Saturday, October 31, 2009


Metamorphoses and Jesse Trees

Anent Illustrations of the Heliades, a correspondent drew my attention to a couple of unusual pictures of metamorphoses. The first, by Charles Jameson Grant, is titled Singular Effects of the Universal Vegetable Pills on a Green Grocer:

The second is from Miscellanea d'alchimia (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana di Firenze, Codex Ashburnham 1166, folio 16):

The second picture, depicting the alchemical or philosophical tree, is supposed to have a mystical meaning, but to my irreverent eye the supine gentleman appears to have a massive "woody" (cf. Catullus 32.10-11: nam pransus iaceo et satur supinus / pertundo tunicamque palliumque).

The second picture also calls to mind certain representations of the Jesse Tree inspired by Isaiah 11.1 (et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet), e.g. one in the Winchester Psalter (British Museum, MS. Cotton Nero C.IV, folio 9, color photo here):

and this illustration from a French bible (Bibliothèque nationale, Français 3, folio 180):

Friday, October 30, 2009


No Hunting Around

Thanks to Mike Salter, who writes in an email:
Your post "Take it as it comes" reminded me of a 19th-century educational polemic I once read by a certain Professor Hale on the importance of reading Latin in the "given" word order. It's available on the net in full I think - if you google "art of reading latin hale" you can probably find it. An interesting read, and I tend to agree with him...I try to inculcate this in my 21st century students as well, once they've reached a certain level!
The reference is to William Gardner Hale, The Art of Reading Latin: How to Teach It (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1887), from which the following excerpts come:

Pp. 16-17:
After my little jest about the Romans hunting up first the subject and then the predicate as Cicero talked to them, or first the predicate and then the subject, whichever one thinks the Roman method may have been, I assure them that "what we have to do is to learn to understand a Roman sentence precisely as a Roman understood it as he heard it or read it, say in an oration, for example. Now the Roman heard, or read, first the first word, then the second, then the third, and so on, through sentence after sentence, to the end of the oration, with no turning back, with no hunting around. And in doing this he so was guided all the time, by indications of one kind or another in some way strown through each sentence, that, when the last word of that sentence had been spoken or read, the whole of the meaning had reached his mind."
P. 31, n. 1:
At the meeting of the Philological Association at Ithaca last summer, Professor Gildersleeve, in the course of some remarks upon the reading of Greek and Latin, expressed himself with great severity in regard to the habitual way of doing the thing, and suggested that it would be desirable, in order to force students to accept the order of the original, to require them to read through a hole in a piece of paper, or with a notched card.
Cf. Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "A Novice of 1850," Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine 1 (1912) 3-9, rpt. in Ward W. Briggs Jr., ed. Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 66-74 (at 73):
I have in all my teachings laid stress on the appeal to the ear rather than to the eye; and when the eye is used, the student must be trained to follow the order of the original, which is the order of the ear. The analytical method—subject, predicate, modifier and the like—is fatal to any true mastery of the language.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Take It As It Comes

One of my Greek teachers used to say, at least once during every class, "Take it as it comes," by which he meant, "Try to understand the Greek words in the order in which they appear." Years later, I am still trying to follow this wise counsel. My natural tendency is not to "take it as it comes," but to skip around, to find the main clause with subject and verb first.

Most of the literature that survives from Greek and Roman times was meant to be understood with the ears, "as it comes," not perused silently with the eyes. Philip did not "see" the eunuch reading Isaiah, he "heard" him reading (Acts 8:30), because the eunuch, like most people of his day, was reading aloud.

Some bibliography: Josef Balogh, "Voces paginarum: Beiträge zur Geschichte des lauten Lesens und Schreibens," Philologus 82 (1927) 84-109 and 202-240; G.L. Hendrickson, "Ancient Reading," Classical Journal 25 (1929) 182-196; E.S. McCartney, "Notes on Reading and Praying Audibly," Classical Philology 43 (1948) 184-187; Bernard M.W. Knox, "Silent Reading in Antiquity," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 9 (1968) 421-435; Paul J. Achtemeier, "Omne Verbum Sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Antiquity," Journal of Biblical Literature 109 (1990) 3-27; Raymond J. Starr, "Reading Aloud: Lectores and Roman Reading," Classical Journal 86 (1991) 337-343.

"Take it as it comes" is advice that applies not only to reading Greek, but to life. As Horace said (Odes 3.8.27), "With joy seize the gifts of the current hour" (dona praesentis cape laetus horae).


Earle's Antiquary

John Earle, "An Antiquary," from Microcosmography or, a Piece of the World Discovered, in Essays and Characters:
He is a man strangely thrifty of time past, and an enemy indeed to his maw, whence he fetches out many things when they are now all rotten and stinking. He is one that hath that unnatural disease to be enamoured of old age and wrinkles, and loves all things (as Dutchmen do cheese) the better for being mouldy and worm-eaten. He is of our religion, because we say it is most antient; and yet a broken statue would almost make him an idolater. A great admirer he is of the rust of old monuments, and reads only those characters, where time hath eaten out the letters. He will go you forty miles to see a saint's well or a ruined abbey; and there be but a cross or stone foot-stool in the way, he'll be considering it so long, till he forget his journey. His estate consists much in shekels, and Roman coins; and he hath more pictures of Caesar, than James or Elizabeth. Beggars cozen him with musty things which they have raked from dunghills, and he preserves their rags for precious relicks. He loves no library, but where there are more spiders' volumes than authors, and looks with great admiration on the antique work of cobwebs. Printed books he contemns, as a novelty of this latter age, but a manuscript he pores on everlastingly, especially if the cover be all moth-eaten, and the dust make a parenthesis between every syllable. He would give all the books in his study (which are rarities all) for one of the old Roman binding, or six lines of Tully in his own hand. His chamber is hung commonly with strange beasts' skins, and is a kind of charnel-house of bones extraordinary; and his discourse upon them, if you will hear him, shall last longer. His very attire is that which is the eldest out of fashion, and you may pick a criticism out of his breeches. He never looks upon himself till he is grey-haired, and then he is pleased with his own antiquity. His grave does not fright him, for he has been used to sepulchers, and he likes death the better, because it gathers him to his fathers.
Related post: An Antiquary (by Samuel Butler).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Denniston's Greek Prose Style

Excerpts from J.D. Denniston's posthumous Greek Prose Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952; rpt. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979):

P. 5:
It is easy to regard Herodotus as an entertaining old fellow gifted with unlimited credulity and a knack for telling amusing, sometimes improper, stories in an Ionic brogue. But he was more than this. There is, at certain moments, a hushed intensity in his style which recalls Homer, Malory, or the English Bible: the story of Croesus and Solon, for example, or the story of Harpagus, who unwittingly ate the flesh of his murdered son at Astyages' table.
P. 6:
One is too apt to take for granted the reserve and restraint of the classics.
P. 8:
One of the reasons why writing Greek prose is such a fascinating occupation is that it offers a release from the comparatively strict bondage of English structure.
P. 16:
Exalted language wedded to pedestrian thought brings forth burlesque.
P. 61:
We must now consider the principles governing the architecture of the Greek sentence. To begin with, the units are normally small. The edifice, lofty though it may be, is built of bricks, not of huge blocks of Cyclopean masonry. To adopt another metaphor, a Greek period, though capable of sustaining itself, if need be, for twenty lines or so, demands frequent halts—like men who can walk all day if they are allowed to rest every now and then.
P. 72:
Sometimes, however, the orators employ antithesis as an end in itself, and language becomes the master, instead of the servant, of thought.
P. 124:
We do not know with any accuracy what ancient Greek sounded like; but even after allowing for this uncertainty, it is clear, I think, that the Greek ear differed from our own.
P. 132:
...the Laws, a work in which a certain πρεσβυτικὴ παιδιά not infrequently appears.
P. 136:
'Punning' is, it is true, an unfortunate description, because it connotes for us a humorous intention, while by the Greeks it was frequently regarded as a means of attaining truth, or as aesthetically valuable in itself.

Monday, October 26, 2009


The Year's Grown Old, No Whit Care We

Hilaire Belloc, October:
Look, how those steep woods on the mountain's face
Burn, burn against the sunset; now the cold
Invades our very noon: the year's grown old,
Mornings are dark, and evenings come apace.
The vines below have lost their purple grace,
And in Forreze the white wrack backward rolled,
Hangs to the hills tempestuous, fold on fold,
And moaning gusts make desolate all the place.

Mine host the month, at thy good hostelry,
Tired limbs I'll stretch and steaming beast I'll tether;
Pile on great logs with Gascon hand and free,
And pour the Gascon stuff that laughs at weather;
Swell your tough lungs, north wind, no whit care we,
Singing old songs and drinking wine together.
Where is Forreze? Could it be a misprint for Corrèze (in Gascony)?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Languid Autumn Day

John Buchan, An Autumn Picture:
As here I sit this languid Autumn day,
Before me stretch great shores of sunset leaves,
Crowning the gaunt boughs ere the wind bereaves
The woods of these, the lingering leaves of May.

Crimson and golden in a death display
Bright flare the blossoms of the falling year.
Now gone the green of beech, and cold and sere
The yielding hazel. All the skies are gray.

High from the wild woods stretch the upland spaces,
Brown is the bent and cumbered with dead bloom;
No cheerful song of lark the moorland thrills;

But dim and distant gleam the mountain places,
And, hovering half in daylight and in gloom,
The clear October shadows fold the hills.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, Conversation at the Fence

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Illustrations of the Heliades

Searching for illustrations of the Heliades turning into poplar trees, I found a couple of 16th century examples. The first is from a 1591 edition of Ovid:

The second is a fresco by Santi di Tito (1536-1603):

But the most serendipitous find was a painting by a contemporary artist, Paul Reid, born in 1975:

Reid confines himself mostly to mythological subjects. "There's plenty enough in classical myth," he said.

Laura Gascoigne has written enthusiastically and perceptively about Paul Reid and his work in:Duncan Macmillan, in "Can the age of gods speak to us today?," The Scotsman (June 6, 2008), a review of an exhibition of Paul Reid's paintings and drawings at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, is snarky: "stiffly posed figures," "old-fashioned pictures," "stagey," "not even postmodern."

To this laudator temporis acti, Paul Reid's paintings of mythological subjects are a refreshing oasis in the postmodern wasteland.

Related post: Anachronists.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Petition of a Poplar

Greek Anthology 9.706 (Antipater, tr. W.R. Paton):
I am a holy tree. Beware of injuring me as thou passest by, stranger, for I suffer pain if I am mutilated. Remember that my bark is still virginal, not like that of savage wild pear-trees. Who does not know what the race of poplars is like? If thou dost bark me, as I stand here by the road, thou shalt weep for it. Though I am but wood, the Sun cares for me.

Δένδρεον ἱερόν εἰμι· παρερχόμενός με φυλάσσευ
  πημαίνειν· ἀλγῶ, ξεῖνε, κολουομένη.
μέμνεο, παρθένιός μοι ἔπι φλόος, οὐχ ἃπερ ὠμαῖς
  ἀχράσιν· αἰγείρων τίς γένος οὐκ ἐδάη;
εἰ δὲ περιδρύψῃς με παρατραπίην περ ἐοῦσαν.
  δακρύσεις· μέλομαι καὶ ξύλον Ἠελίῳ.
A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page on line 3:
When Phaethon in the chariot of the Sun, his father, was struck by lightning and fell into the Eridanus, his sisters, the Heliades or Phaethonti(a)des, weeping on its banks, were turned into poplar-trees.1
1 Alders in Virg. Ecl. 6.63 (but poplars in Aen. 10.190).
Ovid (Metamorphoses 2.340-365, tr. Brookes More) tells the story of the transformation of the Heliades into poplars:
And all the daughters of the Sun went there
giving their tears, alas a useless gift;—
they wept and beat their breasts, and day and night
called, "Phaethon," who heard not any sound
of their complaint:—and there they lay foredone,
all scattered round the tomb. The silent moon
had four times joined her horns and filled her disk,
while they, according to an ancient rite,
made lamentation. Prone upon the ground,
the eldest, Phaethusa, would arise
from there, but found her feet were growing stiff;
and uttered moan. Lampetia wished to aid
her sister but was hindered by new roots;
a third when she would tear her hair, plucked forth
but leaves: another wailed to find her legs
were fastened in a tree; another moaned
to find her arms to branches had been changed.
And while they wondered, bark enclosed their thighs,
and covered their smooth bellies, and their breasts,
and shoulders and their hands, but left untouched
their lips that called upon their mother's name.
What can she do for them? Hither she runs
and thither runs, wherever frenzy leads.
She kisses them, alas, while yet she may!
But not content with this, she tried to hale
their bodies from the trees; and she would tear
the tender branches with her hands, but lo!
The blood oozed out as from a bleeding wound;
and as she wounded them they shrieked aloud,
"Spare me! O mother spare me; in the tree
my flesh is torn! farewell! farewell! farewell!"
And as they spoke the bark enclosed their lips.
Their tears flow forth, and from the new-formed boughs
amber distils and slowly hardens in the sun.
Related posts: Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; 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; Willows; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; An Old Saying; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


In Praise of Mirth

Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Act 2, Scene 8:
'Tis mirth that fills the veins with blood,
More than wine, or sleep, or food;
Let each man keep his heart at ease;
No man dies of that disease.
He that would his body keep
From diseases, must not weep;
But whoever laughs and sings,
Never he his body brings
Into fevers, gouts, or rheums,
Or lingeringly his lungs consumes;
Or meets with achës in the bone,
Or catarrhs or griping stone:
But contented lives for aye;
The more he laughs, the more he may.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Gathering Leaves

Robert Frost, Gathering Leaves:
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
Jervis McEntee, Gathering Autumn Leaves

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Cactus Ed and Arboricide

Edward Abbey, The Crooked Wood:
My father has been a logger, sawyer, and woodsman for most of his life. I myself have put in a fair share of time with ax, crosscut saw, chain saw, sledge, and wedge at the reduction of trees into fuel, post, and lumber. I understand and sympathize with the reasonable needs of a reasonable number of people on a finite continent. All men and women require shelter. All life depends upon other life. But what is happening today, in North America, is not rational use but irrational massacre. Man the Pest, multiplied to the swarming stage, is attacking the remaining forests like a plague of locusts on a field of grain. Knowing now what we have learned, unless the need were urgent, I could no more sink the blade of an ax into the tissues of a living tree than I could drive it into the flesh of a fellow human.
Such a sentiment might have been expected from Empedocles, who thought (fragment 117, tr. Matthew P.J. Dillon) that his soul had once occupied a bush (thámnos), if not a tree:
For I have already been born as a boy and a girl and a bush and a bird and a dumb fish leaping out of the sea.

ἤδη γάρ ποτ' ἐγὼ γενόμην κοῦρός τε κόρη τε θάμνος τ' οἰωνός τε καὶ ἔξαλος ἔλλοπος ἰχθύς.
Homer, Iliad 16.482-484 (tr. Richmond Lattimore), compared the death of a man (Sarpedon) with the fall of a tree:
He fell, as when an oak goes down or a white poplar,
or like a towering pine tree which in the mountains the carpenters
have hewn down with their whetted axes to make a ship-timber.

ἤριπε δ᾽ ὡς ὅτε τις δρῦς ἤριπεν ἢ ἀχερωῒς
ἠὲ πίτυς βλωθρή, τήν τ᾽ οὔρεσι τέκτονες ἄνδρες
ἐξέταμον πελέκεσσι νεήκεσι νήϊον εἶναι.
See also Edward Abbey, letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star (June 29, 1988):
The Pima County Transportation Department is doubling the width of Sweetwater Street, in the process destroying some of the biggest, oldest and loveliest palo verde trees in the city. (Our state tree, by the way.)
Related posts: Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; 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; Willows; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; An Old Saying; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Marcescence and Macabre Again

Thanks to David Norton for another example of marcescence, in Robert Frost's poem A Boundless Moment (see last line):
He halted in the wind, and—what was that
Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost?
He stood there bringing March against his thought,
And yet too ready to believe the most.

"Oh, that's the Paradise-in-bloom," I said;
And truly it was fair enough for flowers
Had we but in us to assume in March
Such white luxuriance of May for ours.

We stood a moment so in a strange world,
Myself as one his own pretense deceives;
And then I said the truth (and we moved on).
A young beech clinging to its last year's leaves.

Thanks to Roger Kuin for passing along the Oxford English Dictionary's etymological note on macabre:
< Middle French Macabré, of uncertain origin.

The Middle French word occurs first in Jean le Fèvre's Respit de la Mort (1376), where the author says 'Je fis de Macabré la dance': this is apparently a claim to have written a work called la danse Macabré. In form the word might be a popular alteration of Old French Macabé Maccabaeus (examples of Judas Macabré(s) occur at the end of the 12th cent.): see Französisches etymol. Wörterbuch at Macchabeus for investigation of the range of forms and spellings attested in Middle French for both the present word and for words and expressions independently derived from the biblical proper name. As regards meaning, it may be connected with the late medieval liturgical dance or procession called chorea Machabaeorum in Latin (Besançon, 1453) and in Middle Dutch Makkabeusdans (15th cent.), which has been explained as arising from 2 Maccabees 7: Französisches etymol. Wörterbuch suggests also the association of the liturgical office of the dead with 2 Maccabees 12:43-6 in the Vulgate (A.V. 43-5) as a reason for a link between a cult of the Maccabees and the dance of the dead tradition in art and literature. In Middle French the metaphor aller a la dance De Macabré 'to die' is found in the 15th cent.

A less likely explanation is that Macabré was the name of the artist who painted the picture which suggested the first poem on the subject. There is no evidence to support the theory that the word derives from Arabic maqābir, plural of maqbara cemetery (Moroccan colloquial Arabic məqāber, plural of məqebra tomb), or from Syriac meqabberēy gravediggers. For summaries of further explanations which have been advanced see Trésor de la langue française at macabre, Französisches etymol. Wörterbuch at Macchabeus.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Burn Me!

Brandon Watson at Siris, in A Bonfire of Bibles, quotes an invitation from Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, to participate in its Halloween Book Burning:
Come to our Halloween book burning. We are burning Satan's bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect. These are perversions of God's Word the King James Bible.

We will also be burning Satan's music such as country, rap, rock, pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel, contempory Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.

We will also be burning Satan's popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort, Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham, Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa, The Pope, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc.

We are not burning Bibles written in other languages that are based on the TR. We are not burning the Wycliffe, Tyndale, Geneva or other translations that are based on the TR.

We will be serving Bar-b-Que Chicken, fried chicken, and all the sides.

If you have any books or music to donate, please call us for pick-up. If you like you can drop them off at our church door anytime. Thanks.
This reminded me of Bertolt Brecht's poem Die Bücherverbrennung (The Burning of the Books, tr. John Willett):
When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned and on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power.
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven't my books
Always reported the truth? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you:
Burn me!

Als das Regime befahl, Bücher mit schädlichem Wissen
Öffentlich zu verbrennen, und allenthalben
Ochsen gezwungen wurden, Karren mit Büchern
Zu den Scheiterhaufen zu ziehen, entdeckte
Ein verjagter Dichter, einer der besten, die Liste der
Verbrannten studierend, entsetzt, dass seine
Bücher vergessen waren. Er eilte zum Schreibtisch
Zornbeflügelt, und schrieb einen Brief an die Machthaber.
Verbrennt mich! schrieb er mit fliegender Feder, verbrennt mich!
Tut mir das nicht an! Lasst mich nicht übrig! Habe ich nicht
Immer die Wahrheit berichtet in meinen Büchern? Und jetzt
Werd ich von euch wie ein Lügner behandelt! Ich befehle euch,
Verbrennt mich!
The banished writer was Oskar Maria Graf, who published Verbrennt mich! in Arbeiterzeitung (May 12, 1933).

These words from Wendell Berry, "The Burden of the Gospels," The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays (2005), pp. 127-137 (at 127), are worth pondering:
Anybody half awake these days will be aware that there are many Christians who are exceedingly confident in their understanding of the Gospels, and who are exceedingly self-confident in their understanding of themselves in their faith. They appear to know precisely the purposes of God, and they appear to be perfectly assured that they are now doing, and in every circumstance will continue to do, precisely God’s will as it applies specifically to themselves. They are confident, moreover, that God hates people whose faith differs from their own, and they are happy to concur in that hatred.

Having been invited to speak to a convocation of Christian seminarians, I at first felt that I should say nothing until I confessed that I do not have any such confidence. And then I understood that this would have to be my subject. I would have to speak of the meaning, as I understand it, of my lack of confidence, which I think is not at all the same as a lack of faith.


A Particular Problem

Back issues of medical journals are not where I would ordinarily expect to find humor, but I couldn't help laughing when I read J.A. Cameron, "A Particular Problem Concerning Personal Cleanliness," Public Health 76 (1962) 173-177. J.A. Cameron was Industrial Medical Officer, Oxfordshire, and his article was apparently meant to be serious. Warning: scatological content ahead.

P. 173:
As a result of the examination during the last two years, of a large number of men of mixed ages and circumstances, I have become interested in their personal cleanliness, and particularly in the condition of their underpants. Such a high proportion of these men showed faecal contamination of their underwear that I decided to count the numbers so affected; at the same time noting those who habitually wear no underpants at all.
The "large number" was 940, the proportion showing faecal contamination was 43.8%, and the number wearing no underpants was 8.6%. The extent of contamination ranged from "wasp-coloured staining in the natal cleft region of the underwear" to "frank massive faeces" (ibid.).

P. 173:
Under the circumstances in which this survey was conducted, it could be safely presumed that almost all the men concerned would have known that a medical examination was to be expected. From this it may be inferred that a "surprise" inspection might reveal an even higher proportion of contamination than that already shown; for many might take the precaution of presenting themselves in clean linen....There were surprises at every level. Amongst the numbers examined were some University graduates, and all grades of society, from the well educated to the general labouring class.
P. 174:
Outward appearance often belied itself. A "Teddy Boy" is outwardly very smart, his hair well greased, his pointed shoes well polished, and he has a pride in his appearance often contradicted by stripping him....Whilst a general dirtiness often was associated with underpant contamination, it was surprising how often this appeared on its own so frequently and in an otherwise clean individual.
P. 175:
Some may consider that it is not the business of a doctor to interfere and comment upon such a personal matter and I respect their point of view; however, my own interpretation of a doctor's duty suggested that some action was needed, even if no successful result was obtained. For this reason I decided that there was no point in this Survey unless I mentioned to those involved that they showed a lack of hygiene in this particular regard. It was naturally a delicate matter to handle, and the answers varied between a truculent "mind your own business" attitude and a host of excuses such as sweating, long journeys, bicycle riding, "nervous diarrhoea" and haemorrhoids.
P. 176:
[A] high proportion of the population are prepared to cry aloud about footling matters of uncleanliness such as tomato sauce stain on a restaurant tablecloth, whilst they luxuriate on a plush seat in their faecally-stained pants. They will have sent the waiter scurrying for a fresh tablecloth, but show no such haste to realise their own shortcomings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009



Water transformed into something like wine — Valerius Maximus 1.8 ext. 18 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Or especially why she [Nature] wished a water in Macedonia and another in the district of Cales to possess the property of wine whereby men are made drunk.

potissimumve quare alteram in Macedonia, alteram in Caleno agro aquam proprietatem vini, qua homines inebrientur, possidere voluerit.
Wine transformed into blood — Valerius Maximus 1.6 ext. 1b (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
The same monarch [Xerxes] had finally passed Mount Athos before destroying Athens and was making plans to invade Lacedaemon, when a remarkable prodigy happened to him at dinner; for the wine poured into his bowl changed to blood, not once but twice and three times.

eidem montem Athon vix tandem transgresso, priusquam Athenas deleret Lacedaemonis invadendae consilium agitanti admirabile inter cenam prodigium incidit: infusum namque paterae eius vinum in sanguinem, nec semel sed iterum et tertio conversum est.

Friday, October 16, 2009



J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1949; rpt. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954), p. 144:
At the close of the Middle Ages the whole vision of death may be summed up in the word macabre, in the modern meaning. Of course, this meaning is the outcome of a long process. But the sentiment it embodies, of something gruesome and dismal, is precisely the conception of death which arose during the last centuries of the Middle Ages. This bizarre word appeared in French in the fourteenth century, under the form macabré, and, whaever may be its etymology, as a proper name. A line of the poet Jean Le Fèvre, "Je fis de Macabré la dance," which may be dated 1376, remains the birth-certificate of the word.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology:
macabre in Dance Macabre, the Dance of Death XV (daunce of machabree); (from modF.) gruesome XIX. The form now usual repr. F. macabre (XIX), error for OF. macabré, perh. alt. of OF. Macabé Maccabee; the orig. ref. may have been to a miracle play containing the slaughter of the Maccabees.
There is much useful information on the etymology of macabre at Le Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé and Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales. The French are lucky; I'm not aware of comparably rich sources of information on English etymology available on the Internet for free. But Anatoly Liberman, Macabre, gully & gulch, is available for free and contains a good summary. Liberman considers the following possible etymologies:Liberman regards Macchabaeus as "the best candidate." He further states, "To answer the question about macabre, I have read more than a dozen articles in English, French, and German and as many chapters in books on the dance of death." Unfortunately, he doesn't list the articles or books. Here are a few references (most of which I haven't seen):Given the derivation from Macchabaeus, Armand Machabey could be considered an aptronymn.

From Hans Holbein, Totentanz

Thursday, October 15, 2009


And What's To Show?

A.E. Housman, Last Poems, XI:
Yonder see the morning blink:
    The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
    And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed
    And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
    And all's to do again.
A.E. Housman, More Poems, XXVII:
To stand up straight and tread the turning mill,
To lie flat and know nothing and be still,
    Are the two trades of man; and which is worse
I know not, but I know that both are ill.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009



Jonathan Swift, Riddles, 4:
Because I am by nature blind,
I wisely choose to walk behind;
However, to avoid disgrace,
I let no creature see my face.
My words are few, but spoke with sense:
And yet my speaking gives offence;
Or, if to whisper I presume,
The company will fly the room.
By all the world I am oppressed,
And my oppression gives them rest.

Through me, though sore against my will,
Instructors every art instil.
By thousands I am sold and bought,
Who neither get nor lose a groat;
For none, alas, by me can gain,
But those who give me greatest pain.
Shall man presume to be my master,
Who's but my caterer and taster?
Yet, though I always have my will,
I'm but a mere depender still;
An humble hanger-on at best;
Of whom all people make a jest.

In me detractors seek to find
Two vices of a different kind:
I'm too profuse, some censurers cry,
And all I get, I let it fly:
While others give me many a curse,
Because too close I hold my purse.
But this I know, in either case
They dare not charge me to my face.
'Tis true, indeed, sometimes I save,
Sometimes run out of all I have;
But when the year is at an end,
Computing what I get and spend,
My goings out and comings in,
I cannot find I lose or win,
And therefore, all that know me say,
I justly keep the middle way.
I'm always by my betters led;
I last get up, am first abed;
Though, if I rise before my time,
The learned in sciences sublime,
Consult the stars, and thence foretell
Good luck to those with whom I dwell.
Answer (in Latin): nates.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


October Maples

Richard Wilbur, October Maples, Portland:
The leaves, though little time they have to live,
Were never so unfallen as today,
And seem to yield us through a rustled sieve
The very light from which time fell away.

A showered fire we thought forever lost
Redeems the air. Where friends in passing meet,
They parley in the tongues of Pentecost.
Gold ranks of temples flank the dazzled street.

It is a light of maples, and will go;
But not before it washes eye and brain
With such a tincture, such a sanguine glow
As cannot fail to leave a lasting stain.

So Mary’s laundered mantle (in the tale
Which, like all pretty tales, may still be true),
Spread on the rosemary-bush, so drenched the pale
Slight blooms in its irradiated hue,

They could not choose but to return in blue.
Marianne Moore weaves the same legend about Mary's mantle into her poem Rosemary:
Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary -
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
    Not always rosemary -

since the flight to Egypt, blooming differently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers - white originally -
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
    is not too legendary

to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when he was thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
'hath a dumb language;' is in reality
    a kind of Christmas tree.

Albert Bierstadt, On the Saco

Monday, October 12, 2009


The Noblest Forms

Bertolt Brecht, Von allen Werken, first stanza, from his Poems 1913-1956, ed. John Willett et al.(London: Methuen, 1976; rpt. 1987), p. 192:
Of all the works of man I like best
Those which have been used.
The copper pots with their dents and flattened edges
The knives and forks whose wooden handles
Have been worn away by many hands: such forms
Seemed to me the noblest. So too the flagstones round old houses
Trodden by many feet, ground down
And with tufts of grass growing between them: these
Are happy works.

Von allen Werken, die liebsten
Sind mir die gebrauchten.
Die Kupfergefässe mit den Beulen und den abgeplatteten Rändern
Die Messer und Gabeln, deren Holzgriffe
Abgegriffen sind von vielen Händen: solche Formen
Schienen mir die edelsten. So auch die Steinfliesen um alte Häuser
Welche niedergetreten sind von vielen Füssen, abgeschliffen
Und zwischen denen Grasbüschel wachsen, das
Sind glückliche Werke.
William Michael Harnett, Materials for a Leisure Hour

Related posts:

Sunday, October 11, 2009



The idea of a Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to someone who advocates "dialogue and instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts," would probably have baffled the ancient Romans. To the Romans, peace was not achieved by dialogue, negotiations, voluntary disarmament or arms control. Instead, peace came about when the Roman army walloped its enemies. Vergil put the idea into a few memorable words (Aeneid 6.851-853, tr. C.H. Sisson):
But you, Roman, remember, you are to rule
The nations of the world: your arts will be
To bring the ways of peace, be merciful
To the defeated and smash the proud completely.

tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes), pacisque imponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.
The types of prizes the Romans awarded weren't peace prizes. They were prizes like those awarded to L. Siccius Dentatus (Valerius Maximus 3.2.24, tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
They say he fought in one hundred and twenty battles with such stoutness of heart and body that he always seemed more than half responsible for the victory; that he brought back thirty-six spoils from enemies, with eight of whom he fought on challenge in sight of both armies; that he saved the lives of fourteen compatriots snatched from the jaws of death; that he received five and forty wounds on his chest, but his back was clear of scars; that he followed the triumphal cars of nine generals and turned the eyes of the whole community upon himself by the array of his many awards. For eight gold crowns were borne in front of him, fourteen civic crowns, three mural, one obsidional, eighty-three collars, one hundred and sixty armlets, eighteen spears, twenty-five bosses: decorations enough for a legion, let alone a soldier.

quem centies et vicies in aciem descendisse tradunt, eo robore animi atque corporis utentem ut maiorem semper victoriae partem traxisse videretur: sex et triginta spolia ex hoste retulisse, quorum in numero octo fuisse <eorum> cum quibus, inspectante utroque exercitu, ex provocatione dimicasset, quattuordecim cives ex media morte raptos servasse, quinque et quadraginta vulnera pectore excepisse, tergo cicatricibus vacuo: novem triumphales imperatorum currus secutum, totius civitatis oculos in se numerosa donorum pompa convertentem: praeferebantur enim aureae coronae octo, civicae quattuordecim, murales tres, obsidionalis una, torques octoginta tres, armillae centum sexaginta, hastae octodecim, phalerae quinque et viginti, ornamenta etiam legioni, nedum militi satis multa.


A Vision of the Future

John Betjeman, The Planster's Vision:
Cut down that timber! Bells, too many and strong,
    Pouring their music through the branches bare,
    From moon-white church-towers down the windy air
Have pealed the centuries out with Evensong.
Remove those cottages, a huddled throng!
    Too many babies have been born in there,
    Too many coffins, bumping down the stair,
Carried the old their garden paths along.

I have a Vision of The Future, chum,
    The workers' flats in fields of soya beans
        Tower up like silver pencils, score on score:
And Surging Millions hear the Challenge come
    From microphones in communal canteens
        "No Right! No Wrong! All's perfect, evermore."
Related posts:


Last Year's Leaves

Asa Gray, Elements of Botany (New York: G. & C. Carvill & Co., 1836), p. 381:
Marcescent; withering without falling off; as the flowers of Hemerocallis, the leaves of Beech and Hornbeam.
John Betjeman, first line of Loneliness:
The last year's leaves are on the beech.
Related post: Marcescence.

Friday, October 09, 2009


Ut Pictura Poesis

Leo Spitzer, "The 'Ode on a Grecian Urn,' or Content vs. Metagrammar," Comparative Literature 7 (1955) 203-225, reprinted in Anna Hatcher, ed., Essays on English and American Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 67-97 (at 72):
It is first of all a description of an urn — that is, it belongs to the genre, known to Occidental literature from Homer and Theocritus to the Parnassians and Rilke, of the ekphrasis, the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art, which description implies, in the words of Théophile Gautier, 'une transposition d'art', the reproduction, through the medium of words, of sensuously perceptible objets d'art ('ut pictura poesis').
In letters to his brother Laurence, A.E. Housman criticized ekphrasis: "Poems on pictures seem to me an illegitimate genre" (December 14, 1894) and "Men were not created to write poems about pictures" (March 31, 1895). But the genre continues to be popular with writers and at least with this reader. Here is Richard Wilbur's Ceremony:
A striped blouse in a clearing by Bazille
Is, you may say, a patroness of boughs
Too queenly kind toward nature to be kin.
But ceremony never did conceal,
Save to the silly eye, which all allows,
How much we are the woods we wander in.

Let her be some Sabrina fresh from stream,
Lucent as shallows slowed by wading sun,
Bedded on fern, the flowers' cynosure:
Then nymph and wood must nod and strive to dream
That she is airy earth, the trees, undone,
Must ape her languor natural and pure.

Ho-hum. I am for wit and wakefulness,
And love this feigning lady by Bazille.
What's lightly hid is deepest understood,
And when with social smile and formal dress
She teaches leaves to curtsey and quadrille,
I think there are most tigers in the wood.
Wilbur sees much more than I ever could without his help in the picture on which his poem is based, Frédéric Bazille's Réunion de famille:

Another example of ekphrasis I came across recently is Basil Bunting, Ode 2.2:
Three Michaelmas daisies
on an ashtray;
one abets love;
one drops and woos;

one stiffens her petals
the root, the sap
and the bees' play.
Here the objet d'art is a painted ashtray. I've searched here and there among many photographs of Dutch painted ashtrays on the Internet, but I can't find one fitting Bunting's description. He was a smoker, and I wonder if such an ashtray survived among his belongings. The Michaelmas daisy's close relation, Aster novae-angliae, is still in splendid bloom in my garden, now more than a week after Michaelmas.

Thursday, October 08, 2009



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher (K 303, tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Doubt everything at least once, even the proposition that two times two equals four.

Zweifle an allem wenigstens einmal, und wäre es auch der Satz: zweimal 2 ist 4.
A.E. Housman, Last Poems, XXXV (final stanza):
To think that two and two are four
  And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
  And long 'tis like to be.
H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Knopf, 1949; rpt. New York: Random House, 1982), pp. 13-14:
A metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what by two, what by makes, and what by four. For asking such questions metaphysicians are supported in oriental luxury in the universities, and respected as educated and intelligent men.
Albert Camus, The Plague:
But there always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.

Mais il vient toujours une heure dans l'histoire où celui qui ose dire que deux et deux font quatre est puni de mort.


Health Care

Käthe Kollwitz, Beim Arzt (At the Doctor's)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Excerpts from Housman's Letters

I just finished reading Archie Burnett, ed., The Letters of A.E. Housman, Volume I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), and here are some passages which amused or interested me.

P. 137 (to Grant Richards, November 8, 1902):
As to the Greek σ, I wish the letter to have this form at the end as well as in the body of words: fifty years hence all Greek books will be printed so.
P. 147 (to Grant Richards, June 5, 1903):
American scholars are mere grammarians and collectors of statistics, and what we call critical scholarship hardly exists there.
P. 156 (to Gilbert Murray, September 22, 1903):
Radicalism in textual criticism is just as bad as conservatism; but it is not now rampant, and conservatism is. Radicalism was rampant 30 or 40 years ago, and it was then rebuked by Madvig and Haupt: now it is conservatism that wants rebuking. Similarly, in social morality, puritanism is a pest; but if I were writing an Epistle to the Parisians I should not dwell on this truth, because it is not a truth which the Parisians need to consider: the pest they suffer from is quite different.
P. 302 (to Grant Richards, January 7, 1913):
One of my chief objections to the management of the universe is that we suffer so much more from our gentler and more amiable vices than from our darkest crimes.
P. 326 (to Dr. Barnes, June 5, 1914):
I am what you have often heard of but perhaps not often seen, a real conservative, who thinks change an evil in itself.
P. 359 (to Arthur Platt, April 6, 1916):
If you prefer Aeschylus to Manilius you are no true scholar; you must be deeply tainted with literature, as indeed I always suspected that you were.
P. 432 (to J.W. Mackail, February 28, 1920):
In reading Virgil I often cry 'Out, hyperbolical fiend! how vexest thou this man!'
P. 447 (to Grant Richards, August 21, 1920):
Revenge is a valuable passion, and the only sure pillar on which justice rests.
P. 490 (to D.B. Harden, April 24, 1922):
Social intercourse with human beings, however agreeable, is exhausting, and I cannot make a habit of it.
P. 526 (to Grant Richards, November 30, 1922):
Americans are human beings, though appearances are against them.
P. 530 (to John Drinkwater, December 25, 1922):
There are only two complete translations of Horace's odes which I have done more than glance at, and of those I think Conington's better, though less showy, than Theodore Martin's: closer to the sense, and nearer, though of course not near enough, to Horace's manner. The most poetical versions of Horace which I have come across are Calverley's in his Verses and Translations, and they are as close as Conington's; but they are too Tennysonian to be very Horatian.
P. 550 (to Mr. Castello, October 9, 1923):
One can no more keep printers in order than Job could bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades.
P. 570 (to J.B. Priestly, September 18, 1924):
I wish people would not call me a Stoic. I am a Cyrenaic; and for the Stoics, except as systematisers of knowledge in succession to the Peripatetics, I have a great dislike and contempt.
P. 615 (to Lord Oxford, April 22, 1926, on Mark Pattison and Scaliger's 1579 edition of Manilius):
Pattison had never read the book; he was a spectator of all time and all existence, and the contemplation of that repulsive scene is fatal to accurate learning.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Views from the Center of Highgate Wood

A.E.H. (A.E. Housman), letter to the editor of The Standard (March 12, 1894), reprinted in Archie Burnett, ed., The Letters of A.E. Housman, Volume I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), pp. 76-77:
Sir,—In August, 1886, Highgate Wood became the property of the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London. It was then in a very sad state. So thickly was it overgrown with brushwood, that if you stood in the centre you could not see the linen of the inhabitants of Archway-road hanging to dry in their back gardens. Nor could you see the advertisement of Juggins's stout and porter which surmounts the front of the public house at the south corner of the Wood. Therefore, the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens cut down the intervening brushwood, and now when we stand in the centre we can divide our attention between Juggins's porter and our neighbours' washing. Scarlet flannel petticoats are much worn in Archway-road; and if anyone desires to feast his eyes on these very bright and picturesque objects, so seldom seen in the streets, let him repair to the centre of Highgate Wood.

Still we were not happy. The wood is bounded on the north by the railway to Muswell-hill; and it was a common subject of complaint in Highgate that we could not see the railway from the Wood without going quite to the edge. At length, however, the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens have begun to fell the trees on the north, so that people in the centre of the Wood will soon be able to look at the railway when they are tired of the porter and the petticoats. But there are a number of new red-brick houses on the east side of the Wood, and I regret to say that I observe no clearing of timber in that direction. Surely, Sir, a man who stands in the centre of the Wood, and knows that there are new red-brick houses to the east of him, will not be happy unless he sees them.

Sir, it is Spring: birds are pairing, and the County Council has begun to carve the mud-pie which it made last year at the bottom of Waterlow Park. I do not know how to address the Mayor and Commonalty; but the Citizens of the City of London all read The Standard, and surely they will respond to my appeal and will not continue to screen from my yearning gaze any one of those objects of interest which one naturally desires to see when one goes to the centre of a wood.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant.
Related posts: Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; 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; Willows; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; An Old Saying; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


On a Book Collector

Ausonius, Epigrams 7 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn White):
Because with purchased books thy library is crammed, dost think thyself a learned man and scholarly, Philomusus? After this sort thou wilt lay up strings, keys, and lyres, and, having purchased all, to-morrow thou wilt be a musician.

Emptis quod libris tibi bibliotheca referta est,
  doctum et grammaticum te, Philomuse, putas?
hoc genere et chordas et plectra et barbita condes:
  omnia mercatus cras citharoedus eris.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


Artaxerxes and Arboricide

Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes 25.1-2 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
[1] At length he came down to a royal halting-place which had admirable parks in elaborate cultivation, although the region round about was bare and treeless; and since it was cold, he gave permission to his soldiers to cut the trees of the park for wood, sparing neither pine nor cypress. [2] And when they hesitated and were inclined to spare the trees on account of their great size and beauty, he took an axe himself and cut down the largest and most beautiful tree. After this the men provided themselves with wood, and making many fires, passed the night in comfort.

[1] Ἐπεὶ δ' εἰς σταθμὸν κατέβη βασιλικόν, παραδείσους ἔχοντα θαυμαστοὺς καὶ κεκοσμημένους διαπρεπῶς ἐν τῷ πέριξ ἀδένδρῳ καὶ ψιλῷ χωρίῳ, κρύους ὄντος ἐπέτρεψε τοῖς στρατιώταις ἐκ τοῦ παραδείσου ξυλίζεσθαι τὰ δένδρα κόπτοντας, μήτε πεύκης μήτε κυπαρίττου φειδομένους. [2] Ὀκνούντων δὲ καὶ φειδομένων διὰ τὰ κάλλη καὶ τὰ μεγέθη, λαβὼν πέλεκυν αὐτὸς ὅπερ ἦν μέγιστον καὶ κάλλιστον τῶν φυτῶν ἔκοψεν. Ἐκ δὲ τούτου ξυλιζόμενοι καὶ πολλὰ πυρὰ ποιοῦντες εὐμαρῶς ἐνυκτέρευσαν.
See Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, tr. Peter T. Daniels (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), pp. 237-238:
The connection between the king and the foliage was so well known to the soldiers that they did not dare to raise their axes against the trees, despite the king's authorization. This confirms the role of the king as the trees' protector. A paradise had to remain "undisturbed," that is, free from the ravages of war (Quintus Curtius VIII.I.13; cf. Polybius XXXI.29). The felling of the trees in the paradise was considered an affront to the sovereignty and majesty of the Great King. It is quite striking that, according to Diodorus of Sicily (XVI.45), the first hostile act of the revolt by the Phoenicians against Artaxerxes III was "the cutting down and destroying of the royal park in which the Persian Kings were wont to take their recreation." Similarly, under the guise of reprisals, Cyrus the Younger ravaged the paradise of the satrap Belesys, who had sided with Artaxerxes II (Xenophon, Anab. I.4.2), and the Spartan king Agesilaus "ravaged the orchards and the paradise of Tissaphernes" near Sardis (Diodorus XIV.80.2).
Related posts: When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; 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; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Commonplace Scenes

Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's Year (1953; rpt. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987), August 17:
Sad are the days when the glory is gone from the earth, when we look about us with tired eyes, dimmed by the sediment of fatigue, and find we can no longer see beauty or wonder or drama in commonplace scenes. The most interesting things in the world to me are the old, familiar, recurring events of the earth.
Worthington Whittredge, Duck Pond

Thursday, October 01, 2009


The Enchantress

A.E. Housman, Last Poems, XL:
Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
  What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
  Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
  And I knew all her ways.

On russet floors, by waters idle,
  The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
  In leafy dells alone;
And traveller's joy beguiles in autumn
  Hearts that have lost their own.

On acres of the seeded grasses
  The changing burnish heaves;
Or marshalled under moons of harvest
  Stand still all night the sheaves;
Or beeches strip in storms for winter
  And stain the wind with leaves.

Possess, as I possessed a season,
  The countries I resign,
Where over elmy plains the highway
  Would mount the hills and shine,
And full of shade the pillared forest
  Would murmur and be mine.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
  Will neither care nor know
What stranger's feet may find the meadow
  And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
  If they are mine or no.
Traveller's Joy (Clematis vitalba, photograph by Wouter Hagens)

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