Wednesday, August 26, 2009


An Unfortunate Misprint

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, An Unspoken Farewell:
When my time comes, I will not say with Cassandra, ἀρκείτω βίος, 'Let life suffice', but with the unknown speaker of a fragment of Aeschylus, 'Life's bivouac is o'er, διαπεφρούρηται βίος. These words of a warrior remind me of Victor Hugo's 'J'ai servi, j'ai veillé', 'I have served, I have watched'—served as a teacher, watched as a critic; and of Landor's 'warming both hands before the <bivouac> fire of life.' Διαπεφρούρηται βίος shall be my epitaph.
Quoted in The Letters of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, edited by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 324.

The compound verb διαφρουρέω is a hapax legomenon. Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v. translate "to keep one's post," with the fragment from Aeschylus as the only citation. The simplex verb φρουρέω = "watch, guard" occurs often. G. Italie, Index Aeschyleus, 2nd ed. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964), p. 71, translates the fragment into Latin as vitae vigilia peracta est.

Unfortunately, Gildersleeve's instructions for his epitaph were not carried out to the letter. Briggs (loc. cit.) notes:
It is the epitaph on his gravestone at Plot 58 of the University Cemetery in Charlottesville, but it is misspelled, with an English "V" in place of the upsilon.
An unfortunate misprint in the epitaph of so exact a Greek scholar. Briggs (p. 353):
The apocryphal story of his desire to be buried in Charlottesville after death since he had been "buried" there for two decades of his life has been the most durable of the many anecdotes about him.
Gildersleeve taught Greek at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from 1856 to 1876. I studied Greek there in the 1970s, but unfortunately I never saw Gildersleeve's tomb.

The etymology of bivouac is interesting. See the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1702, from Fr., ult. from Swiss/Alsatian biwacht "night guard," from bei- "double, additional" + wacht "guard." Original meaning was an army that stayed up on night watch; sense of "outdoor camp" is 1853. Not a common word in Eng. before the Napoleonic Wars.
The phrase "the bivouac of Life" occurs in Longfellow's poem A Psalm of Life:
In the world's broad field of battle,
    In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
    Be a hero in the strife!
Gildersleeve was "a hero in the strife" of the Civil War. As he put it, "The right to teach Southern youth for nine months was earned by sharing the fortunes of their fathers and brothers at the front for three." In 1864, Gildersleeve was wounded at Weyer's Cave in the thigh by a Spencer bullet, so badly that he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve

One could make an interesting blog out of excerpts from Gildersleeve's Brief Mention column in American Journal of Philology, with translations and notes. C.W.E. Miller collected some excerpts in Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1930), but many gems remain to be rediscovered. See Paul Shorey, "Fifty Years of Classical Studies in America," Transactions of the American Philological Association 50 (1919) 33-61 (at 60):
[Y]ou can hardly pick up a number of Brief Mention, even among those which an unfriendly critic might deem the most discursive, frivolous, and repetitious, without learning something about Greek or the history of literature or linguistic analysis and literary criticism, that is worth knowing and that you did not know, without receiving some suggestion that will prove of helpful application in your own reading and study.

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