Monday, November 30, 2009
Speak for Yourself
Say the thing with which you labor. It is a waste of time for the writer to use his talents merely. Be faithful to your genius. Write in the strain that interests you most. Consult not the popular taste.Id. (December 25, 1851):
That way of viewing things you know of, least insisted on by you, however, least remembered,—take that view, adhere to that, insist on that, see all things from that point of view. Will you let these intimations go unattended to and watch the door-bell or knocker? That is your text. Do not speak for other men; speak for yourself.
I am not acquainted with letters, but will tell you their shapes and identify them clearly: a circle such as is measured out with compasses, that has in its centre a conspicuous mark; the second, first of all a pair of lines, and another one holding these apart at their middles; third, something like a curly lock of hair, and the fourth has one part standing upright, and three more that are fastened crosswise on it; the fifth is not an easy one to explainthere are two lines that begin from separate points, and these run together into a single base; and the last of all is similar to the third.The name spelled out in this way is ΘΗΣΕΥΣ (THĒSEUS). It would be a good exercise for beginning students of Greek, who are just learning the alphabet, to try to figure out the letters from their descriptions in Collard and Cropp's translation.
ἐγὼ πέφυκα γραμμάτων μὲν οὐκ ἴδρις,
μορφὰς δὲ λέξω καὶ σαφῆ τεκμήρια.
κύκλος τις ὡς τόρνοισιν ἐκμετρούμενος,
οὗτος δ' ἔχει σημεῖον ἐν μέσῳ σαφές·
τὸ δεύτερον δὲ πρῶτα μὲν γραμμαὶ δύο,
ταύτας διείργει δ' ἐν μέσαις ἄλλη μία·
τρίτον δὲ βόστρυχός τις ὣς εἱλιγμένος·
τὸ δ' αὖ τέταρτον ἣ μὲν εἰς ὀρθὸν μία,
λοξαὶ δ' ἐπ´ αὐτῆς τρεῖς κατεστηριγμέναι
εἰσίν· τὸ πέμπτον δ' οὐκ ἐν εὐμαρεῖ φράσαι·
γραμμαὶ γάρ εἰσιν ἐκ διεστώτων δύο,
αὗται δὲ συντρέχουσιν εἰς μίαν βάσιν·
τὸ λοίσθιον δὲ τῷ τρίτῳ προσεμφερές.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The Magic of Words
A propos of The Euphony of Cellar Door, I was reminded of this poem that haunted me as a schoolboy:In American Names, Stephen Vincent Benet prefers the familiar sounds of the place names of home to the exotic names of far-off places:RomanceIt seemed to me then, and seems to me now, a wonderful example of the magic of words.
WHEN I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Took me by the hand.
My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.
I dimly heard the master's voice
And boys far-off at play,—
Had stolen me away.
I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school—
The dusty streets did rule.
I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say,
Had taken my speech away.
I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower—
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:
The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day;
They had stolen my soul away!
W.J. Turner (1889-1946)
I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.
Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy's horn,
But I will remember where I was born.
I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy's Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.
I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.
Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman's Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.
Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
Outwards, or Inwards?
Everybody knows that one can increase what one has of knowledge or of any other possession by going outwards and outwards; but what is also true, and what people know less, is that one can increase it by going inwards and inwards. There is no goal to either of these directions, nor any term to your advantage as you travel in them.
If you will be extensive, take it easy; the infinite is always well ahead of you, and its symbol is the sky.
If you will be intensive, hurry as much as you like you will never exhaust the complexity of things; and the truth of this is very evident in a garden, or even more in the nature of insects; of which beasts I have heard it said that the most stolid man in the longest of lives would acquire only a cursory knowledge of even one kind, as, for instance, of the horned beetle, which sings so angrily at evening.
You may travel for the sake of great horizons, and travel all your life, and fill your memory with nothing but views from mountain-tops, and yet not have seen a tenth of the world. Or you may spend your life upon the religious history of East Rutland, and plan the most enormous book upon it, and yet find that you have continually to excise and select from the growing mass of your material.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The Life of Man
Like to the falling of a star;Henry King, The Dirge:
Or as the flights of eagles are;
Or like the fresh spring's gaudy hue;
Or silver drops of morning dew;
Or like the wind that chafes the flood;
Or bubbles which on water stood:
Even such is man, whose borrow'd light
Is straight call'd in and paid to night.
The wind blows out; the bubble dies;
The spring entombed in autumn lies;
The dew dries up; the star is shot;
The flight is past; and man forgot.
What is th' existence of Man's life
But open war, or slumber'd strife?
Where sickness to his sense presents
The combat of the elements:
And never feels a perfect peace,
Till Death's cold hand signs his release.
It is a storm, where the hot blood
Outvies in rage the boiling flood;
And each loud passion of the mind
Is like a furious gust of wind,
Which beats his bark with many a wave,
Till he casts anchor in the grave.
It is a flower, which buds and grows,
And withers as the leaves disclose;
Whose spring and fall faint seasons keep,
Like fits of waking before sleep:
Then shrinks into that fatal mould,
Where its first being was enroll'd.
It is a dream, whose seeming truth
Is moraliz'd in age and youth:
Where all the comforts he can share
As wand'ring as his fancies are;
Till in a mist of dark decay
The dreamer vanish quite away.
It is a dial, which points out
The sun-set as it moves about:
And shadows out in lines of night
The subtile stages of Time's flight,
Till all obscuring earth hath laid
The body in perpetual shade.
It is a weary interlude
Which doth short joys, long woes include.
The World the stage, the Prologue tears,
The Acts vain hope, and varied fears;
The Scene shuts up with loss of breath,
And leaves no Epilogue but Death.
Friday, November 27, 2009
In Defence and Praise of the Fart
The original edition, published in 1737 (Regio-Brigae: Ex Officina Aethonis), is rare, and I couldn't find a copy on the Internet. However, there is a reprint in Clarorum Valentinorum Petri Joannis Nunnesii, Emanuelis Martini, Gregorii Majansii, Joannis Insulae, Aliorumque Orationes Selectae (Lausannae: Apud Franciscum Grasset & Socios, 1767), pp. 90-117, which is available via Google Books, although unfortunately some of the pages are almost illegible. Of special interest to me is the discussion of the god Fart on p. 113. My friend hinted that he might translate this droll workI hope he will.
I think that the following illustration comes from Claude F.X. Mercier, Eloge du pet: dissertation historique, anatomique et philosophique sur son origine, son antiquité, ses vertus, sa figure, les honneurs qu'on lui a rendus chez les peuples anciens et les faceties, auxquelles il a donné lieu (Paris: Favre, 1799), i.e. Praise of the fart: historical, anatomical, and philosophical dissertation on its origin, its antiquity, its virtues, its shape, the honors paid to it by ancient peoples, and the jokes to which it has given rise, although I haven't seen the book:
I came across another treatise on the same subject by Rudolph Goclenius the Younger, Physiologia Crepitus Ventris (Francofurti, 1607), reprinted as Problemata De Crepitu Ventris ("Questions Concerning the Fart") in Caspar Dornavius, Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Socraticae Joco-Seriae (Hanoviae: Typis Wechelianis, 1619), vol. 1, pp. 349-354. The enthusiasm of an anonymous reviewer of Goclenius' work in The Philobiblion (Oct. 1862) 255-256 (at 256) is infectious:
This learned dissertation is drawn up in a masterly manner; and we may say, without exaggeration, that the subject is enlarged by the magic pen of Goclenius. The subject is thoroughly discussed and considered from an elevated point of view. The different denominations of the peditus among divers nations; its signification; the near, remote, and efficient causes of it; its dimension, resonance, emission, retention, and odor; and indeed all the accessory and concomitant circumstances are successively and learnedly discussed. But this, however, does not exhaust the curiosity and fecundity of our ingenious author; the most singular and unexpected questions are raised and resolved. In confirmation of this, we recommend the curious reader to examine the following paragraphs: V. De crepitibus artificialibus. VII. Cur Vandali ex ceparum usu frequentius pedunt. XIII. Essetne in hoc crepitu musica. XVII. De connexis. Cur prodest simul et pedere et meiere. XXIII. Cur multi etiam imperatores crepitum ventris tanti faciant. XXX et XXXI. De comparatione cum tonitru et cum fulmine. Finally, musicians and natural philosophers will find, perhaps, some new and important ideas in the paragraph where the erudite author compares the variations of sound with the capacity and power of the instrument which produces it.
It may be truly said that Goclenius has studied his interesting subject ab ovo. He takes the peditus at its originin that elementary state which chemists designate as gaz-naissant, when it is yet only a gentle murmur, which the Greeks named βορβορυγμος; he follows it to the age of virility, and abandons it only at its complete emancipation and deliverance. As a man conscious of great strength, Goclenius does not hesitate to measure himself with the most celebrated personages of antiquity; and he alternately discusses his subject with Hippocrates, Dioscorades [sic, read Dioscorides], Galen, Socrates, Horace, Martial, and Suetonius. He severely criticizes Aristophanes, and comments upon Erasmus; and his learned composition is richly decorated with Greek, Latin, and German quotations, both in prose and poetry. In short, his work is truly an everblooming parterre, where fragrant flowers of antiquity spring up at every step.
Labels: noctes scatologicae
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Ancient Protests Against Deforestation
The losses of forest to flood, fire, and agriculture during our period were serious, but barely significant compared with the cutting-down of trees to satisfy the demand for wood, which increased with the growth of population and the rising standards of public and private building. Although Plato describes the permanent damage to the environment that can be done by deforestation, there is very little evidence elsewhere in Greek or Latin literature of consciences disturbed by an excessive exploitation of forests. The only complaint known to me is a mild protest in the late Roman Empire against overcutting in the Apennine forests (p. 255).Id. p. 255:
There is also a hint in an obsequious poem by Sidonius in honor of Majorian, who was building a fleet with timber from both faces of the Apennines in the middle of the fifth century, that there had for a long time been too much timber taken from them.The passage from Plato is Critias 111 a-d (on the deforestation of Attica, tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
[a] Consequently, since many great convulsions took place during the 9000 yearsfor such was the number of years [b] from that time to thisthe soil which has kept breaking away from the high lands during these ages and these disasters, forms no pile of sediment worth mentioning, as in other regions, but keeps sliding away ceaselessly and disappearing in the deep. And, just as happens in small islands, what now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left. But at that epoch the country was unimpaired, and for its mountains it had [c] high arable hills, and in place of the "moorlands," as they are now called, it contained plains full of rich soil; and it had much forestland in its mountains, of which there are visible signs even to this day; for there are some mountains which now have nothing but food for bees, but they had trees no very long time ago, and the rafters from those felled there to roof the largest buildings are still sound. And besides, there were many lofty trees of cultivated species; and it produced boundless pasturage for flocks. Moreover, it was enriched by the yearly rains from Zeus, [d] which were not lost to it, as now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea; but the soil; it had was deep, and therein it received the water, storing it up in the retentive loamy soil and by drawing off into the hollows from the heights the water that was there absorbed, it provided all the various districts with abundant supplies of springwaters and streams, whereof the shrines which still remain even now, at the spots where the fountains formerly existed, are signs which testify that our present description of the land is true.The passage from Sidonius is 5.441-445 (tr. W.B. Anderson):
[a] πολλῶν οὖν γεγονότων καὶ μεγάλων κατακλυσμῶν ἐν τοῖς ἐνακισχιλίοις ἔτεσι ‑ τοσαῦτα γὰρ πρὸς τὸν νῦν ἀπ' ἐκείνου τοῦ χρόνου [b] γέγονεν ἔτη ‑ τὸ τῆς γῆς ἐν τούτοις τοῖς χρόνοις καὶ πάθεσιν ἐκ τῶν ὑψηλῶν ἀπορρέον οὔτε χῶμα, ὡς ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις, προχοῖ λόγου ἄξιον ἀεί τε κύκλῳ περιρρέον εἰς βάθος ἀφανίζεται· λέλειπται δή, καθάπερ ἐν ταῖς σμικραῖς νήσοις, πρὸς τὰ τότε τὰ νῦν οἷον νοσήσαντος σώματος ὀστᾶ, περιερρυηκυίας τῆς γῆς ὅση πίειρα καὶ μαλακή, τοῦ λεπτοῦ σώματος τῆς χώρας μόνου λειφθέντος. τότε δὲ ἀκέραιος [c] οὖσα τά τε ὄρη γηλόφους ὑψηλοὺς εἶχε, καὶ τὰ φελλέως νῦν ὀνομασθέντα πεδία πλήρη γῆς πιείρας ἐκέκτητο, καὶ πολλὴν ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ὕλην εἶχεν, ἧς καὶ νῦν ἔτι φανερὰ τεκμήρια· τῶν γὰρ ὀρῶν ἔστιν ἃ νῦν μὲν ἔχει μελίτταις μόναις τροφήν, χρόνος δ' οὐ πάμπολυς ὅτε δένδρων αὐτόθεν εἰς οἰκοδομήσεις τὰς μεγίστας ἐρεψίμων τμηθέντων στεγάσματ' ἐστὶν ἔτι σᾶ. πολλὰ δ' ἦν ἄλλ' ἥμερα ὑψηλὰ δένδρα, νομὴν δὲ βοσκήμασιν ἀμήχανον ἔφερεν. καὶ δὴ καὶ [d] τὸ κατ' ἐνιαυτὸν ὕδωρ ἐκαρποῦτ' ἐκ Διός, οὐχ ὡς νῦν ἀπολλῦσα ῥέον ἀπὸ ψιλῆς τῆς γῆς εἰς θάλατταν, ἀλλὰ πολλὴν ἔχουσα καὶ εἰς αὐτὴν καταδεχομένη, τῇ κεραμίδι στεγούσῃ γῇ διαταμιευομένη, τὸ καταποθὲν ἐκ τῶν ὑψηλῶν ὕδωρ εἰς τὰ κοῖλα ἀφιεῖσα κατὰ πάντας τοὺς τόπους παρείχετο ἄφθονα κρηνῶν καὶ ποταμῶν νάματα, ὧν καὶ νῦν ἔτι ἐπὶ ταῖς πηγαῖς πρότερον οὔσαις ἱερὰ λελειμμένα ἐστὶν σημεῖα ὅτι περὶ αὐτῆς ἀληθῆ λέγεται τὰ νῦν.
Meanwhile thou buildest on the two shores fleets for the Upper and the Lower Sea. Down into the water falls every forest of the Apennines; for many a long day there is hewing on both slopes of those mountains so rich in ships' timber, mountains that send down to the sea as great an abundance of wood as of waters.The "mild protest" is obscured in Anderson's translation for many a long day there is hewing on both slopes for the Latin nimiumque diu per utrumque recisus...latus. The adverb nimium ("excessively") could modify either the adverb diu ("for a long time") or the verb recisus sc. es ("you have been cut down," addressing the Apennine mountain range). In other words, either hewing has been going on for too long a time, or too much hewing has been going on for a long time.
interea duplici texis dum litore classem
inferno superoque mari, cadit omnis in aequor
silva tibi nimiumque diu per utrumque recisus,
Appennine, latus, navali qui arbore dives
non minus in pelagus nemorum quam mittis aquarum.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Thanks for the translation of Borges's Shinto - proof, if any were needed, that Italian translators of Borges have a rather easier time of it than their English counterparts. Even so, I thought 'piccola chiave' in line 11 a bit feeble while 'slight key' was off-key in a rather different way (like 'throb' [of the hexameter] which I'm fairly sure would have met with the author's disapproval, if not scorn). The original has 'breve llave' which is not a natural collocation since 'breve' is primarily an adjective of duration. However, Borges was fascinated by hypallage, so while 'breve' ostensibly qualifies 'key' it functions adverbially in regard to the turning of the key and the swift unlocking of the house. That said, I'd be at a loss to translate it. 'Brief candle' is one thing, 'brief key' another.Hypallage is a rhetorical term meaning "transferred epithet." As others have noted, the translator of Borges wrongly renders "lámparas estudiosas" as if the phrase came from Milton's Paradise Lost 9. 104 ("officious lamps"), whereas it really came from Milton's Areopagitica ("studious lamps"):
Incidentally, I wonder if you know 'A Leopoldo Lugones', Borges's foreward to El Hacedor (1960)? In addition to the two striking examples of hypallage, there is a haunting evocation of the library, of feeling 'almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order, time magically dessicated and preserved'. Sound familar?
"Leaving behind the babble of the plaza, I enter the Library. I feel, almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order, of time magically dessicated and preserved. Left and right, absorbed in their shining dreams, the readers' momentary profiles are sketched by the light of their officious lamps, to use Milton's hypallage. I remember having rememberd that figure before in this place, and afterwards that other epithet that also defines these environs, the arid camel of the Lunario, and then that hexameter from the Aeneid that uses the same artifice and surpasses artifice itself:Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras.These reflections bring me to the door of your office. I go in; we exchange a few words, conventional and cordial, and I give you this book. If I am not mistaken, you were not disinclined to me, Lugones, and you would have liked to like some piece of my work. That never happened; but this time you turn the pages and read approvingly a verse here and there perhaps because you have recognized your own voice in it, perhaps because deficient practice concerns you less than solid theory.
At this point my dream dissolves, like water in water. The vast library that surrounds me is on Mexico Street, not on Rodríguez Peña, and you, Lugones, died early in '38. My vanity and nostalgia have set up an impossible scene. Perhaps so (I tell myself), but tomorrow I too will have died, and our times will intermingle and chronology will be lost in a sphere of symbols. And then in some way it will be right to claim that I have brought you this book, and that you have accepted it."
Buenos Aires, August 9, 1960
"Los rumores de la plaza quedan atrás y entro en la Biblioteca. De una manera casi física siento la gravitación de los libros, el ámbito sereno de un orden, el tiempo disecado y conservado mágicamente. A izquierda y a derecha, absortos en su lúcido sueño, se perfilan los rostros momentáneos de los lectores, a la luz de las lámparas estudiosas, como en la hipálage de Milton. Recuerdo haber recordado ya esa figura, en este lugar, y después aquel otro epíteto que también define por el contorno, el árido camello del Lunario, y después aquel hexámetro de la Eneida, que maneja y supera el mismo artificio:Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.Estas reflexiones me dejan en la puerta de su despacho. Entro; cambiamos unas cuantas convencionales y cordiales palabras y le doy este libro. Si no me engaño, usted no me malquería, Lugones, y le hubiera gustado que le gustara algún trabajo mío. Ello no ocurrió nunca, pero esta vez usted vuelve las páginas y lee con aprobación algún verso, acaso porque en él ha reconocido su propia voz, acaso porque la práctica deficiente le importa menos que la sana teoría.
En este punto se deshace mi sueño, como el agua en el agua. La vasta biblioteca que me rodea está en la calle México, no en la calle Rodríguez Peña, y usted, Lugones, se mató a principios del treinta y ocho. Mi vanidad y mi nostalgia han armado una escena imposible. Así será (me digo) pero mañana yo también habré muerto y se confundirán nuestros tiempos y la cronología se perderá en un orbe de símbolos y de algún modo será justo afirmar que yo le he traído este libro y que usted lo ha aceptado."
Buenos Aires, 9 de agosto de 1960.
Behold now this vast City: a City of refuge, the mansion house of liberty, encompast and surrounded with his protection; the shop of warre hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed Justice in defence of beleaguer'd Truth, then there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and idea's wherewith to present as with their homage and their fealty the approaching Reformation, others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.The example from Vergil, Aeneid 6.268, has long been regarded as an example of double hypallage. Servius (on Aeneid 1.392) says, "ibant obscuri sola sub nocte pro ipsi soli per obscuram noctem, although Lewis & Short, s.v. obscurus, have a different view "Transf., to the person who is in the dark, darkling, unseen," citing this line from Vergil.
On hypallage in general, see Oskar Hey, "Zur Enallage adiectivi," Archiv für lateinische Lexikographie und Grammatik 14 (1906) 105-112, 268. On hypallage in Vergil, see
- Theodor Düring, De Vergilii Sermone Epico Capita Selecta (diss. Göttingen, 1905), pp. 74-80
- E. Adelaide Hahn, "A Source of Vergilian Hypallage," Transactions of the American Philological Association 87 (1956) 147-189
- John Leverett Moore, "Servius on the Tropes and Figures of Vergil," American Journal of Philology 12 (1891)157-192, 267-292 (at 183-185)
- A. Wankenne, "L'hypallage dans l'oeuvre de Virgile," Les Etudes Classiques 17 (1949) 335-342
- Michael Hillen, Studien zur Dichtersprache Senecas: Abundanz, Explikativer Ablativ, Hypallage (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), pp. 148-291
- Ulrich Hübner, "Hypallage in Lucans Pharsalia," Hermes 100 (1972) 577-600
Update from J.L. Campos:
The use of breve for small in Spanish is not terribly rare. Pipin the short is called Pipino el breve. There is a verse by Góngora in the first Soledad that reads: breve tabla delfín no fue pequeño ...
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
He would often insist loudly that the gods had given to men the means of living easily, but this had been put out of sight, because we require honeyed cakes, unguents and the like.Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (New York: Aldine, 1972), chapter 1 (The Original Affluent Society), pp. 1-2:
ἐβόα πολλάκις λέγων τὸν τῶν ἀνθρώπων βίον ῥᾴδιον ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν δεδόσθαι, ἀποκεκρύφθαι δ' αὐτὸν ζητούντων μελίπηκτα καὶ μύρα καὶ τὰ παραπλήσια.
For there are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be "easily satisfied" either by producing much or desiring little.Id. p. 14:
We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don't have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free. "Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life" (Gusinde, 1961, p. 1).Id. p. 14:
A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.Id. pp. 34-35:
Reports on hunters and gatherers of the ethnological presentspecifically on those in marginal environmentssuggest a mean of three to five hours per adult worker per day in food production. Hunters keep banker's hours, notably less than modern industrial workers (unionized), who would surely settle for a 21-35 hour week.Id. p. 36:
Above all, what about the world today? One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. In the Old Stone Age the fraction must have been much smaller. This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture.Id. p. 39:
[T]he "economic problem" is easily solvable by paleolithic techniques. But then, it was not until culture neared the height of its material achievements that it erected a shrine to the Unattainable: Infinite Needs.
St. Paul and Odysseus
In St. Paul's temperament and his methods of winning his audiences, I see something Greek. I wonder, when we consider his voyages and his mind, that nobody has given him the title of a Christian Odysseus, πολύτροπος, a man of subtle twists and turns, all things to all men, with of course a difference. St. Paul became all things to all men in the hope that he might save some. Odysseus became all things to all men in the hope that he might save Odysseus. But St. Paul is just as agile, just as infallibly alive to the requirements of the moment. When he talks to the Athenians he is Greek. He is just as fittingly Jewish in his defence before King Agrippa, whom he knew to be "expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews." I doubt not that, if St. Paul were alive to-day and preached to a Boston audience, he would, in the fashion of our most liberal divines, choose a text from the Swami Vivikanda or Rabindranath Tagore, prefacing the quotation with the words "as certain also of your own prophets have said."
Monday, November 23, 2009
Illustrations of Erysichthon
- Archäologisches Kunstmuseum der Universität Bonn 2661
- Stockholm, Nationalmuseum 6
- Matera, Museo Nazionale 9975
Bonn 2661 (Müller at p. 137):
Matera 9975 (Müller at p. 141):
Mary Lefkowitz, Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) p. 187, has a somewhat clearer photograph of the Bonn vase by Wolfgang Klein:
I can't find a photograph of the vase in Stockholm.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
When Sorrow Lays Us Low
When sorrow lays us lowRelated posts:
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.
Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us
touch us and move on.
Quando ci annichilisce la sfortuna,
in un momento ci salvano
le minime avventure
dell'attenzione o della memoria:
il sapore di un frutto, il sapore dell'acqua,
quel volto che un sogno ci riporta,
i primi gelsomini di novembre,
l'anelito infinito della bussola,
un libro che credevamo smarrito,
il ritmo di un esametro,
la piccola chiave che ci apre una casa,
l'odore di una biblioteca o del sandalo,
il nome antico di una strada,
i colori di una mappa,
una etimologia imprevista,
la levigatezza dell'unghia limata,
la data che cercavamo,
contare i dodici ritocchi oscuri,
un brusco dolore fisico.
Sono otto milioni le divinità dello Shinto
che viaggiano per la terra, segrete.
Queste semplici divinità ci toccano,
ci toccano e ci lasciano.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
In three months I shall be fifty years old: and I don't at this hour—ten o'clock in the morning of the two hundred and sixty-eighth day of my forty-ninth year—know what 'moss' is.
There is nothing I have more intended to know—some day or other. But the moss 'would always be there'; and then it was so beautiful, and so difficult to examine, that one could only do it in some quite separated time of happy leisure—which came not. I never was like to have less leisure than now, but I will know what moss is, if possible, forthwith.
Wipe Out the Jungles
My feeling is that the humanization of billions of adolescents would be greatly facilitated by a concerted undertaking to master and domesticate the whole of the globe. One would like to see mankind spend the balance of the century in a total effort to clean up and groom the surface of the globewipe out the jungles, turn deserts and swamps into arable land, terrace barren mountains, regulate rivers, eradicate all pests, control the weather, and make the whole land mass a fit habitation for man. The globe should be our and not nature's home, and we no longer nature's guests.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Against a Praiser of Time Past
If we must needs scrupulously observe and keep up all that was customary in the rude years of the nascent world, let us roll all time back on its tracks right up to the beginning, and decide to condemn step by step all that successive experience has found out in later ages.
When the world was new no cultivators brought the land into subjection. What are ploughs good for, or the useless labour of the harrow? Better to sate the belly with acorns from the oak trees.
The first men used to split their timber with wedges; let our axes be reduced in the furnace from a hot moulding into a lump of metal, the iron dripping back again into its own ore.
Slaughtered oxen used to provide clothing, and a chilly cave a little home; so let us go back to the caverns and put on shaggy wraps of unsewn skins.
Let nations that once were barbarous but had their savagery subdued and became civilised go back again to their harsh cries and their inhuman ways, returning to their former state. Let the young man, with a filial piety worthy of Scythia, fling his wrinkled old father as an offering from the bridge, for such was once the custom. Let the rites of Saturn reek with the slaughter of infants and the cruel altars resound with their weeping and wailing. Let the very race of Romulus weave huts of fragile straw (such they say was the dwelling of Remus), spread their royal couches with hay, or wear on their hairy bodies a cloak made of an African bearskin. Such things the Trinacrian or the Tuscan leader used to have.
Rome does not stay as she was long ago; she has changed as time passed, making alterations in her worship, dress, laws, and arms. She practises much that she did not practise when Quirinus was her king. Some things she has ordered for the better, some she has abandoned; she has never ceased to change her usage, and has turned long-established laws to the opposite.
Why, senator of Rome, do you bring up accustomed usages against me, when many a time a decision has not stood fast and a change of mind with regard to it has altered decrees of senate and people? Even now, whenever it is for our benefit to depart from wonted ways and reject manners of the past for a newer style, we are glad that something which was unknown before has been discovered and at last brought to light; ever by slow advances does human life grow and develop, improving by long experience.
si, quidquid rudibus mundi nascentis in annis
mos habuit, sancte colere ac servare necesse est,
omne revolvamus sua per vestigia saeclum
usque ad principium, placeat damnare gradatim
quidquid posterius successor repperit usus.
orbe novo nulli subigebant arva coloni:
quid sibi aratra volunt? quid cura superflua rastri?
ilignis melius saturatur glandibus alvus.
primi homines cuneis scindebant fissile lignum:
decoquat in massam fervens strictura secures
rursus et ad proprium restillet vena metallum.
induvias caesae pecudes et frigida parvas
praebebat spelunca domos: redeamus ad antra,
pellibus insutis hirtos sumamus amictus.
inmanes quondam populi feritate subacta
edomiti iam triste fremant iterumque ferinos
in mores redeant atque ad sua prisca recurrant.
praecipitet Scythica iuvenis pietate vietum
votivo de ponte patrem (sic mos fuit olim),
caedibus infantum fument Saturnia sacra
flebilibusque truces resonent vagitibus arae.
ipsa casas fragili texat gens Romula culmo:
sic tradunt habitasse Remum. regalia faeno
fulcra supersternant aut pelle Libystidis ursae
conpositam chlamydem villoso corpore gestent.
talia Trinacrius ductor vel Tuscus habebant.
Roma antiqua sibi non constat versa per aevum
et mutata sacris, ornatu, legibus, armis.
multa colit quae non coluit sub rege Quirino;
instituit quaedam melius, nonnulla refugit,
et morem variare suum non destitit, et quae
pridem condiderat iura in contraria vertit.
quid mihi tu ritus solitos, Romane senator,
obiectas cum scita patrum populique frequenter
instabilis placiti sententia flexa novarit?
nunc etiam quotiens solitis decedere prodest
praeteritosque habitus cultu damnare recenti,
gaudemus conpertum aliquid tandemque retectum,
quod latuit; tardis semper processibus aucta
crescit vita hominis et longo proficit usu.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A Puddle of Mere Slime
Still I complain; I am complaining still.James Thomson (1834-1882):
O woe is me! Was ever Heart like mine?
A Sty of Filth, a Trough of Washing-Swill,
A Dunghill Pit, a Puddle of mere Slime,
A Nest of Vipers, Hive of Hornets-stings,
A Bag of Poyson, Civit-Box of Sins.
Was ever Heart like mine? So bad? black? vile?
Is any Divell blacker? Or can Hell
Produce its match? It is the very soile
Where Satan reads his charms and sets his spell;
His Bowling Ally, where he sheeres his fleece
At Nine Pins, Nine Holes, Morrice, Fox and Geese.
Once in a saintly passion
I cried with desperate grief,
"O Lord, my heart is black with guile,
Of sinners I am chief."
Then stooped my guardian angel
And whispered from behind,
"Vanity, my little man,
You're nothing of the kind."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting
The following is the Roman formula to be observed in thinning a grove: A pig is to be sacrificed, and the following prayer uttered: "Whether thou be god or goddess to whom this grove is dedicated, as it is thy right to receive a sacrifice of a pig for the thinning of this sacred grove, and to this intent, whether I or one at my bidding do it, may it be rightly done. To this end, in offering this pig to thee I humbly beg that thou wilt be gracious and merciful to me, to my house and household, and to my children. Wilt thou deign to receive this pig which I offer thee to this end."Lewis & Short, s.v. colluco:
Lucum conlucare Romano more sic oportet. Porco piaculo facto, sic verba concipito: "Si deus, si dea es, quoium illud sacrum est, uti tibi ius est porco piaculo facere illiusce sacri coercendi ergo harumque rerum ergo, sive ego sive quis iussu meo fecerit, uti id recte factum siet, eius rei ergo te hoc porco piaculo inmolando bonas preces precor, uti sies volens propitius mihi domo familiaeque meae liberisque meis; harumce rerum ergo macte hoc porco piaculo inmolando esto."
col-lūco (conl- ), āre, v. a. [lux],The different explanation by Paul. ex Fest. p. 37, 12 Müll. is conlucare dicebant cum profanae silvae rami deciderentur officientes lumini. The paraphrase of Cato by Pliny, Natural History 17.267 (idem arbores religiosas lucosque succidi permisit sacrificio prius facto, cuius rationem precationemque eodem volumine tradidit), seems to support the meaning "cut down trees" rather than "prune branches".
I. to make light, to clear or thin a forest, etc.: collucare est succisis arboribus locum luce implere, Fest. s.v. sublucare, p. 348, 18 Müll. (explained in a different manner by Paul. ex Fest. p. 37, 12 ib.): lucum, Cato, R.R. 139: arborem, Col. 2, 21, 3.
Lewis & Short, s.v. interluco:
inter-lūco , āre, v. a. [lux],Lewis & Short, s.v. subluco:
I. to let the light through a tree by clearing it of its useless branches; to lop or thin a tree (Plinian): interlucata densitate ramorum, Plin. 17, 23, 35, § 214: arbores, id. 17, 12, 19, § 94.
sub-lūco , āre, 1, v. a. [lux],On the etymology of these verbs, see Ernout and Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1951), p. 368:
I. to trim, cut away, thin out the branches of a tree, to admit light: sublucare arbores est ramos earum supputare, et veluti subtus lucem mittere, Fest. p. 348 Müll.: arbor ... nisi a domino sublucari non potest, isque conveniendus est ut eam sublucet, Paul. Sent. 5, 6, 13; cf. colluco.
De lūcus a dû exister aussi un dénominatif *lūcō, -ās (à moins que *lūcō ne soit un intensif-duratif en -ā-, du type dūcō, -ās, dont lūcus serait le substantif verbal?) qui figure dans les composés collūcāre, interlūcāre, sublūcāre, termes techniques de la langue des forestiers, dont le sens est "tailler les arbres, éclaircir (un bois)". L'étymologie est indiquée par les textes: conlucare dicebant cum profanae siluae rami deciderentur officientes lumini, P.F. 33, 21; sublucare arbores est ramos earum supputare, et ueluti subtus lucem mittere; conlucare autem, succisis arboribus lucum (locum, Lindsay) implere luce, Fest. 474, 28; cf. l'emploi de interlūcāre dans Pline 17, 94....Le mot italique *loukos (osq. lúvkei "in lūcō") signifiait étymologiquement "clairière"; on en a le correspondant exact dans v. angl. léah "prairie", v.h.a. lōh "clairière avec des arbustes"; lit. laūkas "champ" ("espace libre", par opposition à la "maison" avec son enclos), skr. lokáḥ, "espace libre" et ulokáḥ, sans doute simplification du composé *uru-lokaḥ "large espace". Ce mot indo-européen désignait l'espace libre et clair, par opposition à ce qui est boisé le bois, le couvert, étant le grand obstacle à l'activité de l'homme.Thanks to Eric Thomson for sending me the excerpt from Ernout and Meillet. Eric also compares German Lichtung ("clearing, glade" from Licht, "light").
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
A scholar is a man with this inconvenience, that, when you ask him his opinion of any matter, he must go home and look up his manuscripts to know.Id. (August 1855):
Out upon scholars with their pale, sickly, etiolated, indoor thoughts. Give me the out-of-door thoughts of sound men,the thoughts, all fresh, blooming, whiskered, and with the tan on!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Life's fairest days are ever the first to flee for hapless mortals; on creep diseases, and sad age, and suffering; and stern death's ruthlessness sweeps away its prey.Samuel Johnson used to quote these lines of Vergil "with great pathos." William Wordsworth cited them in a note to Descriptive Sketches in Verse, Taken During a Pedestrian Tour in the Italian, Grison, Swiss, and Savoyard Alps, lines 636-643:
optima quaeque dies miseris mortalibus aevi
prima fugit; subeunt morbi tristisque senectus
et labor, et durae rapit inclementia mortis.
Soon flies the little joy to man allow'd,
And tears before him travel like a cloud.
For come Diseases on, and Penury's rage,
Labour, and Pain, and Grief, and joyless Age,
And Conscience dogging close his bleeding way
Cries out, and leads her Spectres to their prey,
'Till Hope-deserted, long in vain his breath
Implores the dreadful untried sleep of Death.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Who Is He?
He is, indeed, very ill-favoured; is tall and stout; but stoops terribly; he is almost bent double. His mouth is almost continually opening and shutting as if he was chewing. He has a strange method of frequently twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands. His body is in continual agitation, see-sawing up and down; his feet are never a moment quiet; and, in short, his whole person is in perpetual motion. His dress, too, considering the times, and that he had meant to put on his best becomes, being engaged to dine in a large company, was as much out of the common road as his figure; he had a large wig, snuff-colour coat, and gold buttons, but no ruffles to his shirt, doughty fists, and black worsted stockings.Answer.
Ecology and Pseudo-Ecology
A factoid is a statement that looks like a fact, makes sense like a fact, commands the respect due to a fact, and has all the properties of a fact except that it is not true. An example is the belief that trees die when cut down and disappear for ever.P. 17:
The first step on the road to pseudo-ecology is to confuse ecology with environment: to treat living creatures as part of the scenery of the theatre, rather than as actors in the play. Plants and animals are not a generalized nature, not the passive recipients of whatever mankind chooses to inflict on them: they are thousands of individual species, each with its own behaviour which has to be understood. An ash tree differs from a pine to much the same degree that a cat differs from a codfish. Cutting down the pine kills it, but the ash sprouts and recovers.Pp. 17-18:
There are four opportunities for creating a pseudo-ecology of the ancient world.P. 20:
(1) Not understanding the nature of evidence. Scholars easily suppose that written sources provide the only, or best, information about their periods. This cuts them off from ever knowing what was happening at times when people were not writing. Ecologists tend to be credulous and uncritical when dealing with ancient texts, and fail to understand their limitations.
(2) Projecting modern ecological fallacies on to the ancients. It is all too easy to seek in ancient philosophers confirmation of the fashionable misperceptions of the present.
(3) Being preoccupied (as many scholars are) with ancient attitudes to nature, regardless of what nature consisted of at the time or what it was the ancients were attitudinizing about....The history of nature is not the same as the history of the things that people have said about nature.
(4) Geographical over-generalization. Scholars assemble fragments of information—a scrap from Italy, a phrase in Homer, a snippet from Cyprus, a verse or two from the Bible—as if these added up to a history of Mediterranean ecology. This would not pass muster in any other branch of archaeology.
In Mediterranean countries, trees do not necessarily occur in the form of forests: they can constitute maquis (trees reduced to the form of shrubs) or savanna (grassland or undershrubs with scattered trees).P. 22:
Ancient Greek authors tell us comparatively little about what Greece looked like: they assume their readers will know. Written evidence needs to be handled critically. We need to verify each piece of information: to consider whether an author was interested in describing accurately what a place looked like, and whether he was in a position to know (Rackham 1992a). Plato (Laws, 1.625 b) throws out a few remarks about roadside cypresses in Crete in the context of three aged philosophers strolling one afternoon from Knossos to the Idaean cave. In reality this is one of the most arduous journeys in all this arduous island. All we can infer is that Plato liked to give a pleasant setting to a dry philosophical discourse, but knew nothing about the topography or vegetation of Crete.P. 28 (footnote omitted):
Scholars too often assume that ancient accounts of trees imply tall trees and forests; they forget about maquis and savanna. In reality, ancient authors may not have made the same distinction between 'forest' and 'scrub' that modern English, and especially American, writers make.P. 28:
Deforestation is tree-felling not balanced by regrowth.P. 29:
Nonsense multiplies. Once it has become the accepted wisdom that trees were becoming scarce in antiquity, every change in human activity is attributed to this cause, no matter how farfetched. If the guess fits your theory, you print it. Sir Arthur Evans solemnly stated that the men of Knossos took to using gypsum for door- and window-frames because they had run out of timber (Evans 1921–35, ii. 565).P. 33:
There is an almost irresistible temptation to read modern theories into the words of ancient authors.P. 35 (on Theophrastus):
It is from such beginnings of discernment that an interest in ecology must grow, but I find no evidence that the Greeks got very far. Too often they were bogged down in the ancient Greek vices of philosophizing from not enough data, and of not verifying such data as they did have.P. 36:
One cannot do real ecology without knowing the plants.P. 40:
Isaiah (11. 1–2) expresses the most cherished hopes of his nation under the allegory of the regrowth of a coppiced tree, a subject mentioned only two or three times in the vastly more extensive Greek and Roman literature: 'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.'P. 42:
In antiquity it was not easy, in most of Greece, to do permanent damage to the landscape. The critical step in the degradation of the Greek environment was the invention of the bulldozer.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
apple loft n.I recently came across a couple of references to apple lofts. The first was in Noah Greenberg and W.H. Auden, edd., An Anthology of Elizabethan Lute Songs, Madrigals, and Rounds (1955; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton, 1970), p. 35 (from Thomas Campian's Jacke and Jone, 2nd stanza):
1569 T. BLAGUE Schole of Wise Conceytes 67 His sonne being very liberall, brought his fellowes very often into the *Apple loftes, saying: Take of these what ye will. 1740 M. DELANY Autobiogr. & Corr. (1861) II. 120 Go see what's doing in the cheese-chamber and the apple-loft. 1864 Times 8 Feb. 9/4, The lunatic we discovered in the apple loft. 1984 P. LEGG Cidermaking in Somerset 7/1 Many Somerset cider cellars have an apple loft above them, occasionally called the 'tallet'.
1740 Tryal Mrs Branch 22 He went..to search for the bloody Clothes, and Ann James shew'd the *Apple-Room, where the same were put. 1824 M. R. MITFORD Our Village (1863) 1st Ser. 221 The apple-room, the pear-bin, the cheese-loft. 2002 Church Times 22 Nov. 32/3 The old apple-room is now the bookroom... My book-packed farmhouse cannot complain.
Well can they judge of nappy AleThe second was John Drinkwater's poem Moonlit Apples:
And tell at large a Winter tale:
Climbe up to the Apple loft,
And turne the Crabs till they be soft.
At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.
A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.
They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.
In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
On moon-washed apples of wonder.
Related post: November (IV).
A Spirit Protects the Trees
We marched on from there and came to a river. I ordered my men to pitch camp and lay aside their armour in the usual way. In the river there were trees which began to grow at sunrise and continued until the sixth hour, but from the seventh hour they shrank again until they could hardly be seen. They exuded a sap like Persian myrrh, with a sweet and noble aroma. I had cuts made in a few of them, and the sap soaked up with sponges. Suddenly the sap-collectors began to be whipped by an invisible spirit: we heard the noise of the whipping and saw the marks of the blows on their backs, but we could not see those who were beating them. Then a voice was heard, telling them neither to cut the trees nor collect the sap: "If you do not cease," it said, "the army will be struck dumb." I was afraid and gave orders not to cut or collect any more of the sap.Leif Bergson, Der griechische Alexanderroman: Rezension β (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1965 = Studia Graeca Stockholmiensia, III), p. 129:
Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναχωρήσαντες ἤλθομεν εἴς τινα ποταμόν. ἐκέλευσα οὖν παρεμβολὴν γενέσθαι καὶ καθοπλισθῆναι τῇ συνηθείᾳ τὰ στρατεύματα. ἦν δὲ ἐν τῷ ποταμῷ δένδρα καὶ ἃμα τοῦ ἡλίουἀνατέλλοντος καὶ τὰ δένδρα ηὔξανον μέχρις ὥρας ἕκτης, ἀπὸ δὲ ὥρας ἑβδόμης ἐξέλιπον ὥστε μὴ φαίνεσθαι ὅλως. δάκρυα δὲ εἶχον ὡς Περσικὴν στακτήν, πνοὴν δὲ πάνυ ἡδυτάτην καὶ χρηστήν. ἐκέλευσα οὖν κόπτεσθαι τὰ δένδρα καὶ σπόγγοις ἐκλέγεσθαι τὸ δάκρυον. αἰφνίδιον οἱ ἐκλέγοντες ἐμαστιγοῦντο ὑπὸ δαίμονος ἀοράτου. καὶ τῶν μὲν μαστιγουμένων τὸν ψόφον ἠκούομεν καὶ τὰς πληγὰς ἐπὶ τῶν νώτων ἐρχομένας ἐβλέπομεν, τοὺς δὲ τύπτοντας οὐκ ἐθεωροῦμεν. φωνὴ δέ τις ἤρχετο λέγουσα μηδὲ ἐκκόπτειν μηδὲ συλλέγειν. "εἰ δὲ μὴ παύσητε, γενήσεται ἄφωνον τὸ στρατόπεδον." ἐγὼ οὖν φοβηθεὶς ἐκέλευσα μήτε ἐκκόπτειν μήτε συλλέγειν τινὰ ἐξ αὐτῶν.I owe the reference to Albert Henrichs, "'Thou Shalt Not Kill a Tree': Greek, Manichaean and Indian Tales," Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 16 (1979) 85-108 (at 107-108).
Related posts: St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; 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; Mourning Over Trees; 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, November 12, 2009
Mrs. Goodman's Latin Class
The only bit of Latin quoted in the poem, however, is puzzling. Morris recalls his Latin teacher, Mrs. Goodman, saying "Lapsa de memoria." I wonder if she may have really said something like "Lapsus memoriae" (cf. "lapsus linguae" and "lapsus calami"). No matter how charitably I try to construe it, I find it hard to extract much sense from "lapsa de memoria." "Lapsa" could be a participle from the deponent verb "labor," and "memoria lapsa" could mean "memory which has slipped, fallen, or failed," but "lapsa de memoria" is an odd phrase, at least to my ear.
At any rate, enjoy this wonderfully evocative poem:
We are, once more, in Mrs. Goodman's class,
geraniums crowding the sun-struck windows.
I occupy the third desk, second row,
on which are carved initials of those students
who grappled here with Latin long before me.
An inkwell has been drilled into the wood,
upper right, and the slender legs, cast iron,
filigree grillwork, grip the creaking floor.
I wear those trousers woven of rough tweed,
their color some drab brown the shade of mud.
Mrs. Goodman wears one of her black wigs,
hair black as night, each styled in the same fashion,
bangs fringing the pale forehead, two spit curls
glued to the temples, cut to slash each cheek.
She paces back and forth, tapping a pointer
against the blackboard with each definition,
predicate, object, subject, gerund, noun,
seven uses of the conditional,
one more subtle than the next, more exotic,
"should she," "were I," "could you," "if we," "might someone."
Some days she smells of lilac, some days jasmine.
She wears black fishnet stockings, kidskin pumps
with thin spike heels four inches high; her hemline
grazes a calf as shapely as her ankles.
Today, it seems, we come to the subjunctive,
but we approach it sideways, from behind,
advance on it as if by inadvertence,
almost refrain from mentioning its name
(a backward look, a sideways look, a glance,
less than a glance, a glimpse, with eyes half-closed),
slowly, quietly, with great stealth, great care,
that care beyond mere care, are made to sense
an assault broader, bolder, more head-on,
an advance other than by indirection,
might very well, students, frighten it off.
I am twelve that winter, perhaps thirteen.
I love this room; love the geraniums
misting the panes, pane by pane, with their breath,
reaching in one direction for the sun;
love the fragrance of ink the monitor
pours at each desk from a tall, capped blue bottle,
the spout held low, just so, that it not leak;
love the feel of the tweed scraping my legs
when I stir in my seat or rise to speak.
Impatience rides the morning, restlessness
half the afternoon: I want time to pass
until we climb the dim flight to 310.
The bell rings; clamor; scuffle; we change rooms.
At two-fifteen, precisely, we begin
(the sun cuts diamonds on the frosted panes),
predicate, object, subject, gerund, noun,
stand, one by one, when called on, to read from Caesar
(battle on wind-swept plains, snow in high passes),
translations knotted, tangled, rock-strewn, dense
(now the strategic pause, the cough, the stutter),
pored over, worked, reworked, pulled this way, that,
to fit our stumbling, to accommodate
the desperation seizing us mid-plot,
hesitation a tense unto itself
having to do with ignorance, not grammar.
(That winter was the winter syntax seemed
a route to all I thought I wished to be,
who I wished to become, the agent by which
one was delivered, somewhere, to one's self,
the magic which, in time, bestows, transforms,
that, if one could piece the sentence together,
word by word, step by step, worked and reworked,
if one might learn the phrasing, deep and clear,
as clear as water, say, as deep as night,
it might well lead, or open, to one's life;
if one could learn the principle involved,
one might know how to live, or what to live for.)
I love the scent wild lilac trails, or jasmine,
as she patrols the aisles between the desks
attending to the pains of conjugation,
reminding us verbs shall agree with subjects;
love to move my fingers across the grain,
touching the nicks and grooves of old initials,
the cold, forged latticework of iron legs
swirling gracefully, looping to the floor;
love even the chipped song the radiator
rouses itself to sing these afternoons,
plaintive, tentative, frail, occasionally
wavering, in a voice reedy and thin.
I am twelve, as I said, perhaps thirteen,
sit in the sun, diamonds etched on my lids,
grapple with Latin each day at my desk
(not yet having carved my HM across it,
never having carved my HM across it),
predicate, object, subject, gerund, noun,
rising to read, when called on, hesitation,
as always, trailing me, my twin, my double,
student of light, of language, of that longing
rooted in neither, yet rooted in both,
finding my way, losing my way, those passes
profound, immense, endlessly taxing, all but
should she, were I, could you, if we, might someone,
having waited all day for afternoon,
for this moment, yet dreading being called on,
content, for now, to wait for light to pour
(light pours, light pours), for gifts to be bestowed
(gifts, that winter, are not to be bestowed),
comprehension, fluency, grace, sheer daring,
all that might matter most to Mrs. Goodman,
all that might matter most, that year, to me,
for the radiator to sing its song
and the sun to cut diamond after diamond
afternoons on the frost-encrusted panes;
for, best of all, Mrs. Goodman to enter
at two-fifteen, precisely, to begin
(her stride high-arched, deliberate, seamless, slow),
the plains wind-swept, the passes lashed with snow.
I read, read poorly; Mrs. Goodman points
to her head, her black-banged, black spit-curled head,
cries "Lapsa de memoria," cries it twice.
I pause, I cough, I stutter, start to blush
("Lapsa de memoria"), yet persist.
Mrs. Goodman moves to my side, corrects me
(waves of lilac and jasmine overwhelm me,
I, who fail, for some reason, to remember
the deepest needs of the infinitive,
exchange pronoun for noun, invert the order
by which all parts—the world, as well?—cohere),
asking what one is to do with the clause
it seems one quite forgot, the participle
one decimated, dropped, wanting to know
how one is to live, what one is to live for.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mourn for the dead who died for this country,
Whose minds went dark at the edge of a field,
In the muck of a trench, on the beachhead sand,
In a blast amidships, a burst in the air.
What did they think of before they forgot us?
In the blink of time before they forgot us?
The glare and whiskey of Saturday evening?
The drone or lilt of their family voices?
The bend of a trout stream? A fresh-made bed?
The sound of a lathe, or the scent of sawdust?
The mouth of a woman? A prayer? Who knows?
Let us not force them to speak in chorus,
These men diverse in their names and faces
Who lived in a land where a life could be chosen.
Say that they mattered, alive and after;
That they gave us time to become what we could.
St. Martin and the Pine Tree
Again, when in a certain village he had demolished a very ancient temple, and had set about cutting down a pine-tree, which stood close to the temple, the chief priest of that place, and a crowd of other heathens began to oppose him. And these people, though, under the influence of the Lord, they had been quiet while the temple was being overthrown, could not patiently allow the tree to be cut down. Martin carefully instructed them that there was nothing sacred in the trunk of a tree, and urged them rather to honor God whom he himself served. He added that there was a moral necessity why that tree should be cut down, because it had been dedicated to a demon. Then one of them who was bolder than the others says, If you have any trust in your God, whom you say you worship, we ourselves will cut down this tree, and be it your part to receive it when falling; for if, as you declare, your Lord is with you, you will escape all injury. Then Martin, courageously trusting in the Lord, promises that he would do what had been asked. Upon this, all that crowd of heathen agreed to the condition named; for they held the loss of their tree a small matter, if only they got the enemy of their religion buried beneath its fall. Accordingly, since that pine-tree was hanging over in one direction, so that there was no doubt to what side it would fall on being cut, Martin, having been bound, is, in accordance with the decision of these pagans, placed in that spot where, as no one doubted, the tree was about to fall. They began, therefore, to cut down their own tree, with great glee and joyfulness, while there was at some distance a great multitude of wondering spectators. And now the pine-tree began to totter, and to threaten its own ruin by falling. The monks at a distance grew pale, and, terrified by the danger ever coming nearer, had lost all hope and confidence, expecting only the death of Martin. But he, trusting in the Lord, and waiting courageously, when now the falling pine had uttered its expiring crash, while it was now falling, while it was just rushing upon him, simply holding up his hand against it, he put in its way the sign of salvation. Then, indeed, after the manner of a spinning-top (one might have thought it driven back), it swept round to the opposite side, to such a degree that it almost crushed the rustics, who had taken their places there in what was deemed a safe spot. Then truly, a shout being raised to heaven, the heathen were amazed by the miracle, while the monks wept for joy; and the name of Christ was in common extolled by all. The well-known result was that on that day salvation came to that region. For there was hardly one of that immense multitude of heathens who did not express a desire for the imposition of hands, and abandoning his impious errors, made a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. Certainly, before the times of Martin, very few, nay, almost none, in those regions had received the name of Christ; but through his virtues and example that name has prevailed to such an extent, that now there is no place thereabouts which is not filled either with very crowded churches or monasteries. For wherever he destroyed heathen temples, there he used immediately to build either churches or monasteries.A carving from Vézelay (Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, 12th century) illustrates this episode from the life of St. Martin:
Item, cum in viro quodam templum antiquissimum diruisset et arborem pinum, quae fano erat proxima, esset aggressus excidere, tum vero antistes loci illius ceteraque gentilium turba coepit obsistere. Et cum idem illi, dum templum evertitur, imperante Domino quievissent, succidi arborem non patiebantur. ille eos sedulo commonere, nihil esse religionis in stipite: Deum potius, cui serviret ipse, sequerentur: arborem illam succidi oportere, quia esset daemoni dedicata. Tum unus ex illis qui erat audacior ceteris: si habes, inquit, aliquam de Deo tuo, quem dicis te colere, fiduciam, nosmet ipsi succidemus hanc arborem, tu ruentem excipe: et si tecum est tuus, ut dicis, Dominus, evades. Tum ille intrepide confisus in Domino facturum se pollicetur. hic vero ad istius modi condicionem omnis illa gentilium turba consensit, facilemque arboris suae habuere iacturam, si inimicum sacrorum suorum casu illius obruissent. Itaque cum unam in partem pinus illa esset acclinis, ut non esset dubium, quam in partem succisa corrueret, eo loci vinctus statuitur pro arbitrio rusticorum, quo arborem esse casuram nemo dubitabat. Succidere igitur ipsi suam pinum cum ingenti gaudio laetitiaque coeperunt. Aderat eminus turba mirantium. iamque paulatim nutare pinus et ruinam suam casura imitari. Pallebant eminus monachi et periculo iam propiore conterriti spem omnem fidemque perdiderant, solam Martini mortem exspectantes. At ille confisus in Domino intrepidus opperiens, cum iam fragorem sui pinus concidens edidisset, iam cadenti, iam super se ruenti, elevata obviam manu, signum salutis opponit. tum vero - velut turbinis modo retro actam putares - diversam in partem ruit, adeo ut rusticos, qui toto in loco steterant, paene prostraverit. Tum vero in caelum clamore sublato gentiles stupere miraculo, monachi flere prae gaudio, Christi nomen in commune ab omnibus praedicari: satisque constitit eo die salutem illi venisse regioni. nam nemo fere ex immani illa multitudine gentilium fuit, qui non impositione manus desiderata Dominum Iesum, relicto impietatis errore, crediderit. Et vere ante Martinum pauci admodum, immo paene nulli in illis regionibus Christi nomen receperant: quod adeo virtutibus illius exemploque convaluit, ut iam ibi nullos locus sit, qui non aut ecclesiis frequentissimis aut monasteriis sit repletus. Nam ubi fana destruxerat, statim ibi aut ecclesias aut monasteria construebat.
Related posts: The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; 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; Mourning Over Trees; 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.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A Thought to Start Your Day Right
'Got to have positive thoughts to start your day right' according to Amy Twain, self-appointed 'self-improvement coach' dealing with 'self-esteem issues' helping people to become more 'self-confident' (pandering in other words to the self-obsessed).
Well here's a thought for you to start the day right from archbishop and archcurmudgeon Wulfstan:
'Beloved men, know that which is true: this world is in haste and it nears the end. And therefore things in this world go ever the longer the worse, and so it must needs be that things quickly worsen, on account of people's sinning from day to day, before the coming of Antichrist. And indeed it will then be awful and grim widely throughout the world.'
Leofan men gecnawað þæt soð is: ðeos worolde is on ofste & hit nealæcð þam ende. & þy hit is on worolde aa swa leng swa wyrse, & swa hit sceal nyde for folces synnan fram dæge to dæge, ær antecristes tocyme, yfelian swyþe. & huru hit wyrð þænne egeslic & grimlic wide on worolde.
Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (1014)
Quaint and Curious Volumes of Forgotten Lore
Monday, November 09, 2009
Poetry Stripped to the Bone
Let us take, as another instance, the poetry of Horacea poet who for the purpose of testing theories or generalisations about poetry is of unique value, because he gives us, as one might say, poetry stripped to the bone. It is not the enlarged matter, the high argument of his political and moral odes that gives him his quality as a poet: indeed it is only his exquisite workmanship that redeems these from being, as all lyrics based on their model have since been, mannered and dull. He makes that universal appeal against which time and change and fashion seem powerless, because the Odes deal with the central realities of lifethe little things. By the piled logs when Soracte is white, under the ilex that shadows the spring in the summer heat, yes, even in the suburban back-garden with its clipped vine, he sees the whole pageant of the world pass as though at a great distance. Unconcerned with the life and labour of the peopleneglegens ne qua populus laborethe is almost as little concerned with the large subject-matter of epic or romance, with high actions, and deep passions, and wide adventures. Cetera fluminis ritu feruntur; in the quiet life, with its bounded scope, its narrow range of thought and feeling, he found and fixed that on which the gods, and men too, have set their heart: tears and laughter, debita lacrima, lentus risus—note the scrupulous felicity of the epithets, those weighed and measured epithets in the use of which Horace is so consummate a master,—the "quiet laughter," the "due tears" of that narrow bounded space which is most central and most real in life."By the piled logs when Soracte is white" Ode 1.9
"Under the ilex that shadows the spring in the summer heat" Ode 3.13
"In the suburban back-garden with its clipped vine" Ode 1.38
"Neglegens ne qua populus laboret" Ode 3.8.25
"Cetera fluminis ritu feruntur" Ode 3.29.33-34
"Debita lacrima" Ode 2.6.23
"Lentus risus" Ode 2.16.26-27
Sunday, November 08, 2009
The Word Arboricide
There are earlier examples of the word. The earliest example I can find is from 1844, in Asa Gray, "The Longevity of Trees," North American Review, Vol. 59, No. 124 (July 1844) 189-238, rpt. in Scientific Papers of Asa Gray, Vol. II: Essays; Biographical Sketches: 1841-1886 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1889), pp. 71-124 (at 84):
[T]he age may be directly ascertained by counting the annual rings on a cross section of the trunk. The record is sometimes illegible or nearly so, but it is perfectly authentic; and when fairly deciphered, we may rely on its correctness. But the venerable trunks, whose ages we are most interested in determining, are rarely sound to the centre; and if they were, even the paramount interests of science would seldom excuse the arboricide.Related post: Ecology.
Goodies Make Us Very Bad
I hate goodies. I hate goodness that preaches. Goodness that preaches undoes itself. A little electricity of virtue lurks here and there in kitchens and among the obscure, chiefly women, that flashes out occasional light and makes the existence of the thing still credible. But one had as lief curse and swear as be guilty of this odious religion that watches the beef and watches the cider in the pitcher at table, that shuts the mouth hard at any remark it cannot twist nor wrench into a sermon, and preaches as long as itself and its hearer is awake. Goodies make us very bad. We should, if the race should increase, be scarce restrained from calling for bowl and dagger. We will almost sin to spite them. Better indulge yourself, feed fat, drink liquors, than go straitlaced for such cattle as these.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Luminous Hearts of Gold
The thoughts of all the maples who shall name,
When the sad landscape turns to cold and gray?
Yet some for very ruth and sheer dismay,
Hearing the northwind pipe the winter's name,
Have fired the hills with beaconing clouds of flame;
And some with softer woe that day by day,
So sweet and brief, should go the westward way,
Have yearned upon the sunset with such shame
That all their cheeks have turned to tremulous rose;
Others for wrath have turned to rusty red,
And some that knew not either grief or dread,
Ere the old year should find its iron close,
Have gathered down the sun's last smiles acold,
Deep, deep, into their luminous hearts of gold.
Friday, November 06, 2009
The Geismar Oak
Now at that time many of the Hessians, brought under the Catholic faith and confirmed by the grace of the sevenfold spirit, received the laying on of hands; others indeed, not yet strengthened in soul, refused to accept in their entirety the lessons of the inviolate faith. Moreover some were wont secretly, some openly to sacrifice to trees and springs; some in secret, others openly practised inspections of victims and divinations, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rites; while others, with sounder minds, abandoned all the profanations of heathenism, and committed none of these things. With the advice and counsel of these last, the saint attempted, in the place called Gaesmere, while the servants of God stood by his side, to fell a certain oak of extraordinary size, which is called, by an old name of the pagans, the Oak of Jupiter. And when in the strength of his steadfast heart he had cut the lower notch, there was present a great multitude of pagans, who in their souls were most earnestly cursing the enemy of their gods. But when the fore side of the tree was notched only a little, suddenly the oak's vast bulk, driven by a divine blast from above, crashed to the ground, shivering its crown of branches as it fell; and, as if by the gracious dispensation of the Most High, it was also burst into four parts, and four trunks of huge size, equal in length, were seen, unwrought by the brethren who stood by. At this sight the pagans who before had cursed now, on the contrary, believed, and blessed the Lord, and put away their former reviling. Then moreover the most holy bishop, after taking counsel with the brethren, built from the timber of the tree a wooden oratory, and dedicated it in honor of Saint Peter the apostle.Latin text from W. Levison, ed., Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldo, in Vitae Sancti Bonifatii Archiepiscopi Moguntini, in Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum...Separatim Editi (Hanover, 1905), pp. 11-57 (at 30-32):
Cum vero Hessorum iam multi, catholica fide subditi ac septiformis spiritus gratia confirmati, manus inpositionem acciperunt, et alii quidem, nondum animo confortati, intemeratae fidei documenta integre percipere rennuerunt; alii etiam lignis et fontibus clanculo, alii autem aperte sacrificabant; alii vero aruspicia et divinationes, prestigia atque incantationes occulte, alii quidem manifeste exercebant; alii quippe auguria et auspicia intendebant diversosque sacrificandi ritus incoluerunt; alii etiam, quibus mens sanior inerat, omni abiecta gentilitatis profanatione, nihil horum commisserunt. Quorum consultu atque consilio roborem quendam mirae magnitudinis, qui prisco paganorum vocabulo appellatur robor Iobis, in loco qui dicitur Gaesmere, servis Dei secum adstantibus, succidere temptavit. Cumque, mentis constantia confortatus, arborem succidisset — magna quippe aderat copia paganorum, qui et inimicum deorum suorum intra se diligentissime devotabant, — sed ad modicum quidem arbore praeciso, confestim inmensa roboris moles, divino desuper flatu exagitata, palmitum confracto culmine, corruit et quasi superni nutus solatio in quattuor etiam partes disrupta est, et quattuor ingentis magnitudinis aequali longitudine trunci absque fratrum labore adstantium apparuerunt. Quo viso, prius devotantes pagani etiam versa vice benedictionem Domino, pristina abiecta maledictione, credentes reddiderunt. Tunc autem summae sanctitatis antistes, consilio inito cum fratribus ligneum ex supradictae arboris metallo oratorium construxit eamque in honore sancti Petri apostoli dedicavit.
Related posts: Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; 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; Mourning Over Trees; 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.