Tuesday, February 09, 2010


A Homeric Scholar in Polite Company

Royall Tyler, The Algerine Captive; or, The Life and Adventures of Doctor Updike Underhill, chapter 7:
Fatigued with the vexations of my school, I one evening repaired to the tavern, and mixed with some of the young men of the town. Their conversation I could not relish; mine they could not comprehend. The subject of race horses being introduced, I ventured to descant on Xanthus, the immortal courser of Achilles. They had never heard of 'squire Achilles, or his horse; but they offered to bet two to one, that Bajazet, the Old Roan, or the deacon's mare. Pumpkin and Milk, would beat him, and challenged me to appoint time and place.

Nor was I more acceptable among the young women. Being invited to spend an evening, after a quilting, I thought this a happy opportunity to introduce Andromache, the wife of the great Hector, at her loom; and Penelope, the faithful wife of Ulysses, weaving her seven years' web. This was received with a stupid stare, until I mentioned the long time the queen of Ulysses was weaving; when a smart young woman observed, that she supposed Miss Penelope's yarn was rotted in whitening, that made her so long: and then told a tedious story of a piece of cotton and linen she had herself woven, under the same circumstances. She had no sooner finished, than, to enforce my observations, I recited above forty lines of Greek, from the Odyssey, and then began a dissertation on the caesura. In the midst of my harangue, a florid-faced young man, at the farther end of the room, with two large prominent foreteeth, remarkably white, began to sing,
"Fire upon the mountains, run boys, run;"
And immediately the whole company rushed forward, to see who should get a chance in the reel of six.

I was about retiring, fatigued and disgusted, when it was hinted to me, that I might wait on Miss Mima home; but as I could recollect no word in the Greek, which would contrue into bundling, or any of Homer's heroes, who got the bag, I declined. In the Latin, it is true, that Aeneas and Dido, in the cave, seem something like a precedent. It was reported all over the town, the next day, that master was a Papish, as he had talked French two hours.

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