρχαῖον Καρῶν στέφος. ἀλλὰ φερέσθω
  οἶνος καὶ Μουσέων ἡ χαρίεσσα λύρη,
θυμῆρες πίνοντες ὅπως Διὸς εὐκλέα νύμφην
  μέλπωμεν νήσου δεσπότιν ἡμετέρης.
Seneca, Phaedra 483-485 (tr. John G. Fitch):
No other life is more free and blameless, or better cherishes the ancient ways, than that which abandons city walls and loves the forests.

non alia magis est libera et vitio carens
ritusque melius vita quae priscos colat,
quam quae relictis moenibus silvas amat.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Chan's Megastick

Raphael G. Satter (Associated Press, Oct. 16, 2008), Scientists say stick bug is world's longest insect:
A stick bug from the island of Borneo measuring well over a foot in length has been identified by researchers as the world's longest insect, British scientists said Thursday.

The specimen was found by a local villager and handed to Malaysian amateur naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun in 1989, according to Philip Bragg, who formally identified the insect in this month's issue of peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. The insect was named Phobaeticus chani, or "Chan's megastick," in Chan's honor.
The last sentence quoted gives the impression that the genus name Phobaeticus means megastick, or big stick, which it clearly does not.

K. Brunner von Wattenwyl and Jos. Redtenbacher, Die Insektenfamilie der Phasmiden, II (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1907), p. 183, who first named the genus, gave the etymology as Greek φοβητικός (phobētikos), which they translated into Latin as timendus = to be feared.

However, according to Liddell-Scott-Jones, Greek φοβητικός does not mean "to be feared"; it means the opposite, "fearful, timid".

Friday, October 24, 2008


An Ocean of Green

J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, chapter 9:
For at the dawn of history Europe was covered with immense primaeval forests, in which the scattered clearings must have appeared like islets in an ocean of green. Down to the first century before our era the Hercynian forest stretched eastward from the Rhine for a distance at once vast and unknown; Germans whom Caesar questioned had travelled for two months through it without reaching the end. Four centuries later it was visited by the Emperor Julian, and the solitude, the gloom, the silence of the forest appear to have made a deep impression on his sensitive nature. He declared that he knew nothing like it in the Roman empire. In our own country the wealds of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex are remnants of the great forest of Anderida, which once clothed the whole of the south-eastern portion of the island. Westward it seems to have stretched till it joined another forest that extended from Hampshire to Devon. In the reign of Henry II. the citizens of London still hunted the wild bull and the boar in the woods of Hampstead. Even under the later Plantagenets the royal forests were sixty-eight in number. In the forest of Arden it was said that down to modern times a squirrel might leap from tree to tree for nearly the whole length of Warwickshire. The excavation of ancient pile-villages in the valley of the Po has shown that long before the rise and probably the foundation of Rome the north of Italy was covered with dense woods of elms, chestnuts, and especially of oaks. Archaeology is here confirmed by history; for classical writers contain many references to Italian forests which have now disappeared. As late as the fourth century before our era Rome was divided from central Etruria by the dreaded Ciminian forest, which Livy compares to the woods of Germany. No merchant, if we may trust the Roman historian, had ever penetrated its pathless solitudes; and it was deemed a most daring feat when a Roman general, after sending two scouts to explore its intricacies, led his army into the forest and, making his way to a ridge of the wooded mountains, looked down on the rich Etrurian fields spread out below. In Greece beautiful woods of pine, oak, and other trees still linger on the slopes of the high Arcadian mountains, still adorn with their verdure the deep gorge through which the Ladon hurries to join the sacred Alpheus, and were still, down to a few years ago, mirrored in the dark blue waters of the lonely lake of Pheneus; but they are mere fragments of the forests which clothed great tracts in antiquity, and which at a more remote epoch may have spanned the Greek peninsula from sea to sea.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline:

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Ivan Shishkin, Wind-Fallen Trees

Related post: A Grove of Ancient Trees.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


The Pictures That October Yields

John Clare, The Shepherd's Calendar (October):
Nature now spreads around in dreary hue
A pall to cover all that summer knew
Yet in the poets solitary way
Some pleasing objects for his praise delay
Somthing that makes him pause and turn again
As every trifle will his eye detain
The free horse rustling through the stubble land
And bawling herd boy with his motly band
Of hogs and sheep and cows who feed their fill
Oer cleard fields rambling where so ere they will
The geese flock gabbling in the splashy fields
And quaking ducks in pondweeds half conseald
Or seeking worms along the homclose sward
Right glad of freedom from the prison yard
While every cart rut dribbles its low tide
And every hollow splashing sports provide
The hedger stopping gaps wi pointed bough
Made by intruding horse and blundering cow
The milk maid tripping on her morning way
And fodderers oft tho early cutting hay
Dropping the littering forkfulls from his back
Side where the thorn fence circles round the stack
The cotter journying wi his noisey swine
Along the wood side where the brambles twine
Shaking from dinted cups the acorns brown
And from the hedges red awes dashing down
And nutters rustling in the yellow woods
Scaring from their snug lairs the pheasant broods
And squirrels secret toils oer winter dreams
Picking the brown nuts from the yellow beams
And hunters from the thickets avenue
In scarlet jackets startling on the view
Skiming a moment oer the russet plain
Then hiding in the colord woods again
The ploping guns sharp momentary shock
Which eccho bustles from her cave to mock
The sticking groups in many a ragged set
Brushing the woods their harmless loads to get
And gipseys camps in some snug shelterd nook
Where old lane hedges like the pasture brook
Run crooking as they will by wood and dell
In such lone spots these wild wood roamers dwell
On commons where no farmers claims appear
Nor tyrant justice rides to interfere
Such the abodes neath hedge or spreading oak
And but discovered by its curling smoak
Puffing and peeping up as wills the breeze
Between the branches of the colord trees
Such are the pictures that october yields
To please the poet as he walks the fields
Oft dames in faded cloak of red or grey
Loiters along the mornings dripping way
Wi wicker basket on their witherd arms
Searching the hedges of home close or farms
Where brashy elder trees to autum fade
Each cotters mossy hut and garden shade
Whose glossy berrys picturesquly weaves
Their swathy bunches mid the yellow leaves
Where the pert sparrow stains his little bill
And tutling robin picks his meals at will
Black ripening to the wan suns misty ray
Here the industrious huswives wend their way
Pulling the brittle branches carefull down
And hawking loads of berrys to the town
Wi unpretending skill yet half divine
To press and make their eldern berry wine
That bottld up becomes a rousing charm
To kindle winters icy bosom warm
That wi its merry partner nut brown beer
Makes up the peasants christmass keeping cheer
While nature like fair woman in decay
Which pale consumption hourly wastes away
Upon her waining features pale and chill
Wears dreams of beauty that seem lovely still
Among the heath furze still delights to dwell
Quaking as if with cold the harvest bell
The mushroom buttons each moist morning brings
Like spots of snow in the green tawney rings
And fuzz balls swelld like bladders in the grass
Which oft the merry laughing milking lass
Will stoop to gather in her sportive airs
And slive in mimickd fondness unawares
To smut the brown cheek of the teazing swain
Wi the black powder which their balls contain
Who feigns offence at first that love may speed
Then charms a kiss to recompence the deed
The flying clouds urged on in swiftest pace
Like living things as if they runned a race
The winds that oer each coming tempest broods
Waking like spirits in their startling moods
Fluttering the sear leaves on the blasting lea
That litters under every fading tree
And pausing oft as falls the pattering rain
Then gathering strength and twirling them again
The startld stockdove hurried wizzing bye
As the still hawk hangs oer him in the sky
Crows from the oak trees qawking as they spring
Dashing the acorns down wi beating wing
Waking the woodlands sleep in noises low
Pattring on crimpt brakes withering brown below
While from their hollow nest the squirrels pop
Adown the tree to pick them as they drop
The starnel crowds that dim the muddy light
The crows and jackdaws flapping home at night
And puddock circling round its lazy flight
Round the wild sweeing wood in motion slow
Before it perches on the oaks below
And hugh black beetles revelling alone
In the dull evening with their heavy drone
Buzzing from barn door straw and hovel sides
Where fodderd cattle from the night abides
These pictures linger thro the shortning day
And cheer the lone bards mellancholy way
And now and then a solitary boy
Journeying and muttering oer his dreams of joy

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Teach Us to Number Our Days

There is a Greek expression λευκὴ ἡμέρα (leukē hēmera = white day), which the Suda (Λ 323 Adler, tr. Timothy Pepper) explains as follows:
The good [kind]. From the proverb speaking "of the things for a quiver". For Phylarchus says that the Scythians, when they were about to lie down to sleep, brought the quiver, and if they happened to have passed that day unharmed, they placed a white pebble on the quiver, but if [things had gone] troublesomely, [they placed] a black one. Accordingly, in the case of men who were dying, they brought out their quivers and counted the pebbles; and if many white ones were found, they declared the departed fortunate. Whence the proverb.

Λευκὴ ἡμέρα: ἡ ἀγαθή. ἀπὸ τῆς παροιμίας τῆς λεγούσης τῶν εἰς φαρέτραν. Φύλαρχος γάρ φησι τοὺς Σκύθας μέλλοντας καθεύδειν ἄγειν τὴν φαρέτραν, καὶ εἰ μὲν ἀλύπως τύχοιεν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην διαγαγόντες, καθιέναι εἰς τὴν φαρέτραν ψῆφον λευκήν, εἰ δὲ ὀχληρῶς, μέλαιναν. ἐπὶ τοίνυν τῶν ἀποθνησκόντων ἐκφέρειν τὰς φαρέτρας καὶ ἀριθμεῖν τὰς ψήφους: καὶ εἰ εὑρεθείησαν πολλαὶ λευκαί, εὐδαιμονίζειν τὸν ἀπογενόμενον. ὅθεν ἡ παροιμία.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.131 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley), is similar, substituting Thracians for Scythians and urns for quivers:
Mortals, vain as they are, and ingenious in deceiving themselves, calculate in the same way as the Thracians, who, according to their experience of each day, deposit in an urn a black or a white pebble: at the close of their life, these pebbles are separated, and from the relative number of each kind, they form their conclusions.

vana mortalitas et ad circumscribendam se ipsam ingeniosa conputat more Thraciae gentis, quae calculos colore distinctos pro experimento cuiusque diei in urnam condit ac supremo die separatos dinumerat atque ita de quoque pronuntiat.

Monday, October 20, 2008


False Quantities

M.L. West, Hesiod: Works & Days. Edited with Prolegomena and Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. vi-vii:
Another novelty is my sporadic use in Latin quotations of the apex (') to mark long vowels. It seems to me most regrettable that the very existence of this useful and decorative sign, which the Romans themselves saw fit to employ, is almost universally concealed from those studying Latin at school and university, and that practically no attention is paid to teaching the correct quantities of vowels in Latin words except in so far as this is necessary for the scansion of verse. I cordially invite all those sufficiently informed in the matter to follow my example. It is an honourable cause, and they need not feel they are doing something eccentric like going out into the street in gipsy earrings. Rather it is like restoring fluoride to water supplies that are deficient in it; it will certainly afford some protection against the decay of knowledge.
Few, it seems, have accepted West's cordial invitation to follow his example. Perhaps there aren't that many sufficiently informed in the matter.

On the apex, see a work by the scholar with the palindromic name, Revilo P. Oliver, "Apex and Sicilicus," American Journal of Philology 87 (1966) 129-170, who wrote (at 131):
The apex is found in thousands of inscriptions, and also in the few surviving papyri and wax tablets, of the last six decades of the Republic and the first two centuries of the Principate, after which it becomes increasing rare. The innumerable occurrences of it make it obvious that its function was to distinguish long vowels.
For some amusing remarks on false quantities, see Hugh E.P. Platt, A Last Ramble in the Classics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1906), pp. 152-158 (available through Google Book Search and the Internet Archive), e.g. (at 153):
Lawyers have some venerable stories, as of the counsel who talked of nolle prosēqui, and was reminded by the judge that at the end of term it was a pity to lengthen anything unnecessarily. In the House of Commons the last false quantity made by a distinguished man was when Mr. J. S. Mill misquoted Horace, Ep. i. 16. 47, as 'Habes pretium, cruci non figeris'; and Mr. Lowe in his reply brought in 'non pasces in cruce corvos,' 'which I prefer,' he said, 'to cruci non figeris.'

In the House of Lords, as Mr. Herbert Paul relates in his paper on the Decay of Classical Quotation (Nineteenth Century for April, 1896), Lord Clarendon achieved a 'record' by committing two false quantities in consecutive words, when he quoted Martial [1.16.1] in this fashion:

Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt plura mala.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Some Euripidean Macarisms

Euripides, Bacchae 72-82 (tr. T.A. Buckley):
Blessed is he who, being fortunate and knowing the rites of the gods, keeps his life pure and has his soul initiated into the Bacchic revels, dancing in inspired frenzy over the mountains with holy purifications, and who, revering the mysteries of great mother Kybele, brandishing the thyrsos, garlanded with ivy, serves Dionysus.

μάκαρ, ὅστις εὐδαίμων
τελετὰς θεῶν εἰδὼς
βιοτὰν ἁγιστεύει καὶ
θιασεύεται ψυχὰν
ἐν ὄρεσσι βακχεύων
ὁσίοις καθαρμοῖσιν,
τά τε ματρὸς μεγάλας ὄρ-
για Κυβέλας θεμιτεύων,
ἀνὰ θύρσον τε τινάσσων,
κισσῷ τε στεφανωθεὶς
Διόνυσον θεραπεύει.
Euripides, Bacchae 902-911 (tr. T.A. Buckley):
Happy is he who has fled a storm on the sea, and reached harbor. Happy too is he who has overcome his hardships. One surpasses another in different ways, in wealth or power. There are innumerable hopes to innumerable men, and some result in wealth to mortals, while others fail. But I call him blessed whose life is happy day to day.

εὐδαίμων μὲν ὃς ἐκ θαλάσσας
ἔφυγε χεῖμα, λιμένα δ' ἔκιχεν·
εὐδαίμων δ' ὃς ὕπερθε μόχθων
ἐγένεθ'· ἑτέρᾳ δ' ἕτερος ἕτερον
ὄλβῳ καὶ δυνάμει παρῆλθεν.
μυρίαι δ' ἔτι μυρίοις
εἰσὶν ἐλπίδες· αἳ μὲν
τελευτῶσιν ἐν ὄλβῳ
βροτοῖς, αἳ δ' ἀπέβησαν·
τὸ δὲ κατ' ἦμαρ ὅτῳ βίοτος
εὐδαίμων, μακαρίζω.
Euripides, fragment 256 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Happy the man who has the good sense to honour god and to turn this to great advantage to himself.

μακάριος ὅστις νοῦν ἔχων τιμᾷ θεὸν
καὶ κέρδος αὐτῷ τοῦτο ποιεῖται μέγα.
Euripides, fragment 910 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Happy the man who has gained knowledge through inquiry, not aiming to trouble his fellow citizens, nor to act unjustly, but observing eternal nature's ageless order, the way it was formed, and whence and how. Such men are never inclined to practice shameful deeds.

ὄλβιος ὅστις τῆς ἱστορίας
ἔσχε μάθησιν,
μήτε πολιτῶν ἐπὶ πημοσύνην
μήτ᾿ εἰς ἀδίκους πράξεις ὁρμῶν,
ἀλλ᾿ ἀθανάτου καθορῶν φύσεως
κόσμον ἀγήρων, πῇ τε συνέστη
καὶ ὅπῃ καὶ ὅπως.
τοῖς δὲ τοιούτοις οὐδέποτ᾿ αἰσχρῶν
ἔργων μελέτημα προσίζει.
And happy the man who reads Euripides.

Related post: Recipes for Happiness.


Up a Tree

Euripides, Bacchae 1058-1074 (tr. T.A. Buckley), in which a messenger reports how Pentheus prepared to spy on the Maenads:
And the unhappy Pentheus said, not seeing the crowd of women: "Stranger, from where we are standing I cannot see these false Maenads. But on the hill, ascending a lofty pine, I might view properly the shameful acts of the Maenads." And then I saw the stranger perform a marvelous deed. For seizing hold of the lofty top-most branch of the pine tree, he pulled it down, pulled it, pulled it to the dark earth. It was bent just as a bow or a curved wheel, when it is marked out by a compass, describes a circular course: in this way the stranger drew the mountain bough with his hands and bent it to the earth, doing no mortal's deed. He sat Pentheus down on the pine branch, and let it go upright through his hands steadily, taking care not to shake him off. The pine stood firmly upright into the sky, with my master seated on its back.
John Buchan, Witch Wood (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927), chapter X (What the Moon Saw), in which the Reverend David Sempill prepared to spy on some of his parishioners who followed pagan ways:
He scrambled up hill again till he was in touch with the outcrop of rock, and then suddenly found himself looking down on the glade where stood the altar. It was very dark, and the stone was only a ghostly blur. But the darkness was a blessing, for the place was not as he had seen it before, and the sight of it did not revive the terrors he had feared. It looked no more than a woodland glade, and the fact that a rabbit scurried from under his feet seemed a friendly omen. On the far side the trees grew thick, and he selected a gnarled Scots fir as his perch for the night. Its trunk, branchless for sixty feet, was too thick to climb, but he found a younger and slimmer tree, up which he could squirm and from its upper branches traverse to the other. He had not tried the game since he was a boy, and at first his legs and arms seemed too feeble; but the exercise warmed him, and after twice sliding back to the ground, he at last reached the umbrella-like spread of the crest. To gain the other tree proved more difficult than he had thought, and he was compelled to let his body swing and make a long stretch with his right arm. But the task was accomplished in the end, and he found himself on a platform of crooked fir boughs, hidden from everything but the stars, and with a view through the gaps of the branches to the glade below him. He had now a clear sight of the sky. The moon was three-quarters up, and the whole of Melanudrigill, with its slopes and valleys, was washed in silver. He was in it and yet above it and outside it, like a man on a hillside looking into a cleft. He made his body comfortable in a crutch of the tree, and looked down on the stage beneath him. It was now lighting up, and the altar was whitened by a stray moonbeam.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


One Fall Day

James Hayford, One Fall Day:
One fall day of high color and high wind
The trees will glitter on a hundred hills
As all their leaves, their longest journey starting,
Reserve their bravest gesture for departing.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, River Landscape in Autumn

Friday, October 17, 2008


The Apolausticks

Peter Gilliver et al., The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 39, n. 7, on the Coalbiters, a club founded by Tolkien to read Norse sagas:
The club's name derives from the Icelandic Kolbítar, a name given to those who stay so close to the fire in winter that they are virtually 'biting the coal'. This was not the first club with a linguistically intriguing name which Tolkien had founded: during his undergraduate days at Exeter College he had founded the 'Apolausticks'—from the word apolaustic 'devoted to seeking enjoyment', which, since it is extremely rare, he may well have discovered in the OED.
Tolkien started out as a student of the classics, and he also may well have discovered the word in the beginning of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (1.5.1-2, tr. H. Rackham):
On the one hand the generality of men and the most vulgar identify the Good with pleasure, and accordingly are content with the Life of Enjoyment—for there are three specially prominent Lives, the one just mentioned, the Life of Politics, and thirdly, the Life of Contemplation.
In the Greek, "are content with the Life of Enjoyment" is τὸν βίον ἀγαπῶσι τὸν ἀπολαυστικόν (ton bion agapōsi ton apolaustikon). The adjective ἀπολαυστικός (apolaustikos) comes from the verb ἀπολαύω (apolauō), defined by Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) as "have enjoyment of a thing, have the benefit of it." The verb ἀπολαύω is a compound, from ἀπό (apo) plus λαύω (lauō), but LSJ note that "The simple λαύω is not found, but was = λάφω, expl. by Aristarch. as ἀπολαυστικῶς ἔχω."

Of the three types of life, the lowest one, the one condemned by Aristotle, the Life of Enjoyment (βίος ἀπολαυστικός, bios apolaustikos), is the one I try to follow. Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 53, describes the meetings of the Apolausticks: "There were papers, discussions, and debates, and there were also large and extravagant dinners." These are all things I enjoy as well, especially the large and extravagant dinners. It sounds like a club worth reviving, like the Diogenes Club, the Three Hours for Lunch Club, and the Ancient Order of Modern Troglodytes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Once More Fields and Gardens

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (October 15, first and last paragraphs):
It is curious how close we feel to someone—even someone we have never met, even someone who lived in a remote period in the past and in a far-distant country—when we find that he, too, experienced the same outlook, the same feelings we have known.


T'ao Ch'ien—so far way, so long ago—knew the same attitudes, the same emotions that have been mine. And in this poem of his, "Once More Fields and Gardens," he set them down on paper half a thousand years before I was born.
A while ago I printed two translations of the poem Teale is referring to, one by Arthur Waley, the other by A.S. Kline. From the lines he quotes, it's clear that Teale knew the poem from the rather free translation by Florence Wheelock Ayscough and Amy Lowell:
Even as a young man
I was out of tune with ordinary pleasures.
It was my nature to love the rooted hills,
The high hills which look upon the four edges of Heaven.
What folly to spend one's life like a dropped leaf
Snared under the dust of streets,
But for thirteen years it was so I lived.

The caged bird longs for the fluttering of high leaves.
The fish in the garden pool languishes for the whirled water
Of meeting streams.
So I desired to clear and seed a patch of the wild Southern moor.
And always a countryman at heart,
I have come back to the square enclosures of my fields
And to my walled garden with its quiet paths.

Mine is a little property of ten mou or so,
A thatched house of eight or nine rooms.
On the North side, the eaves are overhung
With the thick leaves of elm-trees,
And willow-trees break the strong force of the wind.
On the South, in front of the great hall,
Peach-trees and plum-trees spread a net of branches
Before the distant view.

The village is hazy, hazy,
And mist sucks over the open moor.
A dog barks in the sunken lane which runs through the village.
A cock crows, perched on a clipped mulberry.

There is no dust or clatter
In the courtyard before my house.
My private rooms are quiet,
And calm with the leisure of moonlight through an open door.
For a long time I lived in a cage;
Now I have returned.
For one must return
To fulfil one's nature.
Yunte Huang, in Transpacific Displacement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 99, n. 7, gives a "character-by-character literal translation" of the opening lines from the poem:
I recently read another translation of T'ao Ch'ien's poem by David Hinton, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (2002; rpt. New York: New Directions, 2005):
Nothing like all the others, even as a child,
rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one
departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,
and a pond fish its deep waters—so now,

my southern outlands cleared, I nurture
simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I've got nearly two acres here,
and four or five rooms in this thatch hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,
and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,
kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep among back roads out here,
and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,
my empty home harbors idleness to spare.

Back again: after so long caged in that trap,
I've returned to occurrence coming of itself.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Weed Control

Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ), s.v. λέων (leōn = lion):
VIII. = ὀροβάγχη, Dsc.2.142, Gp.2.42 tit.
LSJ s.v. ὀροβάγχη (orobanchē = a variety of plant):
II. chokefitch, Orobanche crenata, Dsc.2.142, Gp.2.42.
Dsc. is Dioscorides, and Gp. is Geoponica. Here are both passages cited in LSJ as references on the chokefitch plant:

Dioscorides 2.142 (tr. Lily Beck, with her footnote):
ὀροβάγχη, Orobanche crenata Forsk., Chokefitch

The chokefitch: some call it cynomorion, some leon, and the Cypriots call it thyrsitis. It is a small, reddish stalk, about two spans tall, sometimes even taller, leafless, somewhat greasy, soft, hairy, covered with either whitish or quince-yellow flowers. Its root is below ground, thick as a finger, having holes when the stalk dries. It seems to choke certain pulses among which it grows, whence its name.64 It is used as a vegetable both raw and boiled, being eaten out of a flat dish just like asparagus, and when added to pulses, it is reputed, to cook them faster.

64 The etymology of ὀροβάγχη is from ὄροβος, "bitter vetch" and ἄγχω, "strangle," i.e. "that which strangles the bitter vetch," Jacques André, Les noms des plantes dans la Rome antique, p. 181.
The fitch in chokefitch = vetch, and pulse = peas or beans.

Geoponica (2.42.3, p. 78 Beckh), on ways to get rid of chokefitch (in what follows I've borrowed some turns of phrase from Thomas Owen's translation of the Geoponica):
Another physical remedy is found which works by antipathy, and to which Democritus gives testimony: let a maiden who has reached the age of marriage, naked and barefoot, without a stitch of clothing on, with hair unbound, holding a rooster in her hands, go around the field — the lion-like plant soon goes away, and the pulse grows stronger, as if this lion's plant were afraid of the rooster.

θεραπεία οὖν εὐρίσκεται ἑτέρα φυσικὴ καὶ ἀντιπαθής, ᾗ καὶ Δημόκριτος μαρτυρεῖ· παρθένος ὥραν ἔχουσα γάμου, ἀνυπόδετος γυμνή, μηδὲν καθόλου περικειμένη, λελυμένη τὰς τρίχας, ἀλεκτρυόνα ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν ἔχουσα, περιελθέτω τὸ χωρίον, καὶ εὐθέως χωρίζεται μὲν ἡ λεόντειος πόα, τὰ δὲ ὄσπρια κρείττονα γίνεται, ἴσως καὶ τῆς βοτάνης ταύτης τοῦ λέοντος τὸν ἀλεκτρυόνα φοβουμένης.
A puritanical scribe or reader expurgated the bit about the naked woman by erasure in one of the manuscripts of the Geoponica, according to Beckh's critical apparatus.

I have a small plot of land (χωρίον) on which I grow vegetables, and weeds of various sorts hamper my efforts. I am not excessively puritanical, and if there are any female volunteers who would like to help me with weed eradication in the manner prescribed by Geoponica 2.42.3, please let me know. I will supply the rooster.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Tautological Compounds

Anatoly Liberman, Between beriberi and very, very: In Praise of Useful Waste, Or, Tautological Compounds, discusses words composed of two roots that are synonymous, such as pathway and sledgehammer. He remarks, "It is to be regretted that no one thought of compiling a dictionary of these compounds in the languages of the world."

If anyone ever does compile such a dictionary, perhaps circumambient and circumambulate (neither mentioned by Liberman) should be entries in it. In these words derived from Latin the elements circum- and -amb- both mean "around." Words related to the Latin preposition circum are common in English, such as circuit, circle, circus, etc. In Latin, amb(i)- occurs only as a prefix. Roger D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 159, lists ambages, ambio, ambulo, amfractus (anfractus), and anquiro among Latin words formed from amb(i), and his list is not exhaustive. From ambio comes ambitio, "going around," especially to canvass votes, whence English ambition.

Greek equivalents of circum and amb(i)- are περί (peri) and ἀμφί (amphi). These roots occur in many English words, such as peripatetic and amphitheater. In the Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell-Scott-Jones I find over a dozen words starting with ἀμφιπερι- (amphiperi-), including ἀμφιπερικτίονες (amphiperiktiones) = dwellers all around, and two starting with περιαμφι- (periamphi-) — περιαμφιέννυμι (periamphiennumi = clothe on all sides) and περιαμφίς (periamphis = turning round and round). All of these are tautological compounds.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Painted Woods

John Clare, Autumn:
Autumn comes laden with her ripened load
Of fruitage and so scatters them abroad
That each fern smothered heath and molehill waste
Are black with bramble berrys—where in haste
The chubby urchins from the village hie
To feast them there stained with the purple dye
While painted woods around my rambles be
In draperies worthy of eternity
Yet will the leaves soon patter on the ground
And death's deaf voice awake at every sound
One drops—then others—and the last that fell
Rings for those left behind their passing bell
Thus memory every where her tidings brings
How sad death robs us of lifes dearest things.
Frederic Church, Autumn in North America

Thursday, October 09, 2008



I've noticed some examples of asyndetic, privative adjectives in Greek magical papyri. The Greek texts are from Karl Preisendanz, ed. Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Teubner, 1928), abbreviated PGM, and the English translations are from Hans Dieter Benz, ed. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). I've altered the translations where conjunctions, absent in Greek but added in English, obscure the asyndeton. One of the examples is due to a conjectural emendation.

PGM I.165 (tr. E.N. O'Neil):
boundless, undefiled, indescribable

ἀπέραντον, ἀμίαντον, ἀδιήγητον
PGM IV.267 (tr. E.N. O'Neil, revised):
obscure [literally = unclear], irresistible

ἄδηλον, ἀμήχανον

ἄδηλον Kroll: ΔΗΛΟΝ P
PGM IV.1063-1064 (tr. W.C. Grese, revised):
unharmed, not plagued by ghosts, free from calamity, without terror

ἀσινῆ, ἀνειδωλόπληκτον, ἄπληγον, ἀθάμβητον
PGM IV.1776 (tr. E.N. O'Neil):
lawless, implacable, inexorable, invisible, bodiless

ἄνομε, ἀνίλαστε, ἀλιτάνευτε, ἀϊδῆ, ἀσώματε

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Popularity of Latin Study

Thanks to Dave Lull for drawing my attention to Winnie Hu, "A Dead Language That's Very Much Alive," New York Times (Oct. 7, 2008), a rare piece of good news these days, about the growing popularity of Latin study in American schools. I was surprised to read that "scarce Latin teachers have become more sought-after than ever." I would jump at the chance to teach Latin. But an administrator for the Minneapolis public schools once told me I was unqualified to teach Latin in high school, because I had never taken any education courses.

The New York Times article quotes a high school principal named Don Conetta:
"If my Latin teachers could hear me now," he said. "I took three years in high school, and four semesters in college, and I can't remember the first line of Cicero's orations."
Mr. Conetta's statement seems odd to my pedantic ear — it would make more sense to say, for example, "I can't remember the first line of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address," than "I can't remember the first line of Lincoln's speeches." Probably the most famous first line of any of Cicero's orations is from the first Catilinarian:
How long, Catiline, will you abuse our patience?

Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?
A few months ago I saw a bumper sticker on a car in the parking lot of a hardware store that read:
Quo usque tandem abutere, W, patientia nostra?
W stands for Dubya, the nickname of President George Walker Bush, also known as Agricola Ambulator Arbuscula. The answer to the question "Quo usque tandem abutere, W, patientia nostra?" is 104 days and counting down.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Political Systems

John Wain, Samuel Johnson (New York: Viking Press, 1975), p. 275:
Johnson believed that good government was important, but that great areas of human life lay outside the scope of any government, good or bad. In the lines he contributed to his friend Goldsmith's The Traveller occurs the couplet,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
In this, he was merely being honest. One of the ways in which human beings can be divided up is that some of them are capable of pinning their total faith in a 'system' and others are not. All of us know the man (or, just as frequently, the woman) who maintains, and appears sincerely to believe, that if only this or that political system were to swallow all its rivals and prevail the millennium would arrive immediately. What makes the rest of us faintly suspicious is not that we have any cut-and-dried counter-arguments but merely that we do not believe that any political system, by itself, can make humanity entirely fulfilled and contented. Some forms of government, obviously, are better than others; now and then tyrannies arise which are too bad to be changed and simply have to be escaped from or overthrown; but, over most of the earth at most times, the difference is not that great. No matter who is in power at the top, one's own struggle goes on.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Commit No Nuisance

The late Oriana Fallaci was an atheist, but in La rabbia e l'orgoglio (Rage and Pride, tr. Chris Knipp), she directed the full force of her anger against immigrants who desecrated holy places in Florence (warning — graphic language):
A tent set up in front of the cathedral with the dome by Brunelleschi, beside the baptistery with the golden doors of Ghiberti. A tent, in fine, furnished like a sloppy flat: chairs, tables, sofas, mattresses to sleep or to fuck on, cook stoves to prepare food and befoul the square with smoke and stinking smells. And thanks to the usual insensitivity of the ENEL, which cares about as much about our works of art as it cares about our landscape, it was furnished with electric light. Thanks to a radio-tape player, it was enriched by the tortured voice of a muezzin who regularly exhorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and drowned out the sound of the church bells.

And together with all that, the yellow lines of urine that profaned the marbles of the baptistery. (Good God! They have a long stream, these sons of Allah. How do they manage to hit a target separated from the protective railing and therefore almost two meters away from their urinary organ?) With the yellow lines of urine was the stink of their shit which blocked the gate of San Salvatore al Vescovo: the exquisite Romanesque church (A.D. 1000) which sits on the shoulders of the Piazza del Duomo and which the sons of Allah had turned into a shithouse.
History repeats itself. Compare the words of a chronicler quoted by John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), p. 293:
These barbarians...carried their violence to the very foot of the altars. It was thought strange that they should wish to destroy our icons, using them as fuel for the fires on which they cooked. More criminal still, they would dance upon the altars before which the angels trembled, and sing profane songs. Then they would piss all over the church, flooding the floors with their urine.
Even the Bible (2 Kings 10.27) mentions a similar act: "And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day."

But "deorum iniuriae dis curae" (Tacitus, Annals 1.73.5), that is, let wrongs committed against the gods be the concern of the gods. John R. Clarke, Looking at Laughter: Humor, Power, and Transgression in Roman Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 60-62, with notes on pp. 252-253, discusses a first century A.D. bas-relief (Museo Archeologico di Aquileia, 50397 = Clarke, figure 21, p. 61) on which Jupiter is throwing thunderbolts at a defecating man. The provenance of the relief is uncertain, although there seems to be a consensus that it comes from a temple. I can't find an image of the relief on the World Wide Web, so Clarke's detailed description must suffice:
We see Jupiter raising his right arm to hurl a second thunderbolt at a man caught in the act of defecating. He is already falling to the ground from the effects of the first thunderbolt; we see its three top prongs sticking out of the man's back, just behind his head. The artist has emphasized Jupiter's might by placing him above the man, and by making him twice the size of his poor victim. Jupiter's powerful pose—right arm extended, right leg flexed, and left leg extended—harks back to classical models. But if Jupiter is all power, the man is all weakness. His nearly limp right arm searches for support. Rather than showing the man crouching todefecate, the artist has (more tastefully?) suggested that he has been crouching by showing the front of the man's tunic pulled up to his genitals and by depicting the deep bend of his knees. In a word, the man is about to fall forward on his face from what had been a defecating crouch.
As Clarke points out, there are inscriptions warning against this type of punishment for this type of offense, e.g. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) IV.7716:
Defecator, watch out for trouble; or, if you act with disrespect, may you have Jupiter angry.

cacator cave malu(m) aut si contempseris habeas Iove(m) iratum
One could here mentally supply either cave (ne facias) malum = beware lest you commit a nuisance, or cave (ne patiare) malum = beware lest you suffer a punishment.

Similarly, CIL VI.29848b warns:
Whoever urinates or defecates here, may he have the twelve gods and Diana and Jupiter best and greatest angry.

duodeci(m) deos et Deana(m) et Iovem Optumu(m) Maximu(m) habeat iratos quisquis hic mixerit aut cacarit
Individual gods are not named in CIL VI.13740:
He who urinates or defecates here, may he have the gods above and below angry.

qui hic mixerit aut cacarit, habeat deos superos et inferos iratos
In Greek inscriptions we also find this turn of phrase (e.g. Tituli Asiae Minoris V,2 1371, from Lydia: τοὺς ἐπουρανίους καὶ καταχθονίους θεοὺς κεχολωμένους ἔχοισαν = may they have the gods above and below angry), but I haven't noticed any Greek inscriptions where this is the punishment for urination or defecation in an inappropriate place. I haven't searched much beyond the discussions of protection of Greek tombs and accompanying curses in Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (1935; rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), pp. 106-118, and Erwin Rohde, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Ancient Greeks, 8th ed., tr. W.B. Hillis (1925; rpt. Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1987), pp. 525-526 and notes on pp. 552-554.

There is an interesting variation on the turn of phrase in CIL III.1966 (from Salona in Dalmatia):
Whoever refrains from placing dung in this area or defecating or urinating, may he have these favorable; but if he neglects the warning, watch out!

quisqu(e) in eo vico stercus non pos(u)erit aut non cacaverit aut non miaverit is habeat illas propitias, si neglexerit viderit
These = goddesses (triple Hecate).

The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus criticized urination in holy places, according to Plutarch, On the Contradictions of the Stoics 22.2, p. 1045 a (tr. E. Smith):
Yet he again in his Fifth Book of Nature says, that Hesiod rightly forbids the making water into rivers and fountains, and that we should rather abstain from doing this against any altar, or statue of the Gods; and that it is not to be admitted for an argument, that dogs, asses, and young children do it, who have no discretion or consideration of such things.

ἐν δὲ τῷ πέμπτῳ πάλιν περὶ Φύσεως λέγει καλῶς μὲν ἀπαγορεύειν τὸν Ἡσίοδον εἰς ποταμοὺς καὶ κρήνας οὐρεῖν, ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον ἀφεκτέον εἶναι τοῦ πρὸς βωμὸν οὐρεῖν ἢ ἀφίδρυμα θεοῦ· μὴ γὰρ εἶναι πρὸς λόγον, εἰ κύνες καὶ ὄνοι τοῦτο ποιοῦσι καὶ παιδάρια νήπια, μηδεμίαν ἐπιστροφὴν μηδ´ ἐπιλογισμὸν ἔχοντα περὶ τῶν τοιούτων.
The Latin poet Persius was a Stoic, and it was said (Suetonius, Life of Persius) that he owned seven hundred volumes of the writings of Chrysippus. It is not surprising, therefore, that in Persius' first Satire (lines 112-114, tr. Susanna Morton Braund) we find a reference to prohibitions against these acts of desecration:
Will that do? "Defecation prohibited here," you say. Paint up two snakes: "Lads, this place is off limits—piss outside."

hoc iuvat? "hic" inquis "veto quisquam faxit oletum."
pinge duos anguis: "pueri, sacer est locus, extra
"Off limits" is sacred, holy (sacer), hence protected.

Persius was a contemporary of the Roman emperor Nero, and Suetonius, Life of Nero 56 (tr. J.C. Rolfe), testifies to Nero's disregard of the prohibition:
He utterly despised all cults, with the sole exception of the Syrian Goddess, and even acquired such a contempt for her that he made water on her image.

religionum usque quaque contemptor, praeter unius Deae Syriae, hanc mox ita sprevit ut urina contaminaret.
In Aristophanes' Wasps, at the end of a prayer to the hero Lycus, Philocleon promises not to act with such contempt (393-394, tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
O take pity now on me who dwell close to thee, and save me, and I vow never to piss or fart beside your wicker fence.

ἐλέησον καὶ σῶσον νυνὶ τὸν σαυτοῦ πλησιόχωρον·
κοὐ μή ποτέ σου παρὰ τὰς κάννας οὐρήσω μηδ᾽ ἀποπάρδω.
Cf. Horace, Satires 1.8.37-39, where a statue of the god Priapus swears this oath:
But if I am telling a lie in any respect, may I be fouled on my head with the white turds of crows, and may Julius and frail Pediatia and the thief Voranus come to urinate and defecate on me.

mentior at siquid, merdis caput inquiner albis
corvorum atque in me veniat mictum atque cacatum
Iulius et fragilis Pediatia furque Voranus.
In Petronius, Satyricon 71.8 (tr. P.G. Walsh), it is a human, not a god, who will protect a tomb:
I'll be careful to stipulate in my will that I come to no harm when dead; I'll appoint one of my freedmen to mount guard over my tomb, to ensure that people don't make a beeline to shit against it.

ceterum erit mihi curae, ut testamento caveam ne mortuus iniuriam accipiam. praeponam enim unum ex libertis sepulchro meo custodiae causa, ne in monumentum meum populus cacatum currat.
E. Courtney, Musa Lapidaria (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), pp. 158-159, quotes and translates a couple of inscriptions along the same lines. The first is CIL 6.2357:
Stranger, the buried bones of a man request you not to piss at this tomb, but, if you are an agreeable man, mix a drink, drink it, and give me some.

hospes, ad hunc tumulum ne meias ossa precantur
tecta hominis, set si gratus homo es, misce bibe da mihi.
The second is CIL 4.8899:
Stranger, the bones ask you not to piss at this tomb, for, if you want to be more agreeable to this man, shit.

You see Nettle's tomb; away from here, shitter; it is not safe for you to open your bowels here.

hospes, adhuc tumuli ni meias ossa prec[antur,
  nam, si vis (h)uic gratior esse, caca.

Urticae monumenta vides; discede, cacator.
  non est hic tutum culu(m) aperire tibi.
Courtney (p. 369) explains the joke in the second couplet as follows: "The point is a pun on the name of the hypothetical deceased (for the name Urtica see CIL 5.3637; it is also known as a female name); as the cacator squats, he is in danger of being stung by an urtica, a nettle." Cf. the poison ivy episode in Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), pp. 17-18.

Horace, Art of Poetry 470-472, humorously supposes that a penchant for writing verses is punishment for urinating on a tomb:
Nor is is sufficiently clear why he composes poetry, whether he urinated on his father's ashes, or impiously disturbed a gloomy sacred site.

nec satis apparet cur versus factitet, utrum
minxerit in patrios cineres, an triste bidental
moverit incestus.
I'll close with a couple of references to committing nuisances against statues. The first is Juvenal 1.127-131 (tr. G.G. Ramsay):
The day itself is marked out by a fine round of business. First comes the dole; then the courts, and Apollo learned in the law, and those triumphal statues among which some Egyptian Arabarch or other has dared to set up his titles; against whose statue more than one kind of nuisance may be committed!

ipse dies pulchro distinguitur ordine rerum:
sportula, deinde forum iurisque peritus Apollo
atque triumphales, inter quas ausus habere
nescio quis titulos Aegyptius atque Arabarches,
cuius ad effigiem non tantum meiere fas est.
Ramsay euphemistically conceals Juvenal's crude language. A more literal translation is "against whose statue it is permitted not only to urinate." Juvenal implies "non tantum meiere fas est, sed etiam cacare," that is, "it is permitted not only to urinate, but also to defecate" on the statue.

The second reference is to the Life of Caracalla (5.7, tr. David Magie) in the Historia Augusta:
At that time men were condemned to death for having urinated in places where there were statues or busts of the Emperor.

damnati sunt eo tempore qui urinam in eo loco fecerunt, in quo statuae aut imagines erant principis.
Related post: Crime and Punishment.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Cruel Axes

Among the Latin poems of Samuel Johnson is one with the title In Rivum a Mola Stoana Lichfieldiae Diffluentem (On the Stream Flowing from Stowe Mill at Lichfield). In the poem he mentions the felling of a tree that once overshadowed the stream. Here is a prose translation by Niall Rudd:
The river, still glassy, flows through the green meadows in which as a boy I so often bathed my young limbs. Here I would vainly thrash my arms, which got nowhere with their inexpert movements, while my father with his calm voice taught me to swim. The branches made a hiding place, and an overhanging tree covered the hidden waters in darkness even by day. Now the shadows of old have fallen victim to cruel axes; and the bathing place lies exposed to distant eyes. The water, however, unwearyingly continues on its course from year to year, and where it once flowed unseen it now still flows, though in the open. You too, Nisus, continue your daily course, indifferent to what swift time may bring in from the world outside, and what it may wear away.
Here is Johnson's original Latin:
Errat adhuc vitreus per prata virentia rivus,
  Quo toties lavi membra tenella puer;
Hic delusa rudi frustrabar brachia motu,
  Dum docuit, blanda voce, natare pater.
Fecerunt rami latebras, tenebrisque diurnis
  Pendula secretas abdidit arbor aquas.
Nunc veteres duris periere securibus umbrae,
  Longinquisque oculis nuda lavacra patent.
Lympha, tamen, cursus agit indefessa perennis,
  Tectaque qua fluxit, nunc et aperta fluit.
Quid ferat externi velox, quid deterat aetas,
  Tu quoque securus res age, Nise, tuas.
Edmund Blunden made this verse translation:
It winds on still, the glassy brook
Among the meadows green, the same
Where I in young enchantment came
To bathe my tender limbs, and took
With unskilled strokes my splashing way
While with mild words my father gave
The swimming lesson, many a day.
Broad branches roofed the covert wave
In livelong shadows, then my lair;
But now the axe has slain the shade,
And far-off eyes may find the bare
And treeless bathing-pool displayed.
The waters urge their course no less,
Eternal, and where once it went
Concealed, today in openness
Goes that unwearied element.
My friend, whatever be the effect
Of outward loss or contrast brought
By hastening age, from this stream taught,
Pursue your own concerns unchecked.
Here is another version by John Wain:
Clear as glass the stream still wanders through
green fields. Here, as a boy, I bathed
my tender limbs, unskilled, while
with gentle voice my father from the bank
taught me to swim. The branches made
a hiding-place: the bending trees concealed
the water in a daytime darkness. Now
hard axes have destroyed those ancient shades:
the pool lies naked, even to distant eyes.
But the same water, never tiring, still runs on
in the same channel: once hidden, now exposed,
still flowing. Nisus, you too, what time
brings from outside, or eats away within
ignoring, do those things you have to do.
David Ferry omits Johnson's apostrophe to Nisus in this translation:
The stream still flows through the meadow grass,
As clear as it was when I used to go in swimming,
Not good at it at all, while my father's voice
Gently called out through the light of the shadowy glade,
Trying to help me learn. The branches hung down low
Over those waters made secret by their shadows.
My arms flailed in a childlike helpless way.

And now the sharp blade of the axe of time
Has utterly cut away that tangle of shadows.
The naked waters are open to the sky now
And the stream still flows through the meadow grass.
Hat tip: Patrick Kurp.

Related posts: Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Exclusive Epiphanies

Hans Dieter Benz, ed. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 7 (= Papyri Graecae Magicae I.186 ff. Preisendanz, tr. E.N. O'Neil):
In this fashion, then, the god will be seen by you alone, nor will anyone ever hear the sound of his speaking, just you yourself alone.
Gods seem to have the power to manifest themselves exclusively to whomever they wish. See Homer, Odyssey 16.159-163 (tr. A.T. Murray, rev. George E. Dimock):
And she [Athena] stood over against the door of the hut, showing herself to Odysseus, but Telemachus did not see her before him, or notice her; for it is not at all the case that the gods appear in manifest presence to all. But Odysseus saw her, and the dogs, and they did not bark, but with whining slunk in fear to the farther part of the farmstead.
Cf. Acts 26.14, where for "I heard a voice speaking unto me," the Western Text reads "For I myself alone heard a voice speaking unto me."

Related posts: Epiphanies; More on Epiphanies.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?