Sunday, May 31, 2009


More on a Pious Man

This post supplements A Pious Man.

The inscription translated by Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969; rpt. 1975), p. 20 as
Here lies Dion, a pious man; he lived 80 years and planted 4000 trees.
can be found in Dominique Raynal, Archéologie et histoire de l'Eglise d'Afrique: Uppenna II. Mosaïques funéraires et mémoire des martyrs (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2006), pp. 539-541 (photograph at 539, transcription at 540).
P V Dion
in pace
et instituit
[q]uat(t)uor milia
Unfortunately, the expansion of the abbreviation P V as "pius vir" is uncertain. Alfred Merlin, Inscriptions Latines de la Tunisie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1944), p. 45 (no. 243) suggests that it "peut représenter soit un prénom et un gentilice, soit p(ius) v(ir)."

A friend and pious man writes in an email (from "das Land wo die Zitronen blühn"):
I don't know if you know this variation on the topos from Oliver Wendell Holmes' Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858) chapter 7 "He [the grandfather of the young farmer who refused to plant apple trees] had nothing else to do,—so he stuck in some trees. He lived long enough to drink barrels of cider made from the apples that grew on those trees."

I planted two trees last week - a Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) which future Judases from far and wide are welcome to avail themselves of; and an olive tree, which I'll certainly not live to see as anything much more than a sapling. Even so, two thousand years hence - dis immortalibus volentibus - it may still be there.

Saturday, May 30, 2009



In 'Happy Recognitions', Patrick Kurp discusses the identification of a plant in his back yard as Carex arcta (Northern clustered sedge):
"Sedge" is an attractive word, more pleasurable to say than mere "grass." It echoes with said, hedge and sedulous, and is rooted in the Old English secg, meaning sword.
Bosworth and Toller have separate entries in their Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1898) for the masculine noun secg, -es = sedge and the feminine noun secg, -e = sword. They are etymologically related.

Seeing secg, I wondered whether the word was related to Latin seco = cut, and consultation of Calvert Watkins' Indo-European Roots, s.v. sek-, confirmed that there is indeed a connection. The names of the cutting tools scythe and saw also come from the same root. So does Latin securis = axe.

The etymology of sedge is all the more interesting to me because it emphasizes the distinguishing botanical characteristic of sedges, as opposed to grasses and rushes. As the mnemonic rhyme says, "Sedges have edges..."

According to J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 374,

A Bible verse, Hebrews 4:12, comes to mind when I think about the connection between cutting and knowing:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
But back to sedge. I recently read some poems of George Meredith, among them Song in the Songless:
They have no song, the sedges dry,
And still they sing.
It is within my breast they sing,
As I pass by.
Within my breast they touch a string,
They wake a sigh.
There is but sound of sedges dry;
In me they sing.
I also recently became acquainted with the work of artist Susan Hartnett, who does charcoal drawings of grasses found along the Maine coast. Here is one of her drawings, Winter Sedge:

Friday, May 29, 2009


Good Fellowship

Excerpt from William Waller, Divine Meditations: Meditation upon the Contentment I Have in My Books and Study, quoted by Alexander Ireland, The Book-Lover's Enchiridion: Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1883), pp. 42-43:
Here is the best solitary company in the world, and in this particular chiefly excelling any other, that in my study I am sure to converse with none but wise men; but abroad it is impossible for me to avoid the society of fools. What an advantage have I, by this good fellowship, that, besides the help which I receive from hence, in reference to my life after this life, I can enjoy the life of so many ages before I lived! — that I can be acquainted with the passages of three or four thousand years ago, as if they were the weekly occurrences! Here, without travelling so far as Endor, I can call up the ablest spirits of those times, the learnedest philosophers, the wisest counsellors, the greatest generals, and make them serviceable to me. I can make bold with the best jewels they have in their treasury, with the same freedom that the Israelites borrowed of the Egyptians, and, without suspicion of felony, make use of them as mine own. I can here, without trespassing, go into their vineyards and not only eat my fill of their grapes for my pleasure, but put up as much as I will in my vessel, and store it up for my profit and advantage.
Thomas Carlyle, letter to Robert Mitchell (February 16, 1818), quoted by Ireland, p. 159:
Excepting one or two individuals I have little society that I value very highly; but books are a ready and effectual resource. May blessings be upon the head of Cadmus, the Phoenicians, or whoever it was that invented books! I may not detain you with the praises of an art that carries the voice of man to the extremity of the earth and to the latest generations; but it is lawful for the solitary wight to express the love he feels for those companions so steadfast and unpresuming, that go or come without reluctance, and that, when his fellow-animals are proud or stupid or peevish, are ever ready to cheer the languor of his soul, and gild the barrenness of life with the treasures of bygone times.
Related post: The Pleasures of Books.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A Pious Man

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969; rpt. 1975), p. 20:
These sturdy planters, suspicious of the outside world, living in tight-knit communities, whose habits had changed little since pre-historic times, had become the arbiters of the prosperity of Africa: 'Here lies Dion, a pious man; he lived 80 years and planted 4000 trees.'2

2Inscriptions latines de la Tunisie, no. 243; v. esp. Frend, Donatist Church, pp. 38-47.
I don't have access to the sources cited by Brown, so I can't quote the original Latin inscription. On tree planting by an old man as an act of piety, see Cicero, On Old Age 7.24-25:
They expend effort on things which they know won't benefit them at all: "He plants trees to benefit another age," as our Caecilius Statius says in his Young Comrades. If you ask a farmer, no matter how old he is, for whom he's planting, he doesn't hesitate to say, "For the immortal gods, who not only were willing for me to receive these things from my ancestors, but also for me to hand them on to my descendants."

in eis elaborant, quae sciunt nihil ad se omnino pertinere: "serit arbores, quae altero saeclo prosint," ut ait Statius noster in Synephebis. nec vero dubitat agricola, quamvis sit senex, quaerenti cui serat respondere: "dis immortalibus, qui me non accipere modo haec a maioribus voluerunt, sed etiam posteris prodere."
Related post: Planting Trees.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009



Oxford Word Of The Year: Locavore (November 1, 2007):
The "locavore" movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers' markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

"The word 'locavore' shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment," said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. "It's significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way."

"Locavore" was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as "localvores" rather than "locavores." However it's spelled, it's a word to watch.
See also Jessica Prentice, The Birth of Locavore, and Michael Quinion, Locavore.

To my ear, locavore sounds harsh, ugly, and cacophonous. The idea has of course been around for a long time. "We eat our own," said Robert Herrick (1591-1674) in His Content in the Country:
Here, here I live with what my board
Can with the smallest cost afford.
Though ne'er so mean the viands be,
They well content my Prew and me.
Or pea, or bean, or wort, or beet,
Whatever comes, content makes sweet.
Here we rejoice, because no rent
We pay for our poor tenement
Wherein we rest, and never fear
The landlord or the usurer.
The quarter-day does ne'er affright
Our peaceful slumbers in the night.
We eat our own and batten more,
Because we feed on no man's score;
But pity those whose flanks grow great,
Swell'd with the lard of other's meat.
We bless our fortunes when we see
Our own beloved privacy;
And like our living, where we're known
To very few, or else to none.
Prew = Herrick's housekeeper, Prudence Baldwin.

Monday, May 25, 2009


A Rendezvous

Alan Seeger (1888-1916), Rendezvous:
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear ...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Rif Baer, describing the events of July 4, 1916:
About 4 o'clock the order came to get ready for the attack. None could help thinking of what the next few hours would bring. One minute's anguish and then, once in the ranks, faces became calm and serene, a kind of gravity falling upon them, while on each could be read the determination and expectation of victory. Two battalions were to attack Belloy-en-Santerre, our company being the reserve of battalion. The companies forming the first wave were deployed on the plain. Bayonets glittered in the air above the corn, already quite tall.

The first section (Alan's section) formed the right and vanguard of the company and mine formed the left wing. After the first bound forward, we lay flat on the ground, and I saw the first section advancing beyond us and making toward the extreme right of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. I caught sight of Seeger and called to him, making a sign with my hand.

He answered with a smile. How pale he was! His tall silhouette stood out on the green of the cornfield. He was the tallest man in his section. His head erect, and pride in his eye, I saw him running forward, with bayonet fixed. Soon he disappeared and that was the last time I saw my friend.

Sunday, May 24, 2009



On a walk to the grocery store, I passed several yards with signs boasting "This yard is chemical-free." An astonishing claim, when you think about it. My own yard has a goodly supply of C55H72O5N4Mg and other chemicals, and that's just the way I like it.

Bill Dilworth writes:
It could be worse. Some schools and universities, in their fight against what is called "substance abuse," have declared their campuses to be "substance free." Personally, I would find living and working somewhere without substance to be a problem. Perhaps they are referring to their curricula.


Some Words for Vital Functions

Most dictionaries list words in alphabetical order, e.g. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). But a few dictionaries take a radically different approach and arrange words in groups by semantic domain. One of the most ambitious efforts of this sort is Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988). Of course, both approaches have long pedigrees, although the study of semantic domains traditionally took the form of monographs on specialized vocabulary. "Callimachus compiled names of winds, fishes, and months; Dionysius Iambus had a chapter of fishermen's terms, and Eratosthenes other vocational vocabularies." (Peter Barr Reid Forbes and Robert Browning, "Glossa, Glossary (Greek)," in Oxford Classical Dictionary.)

J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), is not a dictionary per se, but many of its chapters are devoted to different semantic domains. In chapter 11 the authors discuss anatomy, and within that chapter section 11.6 deals with vital functions. Here are excerpts, from pp. 191-192:

Hebrew is not an Indo-European language, but I can't resist quoting a passage on a certain vital function from Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), p. 12:
From rúakh, plural rukhòd, which means "breath," an illustrious term that can be read in the dark and admirable second verse of the Genesis ("The wind of the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters") was taken tiré 'n rúakh, "make a wind," in its diverse physiological significances, where one catches a glimpse of the Biblical intimacy of the Chosen People with its Creator. As an example of practical application, there has been handed down the saying of Aunt Regina, seated with Uncle David in the Café Florio on Via Po: "Davidin, bat la cana, c'as sento nen le rukhòd!" ("David, thump your cane, so they don't hear your winds!"), which attests to a conjugal relationship of affectionate intimacy.
Related posts:

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Skinny Dipping

John Updike wrote a poem with the title Nuda Natens (which is supposed to mean "naked female swimming"), printed in his Collected Poems, 1953-1993 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 44. The title should be Nuda Natans, as the Latin verb nato belongs to the first conjugation. It's unlikely that this was just a typographical error, as the title is repeated in a note on p. 362.

Updike apparently studied Latin under Eric Havelock (1903-1988) at Harvard — see his poem Apologies to Harvard (id., p. 122: "crossing to Latin / with Cerberean Dr. Havelock").



[Homer], Margites, fragments 2-3 (tr. M.L. West):
The gods had never taught him to plant or sow
or any other skill: he failed at every craft.

He knew a lot of things, but never knew them right.

τὸν δ' οὔτ' ἂρ σκαπτῆρα θεοὶ θέσαν οὔτ' ἀροτῆρα
οὔτ' ἄλλως τι σοφόν· πάσης δ' ἡμάρτανε τέχνης.

πόλλ᾽ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ᾽ ἠπίστατο πάντα.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Woodland Scene

William Cowper, The Task, Book I (The Sofa), lines 300-320:
Nor less attractive is the woodland scene
Diversified with trees of every growth,
Alike yet various. Here the gray smooth trunks
Of ash, or lime, or beech, distinctly shine,
Within the twilight of their distant shades;
There, lost behind a rising ground, the wood
Seems sunk, and shortened to its topmost boughs.
No tree in all the grove but has its charms,
Though each its hue peculiar; paler some,
And of a wannish gray; the willow such,
And poplar that with silver lines his leaf,
And ash far-stretching his umbrageous arm;
Of deeper green the elm; and deeper still,
Lord of the woods, the long-surviving oak.
Some glossy-leaved and shining in the sun,
The maple, and the beech of oily nuts
Prolific, and the lime at dewy eve
Diffusing odours; nor unnoted pass
The sycamore, capricious in attire,
Now green, now tawny, and ere autumn yet
Have changed the woods, in scarlet honours bright.
William Trost Richards, Into the Woods

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The Long and the Short of It

Edward Balston to his pupil James Fitzjames Stephen at Eton in the 1840's:
If you do not take more pains, how can you expect to write good longs and shorts? If you do not write good longs and shorts, how can you ever be a man of taste? If you are not a man of taste, how can you ever hope to be of use in the world?
I thought "to write good longs and shorts" was simply to compose Latin verse with correct quantities (long and short syllables), but M.L. Clarke, Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 56, restricts the expression to elegaics, in which the first verse of a couplet (the hexameter) is longer than the second verse (the pentameter).

Balston's expostulation uses the rhetorical device variously called climax, ladder, gradation, or plaiting, defined by Rutilius Lupus 1.13 as follows:
Plaiting: in this figure of speech the second phrase arises from the first, the third from the second, and thus several in succession; for as many little circles joined together make a chain, so several phrases linked together create the effect of this rhetorical device.

ἐπιπλοκή: in hoc ex prima sententia secunda oritur, ex secunda tertia, atque ita deinceps complures; nam quemadmodum catenam multi inter se circuli coniuncti vinciunt, sic huius schematis utilitatem complures sententiae inter se conexae continent.
See also the expostulation in William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, chapter 2:
It was at the close of the forenoon school, and Pen had been unnoticed all the previous part of the morning till now, when the Doctor put him on to construe in a Greek play. He did not know a word of it, though little Timmins, his form-fellow, was prompting him with all his might. Pen had made a sad blunder or two when the awful Chief broke out upon him.

'Pendennis, sir,' he said, 'your idleness is incorrigible and your stupidity beyond example. You are a disgrace to your school, and to your family, and I have no doubt will prove so in after-life to your country. If that vice, sir, which is described to us as the root of all evil, be really what moralists have represented (and I have no doubt of the correctness of their opinion), for what a prodigious quantity of future crime and wickedness are you, unhappy boy, laying the seed! Miserable trifler! A boy who construes δε and instead of δε but, at sixteen years of age is guilty not merely of folly, and ignorance, and dulness inconceivable, but of crime, of deadly crime, of filial ingratitude, which I tremble to contemplate. A boy, sir, who does not learn his Greek play cheats the parent who spends money for his education. A boy who cheats his parent is not very far from robbing or forging upon his neighbour. A man who forges on his neighbour pays the penalty of his crime at the gallows. And it is not such a one that I pity (for he will be deservedly cut off), but his maddened and heart-broken parents, who are driven to a premature grave by his crimes, or, if they live, drag on a wretched and dishonoured old age. Go on, sir, and I warn you that the very next mistake that you make shall subject you to the punishment of the rod. Who's that laughing? What ill-conditioned boy is there that dares to laugh?' shouted the Doctor.
In Thackeray, the climax extends from "A boy, sir, who does not learn his Greek play" to "his crime at the gallows."

Related posts

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

Lucilius, unassigned fragment (1228-1234 Marx, 1145-1151 Warmington, tr. Warmington):
But, as it is, from morning till night, on holiday and workday, the whole commons and the senators too, all alike go bustling about in the Forum and nowhere leave it; all give themselves over to one and the same interest and artifices—namely to be able to swindle with impunity, to fight cunningly, to strive, using soft words as weapons, to act the 'fine fellow,' to lie in wait, as though all of them were enemies of all men.

nunc vero a mani ad noctem festo atque profesto
totus item pariterque die populusque patresque
iactare indu foro se omnes, decedere nusquam;
uni se atque eidem studio omnes dedere et arti—
verba dare ut caute possint, pugnare dolose,
blanditia certare, bonum simulare virum se,
insidias facere ut si hostes sint omnibus omnes.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Jowett's Plato

A.E. Housman, Notebooks, quoted by C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1986), p. 130:
Jowett's Plato: the best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek.
Ouch! Paul Shorey, in a review of Jowett's Plato, American Journal of Philology 13 (1892) 349-372, called the translation "substantially correct—correct, that is, within the limits set by the translator's aims and methods" (at 349), but he nevertheless filled several pages with Jowett's errors (at 364-372).

According to Lewis Campbell, "The Late Professor Jowett. Born 1817; Died 1893," Classical Review 7 (1893) 473-476 (at 475),
When one of these 'howlers'—as an irreverent pupil once called them—was pointed out to him, he would look up and say, 'It is not that I do not know these elementary things: but the effort of making the English harmonious is so great, that one's mind is insensibly drawn away from the details of the Greek.'
An excuse that Greek (or, mutatis mutandis, Latin) students might do well to memorize and quote when caught in a mistake!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Use It or Lose It

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, chapter 9:
You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving school—I studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabet—but your snobbishness, unless you persistently root it out like the bindweed it is, sticks by you till your grave.
There is much interesting information in Paul Burton, "George Orwell and the Classics," Classical and Modern Literature 25.1 (2005) 53-75 (.pdf format).


The Hoe and the Axe

John Updike, Hoeing:
I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
    of the pleasures of hoeing;
    there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
    moist-dark loam—
    the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
    The blade chops the earth new.
    Ignorant the wise boy who
has never performed this simple, stupid, and useful wonder.
Horace Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life, chapter XXXVII:
The axe is the healthiest implement that man ever handled, and is especially so for habitual writers and other sedentary workers, whose shoulders it throws back, expanding their chests, and opening their lungs. If every youth and man, from fifteen to fifty years old, could wield an axe two hours per day, dyspepsia would vanish from the earth, and rheumatism become decidedly scarce. I am a poor chopper; yet the axe is my doctor and delight. Its use gives the mind just enough occupation to prevent its falling into revery or absorbing trains of thought, while every muscle in the body receives sufficient, yet not exhausting, exercise. I wish all our boys would learn to love the axe.

Update: See Roger Kuin, Soil and Toil.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


How to Lose Your Job Teaching Greek

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 303-304 (on Jones Very):
In class he cried out to his astonished undergraduate students, "Flee to the mountains, for the end of all things is at hand." The Harvard authorities could no more tolerate this sort of challenge than they could Emerson's, and Very was relieved of his duties as Greek tutor.


Diacritical Marks

A week ago I confessed that I couldn't figure out how to make an inverted breve appear below the letter u. Thanks to Pierre Wechter, who pointed me to, which showed me how.

The HTML incantation is <SPAN style="FONT-FAMILY: Gentium Alt">&#x0075;&#x032f;</SPAN>, which yields . If this looks like u followed by a box on your browser, that's because

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The Sweet o' the Year

George Meredith, The Sweet o' the Year:
Now the frog, all lean and weak,
Yawning from his famished sleep,
Water in the ditch doth seek,
Fast as he can stretch and leap:
Marshy king-cups burning near
Tell him 'tis the sweet o' the year.

Now the ant works up his mound
In the mouldered piny soil,
And above the busy ground
Takes the joy of earnest toil:
Dropping pine-cones, dry and sere,
Warn him 'tis the sweet o' the year.

Now the chrysalis on the wall
Cracks, and out the creature springs,
Raptures in his body small,
Wonders on his dusty wings:
Bells and cups, all shining clear,
Show him 'tis the sweet o' the year.

Now the brown bee, wild and wise,
Hums abroad, and roves and roams,
Storing in his wealthy thighs
Treasure for the golden combs:
Dewy buds and blossoms dear
Whisper 'tis the sweet o' the year.

Now the merry maids so fair
Weave the wreaths and choose the queen,
Blooming in the open air,
Like fresh flowers upon the green;
Spring, in every thought sincere,
Thrills them with the sweet o' the year.

Now the lads, all quick and gay,
Whistle to the browsing herds,
Or in the twilight pastures grey
Learn the use of whispered words:
First a blush, and then a tear,
And then a smile, i' the sweet o' the year.

Now the May-fly and the fish
Play again from noon to night;
Every breeze begets a wish,
Every motion means delight:
Heaven high over heath and mere
Crowns with blue the sweet o' the year.

Now all Nature is alive,
Bird and beetle, man and mole;
Bee-like goes the human hive,
Lark-like sings the soaring soul:
Hearty faith and honest cheer
Welcome in the sweet o' the year.

Friday, May 15, 2009


In Eden Garden

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring:
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —
    When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
    Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
    The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
    The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
    A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. — Have, get, before it cloy,
    Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
    Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
The pear-tree and the thrush are also juxtaposed in Robert Browning, Home Thoughts from Abroad:
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Solvitur Ambulando

G.M. Trevelyan, excerpts from his essay on Walking:
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches melancholy from the other) I know that I have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again.


I have often known the righteous forsaken and his seed begging for bread, but I never knew a man go for an honest day's walk, for whatever distance, great or small, his pair of compasses could measure out in the time, and not have his reward in the repossession of his own soul.


The secret beauties of Nature are unveiled only to the cross-country walker. Pan would not have appeared to Pheidippides on a road. On the road we never meet the "moving accidents by flood and field": the sudden glory of a woodland glade; the open back-door of the old farmhouse sequestered deep in rural solitude; the cow routed up from meditation behind the stone wall as we scale it suddenly; the deep, slow, south-country stream that we must jump, or wander along to find the bridge; the northern torrent of molten peat-hag that we must ford up to the waist, to scramble, glowing warm-cold, up the farther foxglove bank; the autumnal dew on the bracken and the blue straight smoke of the cottage in the still glen at dawn; the rush down the mountain side, hair flying, stones and grouse rising at our feet; and at the bottom the plunge in the pool below the waterfall, in a place so fair that kings should come from far to bathe therein—yet is it left, year in year out, unvisited save by us and "troops of stars." These, and a thousand other blessed chances of the day, are the heart of Walking, and these are not of the road.
Related posts:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Mega Biblion, Mega Kakon

Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist (New York: Warner, 1995), p. 306:
The result was The Ants, published by the Harvard University Press in 1990. It contained 732 double-columned pages, hundreds of textbook figures and color plates, and a bibliography of 3000 entries. It weighed 7.5 pounds, fulfilling my criterion of a magnum opus—a book which when dropped from a three-story building is big enough to kill a man.
This brings to mind some other examples of books used as weapons.

Erasmus, Colloquies (Cyclops, or The Gospel Bearer, tr. Craig R. Thompson):
Cannius. Then why do you insist you love the Gospel?

Polyphemus. I'll tell you. A certain Franciscan in our neighborhood kept babbling from the pulpit against Erasmus' New Testament. I met the man privately, grabbed him by the hair with my left hand, and punched him with my right. I gave him a hell of a beating; made his whole face swell. What do you say to that? Isn't that promoting the Gospel? Next I gave him absolution by banging him on the head three times with this very same book, raising three lumps, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Cannius. The evangelical spirit, all right! This is certainly defending the Gospel with the Gospel.

Ca. Unde igitur declaras te amare Evangelium?

Po. Dicam. Franciscanus quidam apud nos non desinebat e suggesto deblaterare in Novum Testamentum Erasmi: conveni hominem privatim, laevam inieci capillis, dextra pugilem egi, suggillavi illum magnifice, totamque faciem tuber reddidi. Quid ais? non est hoc favere evangelio? Deinde absolvi illum a commissis, hoc ipso codice ter in verticem impacto, fecique tria tubera, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Ca. Satis quidem evangelice. Istuc nimirum est Evangelium Evangelio defendere.

Dan Nienaber, 'Bible Belt' trouble for jail guard (Mankato Free Press, April 11, 2007):
A Blue Earth County Jail guard is facing criminal charges for allegedly thumping an inmate with a Bible.

James Lee Sheppard, 56, has been charged with two gross misdemeanors for allegedly hitting an inmate with a Bible before grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against a set of steel bars in the jail, the criminal complaint said. Sheppard is scheduled to appear in court April 26 for the charges of mistreatment of an inmate and misconduct by a public officer.

The incident was investigated by a Mankato police officer at about 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 8. Officer Allen Schmidt reported he watched a video recording with jail staff that showed Sheppard entering a jail unit earlier that night and confronting 26-year-old inmate Jeremy Hansen.

Sheppard takes a book from Hansen, which Hansen later reported was his Bible, and slams it on a table, Schmidt reported.

"Custody officer Sheppard then takes the book and strikes inmate Hansen in the right side of the face with the book," the complaint said.

The bookseller Thomas Osborne bought the library of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, and hired Samuel Johnson to catalogue it. A dispute between Osborne and Johnson arose in the course of the work. Johnson's early biographers give slightly different accounts of the quarrel.

John Hawkins, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.:
I mention the above particulars of this worthless fellow as an introduction to a fact respecting his behaviour to Johnson, which I have often heard related, and which himself confessed to be true. Johnson, while employed in selecting pieces for the Harleian Miscellany, was necessitated, not only to peruse the title-page of each article, but frequently to examine its contents, in order to form a judgment of its worth and importance, in the doing whereof, it must be supposed, curiosity might sometimes detain him too long, and whenever it did, Osborne was offended. Seeing Johnson one day deeply engaged in perusing a book, and the work being for the instant at a stand, he reproached him with inattention and delay, in such coarse language as few men would use, and still fewer could brook: the other in his justification asserted somewhat, which Osborne answered by giving him the lie; Johnson's anger at so foul a charge, was not so great as to make him forget that he had weapons at hand: he seized a folio that lay near him, and with it felled his adversary to the ground, with some exclamation, which, as it is differently related, I will not venture to repeat.
Hesther Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson:
Of the truth of stories which ran currently about the town concerning Dr. Johnson it was impossible to be certain, unless one asked him himself, and what he told, or suffered to be told, before his face without contradicting, has every public mark, I think, of real and genuine authenticity. I made, one day, very minute inquiries about the tale of his knocking down the famous Tom Osborne with his own "Dictionary" in the man's own house. "And how was that affair? In earnest? Do tell me, Mr. Johnson?" "There is nothing to tell, dearest lady, but that he was insolent, and I beat him, and that he was a blockhead, and told of it, which I should never have done. So the blows have been multiplying and the wonder thickening for all these years, as Thomas was never a favourite with the public. I have beat many a fellow, but the rest had the wit to hold their tongues."
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.:
In 1742 he wrote ... 'Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.' He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000 £, a sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.'
The statement of the former Mrs. Thrale (Hesther Lynch Piozzi) that the book used as a weapon was Johnson's own dictionary can probably be dismissed. Hawkins and Boswell connect the incident with the catalogue of the Harleian library. Work on this started in 1742, parts of the catalogue appeared in 1743-1744, and selected pamphlets from the library were reprinted between 1744 and 1746. Johnson's Dictionary was not published until 1755.

John Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, vol. VIII (1814), p. 446, reports:
The identical book with which Johnson knocked down Osborne (Biblia Graeca Septuaginta, folio, 1594, Frankfort; the note written by the Rev. ----- Mills) I saw in February 1812 at Cambridge, in the possession of J. Thorpe, Bookseller; whose Catalogue, since published, contains particulars authenticating this assertion.
W. Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), p. 225, accepts the identification of the folio with a Greek Bible.

In related news, composer Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) supposedly died when a book shelf fell over on him, although doubt has been cast on the story. In April, 2003 the newspaper Jutarnji List published a story about a 60 year-old mathematics professor from Zagreb, identified only by the initials "DK", who was trapped for three days by a pile of books. The Associated Press (Dec. 30, 2003) reported that Patrice Moore was trapped in his apartment for two days under a pile of books and papers.

For the dangers of reading, see Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Heart's Balm

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India, chapter 8:
"Do you know what the name of that green bird up above us is?" she asked, putting her shoulder rather nearer to his.
"Oh no, Ronny, it has red bars on its wings."
"Parrot," he hazarded.
"Good gracious no."
The bird in question dived into the dome of the tree. It was of no importance, yet they would have liked to identify it, it would somehow have solaced their hearts.
Forster himself in a note identified the bird as the Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia), but Prasanta Das, "'The Common Iora' in A Passage to India," Notes and Queries 43.1 (March 1966) 54-55, observed that Forster was mistaken, as the Common Iora has white bars on its wings, not red bars.

Related post: The Desire for Knowledge and the Names for Things.


The Great Swindle

John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson (November 15, 1813):
Verres plundered temples, and robbed a few rich men, but he never made such ravages among private property in general, nor swindled so much out of the pockets of the poor, and middle class of people, as these banks have done.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Escape from Oneself

C.P. Cavafy, The City (tr. George Valassopoulo):

You said: "I shall go to some other land, I shall go to some other sea.
Another city there must be, better than this.
My every effort here is a sentence of condemnation against me,
and my heart—like a corpse—lies buried.
How long shall my mind remain smothered in this blight?
Wherever I turn my eye, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life
where I spent and spoiled and ruined so many years."

Fresh lands you shall not find, you shall not find other seas.
The city shall ever follow you.
In streets you shall wander that are the same streets and
grow old in quarters that are the same
and among these very same houses you shall turn grey.
You shall always be returning to the city. Hope not;
there is no ship to take you to other lands, there is no road.
You have so spoiled your life here in this tiny corner
that you have ruined it in all the world.

The same (tr. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard):

You said: "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally."

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

The same (tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou):

You said, "I'll go to another land, I'll go to another sea.
Another city will be found, a better one than this.
My every effort is doomed by destiny
and my heart—like a dead man—lies buried.
How long will my mind languish in such decay?
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I look
the blackened ruins of my life I see here,
where so many years I've lived and wasted and ruined."

Any new lands you will not find; you'll find no other seas.
The city will be following you. In the same streets
you'll wander. And in the same neighborhoods you'll age,
and in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always in this same city you'll arrive . For elsewhere—do not hope—
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
Just as you have wasted your life here,
in this tiny niche, in the entire world you've ruined it.

The same (tr. Lawrence Durrell):

You tell yourself: I'll be gone
To some other land, some other sea,
to a city lovelier far than this
Could ever have been or hoped to be—
Where every step now tightens the noose:
A heart in a body buried and out of use;
How long, how long must I be here
Confined among these dreary purlieus
Of the common mind? Wherever now I look
Black ruins of my life rise into view.
So many years have I been here
Spending and squandering and nothing gained.

There's no new land, my friend, no
New sea; for the city will follow you,
In the same streets you'll wander endlessly,
The same mental suburbs slip from youth to age,
In the same house go white at last—
The city is a cage.
No other places, always this
Your earthly landfall, and no ship exists
To take you from yourself. Ah! don't you see
Just as you've ruined your life in this
One plot of ground you've ruined its worth
Everywhere now—over the whole earth?

Related post: Crossing the Seas.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Ramifications of Branch

This post supplements The Root of Branch.

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, s.v. branca:
[orig. inc. Th.] [val. brâncă, ital. branca, francog. branche, hisp. branca. M-L.] GROM. p. 309,2 terminus sive petra naturalis si branca(m) lupi habuerit facta(m), arborem peregrinam significat. 309,4 si branca ursi habuerit. AVG. serm. ed. Mai 161,4 panem domino mortuo canis porrigebat et brancis, ut poterat, ad comedendum invitabat et voce.
"AVG. serm. ed. Mai 161,4" is probably a reference to "Sermones S. Augustini ex codicibus Vaticanis," in Angelo Mai, Nova Patrum Bibliotheca (Rome, 1852), i, part I, pp. 1-470 (unavailable to me). I believe that many of these sermons attributed to St. Augustine in Mai's edition are now considered spurious.

Eric Thomson kindly copied and sent to me the following excerpt from Joshua Whatmough, The Dialects of Ancient Gaul: Prolegomena and Records of the Dialects (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 220 (s.v. "branca, 'paw,' hence 'branch'"):
Aug. serm. 161.4, Grom. Lat. 309.2, cf. 4; AcS 3.924. We are now told that this is not Germanic, but Keltic (for *urānca, Lith. rankà "hand"), see J.U. Hubschmied Vox Rom. 2.1937, 24-33, W-H 1.114, M-L REW 1271; Pokorny Urg. 67. But where are the Keltic cognates? However Vendryes Rev. de Phil. 72, 1946, 94 has a new etymology. In modern Germ. Pranke; hardly cf. Brancus (king of the Allobroges) Liv. 21.31.6?
I can't figure out how to reproduce the inverted breve below the u in Whatmough's *urānca.

Whatmough's abbreviations are a bit cryptic, and here are some expanded references:To which could be added the following, in chronological order:Eric Thomson also writes in an email:
Apropos German 'zweig' for plough J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, in their Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 156, draw attention to a host of words meaning 'forked branch' (in Gothic, Lithuanian, Russian, Armenian, Persian and Sanskrit) which developed the secondary meaning of plough (together with six examples from a different IE root also meaning branch which developed similarly) so even if biramica-branch is not to be credited there is nevertheless a sense of appropriate coincidence about it, as there is also about bracken-branch and bracchium-branch. Specious it may be but speciosus too, like kindred spirits no less kindred for lacking a common descent.
There are also some interesting remarks in Mallory and Adams about the use of metaphorical trees and branches to describe linguistic relationships. On pp. 2-3, they write:
But in the twelfth century a clever Icelandic scholar, considering these types of similarities, concluded that Englishmen and Icelanders 'are of one tongue, even though one of the two (tongues) has changed greatly, or both somewhat'. In a wider sense, the Icelander believed that the two languages, although they differed from one another, had 'previously parted or branched off from one and the same tongue'. The image of a tree with a primeval language as a trunk branching out into its various daughter languages was quite deliberate—the Icelander employed the Old Norse verb greina 'to branch'.
Id., pp. 71-72:
August Schleicher (1861-2) proposed one of the earliest models of the relationship between the various Indo-European groups (Fig. 5.1) that portrayed the groups as branches stemming from a common trunk (Stammbaum), and the concept of a family tree, although often maligned as oversimplistic, is still the primary method employed in indicating the interrelationships of the Indo-European languages.
Charles Burchfield, Tanglewood in Winter

Saturday, May 09, 2009


A Habit of Herons

Aeschylus, fragment 275 Nauck, lines 1-2 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
For a heron, in its flight on high, shall smite thee with its dung, its belly's emptyings.

ἐρῳδιὸς γὰρ ὑψόθεν ποτώμενος
ὄνθῳ σε πλήξει νηδύος κενώμασιν.
James Hancock and James Kushlan, Herons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 217 (on the green heron, Butorides virescens):
It is often seen flying after being disturbed. Then it flies with head out and feet dangling and gives the characteristic 'Skeow' call. It also relieves itself upon taking off, leading to some vulgar common names.
For the vulgar common names, see John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond, and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1999), p. 204 (also on the green heron):
Flying away from disturbance, this heron often lets loose a stream of white defecation, hence the vernacular labels "shitepoke" and "chalkline."
See also Scott Weidensaul, Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding (Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), p. 72 (on the "welter of colloquial English names that grew up in different regions, sometimes varying from valley to valley"):
Flush a bittern or a heron, and it'll usually void a stream of excrement as it takes off; such birds were known as "shitepokes" in polite company, but the middle e vanished when the audience was rougher.
In 2006 my son went camping with friends in a swamp in eastern North Carolina. His account of the trip included this anecdote:
On our midnight canoe run, Ken and I disturbed a great blue heron nesting in the canopy above us: as it flew away, loudly protesting, it discharged its copious cloacal contents in our direction, which splashed loudly around the canoe nearly hitting us. I shone the light upwards through the canopy and I remember quite clearly the sight of the fecal salvo descending rapidly towards us.

Friday, May 08, 2009


Nightmare on Elm Street

"H1N1 influenza" doesn't quite have the ring of "swine flu." In classical literature, the two great descriptions of plague are Thucydides 2.47-52 and Lucretius 6.1138-1286, both portraying the plague at Athens in 430 B.C. Vergil, Georgics 3.474-566, described a plague affecting cattle in Noricum at some unknown date.

Plagues kill plants as well as animals. Among the Ten Common Trees in Susan Stokes' children's book of that name (New York: American Book Company, 1901) are two species of trees which are decidedly uncommon a century later, the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) and the American Elm (Ulmus americana). I've been reading Nicholas P. Money, The Triumph of the Fungi: A Rotten History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) — the first two chapters are about chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease.

Chestnut blight destroyed billions of trees in the United States in the early 20th century and inflicted considerable collateral damage as well. "The disappearance of nuts in the forests had a tremendous effect in wildlife. Chestnuts had offered a large crop every year that fattened wild turkeys, deer, squirrels, black bears, and other animals." (Money, p. 6.) Robert Frost, in a 1936 poem (Ten Mills, IV. Evil Tendencies Cancel), wrote:
Will the blight end the chestnut?
The farmers rather guess not.
It keeps smoldering at the roots
And sending up new roots
Till another parasite
Shall come to end the blight.
Frost's farmers guessed incorrectly. Few chestnut trees survive today. Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (1950-1953, new ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), p. 194, wrote:
All words about the American Chestnut are now but an elegy for it. This once mighty tree, one of the grandest features of our sylva, has gone down like a slaughtered army before a foreign fungus disease, the chestnut blight. In the youth of a man not yet old, native Chestnut was still to be seen in glorious array, from the upper slopes of Mount Mitchell, the great forest below waving with creamy white Chestnut blossoms in the crowns of the ancient trees, so that it looked like a sea with white combers plowing across its surface. Gone forever is that day...
I learned from Money's book (p. 18) that a 60-acre stand of 2,500 chestnut trees in West Salem, Wisconsin, escaped infection until 1987, and according to Elliot Minor, "Rare American Chestnut Trees Discovered" (Associated Press, May 19, 2006), a small stand of chestnut trees miraculously survived unnoticed on Pine Mountain near Warm Springs, Georgia. In 2005 a biologist working for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources discovered the grove while hiking in the area.

The damage to chestnut trees was done before I was born. Dutch elm disease struck the United States later, starting in the 1930's. I remember the tall elm tree in our front yard on Chamberlain Street in Brewer, Maine, when I was a boy. We had to cut it down when it became diseased.

David Quammen, in The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (New York: Doubleday, 1989), has an interesting chapter on "Street Trees: The Hard, Noble Life of a Stranger in a Strange Land" (pp. 70-76). Many American streets received their names from the trees lining them, e.g. Chestnut Street and Elm Street. The real nightmare on Elm Street is that there are now fewer elms on Elm Street.

Thanks to Bill Adamsen for the following remarks:
I read your blogpost and wanted to inform you that the status of the American chestnut is not as bleak as you portray. Across the former range there are hundreds of thousands, if not billions of chestnut sprouts that send up a shoot from the terminal bud (a not unique chestnut adaptation) and sometimes live long enough to flower and if pollinated openly or by man's intervention, send their genes to the next generation. I have personally documented literally thousands of these trees here in Connecticut. I have at least ten on my small 1 acre of property.

While it is true that early hopes were misguided, and even early scientific efforts were poorly informed, the same is not so for today's research. There are several programs nationwide with significant results attempting and apparently close to solving this problem. They take different approaches but all are scientifically valid and have passed some form of peer review. The American Chestnut Foundation has followed the breeding protocol devised by University of Minnesota Researchers Dr. Charles Burnham and Dr. Lawrence Inman. A different spin, with the same general approach has been taken by groups such as the American Chestnut cooperators and CT Agricultural Experiment Station and others. Perhaps the most interesting is the true Genetic Engineering Approach (transgenics) taken by Syracuse University professors Dr. Chuck Maynard and Dr. William Powell.

All of these have had success and especially The American Chestnut Foundation which is working with the US Forest Service have shown early promise. The USFS has documented some of their cooperative efforts in a 2008 Compass Magazine Publication. They are field (forest) testing thousands of BC3F3 trees right now, and the amount available for test will be increasing exponentially over the next years. These trees are over 93% American, and have shown resistance to blight. New trees with new "sources of resistance" and genetics, and regional adaptability are being released every year.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Ecstasy, Rich Moods, and Glee

John Clare, Home Pictures in May:
The sunshine bathes in clouds of many hues
And mornings feet are gemmed with early dews
Warm Daffodils about the garden beds
Peep thro their pale slim leaves their golden heads
Sweet earthly suns of spring—the Gosling broods
In coats of sunny green about the road
Waddle in extacy—and in rich moods
The old hen leads her flickering chicks abroad
Oft scuttling neath her wings to see the kite
Hang wavering oer them in the springs blue light
The sparrows round their new nests chirp with glee
And sweet the Robin springs young luxury shares
Tuteling its song in feathery Gooseberry tree
While watching worms the Gardeners spade unbears

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Some Names

Stanley Fish, "God Talk, New York Times (May 3, 2009), discussing Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009):
No wonder "Ditchkins" — Eagleton's contemptuous amalgam of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, perhaps with a sidelong glance at Luke 6:39, "Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?" — seems incapable of responding to "the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love."
Hitchens is Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve Books, 2007). Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

The name Ditchkins reminds me of another name famous in the annals of religious controversy — Chesterbelloc, which was George Bernard Shaw's nickname for G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Shaw coined the name in "The Chesterbelloc: A Lampoon," New Age (February 15, 1908).

An apt name, or at least middle name — George Bird Grinnell, an ornithologist who founded the first Audubon Society in 1886 and wrote such books as American Duck Shooting (New York: Forest and Stream, 1901) and American Game-Bird Shooting (New York: Forest and Stream, 1910).

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


The Root of Branch

James Mitchell, Significant Etymology, or Roots, Stems, and Branches of the English Language (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1908), p. 59:
The word branch certainly was derived from the F. branche (in Breton, branca), as in Italy and Spain, and there can be little doubt, I think, that the F. branche was derived from the L. brachium, the arm. But a direct derivation from brachium is inadmissible. It is necessary for this to have had a L. form brancia.
There is considerable doubt about a connection between branch and brachium. See, e.g., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986; rpt. 1996), s.v. branch (p. 48): "XIII - (O)F. branche :- late L. branca, of unkn. orig."

For some interesting remarks on the root of branch, see Robert S.P. Beekes, "The Etymology of Dutch Broek 'Breeches'," in Dirk Boutkan and Arend Quak, edd., Language Contact: Substratum, Superstratum, Adstratum in Germanic Languages (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000 = Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, 54), pp. 25-26 (at 26):
When I looked at the etymology of French branche 'branch' (the English word is a loan from French), which is derived from (Lat.) branca, it occurred to me that the form of this word could be a variant of the word for 'breeches', and that the meaning could be compatible too. The word branca means 'paw' (see Ernout-Meillet). Thus also in Rumanian (brînca). See Pfeifer on Germ. Pranke 'Klaue, Hand, Pfote, Tatze', which is a loan from a Romance language. For the meaning, cf. Russ. noga ('nail, claw > foot, leg'). (In French it developed further into 'branch', which will have gone through 'leg'.)
Pfeifer is Wolfgang Pfeifer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1989), unavailable to me. Ernout-Meillet is their Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1951), s.v. branca, -ae f.:
patte. Mot très rare et tardif; Gromatici (deux exemples), Aug., Serm. (un exemple). M.L. 1271 (fr. branche). Passé en germ. branka "Pranke" et en irl. braice. Mot gaulois?
The two examples from the Gromatici can both be found on p. 309 of Carl Lachmann, ed., Die Schriften der römischen Feldmesser: Gromatici Veteres (Berlin: Reimer, 1848):
Terminus siue petra naturalis si branca lupi habuerit, (fig. 249.) arborem peregrinam significat.

Terminus siue petra naturalis si branca ursi habuerit facta, (fig. 250.) lucum significat.
Unfortunately, I don't have access to Brian Campbell, The Writings of the Roman Land Surveyors: Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary (London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 2000; rpt. 2008 = Journal of Roman Studies Monograph, 9).

Pierre-Henri Billy, Thesaurus Linguae Gallicae (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1993), p. 33, gives the Augustine citation as "Aug., Serm., CLXI, 4," but I can't find the word in that sermon.

Ernout-Meillet's "M.L. 1271" is a reference to Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke, Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg: Winter, 1935), #1271 (unavailable to me).

Two older conjectures about the root of branch have not met with favor. F. Neumann, "Französische Etymologien," Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 5 (1881) 385-386 (at 386), speculated that branca came from Latin bi-ramica, i.e. from the roots bis (twice) and ramus (branch), and C. Nigra, "Note etimologiche e lessicali, terza serie," Archivio Glottologico Italiano 15 (1901) 97-128 (at 100-101), derived branca from Germanic *krampa. According to Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé, s.v. branche, these conjectures "sont à écarter" (are to be avoided"), and Jean R. Scheidegger, Le Roman de Renart, ou Le Texte de la Dérision (Genève: Droz, 1989), p. 100, describes them as "peu vraisemblables" (not at all likely).

Finally, Anatoly Liberman, Break - Broke - Broken, writes:
Words designating all kinds of fragile things tend to be related to break. Among them is probably bracken "fern," borrowed, in all likelihood, from Scandinavian. Its cognates have been attested with the senses "branch," "bush," "juniper," and so forth. The initial meaning of bracken must have been "tree" or "brushwood." People broke trees and called the product brak-. Later some of those words acquired more specialized meanings, "fern" and "juniper," among others. The ties between Latin branca, from which, via French, English has branch, and brak- cannot be direct, for Latin cognates of break begin with fr- (compare fragile, a Romance word), but the coincidence is curious.

Sunday, May 03, 2009



Ch'i-wu Ch'ien (692-749), A Boat in Spring on Jo-ya Lake, tr. Witter Bynner:
Thoughtful elation has no end:
Onward I bear it to whatever come.
And my boat and I, before the evening breeze
Passing flowers, entering the lake,
Turn at nightfall toward the western valley,
Where I watch the south star over the mountain
And a mist that rises, hovering soft,
And the low moon slanting through the trees;
And I choose to put away from me every worldly matter
And only to be be an old man with a fishing-pole.
The same, tr. Kiang Kang Hu and William Garrett:
My quiet and joyful thinking has no end.
I carry it and go to whatever I may meet.
The evening breeze moves my boat.
Passing the flowers, and entering the lake,
It gradually turns toward the western-reaching waters.
I can see the southern star beyond the mountain.
The mist rises and flies smoothly.
The moon sinks down from the trees quietly.
Let me put aside all the worldly affairs,
And become a lone fisherman.
The same, tr. Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell:
Solitary meditation is not suddenly snapped off; it continues without interruption.
It flows — drifts this way, that way — returns upon itself.
The boat moves before a twilight wind.
We enter the mouth of the pool by the flower path
At the moment when night enfolds the Western Valley.
The serrated hills face the Southern Constellation,
Mist hangs over the deep river pools and floats down gently, gently, with the current.
Behind me, through the trees, the moon is sinking.
The business of the world is a swiftly moving space of water, a rushing, spreading water.
I am content to be an old man holding a bamboo fishing-rod.

Saturday, May 02, 2009



Who is described in these words?
[A] book-worm, no longer young, living from home, a mainlander, city-bred and domestic. Married but not exclusively, a dog-lover, often hungry and thirsty, dark-haired....A lover of old bric-a-brac....He loved the rural scene as only a citizen can. No farmer, he had learned the points of a good olive tree. He is all adrift when it comes to fighting, and had not seen deaths in battle. He had sailed upon and watched the sea with a palpitant concern, seafaring not being his trade. As a minor sportsman he had seen wild boars at bay and heard tall yarns of lions....Very bookish, this house-bred man. His work smells of the literary coterie, of a writing tradition. His notebooks were stocked with purple passages and he embedded these in his tale wherever they would more or less fit.
Answer: Homer, as imagined by T.E. Shaw (Lawrence of Arabia), in the "Translator's Note" preceding his translation of the Odyssey.

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