Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Cicero, De Natura Deorum, Book 1

Here are some quotations I want to remember after reading the first book of Cicero's treatise On the Nature of the Gods (De Natura Deorum). The English translations are by Francis Brooks.

Is there anything, indeed, so discreditable as rashness, and is there anything rasher and more unworthy of the dignity and strength of character of a wise man than the holding of a false opinion, or the unhesitating defence of what has not been grasped and realised with proper thoroughness?

Quid est enim temeritate turpius? aut quid tam temerarium tamque indignum sapientis gravitate atque constantia quam aut falsum sentire aut quod non satis explorate perceptum sit et cognitum sine ulla dubitatione defendere?
In fact the authority of those who stand forward as teachers is generally an obstacle in the way of those who wish to learn, for the latter cease to apply their own judgment, and take for granted the conclusions which they find arrived at by the teacher whom they approve.

Quin etiam obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt auctoritas eorum qui se docere profitentur; desinunt enim suum iudicium adhibere, id habent ratum quod ab eo quem probant iudicatum vident.
If you were to ask me what God is, or of what nature, I should plead the authority of Simonides, who, when this same question was put to him by the tyrant Hiero, asked for one day's deliberation; when the question was repeated on the morrow, he begged for two, and when Hiero, upon his constantly doubling the number of days, inquired wonderingly why he did so, Because, he replied, the longer I reflect, the more obscure does the matter seem to me.

Roges me quid aut quale sit deus, auctore utar Simonide, de quo cum quaesivisset hoc idem tyrannus Hiero, deliberandi sibi unum diem postulavit; cum idem ex eo postridie quaereret, biduum petivit; cum saepius duplicaret numerum dierum admiransque Hiero requireret cur ita faceret, 'Quia quanto diutius considero,' inquit 'tanto mihi res videtur obscurior.'
It seems marvellous that one soothsayer should not laugh at the sight of another.

Mirabile videtur quod non rideat haruspex cum haruspicem viderit.
There are as many names of the gods as there are languages among men.

Quot hominum linguae, tot nomina deorum.
I wish I could find the discovery of truth as easy as the exposure of error.

Utinam tam facile vera invenire possem quam falsa convincere.

There is a good example of chiasmus at 1.3.5 (letters in square brackets added by me):
Well, upon these counts I can [A] pacify friendly objectors and [B] confute malignant fault-finders in a way which will make [B] the latter repent of having taken me to task, and [A] the former glad that they have learnt the truth, for [A] those who admonish in a friendly spirit deserve to be instructed, while [B] those who assail in an unfriendly spirit deserve to meet with a repulse.

Qua quidem in causa et [A] benivolos obiurgatores placare et [B] invidos vituperatores confutare possumus, ut [B] alteros reprehendisse paeniteat, [A] alteri didicisse se gaudeant; nam [A] qui admonent amice docendi sunt, [B] qui inimice insectantur repellendi.

There is a typographical error in the Latin of the Loeb Classical Library text (1933; rpt. 1994) at 1.20.55:
What is to be thought of a philosophy that holds the ignorant old crone's belief that everything happens by destiny?

Quanti autem haec philosophia aestimanda est cui tamquam aniculis, et iis quidem indoctis, fato fieri videantur omnis?
For omnis read omnia.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008



Oxford English Dictionary s.v. -fuge, suffix:
occurring in words (adj. and n.) f. mod.L. types in -fugus. According to classical L. analogy, this ending should be connected with fugĕre to flee (cf. profugus), and should have the sense 'fleeing from' (cf. lucifugus, erifuga). In the medical words febrifugus, lit. driving away fevers, vermifugus expelling worms, however, the ending derives its sense from L. fugāre, to put to flight. In imitation of the anglicized forms of these, nonce-wds. in -fuge have occasionally been formed; chiefly on Lat. stems, as DEMONIFUGE (q.v.), dolorifuge, something to drive away pain; but occasionally on Eng. words, as mendacity-fuge.
OED's only citation for dolorifuge is Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), I.86:
The children..had made use of this idea as a species of dolorifuge after the death of the horse.
Dennis Taylor, Hardy's Literary Language and Victorian Philology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 29, quotes a reviewer's disapproval of dolorifuge and other such outlandish words in Hardy:
Think how absolutely out of colour in Arcadia are such words as 'dolorifuge', 'photosphere', 'heliolatries', 'arborescence', 'concatenation', 'noctambulist'—where, indeed, are such in colour?—and Mr. Hardy further uses that horrid verb 'ecstatisize'.
A search for dolorifuge in Le Trésor del la Langue Française Informatisé yields no results, but the word was not uncommon as an adjective in 19th century French medical texts, as Google Book Search shows.

Otto Gradenwitz, Laterculi vocum Latinarum (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1904) lists aquifuga, confuga, defuga, *diffugus, erifuga, herifuga, larifuga, lucifuga, lucifugus, lucrifuga, *luctifugus, nubifugus, profuga, refuga, refugus, solifuga, transfuga, *umbrifugus, to which could perhaps be added *stellifugus —Oskar Hey conjectured stellifugo for stellifico in Pseudo-Victorinus, De Iesu Christo 114 (diviserat umbram stellifugo temone iubar). Nubifugus and perhaps *stellifugus are exceptions to what OED regards as "classical L. analogy," as they mean, respectively, putting the clouds or the stars to flight. Pseudo-Victorinus may not be "classical Latin," but Columella (who used nubifugus) certainly is.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


A Latin Riddle

Richard Wilbur, the first of "Twelve Riddle of Symphosius," in Collected Poems 1943-2004:
My Latin name sounds evil. Goddesses three
I set at odds, three sisters guard my tree,
and Troy was drowned in blood because of me.
The answer is apple (mālum in Latin). This is number 84 in the collection of Symphosius' riddles:
Nomen ovis Graece, contentio magna dearum,
fraus iuvenis pulchri, multarum cura sororum,
[hoc volo, ne breviter mihi syllaba prima legatur]
excidium Troiae, dum bella cruenta peregi.

pulc(h)ri Castalio: functi codd., furtim Schenkl, cincti Klapp
multarum: iunctarum Baehrens, pulc(h)rarum Klapp
Here are two more translations of the same riddle, the first by Elizabeth Hickman du Bois:
My name is Greek, for me great beauties vied,
A fair youth's fraud, with sisters I abide,
Through me was vanquished mighty Ilion's pride.
and the second by Raymond Theodore Ohl:
The name for sheep in Greek, the cause of great strife among the goddesses, the guile of the girded youth, the care of many sisters, the destruction of Troy what time I brought to an end bloody wars.
I haven't seen Raymond Theodore Ohl, The Enigmas of Symphosius (Philadephia, 1928); I borrowed Ohl's translation from Bill Thayer's web pages on Symphosius.

There are riddles within the riddle.

First, Nomen ovis Graece ("the name for sheep in Greek"). In Greek, there are two different words both spelled μῆλον (mēlon). One of the homonyms means sheep (in Latin ovis), the other apple (in Latin mālum). Wilbur's "My Latin name sounds evil" refers to the fact that the Latin adjective mălus, -a, -um means evil, differing from the noun mālum (apple) only by the quantity of the -a-.

Plautus, Amphitruo 720-724 (tr. Paul Nixon), puns on the two similar Latin words for evil (mălum) and apple (mālum):
ALC. Indeed I have not, and I pray heaven I may safely bear a son. But you, sir, shall have an ample supply of aches and pains, if your master here does his duty! You shall be well rewarded for that omen, Sir Omener.

SOS. Really now, ma'am, it's a lady in your condition ought to have aches and pains, yes, and an apple supply, too, so as to have something to chew on in case she gets to feeling seedy.

ALC. Equidem sana sum et deos quaeso, ut salva pariam filium.
verum tu malum magnum habebis, si hic suom officium facit:
ob istuc omen, ominator, capies quod te condecet.

SOS. Enim vero praegnati oportet et malum et malum dari,
ut quod obrodat sit, animo si male esse occeperit.
To the modern reader, Wilbur's "My Latin name sounds evil" also brings to mind the forbidden fruit of Genesis, chapters 2-3, which St. Jerome translated into Latin as mālum. The eating of the apple (mālum), in violation of God's command, brought evil (mălum) into the world. See Horace Jeffery Hodges, "Forbidden Fruit as Impedimental Peach: A Scholarly 'Pesher' on Paradise Lost 9.850-852," Milton and Early Modern English Studies 18.2 (2008), for other puns surrounding the forbidden fruit, which some think was not an apple but a peach (French pêche, cf. French péché = sin). I am indebted to Dr. Hodges for a copy of his article.

But Symphosius was apparently a pagan, and there are no Biblical echoes in his riddle. There is a reference to the golden apple which ultimately caused the Trojan War. Lucian, Dialogues of the Sea-Gods 5 (tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler), tells the beginning of the tale:
PANOPE. Galene, did you see what Eris [Strife] did yesterday at the Thessalian banquet, because she had not had an invitation?

GALENE. No, I was not with you; Posidon had told me to keep the sea quiet for the occasion. What did Eris do, then, if she was not there?

PANOPE. Thetis and Peleus had just gone off to the bridal chamber, conducted by Amphitrite and Posidon, when Eris came in unnoticed — which was easy enough; some were drinking, some dancing, or attending to Apollo's lyre or the Muses' songs — Well, she threw down a lovely apple, solid gold, my dear; and there was written on it, FOR THE FAIR. It rolled along as if it knew what it was about, till it came in front of Hera, Aphrodite, and Athene. Hermes picked it up and read out the inscription; of course we Nereids kept quiet; what should we do in such company? But they all made for it, each insisting that it was hers; and if Zeus had not parted them, there would have been a battle. He would not decide the matter himself, though they asked him to. 'Go, all of you, to Ida,' he said, 'to the son of Priam [Paris]; he is a man of taste, quite capable of picking out the beauty; he will be no bad judge.'
Isocrates 10.41-42 (tr. George Norlin) picks up the thread of the story:
For not much later when strife arose among the goddesses for the prize of beauty, and Alexander [Paris], son of Priam, was appointed judge and when Hera offered him sovereignty over all Asia, Athena victory in war, and Aphrodite Helen as his wife, finding himself unable to make a distinction regarding the charms of their persons, but overwhelmed by the sight of the goddesses, Alexander, compelled to make a choice of their proffered gifts, chose living with Helen before all else.
The Judgment of Paris, of course, started the Trojan War, when Helen's husband Menelaus wanted her back.

What about the trick of the fair youth (fraus iuvenis pulchri) in Symphosius' riddle? Probably this refers to the story of Atalanta. See Apollodorus 3.9.2 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
Grown to womanhood, Atalanta kept herself a virgin, and hunting in the wilderness she remained always under arms. The centaurs Rhoecus and Hylaeus tried to force her, but were shot down and killed by her. She went moreover with the chiefs to hunt the Calydonian boar, and at the games held in honor of Pelias she wrestled with Peleus and won. Afterwards she discovered her parents, but when her father would have persuaded her to wed, she went away to a place that might serve as a racecourse, and, having planted a stake three cubits high in the middle of it, she caused her wooers to race before her from there, and ran herself in arms; and if the wooer was caught up, his due was death on the spot, and if he was not caught up, his due was marriage. When many had already perished, Melanion came to run for love of her, bringing golden apples from Aphrodite, and being pursued he threw them down, and she, picking up the dropped fruit, was beaten in the race. So Melanion married her.
In other words, Atalanta ran a hoplitodromos, a foot race in armor, like the competitors in the Olympic games. If she caught her competitor in the race, she slew him. If she lost the race, she gave her hand in marriage to the winner. Melanion (aka Milanion or Hippomenes) distracted Atalanta by throwing golden apples and so won the race.

Finally, what does Symphosius mean by multarum cura sororum (care of many sisters)? Probably the sisters are the Hesperides,
the famous guardians of the golden apples which Ge had given to Hera at her marriage with Zeus. Their names are Aegle, Erytheia, Hesperia, and Arethusa, but their descent is not the same in the different traditions; sometimes they are called the daughters of Night or Erebus (Hes. Theog. 215; Hygin. Fab. init.), sometimes of Phorcys and Ceto (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. iv.1399), sometimes of Atlas and Hesperis, whence their names Atlantides or Hesperides (Diod. iv.27), and sometimes of Hesperus, or of Zeus and Themis. (Serv. ad Aen. iv.484; Schol. ad Eurip. Hipp. 742.) Instead of the four Hesperides mentioned above, some traditions know only of three, viz. Hespere, Erytheis, and Aegle, or Aegle, Arethusa, and Hesperusa or Hesperia (Apollon. Rhod. iv.1427; Serv. l.c.; Stat. Theb. ii.281); whereas others mention seven. (Diod. l.c.; Hygin. Fab. init.) The poets describe them as possessed of the power of sweet song. (Hes. Theog. 518; Orph. Fragm. 17; Eurip. Herc. Fur. 394; Apollon. Rhod. iv.1399.) In the earliest legends, these nymphs are described as living on the river Oceanus, in the extreme west (Hes. Theog. 334, &c., 518; Eurip. Hipp. 742); but the later attempts to fix their abodes, and the geographical position of their gardens, have led poets and geographers to different parts of Libya, as in the neighbourhood of Cyrene, Mount Atlas, or the islands on the western coast of Libya (Plin. H.N. vi.31, 36; Virg. Aen. iv.480; Pomp. Mela, iii.10), or even to the northern extremity of the earth, beyond the wind Boreas, among the Hyperboreans. In their watch over the golden apples they were assisted or superintended by the dragon Ladon.
William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, s.v. Hesperides.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Avocation: An Auto-Antonym?

Bergen Evans and Cornelia Evans, A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (New York: Random House, 1957), s.v. avocation:
In America the older meanings of the words are kept: A man's vocation is his ordinary occupation, business, or profession (that particular state or function to which it has pleased God to call him. His avocation is that which calls him away from his vocation—some minor occupation or hobby.

Colloquially in America and more frequently in England, avocation is sometimes used as if it meant vocation, but this is wrong.
If the meaning "profession" is accepted, avocation is an auto-antonym, a word that can mean the opposite of itself.

See also William B. Hodgson, Errors in the Use of English, 4th ed. (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), p. 7:
AVOCATION has entered English straight from the Latin, where avocatio, avocator, and avocare (ab, 'from,' and vocare, 'to call') alike convey the notion of calling off, diverting, distracting, or interrupting, as Senectus avocat a rebus gerendis, 'Old age calls us away from the conduct of business' (CIC., Sen. 5, 15). In this sense avocation was exclusively employed by our writers of the seventeenth and the earlier part of the eighteenth century, being often opposed to vocation (that state to which men are called). During the last hundred years, however, these words, as distinct etymologically as abrogate and arrogate, have become confounded—a confusion that Skeat unwillingly accepts, defining avocation by 'pursuit, employment, business,' while pointing out that the prefix a- is the Latin ab, and not ad, 'to.' .... Briefly, the case is this: If avocation and vocation are to be held synonymous, English is poorer by a useful, and richer by a superfluous, term.
An interesting criminal action for Sabbath-breaking turned on the use of avocation to mean vocation in an Indiana statute:
It may be true that the draftsman of the bill was somewhat unfortunate in the choice of language by the employment of the word "avocation," for vocation. The primary meaning of the word "avocation" is a calling away, a diversion, which, of course, is the very opposite of vocation, or occupation. Good writers do not use the word (in the singular number) in the sense in which it is evidently employed in the statute.
Ross v. State, 9 Ind. App. 35, 38, 36 N.E. 167, 168 (1894).

Related posts:


Friday, December 26, 2008


Another Room of Life

Donald Culross Peattie, Flowering Earth, Chapter 3:
What we love, when on a summer day we step into the coolness of a wood, is that its boughs close up behind us. We are escaped, into another room of life. The wood does not live as we live, restless and running, panting after flesh, and even in sleep tossing with fears. It is aloof from thoughts and instincts; it responds, but only to the sun and wind, the rock and the stream—never, though you shout yourself hoarse, to propaganda, temptation, reproach, or promises. You cannot mount a rock and preach to a tree how it shall attain the kingdom of heaven. It is already closer to it, up there, than you will grow to be. And you cannot make it see the light, since in the tree's sense you are blind. You have nothing to bring it, for all the forest is self-sufficient; if you burn it, cut, hack through it with a blade, it angrily repairs the swathe with thorns and weeds and fierce suckers. Later there are good green leaves again, toiling, adjusting, breathing—forgetting you.
Ivan Shishkin, Mixed Forest

Related posts:

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Christmas Cheer

John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons 8.17 (Religious Joy, for Christmas Day, excerpt):
But when we think of this day's Festival, and what we commemorate upon it, a new and very different scene opens upon us. First, we are reminded that though this life must ever be a life of toil and effort, yet that, properly speaking, we have not to seek our highest good. It is found, it is brought near us, in the descent of the Son of God from His Father's bosom to this world. It is stored up among us on earth. No longer need men of ardent minds weary themselves in the pursuit of what they fancy may be chief goods; no longer have they to wander about and encounter peril in quest of that unknown blessedness to which their hearts naturally aspire, as they did in heathen times. The text speaks to them and to all, "Unto you," it says, "is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

Nor, again, need we go in quest of any of those things which this vain world calls great and noble. Christ altogether dishonoured what the world esteems, when He took on Himself a rank and station which the world despises. No lot could be more humble and more ordinary than that which the Son of God chose for Himself.

So that we have on the Feast of the Nativity these two lessons—instead of anxiety within and despondence without, instead of a weary search after great things,—to be cheerful and joyful; and, again, to be so in the midst of those obscure and ordinary circumstances of life which the world passes over and thinks scorn of.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Fossil Poetry

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Poet (1844):
For though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.
Richard Chenevix Trench, On the Study of Words (1851), Lecture I:
Emerson has somewhere characterized language as 'fossil poetry.' He evidently means that just as in some fossil, curious and beautiful shapes of vegetable or animal life, the graceful fern or the finely vertebrated lizard, such as now, it may be, have been extinct for thousands of years, are permanently bound up with the stone, and rescued from that perishing which would else have been their portion,—so in words are beautiful thoughts and images, the imagination and the feeling of past ages, of men long since in their graves, of men whose very names have perished, there are these, which might so easily have perished too, preserved and made safe for ever! The phrase is a striking one; the only fault one I can find with it is that it is too narrow. Language may be, and indeed is, this 'fossil poetry'; but it may be affirmed of it with exactly the same truth that it is fossil ethics, or fossil history.

Language then is 'fossil poetry'; in other words, we are not to look for the poetry which a people may possess only in its poems, or its poetical customs, traditions, and beliefs. Many a single word also is itself a concentrated poem, having stores of poetical thought and imagery laid up in it. Examine it, and it will be found to rest on some deep analogy of things natural and things spiritual; bringing those to illustrate and to give an abiding form and body to these. The image may have grown trite and ordinary now: perhaps through the help of this very word may have become so entirely the heritage of all, as to seem little better than a commonplace; yet not the less he who first discerned the relation, and devised the new word which should express it, or gave to an old, never before but literally used, this new and figurative sense, this man was in his degree a poet—a maker, that is, of things which were not before, which would not have existed but for him, or for some other gifted with equal powers. He who spake first of a 'dilapidated' fortune, what an image must have risen up before his mind's eye of some falling house or palace, stone detaching itself from stone, till all had gradually sunk into desolation and ruin. Or he who to that Greek word which signifies 'that which will endure to be held up to and judged by the sunlight,' gave first its ethical signification of 'sincere,' 'truthful,' or as we sometimes say, 'transparent,' can we deny to him the poet's feeling and eye? Many a man had gazed, we are sure, at the jagged and indented mountain ridges of Spain, before one called them 'sierras' or 'saws,' the name by which now they are known, as Sierra Morena, Sierra Nevada; but that man coined his imagination into a word which will endure as long as the everlasting hills which he named.
William Dwight Whitney, Language and the Study of Language: Twelve Lectures on the Principles of Linguistic Science (1867), Lecture II:
Once more, a noteworthy and often-remarked similarity exists between the facts and methods of geology and those of linguistic study. The science of language is, as it were, the geology of the most modern period, the Age of Man, having for its task to construct the history of development of the earth and its inhabitants from the time when the proper geological record remains silent; when man, no longer a mere animal, begins by the aid of language to bear witness respecting his own progress and that of the world about him. The remains of ancient speech are like strata deposited in bygone ages, telling of the forms of life then existing, and of the circumstances which determined or affected them; while words are as rolled pebbles, relics of yet more ancient formations, or as fossils, whose grade indicates the progress of organic life, and whose resemblances and relations show the correspondence or sequence of the different strata; while, everywhere, extensive denudation has marred the completeness of the record, and rendered impossible a detailed exhibition of the whole course of development.
For more on this subject, see Dennis Taylor, Hardy's Literary Language and Victorian Philology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 281-287 (The Geological Analogy).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008



Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, interviewed by George Stephanopoulos (Dec. 21, 2008):
And we'll look at everything from college affordability to after-school programs. The things that affect people's daily lives. I will be the guy honchoing that policy....One of the jobs that I've been asked to help honcho is to get a consensus or get an agreement or disagreement, if that's what it is, among the foreign policy team....Well, the way you do that is it's ultimately the national security adviser's job. I'm just the guy that's honchoing this baseline study.
I thought honcho could be only a noun, not a verb, but I was wrong. There are two definitions of the word in American Speech 30 (1955) 118:
1. n. A man in charge. (This is a Japanese word translated roughly as 'Chief officer', brought back from Japan by fliers stationed there during the occupation and during the Korean fighting...) 2. v. To direct a detail or operation.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Querk and Twank

Thomas Hardy, letter to Joseph Wright, quoted in Dennis Taylor, Hardy's Literary Language and Victorian Philology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 122:
To "querk" is to complain without good cause; to "twank" is to complain with real cause.
Most of my complaining is querking, not twanking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The Sauce and the Fish

Byron, Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination, 53-58:
Dull as the pictures, which adorn their halls,
They think all learning fix'd within their walls:
In manners rude, in foolish forms precise,
All modern arts affecting to despise;
Yet prizing Bentley's, Brunck's, or Porson's note,
More than the verse on which the critic wrote.
This reminds me of a bon mot by Joseph Scaliger on Isaac Casaubon, mentioned in J.E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), p. 209:
The ethical interest is strong in his Persius (1605), on which he had lectured at Geneva and Montpellier, and his commentary on the Stoic satirist, of which Scaliger said that the sauce was better than the meat, was reprinted in Germany as late as 1833, and has been ultimately merged in Conington's edition.
In a footnote on "the sauce was better than the meat," Sandys refers to Ep. 104 (unavailable to me). According to Scaligeriana sive Excerpta ex ore Josephi Scaligeri (The Hague: Vlacq, 1666), p. 64, what Scaliger actually said was, "Au Perse de Casaubon la saulce vaut mieux que le poison," that is, "In the Persius of Casaubon, the sauce is worth more than the fish."

One could classify commentaries into three categories. In the first category are commentaries alone, without the text being commented on, e.g. Nisbet and Hubbard on Horace's Odes, or G.S. Kirk et al. on Homer's Iliad. In the second category the texts are printed first, followed by the notes, e.g. J.E.B. Mayor on Juvenal, or James Diggle on the Characters of Theophrastus. In the third category the commentary appears below the text on the same page, e.g. R.C. Jebb on Sophocles, or Arthur Stanley Pease on Cicero's De Natura Deorum. Of these three categories, I find the third the most aesthetically pleasing, especially when there is a single line of the ancient text floating above two columns of commentary in smaller print. Here is an example of what I mean, from Pease's commentary:

Pease described his motivation and method in compiling commentaries of this sort:
I will confess that I am by nature a collector, that I began with marbles and horse-chestnuts, advanced to postage stamps, continued with botany and books, and at all times have gathered facts and occasionally ideas.

These two latter items, in lack of sufficient cranial space for dead storage, I enter methodically on 3 x 5 slips of paper. When enough of a kind are amassed, they are outspread, classified, digested, written down, dehydrated, and lo! an article, or more rarely a book, to be perused by some lone watcher in Czechoslovakia or beside the Bay of Biscay.
Quoted in J.P. Elder et al., "Arthur Stanley Pease 1881-1964," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965) ix.

We catch another glimpse of how Pease worked in the Preface to his commentary on Cicero's De Natura Deorum (p. vii, n. 3), where he quotes another great commentator, W. Headlam, Herodas (1922), p. ix:
There is only one way: learn your author by heart—every word, and then set to work to read. Many dull authors must be dredged.
Some denigrate this type of scholarship. See, for example, the dismissive remarks of René Wellek, Concepts of Criticism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), pp. 256-257:
If we analyze the state of scholarship at the beginning of the twentieth century, we recognize that the reaction since the twenties has been directed against three or four fairly distinct traits of traditional literary studies. There is, first, petty antiquarianism: "research" into the minutest details of the lives and quarrels of authors, parallel hunting, and source digging—in short, the accumulation of isolated facts, usually defended on the vague belief that all of these bricks will sometime be used in a great pyramid of learning. It is this characteristic of traditional scholarship that has elicited most derisive criticism, but it is in itself, a harmless and even useful human activity that dates back at least as far as the Alexandrian scholars and the medieval monks. There will always be pedants and antiquaries; and their services, properly sifted, will always be needed.
For the pure pleasure of reading, I prefer the pedantic and antiquarian labors of scholars like Pease to the critical theories of Wellek and his ilk.

I see from Pease's preface (p. viii) that two of his students were my teachers. So far as I can remember, they never mentioned Pease in my hearing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Why Hold Ye So My Heart?

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873):
Dank fens of cedar, hemlock-branches gray
With tress and trail of mosses wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitch-pine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;
Remnants of rain and droppings of decay,—
Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday,
The faded glimmer of a sunshine set?
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?
Far from the roar of day, beneath your boughs
Fresh griefs beat tranquilly, and loves and vows
Grow green in your gray shadows, dearer far
Even than all lovely lights, and roses are?
Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), Woodland Glen

Related posts:


Latin Auto-Antonyms: Compounds of In

Arthur Stanley Pease, commentary on Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.10.24:
inhabitabilis: two adjectives identical in form have directly opposite meanings, as with a series of other compounds of in: inauratus, incoctus, incorporatus, incruentatus, indictus, inflexus, infractus, infrenatus, iniunctus, innatus, innutritus, inquisitus, insessus, insuetus, inustus, investigabilis, and invocatus. So one form, derived from inhabito, means "habitable," the other (used here) is the negative of habitabilis (as in Mela, 1, 11; 3, 71; Plin. N.H. 2, 245; 6, 53 = ἀοίκητος).
Related posts:


Thursday, December 18, 2008


Eastman Johnson

Until recently I'd never heard of Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), an artist born in my native state of Maine. Here are two of his paintings:

The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln

Dropping Off

Other works by Eastman Johnson that portray readers include:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Cold Outdoors, Warm Indoors

Robert Louis Stevenson, Winter:
In rigorous hours, when down the iron lane
The redbreast looks in vain
For hips and haws,
Lo, shining flowers upon my window-pane
The silver pencil of the winter draws.

When all the snowy hill
And the bare woods are still;
When snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,
And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,
Lo, by the hearth, the laughter of the logs -
More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!
Charles Burchfield, Frosted Windows

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Hitting with Shoes

Brian Palmer, "Voting With Their Feet. What do Iraqis find so insulting about shoes and feet?," Slate (Dec. 15, 2008):
During a Sunday press conference in Baghdad, an angry Iraqi journalist hurled insults, and his shoes, at President Bush. According to the New York Times, "Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq." Why is that?

Because they're so dirty. The degree of insult seems to be an idiosyncratic cultural development, as opposed to one that derives from clear textual sources. There's no particular mention in the Quran or any of the Hadith of shoe-throwing or debasement of enemies by exposing them to feet. And historical origins for the tradition are not easily found. However it started, Arabs—and perhaps Iraqis in particular—throw their shoes to indicate that the target is no better than dirt.
I don't know when or where the custom of throwing shoes arose, but examples of beating with shoes occur in the Arabian Nights, e.g. Night 382 (tr. Richard Burton):
She replied, "O Man, hold thyself secure therefrom for an he bespeak me with a single word I will slipper him with my papoosh."582

582 Arab. or rather Egypt. "Bábúj," from "Bábúg," from the Pers. "Pay-púsh" = foot-clothing, vulg. "Pápúsh." To beat with shoe, slipper, or pipe-stick is most insulting; the idea, I believe, being that these articles are not made, like the rod and the whip, for corporal chastisement, and are therefore used by way of slight. We find the phrase "he slippered the merchant" in old diaries, e.g. Sir William Ridges, 1683, Hakluyts, mdccclxxvii.
See also Night 858 (tr. Richard Burton):
Now when the Kazis heard this, they all cried out, saying, "Throw this hound on the ground and come down on his face with your sandals and beat him with sore blows, for his offence is unpardonable." So they pulled off his silken gear and clad him in his wife's raiment of hair-cloth, after which they threw him down and plucked out his beard and belaboured him about the face with sandals.
In classical mythology, Omphale beat Hercules with a slipper. See Terence, The Eunuch 1027-1028 (tr. H.T. Riley):
TH. Why any the less so, than Hercules served Omphale. GN. The precedent pleases me. (Aside). I only wish I may see your head stroked down with a slipper.

TH. qui minu' quam Hercules servivit Omphalae? GN. exemplum placet.
(utinam tibi conmitigari videam sandalio caput!)
Likewise Lucian, The Way to Write History 10 (tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler):
No doubt you have seen some picture of him: he is Omphale's slave, dressed up in an absurd costume, his lion-skin and club transferred to her, as though she were the true Heracles, while he, in saffron robe and purple jacket, is combing wool and wincing under Omphale's slipper.
and Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods 13.2 (tr. H.W. and F.G. Fowler):
Anyhow, it would be enough to mention that I was never a slave like you, never combed wool in Lydia, masquerading in a purple shawl and being slippered by an Omphale.
For other examples of this method of punishment, see Turpilius, fragment 147:
She used to soften my wretched pate with her sandal.

Misero mihi mitigabat sandalio caput.
Persius 5.168-169 (tr. Lewis Evans):
"But do you think, Davus, she will weep at being forsaken? "Nonsense! boy, you will be beaten with her red slipper.

'sed censen plorabit, Dave, relicta?'
'nugaris. solea, puer, obiurgabere rubra.'
Juvenal 6.610-612 (tr. Niall Rudd):
One man gives her magical spells, another will sell her
Thessalian potions which so impair her husband's sanity
that she can slipper his buttocks.

hic magicos adfert cantus, hic Thessala vendit
philtra, quibus valeat mentem vexare mariti
et solea pulsare natis.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Ancestors and Sportsmen

Theodore Dalrymple, "The Quivering Upper Lip," City Journal 18.4 (Autumn, 2008), quotes some excerpts from Les silences du Colonel Bramble by André Maurois. Apparently Dalrymple translated the snippets himself. They struck my fancy, and I wanted to make note of them in here in my commonplace book, otherwise known as my blog.

The translator's name doesn't appear on the front page of André Maurois, The Silence of Colonel Bamble (London: John Lane, 1919), in which I find the following on pp. 5-6:
"But don't you find yourself, Aurelle," went on Major Parker, "that intelligence is over-estimated with you? It is certainly more useful to know how to box than how to write. You would like Eton to go in for nothing but learning? It is just like asking a trainer of racehorses to be interested in circus horses. We don't go to school to learn, but to be soaked in the prejudices of our class, without which we should be useless and unhappy. We are like the young Persians Herodotus talks about, who up to the age of twenty only learnt three sciences: to ride, to shoot and to tell the truth."

"That may be," said Aurelle, "but just see, major, how inconsistent you are. You despise learning and you quote Herodotus. Better still, I caught you the other day in the act of reading a translation of Xenophon in your dug-out. Very few Frenchmen, I assure you—"

"That's quite different," said the major. "The Greeks and Romans interest us, not as objects of study, but as ancestors and sportsmen. We are the direct heirs of the mode of life of the Greeks and of the Roman Empire. Xenophon amuses me because he is a perfect type of the English gentleman, with his hunting and fishing stories, and descriptions of battles. When I read in Cicero: 'Scandal in the Colonial Office. Grave accusations against Sir Marcus Varro, Governor-General of Sicily,' you can well understand that that sounds to me like old family history. And who was your Alcibiades, pray, but a Winston Churchill, without the hats?"
Marcus Varro was never "Governor-General of Sicily," but Gaius Verres was — it is unclear whether Maurois or Major Parker made the mistake. If Major Parker made the mistake, perhaps he did so intentionally, to show his disdain for learning.

Sunday, December 14, 2008



Emily Dickinson:
It sifts from Leaden Sieves —
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road —

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain —
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again —

It reaches to the Fence —
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces —
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack — and Stem —
A Summer's empty Room —
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them—

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen —
Then stills its Artisans — like Ghosts —
Denying they have been —
Bruce Crane, Winter on Long Island

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Thrippsy Pillivinx

Letter of Edward Lear to Evelyn Baring:
Thrippsy pillivinx,

Inky tinky pobblebockle abblesquabs? — Flosky! beebul trimble flosky! — Okul scratchabibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity amsky flamsky ramsky damsky crocklefether squiggs.

Flinkywisty pomm,
Here a copy of the autograph, from Queery Leary Nonsense (London: Mills & Boon, 1911), p. 6:

Related posts:


Rolling in Dough

Anthony Bailey, Vermeer: A View of Delft (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), p. 40:
Adriaen Brouwer, the Flemish artist who worked in Holland for part of his short life (1605-38), was thrilled on one occasion to receive 200 guilders for a picture. When he got home, he poured the money on his bed and rolled among the silver pieces. Then, Houbraken said, he spent most of it overnight and felt relieved that he had 'rid himself of all that ballast'.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Peaceful Generations

Edgar Quinet, Introduction à la philosophie de l'histoire de l'humanité (tr. Richard Ellmann in James Joyce, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 664):
Today as in the time of Pliny and Columella the hyacinth disports in Wales, the periwinkle in Illyria, the daisy on the ruins in Numantia and while around them the cities have changed masters and names, while some have ceased to exist, while the civilizations have collided with each other and smashed, their peaceful generations have passed through the ages and have come up to us, fresh and laughing as on the days of battles.

Aujourd'hui comme aux temps de Pline et de Columelle la jacinthe se plaît dans les Gaules, la pervenche en Illyrie, la marguerite sur les ruines de Numance et pendant qu'autour d'elles les villes ont changé de maîtres et de noms, que plusieurs sont entrées dans le néant, que les civilisations se sont choquées et brisées, leurs paisible générations ont traversé les âges et ont traversé les âges et se sont succédé l'une à l'autre jusqu'à nous, fraîches et riantes commes aux jours des batailles.
I haven't read either Quinet or Ellmann. I owe the French quotation (slightly altered) and the reference to Kenneth Haynes, English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; rpt. 2007), p. 30 and n. 69 on p. 179. Thanks very much to the friend who gave me Hayne's book.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Brave New World

Robert Burchfield, Unlocking the English Language (London: Faber and Faber, 1989; rpt. New York: Hill and Wang, 1991), p. 88:
An English-language dictionary, even one as large and hospitable as the OED, cannot accommodate all the members of certain classes of words and conversely, must exclude all, or all but a few, of other classes.
Julie Henry, "Words associated with Christianity and British history taken out of children's dictionary," Telegraph (Dec. 8, 2008):
Oxford University Press has removed words like "aisle", "bishop", "chapel", "empire" and "monarch" from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like "blog", "broadband" and "celebrity". Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.

The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society.
Among the words removed are: acorn, ash, beech, chestnut, dandelion, devil, dwarf, elf, fern, gorse, heather, holly, ivy, manger, monk, newt, nun, ox, pasture, primrose, raven, sin, starling, sycamore, walnut, willow.

Among the words added are: bullet point, bungee jumping, chatroom, cut and paste, EU, Euro, MP3 player, voicemail.

Hat tip: Dennis Mangan.

Monday, December 08, 2008


A Catalogue of Trees

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto I, Stanzas 7-9:
Enforst to seeke some couert nigh at hand,
A shadie groue not far away they spide,
That promist ayde the tempest to withstand:
Whose loftie trees yclad with sommers pride,
Did spred so broad, that heauens light did hide,
Not perceable with power of any starre:
And all within were pathes and alleies wide,
With footing worne, and leading inward farre:
Faire harbour that them seemes; so in they entred arre.

And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
Ioying to heare the birdes sweete harmony,
Which therein shrouded from the tempest dred,
Seemd in their song to scorne the cruell sky.
Much can they prayse the trees so straight and hy,
The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,
The vine-prop Elme, the Poplar neuer dry,
The builder Oake, sole king of forrests all,
The Aspine good for staues, the Cypresse funerall.

The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours
And Poets sage, the Firre that weepeth still,
The Willow worne of forlorne Paramours,
The Eugh obedient to the benders will,
The Birch for shaftes, the Sallow for the mill,
The Mirrhe sweete bleeding in the bitter wound,
The warlike Beech, the Ash for nothing ill,
The fruitfull Oliue, and the Platane round,
The caruer Holme, the Maple seeldom inward sound.


A Bon Mot of Demetrius the Cynic

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 91.19 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Our friend Demetrius is wont to put it cleverly when he says: "For me the talk of ignorant men is like the rumblings which issue from the belly. For," he adds, "what difference does it make to me whether such rumblings come from above or from below?"

Eleganter Demetrius noster solet dicere eodem loco sibi esse voces inperitorum quo ventre redditos crepitus. 'Quid enim' inquit 'mea, susum isti an deosum sonent?'
Demetrius was referring to the noise accompanying flatulence, not borborygmus.

On the similarity between what issues from the mouth and the anus, see also Catullus 97.1-5 (tr. F.W. Cornish):
I swear I didn't think it mattered one straw whether I sniffed Aemilius's head or his tail: neither was better or worse than t'other; or rather his tail was the better and smarter of the two, for it has no teeth.

Non (ita me di ament) quicquam referre putavi,
  utrumne os an culum olfacerem Aemilio,
nilo mundius hoc nihiloque immundius illud.
  verum etiam culus mundior et melior,
nam sine dentibus est.
Three epigrams by Nicarchus make the same point.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


A Winter's Afternoon

Donald Culross Peattie, An Almanac for Moderns (December 30):
It is a fine thing, of a winter's afternoon, to be a man, a fortunate man, reading in an old Greek's stately thoughts, out of a well bound book, while the snow falls, pure and decent, and the birds, his friends, come to his door. But only the accidents of life have placed him there, and not in a smoke-filled street where in others' eyes he might be forced to read his own despairs, his own brute thoughts.
Charles Burchfield, Early December Snow


Duodecimate, Vicesimate, Etc.

A correspondent writes:
Anent decimation, it is a word I suspect we both have trouble using these days, being acutely conscious of its literal & historical sense. I have not heard it used as I would wish it were used in 25 years. So we are the odd ducks out, and the loose sense has clearly won the day. I strike back with humor when I can, using new coinages in contexts where they will be seen as humor, not pedantry. If the stock market drops something over 8%, I lament the duodecimation! A 5% drop vicesimates the market. You get the idea. We cannot prescribe anything to anyone, but maybe some people will notice how we play with language and be amused enough to follow suit.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Showing Respect

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

quattuor namque erant apud Romanos quae ad honorificentiam pertinebant: equo desilire, caput aperire, via decedere, adsurgere. hoc etiam praecones praeeuntes magistratus clamare dicebantur.
Plutarch mentions three of these marks of respect (dismounting, standing up, and baring the head) when he describes the behavior of Sulla towards Pompey.

Plutarch, Life of Crassus 6.5-6 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Sulla paid him honours not very often accorded to men who were older and of equal rank with himself, rising at his approach, uncovering his head, and saluting him as Imperator.

ὥστε Σύλλαν, ἃ πρεσβυτέροις καὶ ἰσοτίμοις οὐ πάνυ πολλάκις παρεῖχεν, ὑπεξανίστασθαι προσιόντος αὐτοῦ καὶ κεφαλὴν ἀποκαλύπτεσθαι καὶ προσειπεῖν αὐτοκράτορα.
Plutarch, Life of Pompey 8.2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
For when Sulla saw him advancing with an admirable army of young and vigorous soldiers elated and in high spirits because of their successes, he alighted from off his horse, and after being saluted, as was his due, with the title of Imperator, he saluted Pompey in return as Imperator.

ὡς γὰρ εἶδεν αὐτὸν ὁ Σύλλας προσιόντα καὶ τὴν στρατιὰν παρεστῶσαν εὐανδρίᾳ τε θαυμαστὴν καὶ διὰ τὰς κατορθώσεις ἐπηρμένην καὶ ἱλαράν, ἀποπηδήσας τοῦ ἵππου καὶ προσαγορευθείς, ὡς εἰκός, αὐτοκράτωρ ἀντιπροσηγόρευσεν αὐτοκράτορα τὸν Πομπήϊον.
Plutarch, Life of Pompey 8.3 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
And the rest of his behaviour to Pompey was consonant with his first tokens of friendliness; he would rise to his feet when Pompey approached, and uncover his head before him, things which he was rarely seen to do for any one else, although there were many about him who were of high rank.

καὶ τἆλλα δὲ ἦν ὁμολογοῦντα ταῖς πρώταις φιλοφροσύναις, ὑπεξανισταμένου τε προσιόντι τῷ Πομπηΐῳ καὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς ἀπάγοντος τὸ ἱμάτιον, ἃ πρὸς ἄλλον οὐ ῥᾳδίως ἑωρᾶτο ποιῶν, καίπερ ὄντων πολλῶν καὶ ἀγαθῶν περὶ αὐτόν.
I don't see any of these passages cited in the index to Carl Sittl, Die Gebärden der Griechen und Römer (Leipzig: Teubner, 1890).

Related post: Marks of Respect (standing up and dismounting).

Friday, December 05, 2008


Might Makes Right

Plutarch, Life of Pompey 10.2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
They had been harshly used by Perpenna, but Pompey treated them all with kindness except the Mamertines in Messana. These declined his tribunal and jurisdiction on the plea that they were forbidden by an ancient law of the Romans, at which Pompey said: "Cease quoting laws to us that have swords girt about us!"


Language Requirements

Cassius Dio 60.17.4 (tr. Earnest Cary):
During the investigation of this affair, which was conducted in the senate, he [Claudius] put a question in Latin to one of the envoys who had originally been a Lycian, but had been made a Roman citizen; and when the man failed to understand what was said, he took away his citizenship, saying that it was not proper for a man to be a Roman who had no knowledge of the Romans' language.
Similarly, in the United States, one is supposed to know English before becoming a naturalized citizen:
(a) No person except as otherwise provided in this subchapter shall hereafter be naturalized as a citizen of the United States upon his own application who cannot demonstrate—

(1) an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language: Provided, That the requirements of this paragraph relating to ability to read and write shall be met if the applicant can read or write simple words and phrases to the end that a reasonable test of his literacy shall be made and that no extraordinary or unreasonable condition shall be imposed upon the applicant....
8 U.S.C. § 1423 (a)(1). So far as I can tell, there is no obligation for citizens by birth to learn English.

But a citizen ignorant of English is barred from at least one civic activity — knowledge of English is a qualification for sitting on a United States District Court jury:
(a) The chief judge of the district court, or such other district court judge as the plan may provide, on his initiative or upon recommendation of the clerk or jury commission, or the clerk under supervision of the court if the court's jury selection plan so authorizes, shall determine solely on the basis of information provided on the juror qualification form and other competent evidence whether a person is unqualified for, or exempt, or to be excused from jury service. The clerk shall enter such determination in the space provided on the juror qualification form and in any alphabetical list of names drawn from the master jury wheel. If a person did not appear in response to a summons, such fact shall be noted on said list.

(b) In making such determination the chief judge of the district court, or such other district court judge as the plan may provide, or the clerk if the court's jury selection plan so provides, shall deem any person qualified to serve on grand and petit juries in the district court unless he—

(1) is not a citizen of the United States eighteen years old who has resided for a period of one year within the judicial district;
(2) is unable to read, write, and understand the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to fill out satisfactorily the juror qualification form;
(3) is unable to speak the English language....
28 U.S.C. § 1865 (a) & (b). Some states have a similar requirement, e.g. Minnesota:
(a) The jury commissioner shall determine on the basis of information provided on the juror qualification questionnaire, supplemented if necessary, whether the prospective juror is qualified for jury service. This determination shall be entered on the questionnaire or other record designated by the court.

(b) To be qualified to serve as a juror, the prospective juror must be:
(1) A citizen of the United States.
(2) At least 18 years old.
(3) A resident of the county.
(4) Able to communicate in the English language....
Minn. R. Gen. Prac. 808.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008



R.W. Burchfield, The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), s.v. decimate:
A key word in the continuing battle between prescriptive and descriptive linguists. L. decimāre meant '(mil.) to punish every tenth man chosen by lot'. 'Punish' sometimes meant 'put to death'. In strict terms, therefore, decimate should mean 'to kill, destroy, or remove one in every ten of (something)', and it has been so used in English since the 17c. Rhetorically and loosely, as the OED expresses it, it has also been used from about the same time to mean 'to destroy or remove a large proportion of; to subject to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality'. The dispute between those who will and those who will not use decimate in its 'rhetorical or loose' sense is unresolved.
Polybius 6.38 (tr. W.R. Paton):
If the same thing ever happens to large bodies, and if entire maniples desert their posts when exceedingly hard pressed, the officers refrain from inflicting the bastinado or the death penalty on all, but find a solution of the difficulty which is both salutary and terror-striking. The tribune assembles the legion, and brings up those guilty of leaving the ranks, reproaches them sharply, and finally chooses by lots sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of the offenders, so adjusting the number thus chosen that they form as near as possible the tenth part of those guilty of cowardice. Those on whom the lot falls are bastinadoed mercilessly in the manner above described; the rest receive rations of barley instead of wheat and are ordered to encamp outside the camp on an unprotected spot. As therefore the danger and dread of drawing the fatal lot affects all equally, as it is uncertain on whom it will fall; and as the public disgrace of receiving barley rations falls on all alike, this practice is that best calculated both to inspire fear and to correct the mischief.
Plutarch, Life of Crassus 10.2-3 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Five hundred of them, moreover, who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell, thus reviving, after the lapse of many years, an ancient mode of punishing the soldiers. For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The Blessings of Plenty

The White House, Office of the First Lady, Menu for the Dinner in Honor of the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy (Nov. 14, 2008):

Fruitwood-smoked Quail with Quince Gastrique
Quinoa Risotto

Landmark Chardonnay “Damaris Reserve” 2006

Thyme-roasted Rack of Lamb
Tomato, Fennel and Eggplant Fondue
Chanterelle Jus

Shafer Cabernet “Hillside Select” 2003

Lolla Rosa, Red Oak and Endive
Cider Vinaigrette
Baked Vermont Brie with Walnut Crostini

Pear Torte
Huckleberry Sauce

Chandon Étoile Rosé


George Eliot, quoted by Peter Ackroyd, Dickens (1990), p. 648:
How can we sufficiently pity the needy unless we know fully the blessings of plenty?

Monday, December 01, 2008



Jorge Luis Borges, Talismans (tr. Alastair Reid):
A copy of the first edition of the Edda Islandorum, by Snorri, printed in Denmark.
The five volumes of the work of Schopenhauer.
The two volumes of Chapman's Odyssey.
A sword which fought in the desert.
A maté gourd with serpent feet which my great-grandfather brought from Lima.
A crystal prism.
A few eroded daguerreotypes.
A terraqueous wooden globe which Cecilia Ingenieros gave me and which belonged to her father.
A stick with a curved handle with which I walked on the plains of America, in Colombia and in Texas.
Various metal cylinders with diplomas.
The gown and mortarboard of a doctorate.
Las Empresas, by Saavedra Fajardo, bound in good-smelling Spanish board.
The memory of a morning.
Lines of Virgil and Frost.
The voice of Macedonio Fernández.
The love or the conversation of a few people.
Certainly they are talismans, but useless against the dark I cannot name, the dark I must not name.

Un ejemplar de la primera edición de la Edda Islandorum de Snorri, impresa en Dinamarca.
Los cinco tomos de la obra de Schopenhauer.
Los dos tomos de las Odiseas de Chapman.
Una espada que guerreó en el desierto.
Un mate con un pie de serpientes que mi bisabuelo trajo de Lima.
Un prisma de cristal.
Unos daguerrotipos borrosos.
Un globo terráqueo de madera que me dio Cecilia Ingenieros y que fue de su padre.
Un bastón de puño encorvado que anduvo por las llanuras de América, por Colombia y por Texas.
Varios cilindros de metal con diplomas.
La toga y el birrete de un doctorado.
Las Empresas de Saavedra Fajardo, en olorosa pasta española.
La memoria de una mañana.
Líneas de Virgilio y de Frost.
La voz de Macedonio Fernández.
El amor o el diálogo de unos pocos.
Ciertamente son talismanes, pero de nada sirven contra la sombra que no puedo nombrar, contra la sombra que no debo nombrar.
Sebastian Stoskopff, La Grande Vanité (1641, Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame)

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