Thursday, April 30, 2009


Forth I Wander, Forth I Must

A.E. Housman, More Poems, IX:
When green buds hang in the elm like dust
  And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must,
  And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
  To look at the leaves uncurled,
And stand in the fields where cuckoo-flowers
  Are lying about the world.
Phenology is "the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena," and from a phenological viewpoint, this poem fits this day, April 30. Archie Burnett, in his edition of Housman's poems, p. 431, points out that Housman, in his diary for April 30, 1891, wrote: "Lime just beginning to leaf, green buds on elm (bole)." Burnett dates the poem "Apr./May 1895."

The poet Thomas Gray, in a letter to Thomas Wharton (Pembroke, August 5, 1763), puts "lime-tree in leaf" earlier, on April 9 of that year, with "Dutch elm opens its leaf" on April 2, and "elm, willow, and ash in flower" on April 20. Housman's "cuckoo-flower" is a type of wallflower, and Gray in his letter gives April 15 as the date when "double wall-flower blows."

Related posts:


An Effect of Fear

Pseudo-Aristotle, Problems 27.3 (tr. W.S. Hett):
Why is it that in a state of anger, when the heat collects within, men become heated and bold, but in a state of fear they are in the opposite condition? Or is not the same part affected? In the case of the angry it is the heart that is affected, which is the reason why they are courageous, flushed and full of breath, as the direction of the heat is upwards. But in the case of the frightened the blood and the heat escape downwards, whence comes the loosening of the bowels.
Ben Winslow, "Teen soils self after deputy surprises him," Deseret News (April 21, 2009):
CENTERVILLE — A teenager suspected of car burglary was so surprised when he opened a car door to find a police officer sitting inside that he messed his pants, police said.


The boy dashed into a friend's house, where a party was going on, police said. Officers were let into the house where they found him — and discovered that he had soiled himself, Child said.

"You could smell him," Taylor said. "He told us, 'Yeah, I crapped my pants.'"
Hat tip: my son.

Related post: The Smell of Fear.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009



The Century Dictionary defines synaesthesia, or synesthesia, as "The production of a sensation in one place when another place is stimulated." According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word means "A phenomenon in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as the hearing of a sound resulting in the visualization of a color."

Baudelaire in Correspondences and Rimbaud in Voyelles explored the phenomenon. In Theophanies, I briefly discussed the synesthesia in Revelation 1.12 (tr. David E. Aune):
Then I turned to see the voice speaking to me.

Καὶ ἐπέστρεψα βλέπειν τὴν φωνὴν ἥτις ἐλάλει μετ’ ἐμοῦ.
Another example occurs at Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 21-22:
where you shall see neither voice nor form of any mortal man

ἵν᾽ οὔτε φωνὴν οὔτε του μορφὴν βροτῶν
Mark Griffith, in his commentary on Prometheus Bound (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 87 (on line 22 ὄψηι), has a good note:
strictly this can apply only to μορφὴν, not to φωνὴν; but such 'synaesthetic' metaphor is not uncommon in Greek poetry, e.g. Hom. Od. 9.166...ἐς γαῖαν ἐλεύσσομεν ἐγγὺς ἐόντων / καπνόν τ᾽ αὐτῶν τε φθογγὴν ὀίων τε καὶ αἰγῶν. Aesch. Th. 104 κτύπον δέδορκα, Soph. OT 186 παιὰν δὲ λάμπει, Virg. Aen. 8.360 armenta videbant / ... mugire; see further Stanford (1) 47-62, Sansone 18-19.
The modern references are to W.B. Stanford, Greek Metaphor: Studies in Theory and Practice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936), and David Sansone, Aeschylean Metaphors for Intellectual Activity (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1975) = Hermes Einzelschriften, 35, to which could be added C.P. Segal, "Synaesthesia in Sophocles," Illinois Classical Studies 2 (1977) 88-96; Christoph Catrein, Vertauschte Sinne: Untersuchungen zur Synästhesie in der römischen Dichtung (München: K.G. Saur, 2003), reviewed by E.J. Kenney in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.46; and Benjamin Stevens, "The Scent of Language and Social Synaesthesia at Rome," Classical World 101.2 (2008) 159-171. I haven't read any of these.

See also the commentary of N. Wecklein (tr. F.D. Allen) on Prometheus Bound (Boston: Ginn, 1893), p. 35 (reading ὄψει):
belongs by zeugma to φωνὴν as well as μορφὴν: neither a voice (shalt thou hear) nor yet a form shalt thou see. Cp. Suppl. 1006 πρὸς ταῦτα μὴ πάθωμεν ὧν πολὺς πόνος, πολὺς δὲ πόντος εἳνεκ᾽ ἠρόθη δορί. 'Frequentissime hoc fit ubi grammatici αἴσθησιν ἀντὶ αἰσθήσεως poni aiunt, quibus in locis cum nomine notio verbi congeneris tacite comprehenditur' (Lobeck).
I bought a copy of Wecklein's commentary at a local bookstore this past weekend for $2.00, slightly more than the $1.40 it originally cost in 1893. Of course, Griffith's commentary is more up to date, but the format of Wecklein is the kind I prefer, a few lines of text over twin columns of commentary on each page.

For a more unusual example of synesthesia, see Patrick Leigh Fermor, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (rpt. New York: New York Review of Books, 2006), p. 221 (with footnote):
"It's nearly ready!" Marko exulted. He sprang to his feet and advanced to the middle of the firelit room rubbing his hands and almost dancing with contagious delight. "Just listen to that wonderful smell!"*

*By an odd demotic usage, smells are acoustically perceived: "Akou tin miroudiá!": "Listen to the smell!"


The Planets

Thanks to Daniel, The Philemonasmist, who comments in an email on Venus, the Bringer of Peace:
Unfamiliar with the source cited in the Wikipedia article's footnote, I can't say whether that source is in error or the person quoting from it, but in either case, Holst seems to have relied on Leo's text The Art of Synthesis, not What is a Horoscope?. The former is volume IV in his "serious"/detailed series of works aimed at the practicing or professional astrologer, whereas What is a Horoscope and How is it Cast? was #2 in his series of "Pocket Manuals" meant for a more popular audience. After the preliminary chapters of TAoS, Leo dedicates a chapter to each planet, also giving each such chapter a subtitle in the same fashion as Holst would later do with his compositions -- and Neptune has the same title in both the book and in Holst's suite. (The planetary chapters are: 4. The Sun, Life Giver; 5. The Moon, Mother; 6. Mercury, the Thinker; 7. Venus, the Unifier; 8. Mars, the Energiser; 9. Jupiter, the Uplifter; 10. Saturn, the Subduer; 11. Uranus, the Awakener; 12. Neptune, the Mystic. He also had three other volumes, each based on an astrological lecture he'd presented, with titles Mars: the War Lord, Saturn: the Reaper and Jupiter: the Preserver.) The Gustav Holst site indicates that he had a copy of The Art of Synthesis in his library.

Born William Frederick Allan, by the way, he apparently agreed with your idea that Leo's an appropriate name for an astrologer; it's said he chose it as it was his "sun sign".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Thanatophobia and Thanatopsis

John Dunning, The Bookwoman's Last Fling (New York: Scribner, 2006), p. 174:
"Sure," I said. "It's the fear of death. I believe it's called thanaphobia."
I believe differently — it's called thanatophobia, not thanaphobia. The word is a compound, from θάνατος (thanatos = death) and -φοβία (-phobia = fear).

From thanatos (death) and opsis (sight, view) comes Thanatopsis (contemplation of death), title of a poem by William Cullen Bryant:
To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadow green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, and when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like a quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
My father's "last bitter hour" came twenty-nine years ago, in this month and on this day. When he died, he was five years older than I am now.

Monday, April 27, 2009



Isonokami no Yakatsugu (729-781) (tr. Burton Watson):
This clear bright pond
Ruffled in the wind;
Pines that nod from their crags in greeting;
Scattered clouds that cloak the summits in shadows;
The half-risen moon which lights the vales,
When from tree to tree dart crying birds:
To these will I abandon, will I entrust my life.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


If You Ruled the World...

Vladimir Nabokov, interview with James Mossman (BBC, October 4, 1969), quoted in Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates, Nabokov's Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius (Cambridge: Zoland Books, 1999), p. 243:
If you ruled any modern industrial state absolutely, what would you abolish?

I would abolish trucks and transistors, I would outlaw the diabolical roar of motorcycles, I would wring the neck of soft music in public places. I would banish the bidet from hotel bathrooms so as to make more room for a longer bathtub. I would forbid farmers the use of insecticides and allow them to mow their meadows only once a year, in late August when everyone has safely pupated.

Friday, April 24, 2009



Walt Whitman, Me Imperturbe, ad fin.:
O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.
Happy Arbor Day.

Worthington Whittredge, Hemlocks in the Catskills

Related posts:

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Venus, the Bringer of Peace

Yesterday on the radio I heard Gustav Holst's "Venus, the Bringer of Peace," one of the movements from The Planets, and I wondered about the source of the epithet. The Wikipedia article on The Planets asserts (footnote omitted):
Holst also used Alan Leo's book What is a Horoscope? as a springboard for his own ideas, as well as for the subtitles (i.e., "The Bringer of...") for the movements.
But when I look in Alan Leo's What is a Horoscope and How is it Cast? on Google Book Search, and when I use the "Search Inside This Book" feature at, I don't find the word "bringer" anywhere. Neither does the word "peace" appear in the book.

Alan Leo, by the way, is an apt name for an astrologer, as Leo is one of signs of the Zodiac.

I don't see εἰρηνηφόρος in Liddell-Scott-Jones. In Latin, according to Lewis and Short, pacifer is "a frequent epithet of the gods," but Venus doesn't appear among the gods listed.

As goddess of love, Venus probably brings strife as often as she brings peace. One way she does bring peace, however, is to keep Mars, the Bringer of War, distracted. See, for example, the prayer to Venus at Lucretius 1.29-40 (tr. C.H. Sisson):
Bring it about meanwhile that military ferocity
On land and sea everywhere falls fast asleep.
It is only you can bring men peace and quiet
For Mars is the one who manages these affairs
And often he throws himself on your belly,
Conquered in turn because desire has wounded him.
He lies there with his handsome neck thrown back,
Gaping at you and feeding on your looks,
His breath hangs on your lips as he falls back.
As he lies there on top of your holy body
Allow your lips to speak gently to him, Goddess.
Ask him, lady, to give the Romans peace.

effice ut interea fera moenera militiai
per maria ac terras omnis sopita quiescant;
nam tu sola potes tranquilla pace iuvare
mortalis, quoniam belli fera moenera Mavors
armipotens regit, in gremium qui saepe tuum se
reiicit aeterno devictus vulnere amoris,
atque ita suspiciens tereti cervice reposta
pascit amore avidos inhians in te, dea, visus
eque tuo pendet resupini spiritus ore.
hunc tu, diva, tuo recubantem corpore sancto
circum fusa super, suavis ex ore loquellas
funde petens placidam Romanis, incluta, pacem.
Botticelli, Venus and Mars

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Amazing Patterns

Richard Wilbur, In Trackless Woods:
In trackless woods, it puzzled me to find
Four great rock maples seemingly aligned,
As if they had been set out in a row
Before some house a century ago,
To edge the property and lend some shade.
I looked to see if ancient wheels had made
Old ruts to which the trees ran parallel,
But there were none, so far as I could tell—
There'd been no roadway. Nor could I find the square
Depression of a cellar anywhere,
And so I tramped on further, to survey
Amazing patterns in a hornbeam spray
Or spirals in a pine cone, under trees
Not subject to our stiff geometries.
Roger V. Jean, Phyllotaxis: A Systemic Study in Plant Pattern Morphogenesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 1:
Phyllotaxis studies the symmetrical (asymmetrical) constructions determined by organs and parts of organs of plants, their origins, and their functions in the environment. These constructions are the phyllotactic patterns, and their building blocks, in their young stage, are called the primordia. The primordia differ in number, size, position, rate of formation, and shape, thus giving considerable diversity to phyllotactic patterns. Yet the phenomenon of phyllotaxis is simple, insofar as all the phyllotactic systems showing spirality belong to Fibonacci-type sequences of integers, characterized by the rule that every term in it is the sum of the preceding two terms, as in the Fibonacci sequence <1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13>.
Id., p. 12:
The most common pattern, the spiral pattern, also involves the insertion of a single primordium; but in this case it is possible to trace two sets or families of spirals, which run in opposite directions and which appear to cross one another. In the botanical literature these spirals are called parastichies. Two families of parastichies constitute a parastichy pair. They are formed, for example, by leaves on the stems of many plants with a cylindrical surface. The spirals made by the scales on the pineapple fruit are another example.
Id., p. 16:
Pine cones are also excellent examples. Counting the spirals on cones reveals that the number of spirals running in the right-hand direction is not the same as the number of spirals running to the left. On pine cones, a common pair of spiral numbers is 5 and 8. Other cones may show the pairs of numbers 2 and 3 or 3 and 5.
See figure 13.8 on p. 131 of R.A. Dunlap, The Golden Ratio and Fibonacci Numbers (River Edge: World Scientific, 1997), which is a "Schematic illustration of the seed bearing scales on the base of a typical pinecone. Line a shows one of the 13 clockwise spirals and line b shows one of the 8 counter clockwise spirals."

It is uncertain what amazing pattern in a hornbeam spray attracted Wilbur's attention. Perhaps it was the same pattern noticed by Thoreau in his Journal (January 25, 1852):
I am struck and attracted by the parallelism of the twigs of the hornbeam, fine parallelism.
Thoreau may have been referring to the parallel lines formed by every other twig segment as shown in this photograph of a European hornbeam:

If you extend every other twig segment in your mind's eye, you can see parallel lines.

Related posts:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Ideas for Birthday Card Greetings

Byron, Journal (December 1, 1813):
I shall soon be six-and-twenty. Is there any thing in the future that can possibly console us for not being always twenty-five?
Goethe, Faust, 6787-6789 (tr. David Luke):
Once over thirty you're as good as dead:
We'd do better to knock you on the head
At once, and finish you off straight away.

Hat einer dreißig Jahr vorüber,
So ist er schon so gut wie tot,
Am besten wär's, euch zeitig totzuschlagen.
Byron, On My Thirty-Third Birthday:
Through life's dull road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg'd to three and thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing — except thirty-three.
Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (tr. J. Coulson):
I am forty now, and forty years is a lifetime; it is extreme old age. To go on living after forty is unseemly, disgusting, immoral! Who goes on living after forty? Give me a sincere and honest answer! I'll tell you: fools and rogues.
Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 11:
Why a man with any feeling ought to be ashamed of being eighty, let alone more. Where's his religion, I should like to know, when he goes flying in the face of the Bible like that? Three-score-and-ten's the mark; and no man with a conscience, and a proper sense of what's expected of him, has any business to live longer.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Sedges, Rushes, and Grasses

Richard L. Scheffel, ed., ABC's of Nature (Pleasantville: Reader's Digest Association, 1984), p. 132:
Sedges and rushes are often confused with grasses, for all three usually have long thin stems and long, relatively narrow leaves with parallel veins. The stems furnish the best clue for distinguishing among the three groups. Grasses have round, hollow stems with solid joints called nodes. (A few exceptional species have stems that are completely solid.) In contrast, sedges usually have solid, three-sided stems with no joints. Rushes usually have wiry, round stems and bear their seeds in little pods.
A bit of doggerel serves as a handy mnemonic device. The first two lines are usually the same:
Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,
but there are many variants of the remaining lines, a few of which are:
Grasses are hollow.
What have you found?

And grasses are hollow
From top to ground.

Grasses are hollow
Right up from the ground.

And grasses, like asses,
Have holes.
In some variants, the distinguishing feature of grasses isn't the hollow stem, but the joints or nodes:
Grasses have nodes,
From the blades to the ground.

Grasses have joints,
If the cops aren't around.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Para Thina Poluphloisboio Thalasses

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (London: John Murray, 1966), Chapter VI (Sounds of the Greek World):
The seas of Greece are the Odyssey whose music we can never know: the limitless sweep and throb of prosody, the flux and reflux of hexameters scanned by winds and currents and accompanied, for its escort of accents,

for the fall of its dactyls
the calm of spondees
the run of tribrachs
the ambiguity of trochees
and the lash of anapests;
for the flexibility of accidence,
the congruence of syntax
and the confluence of its crasis;
for the fluctuating of enclitic and proclitic,
for the halt of caesurae and the flight of the digamma,
for the ruffle of hard and soft breathings,
for its liquid syllables and the collusion of diphthongs,
for the receding tide of proparoxytones,
and the hollowness of perispomena stalactitic with subscripts,
for the inconsequence of anacolouthon,
the economy of synecdoche,
the compression of hendiadys
and the extrvagance of its epithets,
for the embrace of zeugma,
for the abruptness of asyndeton
for the swell of hyperbole
and the challenge of apostrophe,
for the splash and the boom and the clamour and
the echo and the murmur of onomatopoeia

by the

islands and harbours and causeways and soundings and crescents of shingle, whirlpools and bays and lagoons and narrows and chasms and roadsteads, seismic upheavals of crags in the haze of dying volcanoes; islets lying in pale archipelagos, gulfs, reefs and headlands, warrened with cavities, that end in a litter of rocks and spikes where the limestone goes dark at sunset; thunderbolt sea-marks scattered on the water, light in the reign of the Pleiades, slowly spinning the sea-sounds that sigh in the caves of solitary islands.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


A Springtime Passion for the Earth

Robert Frost, Putting in the Seed:
You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.

(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,

Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
Frost apparently planted his beans and peas around apple blossom time. This is a good rule of green thumb. See, e.g., Daniel Lindsey Thomas and Lucy Blayney Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1920), p. 219 (#2884): "When apple trees bloom, plant beans."

Perhaps Frost also planted the beans and peas right in an apple orchard, between rows of trees. See Michael Phillips, The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist, 2nd ed. (White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005), p. 26:
Our great-grandparents often planted berries down the rows of a developing orchard. That way, they could enjoy several seasons of small-fruit production from the cultivated ground before the orchard trees filled in their allotted space. Beans provide both a marketable crop and nitrogen fixation on their leguminous roots. Such interplanting is an appropriate form of biodiversity, so long as the soil is built up and protected. Vegetables such as potatoes or winter squash can be followed with a cover crop rich in organic matter. The planting aisleway decreases in width as the tree roots seek out the enriched earth. Shallow cultivation here does not overly compromise young trees, because permanent roots that are encouraged downward access moisture and subsoil nutrients. The resulting good tilth from added organic matter more than compensates returning feeder roots with rich humus. Deliberately leaving crop ground for vegetable production between every few rows of orchard certainly abets airflow. Letting go the notion of a solid-block orchard — "Monoculture or Bust" — allows more management options on a diversified farm. Small orchards will reap diversity benefits from nearby borders of native plants in addition to the creative expression provided by crops interplanted between the trees.
Id., p. 106, n. 32:
Peas, beans, squash, and late potatoes work well in the early years of a wide-row orchard. Choose annual crops that require cultivation but don't require excessive soil enrichment.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, Apple Blossoms

Friday, April 17, 2009


Caco, Ergo Sum

Peter Green, "On the Thanatos Trail," a review of Emily Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), in Classical Bearings: Interpreting Ancient History and Culture (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 63-76 (at 69):
An early Greek was certainly more concerned with his kleos among future generations than with that 'intact survival of both body and mind', complete with food, sex and work, which drove the Egyptians, those obsessional industrialists of the hereafter (cf. below, pp. 83-4, 88-9), not only to mummify their corpses but to credit them, hopefully, in their future existence with the grossest of physical functions. 'I eat with my mouth,' one such is made to proclaim, 'I have motion in my behind.' Caco, ergo sum. Homer's dead do not eat, much less shit; rather, says Professor Vermeule, with characteristic wry amusement, 'they wander loose in an ill-defined countryside . . . and . . . discuss . . . the brilliance of their funerals . . . like patients in a hospital solarium telling each other about details of [their] operations . . .'.
Green is probably referring to the Papyrus of Ani, aka Book of the Dead (tr. Raymond Faulkner):
I eat with my mouth, I defecate with my hinder-parts, for I am a god, lord of the Duat.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Scandalous Misuse of the Globe

Eric Thomson, in two recent emails, augments my collection of reactions to and descriptions of tree-felling.

I thought you'd like this vignette from a biography of FitzGerald I've been reading. I have a fondness for these Parson Adams types, especially when they lambast tree-felling. Uttered c. 1835, there's a prophetic ring to the phrase 'scandalously misused the globe'.

As we shall have occasion to speak of three Crabbes, all clergymen, and all named George, a word or two may be required to prevent confusion. The first George Crabbe was the poet, and very much FitzGerald's idol, who, as we saw, died at Trowbridge in 1832. George Crabbe the second, son of the poet, was vicar of Bredfield. George Crabbe the third was son of George Crabbe the second, and rector of Merton, in Norfolk. George Crabbe the second, 'The Radiator,' as FitzGerald dubbed him, from the gleams of wisdom and mirth he emitted, was at this time about fifty, or almost double the age of FitzGerald, who had just passed twenty-six. He was a strong, muscular man of the Parson Adams type, with a prominent Wellington nose. Like FitzGerald, he was careless of personal appearance, his clothes did not fit, his hat was never in the right place. As he could not be trusted with money (for when out he invariably gave away all he had to the needy or the plausible), his daughters used to take the precaution of emptying his pockets before he quitted the house. He was loved by all in the parish, and he loved all and prayed for all, 'including Mary Ann Cuthbert,' the only black sheep in his flock. FitzGerald calls him heroic, noble-minded, rash in judgment and act, liable 'to sudden and violent emotions, and morbidly self-distrustful, though over-confident in the success of causes near his heart; with simple habits' and a Cervantic humour. He had a passion for botany and fine trees, and once pleased FitzGerald hugely by saying of a land-owner who had felled some oaks that he had 'scandalously misused the globe.'
Thomas Wright, The Life of Edward FitzGerald (London: G. Richards, 1904), vol. I, p. 138.

A contribution to your collection (if it is not already there) - Philoctetes describing the stripping of Mount Oeta for Hercules' funeral pyre. I like the touch 'sedibus pulsae ... quaeruntque lassis garrulae pinnis domus' (1631 f.). Evicted birds are collateral damage.
When all his sorrowing friends began to fell
The trees on Oeta's slopes, beneath one hand
The beech-tree lost its foliage and lay,
Its mighty trunk prone on the ground. One hand
With deadly stroke attacked the towering pine,
Which lifted to the stars its threatening top,
And called it from the clouds. In act to fall,
It shook its rocky crag, and with a crash
Whelmed all the lesser forest in its fall.
Within the forest was a certain oak,
Wide-spreading, vast, like that Chaonian tree
Of prophecy, whose shade shuts out the sun,
Embracing all the grove within its arms.
By many a blow beset, it groans at first
In threatening wise, and all the wedges breaks,
The smiting axe bounds back, its edges dulled,
Too soft for such a task. At length the tree,
Long wavering, falls with widespread ruin down.
Straightway the place admits the sun's bright rays;
The birds, their tree o'erthrown, fly twittering round,
And seek their vanished homes on wearied wing.
Now every tree resounds; even the oaks
Feel in their sacred sides the piercing steel,
Nor does its ancient sanctity protect
The grove.
tr. Frank Justus Miller.

Ut omnis Oeten maesta corripuit manus,
huic fagus umbras perdit et toto iacet
succisa trunco, flectit hic pinum ferox
astris minantem et nube de media vocat:
ruitura cautem movit et silvam tulit
secum minorem. Chaonis qualis loquax
stat vasta late quercus et Phoebum vetat
ultraque totos porrigit ramos nemus;
gemit illa multo volnere impresso minax
frangitque cuneos, resilit incussus chalybs
volnusque ferrum patitur et rigidum est parum.
commota tandem cum cadens latam sui
duxit ruinam, protinus radios locus
admisit omnis: sedibus pulsae suis
volucres pererrant nemore succiso diem
quaeruntque lassis garrulae pinnis domus.
iamque omnis arbor sonuit et sacrae quoque
sensere quercus horridam ferro manum
nullique priscum profuit luco nemus.
Hercules Oetaeus ll. 1618-36.

Ivan Shishkin, Felled Birches

Related posts: The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; 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, April 15, 2009


The Dark Fat Earth

Walt Whitman, Specimen Days:
The soil, too—let others pen-and-ink the sea, the air, (as I sometimes try)—but now I feel to choose the common soil for theme—naught else. The brown soil here, (just between winter-close and opening spring and vegetation)—the rain shower at night, and the fresh smell next morning—the red worms wriggling out of the ground—the dead leaves, the incipient grass, and the latent life underneath—the effort to start something—already in shelter'd spots some little flowers—the distant emerald show of winter wheat and the rye fields—the yet naked trees, with clear interstices, giving prospects hidden in summer—the tough fallow and the plow team, and the stout boy whistling to his horses for encouragement—and there the dark fat earth in long slanting stripes upturn'd.
Isaak Levitan, Evening in the Field

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Miscellaneous Notes

Homer, Odyssey 8.62-64 (tr. A.T. Murray, rev. George E. Dimock):
Then the herald approached leading the good minstrel, whom the Muse loved above all other men, and she gave him both good and evil; of his sight she deprived him, but gave him the gift of sweet song.

κῆρυξ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθεν ἄγων ἐρίηρον ἀοιδόν,
τὸν πέρι μοῦσ᾽ ἐφίλησε, δίδου δ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε κακόν τε·
ὀφθαλμῶν μὲν ἄμερσε, δίδου δ᾽ ἡδεῖαν ἀοιδήν.
A good example of chiasmus in lines 63-64, although it's obscured in some translations, e.g. by Samuel Butler:
A servant presently led in the famous bard Demodocus, whom the muse had dearly loved, but to whom she had given both good and evil, for though she had endowed him with a divine gift of song, she had robbed him of his eyesight.
Cf. also the urns of Zeus (Homer, Iliad 24.527-533, tr. Samuel Butler):
On the floor of Jove's palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Jove the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Jove sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men.

δοιοὶ γάρ τε πίθοι κατακείαται ἐν Διὸς οὔδει
δώρων οἷα δίδωσι κακῶν, ἕτερος δὲ ἑάων·
ᾧ μέν κ᾽ ἀμμίξας δώῃ Ζεὺς τερπικέραυνος,
ἄλλοτε μέν τε κακῷ ὅ γε κύρεται, ἄλλοτε δ᾽ ἐσθλῷ·
ᾧ δέ κε τῶν λυγρῶν δώῃ, λωβητὸν ἔθηκε,
καί ἑ κακὴ βούβρωστις ἐπὶ χθόνα δῖαν ἐλαύνει,
φοιτᾷ δ᾽ οὔτε θεοῖσι τετιμένος οὔτε βροτοῖσιν.
Men receive from the gods either a mixture of good and evil, or unmixed evil. They never receive pure good without some evil mixed in.

An example of apopompē in Persius 5.167-8 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
"Well done, lad. Be wise, slaughter a lamb for the gods who drive evil away."

"euge, puer, sapias, dis depellentibus agnam
An example of epipompē in Juvenal 6.517-521:
In a booming voice he tells the woman to beware the arrival of September and the southerly winds, unless she purifies herself with a hundred eggs and presents him with her old russet-coloured dresses, to ensure that any serious or unforeseen disaster that's impending disappears into the clothes and atones for the whole year at one go.

grande sonat metuique iubet Septembris et austri
adventum, nisi se centum lustraverit ovis
et xerampelinas veteres donaverit ipsi,
ut quidquid subiti et magni discriminis instat
in tunicas eat et totum semel expiet annum.
Of course, the effeminate priest really just wants the woman's clothes.

In Persius, the evil is simply driven away (apopompē, as in most New Testament exorcisms), in Juvenal it is driven into a specific location (epipompē, as in the exorcism involving the Gadarene swine).

Anatoly Liberman, No Subject is Too Petty for an Etymologist, Or, Pets from North to South:
The main work on the OED had been completed by World War I. The last edition of Skeat's etymological dictionary appeared in 1910. Since that time only Ernest Weekley has brought out a partly original dictionary of English etymology (1921). All the others only repackaged the information in the OED, with an occasional nod to Skeat. Some progress can be seen in the treatment of later words: inasmuch as the OED and Skeat did not include them, their origin had to be investigated. But thousands of articles and books, some of them excellent, testify to the unending attempts to answer questions about the history of the early English vocabulary. Such attempts did not stop in the first quarter of the 20th century. But lexicographers are usually unaware of them. As a result, our etymological dictionaries froze at the stage reached by roughly 1910. Two streams—of special publications and of dictionaries—do not meet. Needless to say, popular books provide the same, by now trivial, information. The gruel (gruel, it will be remembered, is the food on which Oliver Twist was brought up) is getting thinner and thinner.

e.e. cummings:
Spring omnipotent goddess Thou
dost stuff parks
with overgrown pimply
chevaliers and gumchewing giggly

damosels Thou dost
persuade to serenade
his lady the musical tom-cat
Thou dost inveigle

into crossing sidewalks the
unwary june-bug and the frivolous
Thou dost hang canary birds in parlour windows

Spring slattern of seasons
you have soggy legs
and a muddy petticoat

is your hair your
eyes are sticky with
dream and you have a sloppy body from

being brought to bed of crocuses
when you sing in your whisky voice
the grass rises on the head of the earth
and all the trees are put on edge

of the excellent jostle of
thy hips
and the superior

slobber of your breasts i
am so very fond that my
soul inside of me hollers

                           for thou comest

and your hands are the snow and thy
fingers are the rain
and your
feet O your feet

feet feet incorrigible
ragging the world
On the repeated pronoun "thou" in a hymn or invocation, see Eduard Norden, "Die Messallaode des Horatius und der Du-Stil der Prädikation," in Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formengeschichte religiöser Rede (Leipzig: Teubner: 1913), pp. 149 ff.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Old Texts

Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), p. 75:
I study the old texts because I hope to be infected by their dimensions, to attain the size of what I read.
Id., pp. 84-85:
Back and forth from my desk to my shelves, ten, twenty, thirty times a day. The sources swirl around me. I am drugged by books. The sweet savor rises from the pages. A delirium of study.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Enough of Weariness and Dreariness

John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons 6.8:
[I]t is hardly befitting on this Day to speak much, when God has done His greatest work. Let us think of it and of Him. Let us rejoice in the Day which He has made, and let us be "willing in the Day of His Power." This is Easter Day. Let us say this again and again to ourselves with fear and great joy. As children say to themselves, "This is the spring," or "This is the sea," trying to grasp the thought, and not let it go; as travellers in a foreign land say, "This is that great city," or "This is that famous building," knowing it has a long history through centuries, and vexed with themselves that they know so little about it; so let us say, This is the Day of Days, the Royal Day, the Lord's Day. This is the Day on which Christ arose from the dead; the Day which brought us salvation. It is a Day which has made us greater than we know. It is our Day of rest, the true Sabbath. Christ entered into His rest, and so do we. It brings us, in figure, through the grave and gate of death to our season of refreshment in Abraham's bosom. We have had enough of weariness, and dreariness, and listlessness, and sorrow, and remorse. We have had enough of this troublesome world. We have had enough of its noise and din. Noise is its best music. But now there is stillness; and it is a stillness that speaks. We know how strange the feeling is of perfect silence after continued sound. Such is our blessedness now. Calm and serene days have begun; and Christ is heard in them, and His still small voice, because the world speaks not. Let us only put off the world, and we put on Christ. The receding from one is an approach to the other.
Fra Angelico, The Resurrection of Christ

Saturday, April 11, 2009


A Serene and Settled Majesty

Washington Irving, Forest Trees:
There is something nobly simple and pure in such a taste: it argues, I think, a sweet and generous nature, to have this strong relish for the beauties of vegetation, and this friendship for the hardy and glorious sons of the forest. There is a grandeur of thought connected with this part of rural economy. It is, if I may be allowed the figure, the heroic line of husbandry. It is worthy of liberal, and free-born, and aspiring men. He who plants an oak, looks forward to future ages, and plants for posterity. Nothing can be less selfish than this. He cannot expect to sit in its shade, nor enjoy its shelter; but he exults in the idea that the acorn which he has buried in the earth shall grow up into a lofty pile, and shall keep on flourishing, and increasing, and benefiting mankind, long after he shall have ceased to tread his paternal fields. Indeed, it is the nature of such occupations to lift the thoughts above mere worldliness. As the leaves of trees are said to absorb all noxious qualities of the air, and to breathe forth a purer atmosphere, so it seems to me as if they drew from us all sordid and angry passions, and breathed forth peace and philanthropy. There is a serene and settled majesty in woodland scenery, that enters into the soul, and dilates and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.
Ivan Shishkin, Oaks

Thursday, April 09, 2009



Eric Thomson writes in an email:
As a part-timer Euripides must count as a trogloxene. St Jerome was another, and St Ninian, whose cave I've visited. Misanthropy and cave-dwelling go hand in hand. I wonder if 'troglodyte' and 'troll' are enough for 'tro-' to qualify as a bona fide phonaestheme....If the ascetic life is called for I think I'd prefer trees. David the Dendrite of Thessalonica managed three years in an almond tree, and Adolas even had a flap fitted in his hollowed plane tree to converse with visitors (Greek text of John Moschus in C. P. Charalampidis, The Dendrites in Pre-Christian and Christian Historical-Literary Tradition and Iconography, Studia Archaeologica 73 (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1995), p. 73 [Google books preview]). Maro the Dendrite was another but not of such a welcoming disposition as he used to shut the door of his tree whenever he heard people approach.
A trogloxene is "an animal that spends occasional short periods in dark caves" (OED, s.v. troglo-), as opposed to a troglobite, "an animal living entirely in the dark parts of caves" (id.). A phonaestheme is "a phoneme or group of phonemes having recognizable semantic associations, as a result of appearing in a number of words of similar meaning" (OED, s.v., coined by J. Firth in 1930).

On dendrites, see also Michael Whitby, "Maro the Dendrite: An Anti-Social Holy Man," in Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1987), pp. 309-317, and Kyle Smith, "Dendrites and Other Standers in the History of the Exploits of Bishop Paul of Qanetos and Priest John of Edessa" Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12.1 (Winter 2009) 117-134. The OED doesn't recognize this meaning of dendrite (from Greek δένδρον = tree), but it seems sufficiently widespread in scholarly literature to deserve a dictionary definition, such as "an ascetic who lives in a tree" — see Susan Ashbrook Harvey in G.W. Bowersock, ed., Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 407 (s.v. dendrites).

David of Thessalonica

Wednesday, April 08, 2009



In his poem A Certain Presence, Henry Braun wrote, "Names of places decay." But they decay only if we abandon them and allow them to fall into desuetude. I'm curious about earlier, lesser-known names of two places, the first where I now live (St. Paul, Minnesota) and the second where I hope some day to live (Farmington, Maine).

Charles A. Eastman, Indian Boyhood (New York: McClure, Phillips, 1902; rpt. New York: Dover, 1971), p. 101 (quoting Smoky Day, described on p. 99 as "widely known among us a preserver of history and legend"):
Our people lived then on the east bank of the Mississippi, a little south of where Imnejah-Skah, or White Cliff (St. Paul, Minnesota), now stands.
Jan F. Ullrich, ed., New Lakota Dictionary (Bloomington: Lakota Language Consortium, 2008), s.v. imníža (p. 206):
a rock, great rock, high cliff.
Id., s.v. ská (p. 461):
to be clear white; to be clean or pure.
In combination, these yield Imnížaská (id., p. 206, defined as St. Paul, Minnesota). The name probably refers to limestone cliffs along the Mississippi River.

Bruce J. Bourque, Twelve Thousand Years: American Indians in Maine (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001; rpt. 2004), doesn't list the Abenaki village of Amaseconti (modern day Farmington Falls) in the index, but it is mentioned or discussed on pp. 172, 178, 180 (with spelling Amasocontee), 182, 195, and 344 (with spelling Amesocontee).

On the meaning of the name Amaseconti, see J. Hammond Trumbull, The Composition of Indian Geographical Names, Illustrated from the Algonkin Languages (Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1870), pp. 23-25:
Abnaki names ending in -kantti, or -kontee (Mass. -kontu; Etchemin or Maliseet, -kodiah, -quoddy; Micmac, -kandi, or -aikadee;) may be placed with those of the first class, though this termination, representing a substantival component, is really only the locative affix of nouns in the indefinite plural. Exact location was denoted by affixing, to inanimate nouns singular, -et, -it or -ut; proximity, or something less than exact location, by -set, (interposing s, the characteristic of diminutives and derogatives) between the noun and affix. Plural nouns, representing a definite number of individuals, or a number which might be regarded as definite, received -ettu, -ittu, or -uttu, in the locative: but if the number was indefinite, or many individuals were spoken of collectively, the affix was -kontu, denoting 'where many are,' or 'place of abundance.'


Among Abnaki place-names having this form, the following deserve notice:—

Anmes[oo]k-kantti, 'where there is plenty of alewives or herrings;' from Abn. anms[oo]ak (Narr. aumsûog; Mass. ômmissuog, cotton;) literally, 'small fishes,' but appropriated to fish of the herring tribe, including alewives and menhaden or bony-fish. Râle gives this as the name of one of the Abnaki villages on or near the river 'Aghenibekki.' It is the same, probably, as the 'Meesee Contee' or 'Meesucontee,' at Farmington Falls, on Sandy River, Me.[49] With the suffix of 'place' or 'land,' it has been written Amessagunticook and Amasaquanteg.

[49] Coll. Me. Hist. Society, iv. 31, 105.

The alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) is an anadromous fish, i.e. a fish that lives in salt water but swims upstream to breed in fresh water. In our case, the salt water would be the Gulf of Maine, and the alewife route would be first up the Kennebec River as far its confluence with the Sandy River (between Norridgewock and Madison), and then up the Sandy River to Farmington Falls. There is a good map of the Sandy River watershed here (.pdf format).

For historical evidence of alewives on the Sandy River, see Stephen L. Goodale, ed., Abstract of Returns from the Agricultural Societies of Maine (Augusta: Owens & Nash, 1868), pp. 124-125 (from Report of Commission on Fisheries):
The Sandy river has very little dead water. Its sources are in a granitic region, and for some miles it is leaping over ledges and boulders. At Phillips its bed becomes stony, then gravelly, and when it reaches Farmington it is sandy. From New Sharon down there are many miles of pebbly rapids. In the lower part is a good deal of gentle current. Through a great part of its course it is winding through a sandy interval, where both its banks and its bed are constantly shifting. This is particularly the case in the town of Farmington. Altogether it has a great many miles of spawning ground for salmon, and but a limited extent suitable for shad or alewives. Both the latter, however, came into the river, and ascended as far as Farmington. The alewives appear to have bred in Temple pond. The salmon went much farther. The lower part of the river maintained an excellent shad fishery. Salmon were taken at various points with spear and net. Mr. John Tibbets of New Sharon, used to set a net for them, and had taken three while getting his net into the water. From several others in New Sharon we have information to the same effect. Seventy years ago they were plenty in Strong. But in 1804 the New Sharon dam was built. This stopped shad and alewives, but a fishway is said to have been maintained for a few years which permitted salmon to pass. A few years later another dam was thrown across the river nearer its mouth, and the fishways were no longer maintained. It is probable, however, that in high water the salmon could still pass all the obstructions, for Mr. David Hunter of Strong, took a salmon there only forty years ago. Into its mouth and lower tributaries they still came. In Sawyer's stream, in Stark, they spawned in great numbers. Mr. Levi G. Sawyer has seen and taken many of them there, but only in the fall and winter. In October they came, and were seen spawning; and sometimes were observed through the ice. They were diminishing for several years before 1837. That year Mr. Sawyer took two, and they were his last. A salmon weighing 22 pounds was caught in this stream.

The extensive gravelly rapids of the Sandy river fit it peculiarly for the production of salmon. The only drawback is the fact that in some parts its bed is occasionally shifted by the floods. Making all allowance for that, however, we shall still find an abundance of spawning ground for them. Shad and alewives also will be able to breed here as well as of old.

The obstructions that we have examined are the three dams at New Sharon, Farmington Falls and Phillips. There are no others in a distance of fifty miles; but above Phillips are several that we did not see. The dam at New Sharon is only seven feet high, yet it is rather difficult. There is no location for a fishway which will not be exposed to all the dangers of floods. Probably the best place is near the south end, but it must be well covered and heavily ballasted. At Farmington Falls is a dam seven feet high. The difficulty here, as at New Sharon, is the danger from freshets. The ice sometimes jams below the dam and endangers the whole structure. A fishway might be built alongside the sawmill on the south side. It must be very firm. At Phillips we apprehend less trouble, for although the height of the fall is not far from twenty feet, the ledge assists us. By blasting, a fishway can be easily made, where the water runs down in a crooked channel on the west side of the river.
Bones of alewives have been found at other archaeological sites in Maine, but I don't know if any have been found at Amaseconti. I haven't seen Rosemary A. Cyr et al., Farmington Falls Survey Project: Archaeological Phase I Survey (2003 = Maine Historic Preservation Commission Document 3328) or Harald E.L. Prins, Amesocontee: Abortive Tribe Formation on the Colonial Frontier (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Society for Ethnohistory, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1988).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Troglodytes and Hobbits

Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. troglodyte:
"cave-dweller," 1555, from L. troglodytae (plural), from Gk. troglodytes "cave-dweller," lit. "one who creeps into holes," from trogle "hole" (from trogein "to gnaw;" see trout) + dyein "go in, dive in." Slang shortening trog "obnoxious person, boor" is recorded from 1956.
See E.H. Warmington, forward to G.W. Murray, "Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times," The Geographical Journal 133 (1967) 24-33 (at 24):
The ancient Greeks and Romans had a word troglodytai (Greek τρωγλοδύται, Latin troglodytae) which meant 'cave-enterers' and was used to describe primitive people who lived in caves. Such people may well have been included among the Troglodytes recorded in Greek and Roman authors as dwelling in Moesia south of the Danube and in the region of the Caucasus mountaines, and possibly those who lived in Nabataean Arabia. But scholars of to-day are agreed that the right 'hellenized' name for some primitive peoples of Africa is Τρωγοδύται (Trogodytae) without the letter l; that, whatever the meaning might be, this was what the Greeks and Romans normally called them; that the chief land of such people was called by them Τρωγοδυτική (Trogodytica); and that, wherever the letter l occurs in these names in the manuscripts of authors, it is an error, most probably having its origin in a popular mistaken alteration of the right name to one which had a simple and recognizable meeting.

Omission of the l rests on good authority. Greek papyri found in Egypt have Trwgo, for example P. Cair. Zen. 40.2; Papiri gr. e lat. IV.332, 14; Class. Philology XIX, 233, 234 (all of the 3rd century B.C.); P. Theb. Bank 9.2 (1st century B.C.); so has an inscription (Orientis. Gr. Inscript. i.70, Egypt, 3rd century B.C.); Strabo, born c. 63 B.C., seems to have omitted l though apparently he knew of the spelling with l, and all the manuscripts of his works include it. In Latin authors we have no l in Pliny VI 169, 173, etc.; cf. Cicero Div. ii.44, 93. Manuscripts called A, B and C of Herodotus (fifth century B.C.) have Τρωγο at IV.183; so has the Codex Vaticanus (codex B) of the Septuagint at ii Chronicles XII.3. To these examples others could be added. Murray was therefore right to insist on the name Trogodytica and the Trogodytai, English Trogodytes. The original draft of his paper contains a footnote to the title: 'Not Troglodytes. There are no caves in the eastern desert; and the Trogodytes probably lived in wickerwork huts as the modern Bega do'.
According to an ancient biography, Euripides was a part-time troglodyte. See David Kovacs, Euripidea (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 6-7:
They say that he fitted out a cave on Salamis opening on the sea and that he passed his days there avoiding the crowd; and that is the reason he takes most of his similes from the sea.

φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐν Σαλαμῖνι σπήλαιον κατασκευάσαντα ἀναπνοὴν ἔχον εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐκεῖσε διημερεύειν φεύγοντα τὸν ὄχλον· ὅθεν καὶ ἐκ θαλάσσης λαμβάνει τὰς πλείους τῶν ὁμοιώσεων.
Likewise Aulus Gellius 15.20.5 (tr. Kovacs, pp. 28-29):
Philochorus reports that there is a foul and horrible cave on the island of Salamis, which I have seen, in which Euripides used to write his tragedies.

Philochorus [FGrH 328 F 219] refert in insula Salamine speluncam esse taetram et horridam, quam nos vidimus, in qua Euripides tragoedias scriptitarit.
Yannos G. Lolos, The Cave of Euripides on Salamis, locates the cave above the Bay of Peristeria on the southern tip of Salamis.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F:
The origin of the word hobbit was by most forgotten. It seems, however, to have been at first a name given to the Harfoots by the Fallohides and Stoors, and to be a worn-down form of a word preserved more fully in Rohan: holbytla 'hole-builder'....Hobbit is an invention. In the Westron the word used, when the people was referred to at all, was banakil 'halfling.' But at this date the folk of the Shire and of Bree used the word kuduk. Since, as has been noted, the Hobbits had once spoken a language closely related to that of the Rohirrim, it seems likely that kuduk was a worn-down form of kûd-dûkan [='hole-dweller']. The latter I have translated, for reasons explained, by holbytla ['hole-builder']; and hobbit provides a word that might well be a worn-down form of holbytla, if the name had occurred in our ancient language.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Lingomania and Opsimathy

Thanks to Eric Thomson for this excerpt from Raymonde Hainton and Godfrey Hainton, The Unknown Coleridge: The Life and Times of Derwent Coleridge, 1800-1883 (London: Janus, 1996), pp. 283-284:
Derwent was a voracious reader, but his great mental recreation was the comparative study of language. He told Moultrie in 1873: 'I am looking up my Syriac - it occupies my head without troubling my heart - and requires no effort of the will.' STC had trained him in grammar from his infancy. In the 1830s H.N. Coleridge wrote to Sara from Helston: 'Derwent is at the height of the Lingomania.' By 1870 Augustus Swift tells us: 'Mr Coleridge had complete mastery of about fourteen languages, and was sufficiently well versed in eight or nine more for all practical purposes.' He recalls Derwent writing a letter in Hungarian one day, without premeditation, to one of the Budapest newspapers. 'He began Icelandic at seventy, and in six weeks could translate the Reykjavik news to us, without a halt. When Bishop Staley (one of his former Vice-Principals at St Mark's) brought him from Honolulu one or two volumes in Hawaiian, he worked at them for weeks till he had mastered the curious grammatical forms of the language, composing a little grammar of his own,' Swift recalls.
Related posts:

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Flowers Will Come of It

Richard Wilbur, April 5, 1974:
The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream,
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter's giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Flower of the Trees

In a letter to W.H. Auden (June 7, 1955), J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
I learned Anglo-Saxon at school (also Gothic, but that was an accident quite unconnected with the curriculum though decisive — I discovered in it not only modern historical philology, which appealed to the historical and scientific side, but for the first time the study of a language out of mere love: I mean for the acute aesthetic pleasure derived from a language for its own sake, not only free from being useful but free even from being the 'vehicle of a literature').
Breathing new life into the dead language, Tolkien later wrote a poem in Gothic, with the title Bagme Bloma. The poem was first published in Songs for the Philologists (London: English Department, University College, 1936), p. 12, and later in Appendix B of Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth, rev. ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003):
Brunaim bairiþ Bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.

Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.
I don't understand a word of Gothic, although I derive some aesthetic pleasure just looking at the words and trying to sound them out — the poem is read aloud here (.mp3 format). A useful aid to understanding is Luzius Thöny, Bagme Bloma by J.R.R. Tolkien: Grammatische Analyse (.pdf format).

Fortunately, many translations are available, including Shippey's prose version:
The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering, the flower of the trees in bloom, fair-haired and supple-limbed, the ruler of the mountain.

The winds call, they shake gently, she bends her boughs low in sport; smooth, straight and white-barked, trembling she speaks a language, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.

Evening grows dark with clouds, the lightning flashes, the fine leaves fly free, but firm and faithful the white birch stands bare and waits, ruling the mountain.
The translation by N.Z. Strider (a pseudonym?) is noteworthy for its reproduction of the rhythm and the alliterative effect of the original:
Bears the birch on brightened branches
lovely leaves that light the air;
green she grows, and glitters whitely;
bloom of boles, she blossoms fair,
handsome-haired with limbs so lissom,
mistress of the mountains there.

Winds are wafting, waving gently;
boughs she bends in blithesome play;
smooth and slender, silver-barkéd,
wisps of words she'd wavering say,
trusty tokens, runes of riches,
blessing all my band this day.

Close of day nears, clouds array fears,
lightning leaps with lashing brands;
leaves so lovely lie now scattered.
Firm and faithful, still she stands;
bare and bald the birch abideth,
mistress of the mountainlands.
Isaak Levitan, Birch Grove

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Dolce Far Niente

Robert Service, Laziness:
Let laureates sing with rapturous swing
Of the wonder and glory of work;
Let pulpiteers preach and with passion impeach
The indolent wretches who shirk.
No doubt they are right: in the stress of the fight
It's the slackers who go to the wall;
So though it's my shame I perversely proclaim
It's fine to do nothing at all.

It's fine to recline on the flat of one's spine,
With never a thought in one's head:
It's lovely to lie staring up at the sky
When others are earning their bread.
It's great to feel one with the soil and the sun,
Drowned deep in the grasses so tall;
Oh it's noble to sweat, pounds and dollars to get,
But—it's grand to do nothing at all.

So sing to the praise of the fellows who laze
Instead of lambasting the soil;
The vagabonds gay who lounge by the way,
Conscientious objectors to toil.
But lest you should think, by this spatter of ink,
The Muses still hold me in thrall,
I'll round out my rhyme, and (until the next time)
Work like hell—doing nothing at all.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009


The Noble Shapes of the Greek Letters

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), chapter 19:
The soft murmur of the town was suddenly drowned by the furious jay-like voices of two women below my window, arguing across a narrow lane about something that I couldn't catch. It didn't matter. The point was the inventive richness of the language, the splendour of the vocabulary, the unstaunchable flow of imagination and invective. I often have the impression, listening to a Greek argument, that I can actually see the words spin from their mouths like the long balloons in comic strips; however debased and colloquial the theme, the noble shapes of the Greek letters, complete with their hard and soft breathings, the flicker of accents with the change of enclitic and proclitic and the hovering boomerangs of perispomena sail through the air and, if a piece of high flown language or a fragment of the liturgy should be embedded in the demotic flux, which it often is, iota subscripts dangle. Some letters catch the eye more than others: the perverse triple loop of Xi, the twin concavity of Omega, the bisected almond of Theta, Phi like a circle transfixed by a spear, Psi's curly trident and Gamma's two-pronged fork. As the argument kindles and voices wax louder, the lettering matriculates from italics to capitals and out like dangerous missiles whizz triangles and T-squares and gibbets and acute angles, pairs of Stonehenge megaliths with lintel stones, and half-open springs. At its climax it is as though these complex shapes were flying from the speaker's mouth like flung furniture and household goods, from the upper window of a house on fire. Then suddenly the conflagration subsides as abruptly as it started, the dialectic geometry fades from the air and silence ensues; as it did now.
The perverse triple loop of Xi: ξ

The twin concavity of Omega: ω

The bisected almond of Theta: θ

Phi like a circle transfixed by a spear: φ

Psi's curly trident: ψ

Gamma's two-pronged fork: γ

Triangle (Delta): Δ

T-square (Tau): Τ

Gibbet (Gamma): Γ

Acute angle (Lambda): Λ

A pair of Stonehenge megaliths with lintel stone (Pi): Π

A half-open spring (Sigma?): Σ

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