Saturday, July 31, 2010


Iconography of Arboricide, 2

Abel Grimmer (1570-1619), Winter Landscape with Peasants Chopping Wood:



Diocletian's Garden

Geert Roskam, Live Unnoticed (Λάθε βιώσας): On the Vicissitudes of an Epicurean Doctrine (Leiden: Brill, 2007), p. 145:
Nicomedia, May 1, 305 A.D. Diocletian of his own free will abdicates in the presence of the army, and withdraws as a private citizen to Salona (Lactantius, mort. pers. 19). Three years later, Herculius and Galerius try to convince him to reassume the office of emperor. His reaction to the proposal has been preserved in Aurelius Victor: "If only you could see at Salona the vegetables I have cultivated with my own hands, you would undoubtedly never have decided to make this attempt" (epit. 39,6), after which, one presumes, he resumed his life as a private citizen in perfect tranquillity.
Aurelius Victor, Epitome 39.6 (tr. Thomas M. Banich):
It was he who, when solicited by Herculius and Galerius for the purpose of resuming control, responded in this way, as though avoiding some kind of plague: "If you could see at Salonae the cabbages raised by our hands, you surely would never judge that a temptation."

Qui dum ab Herculio atque Galerio ad recipiendum imperium rogaretur, tamquam pestem aliquam detestans in hunc modum respondit: "Utinam Salonae possetis visere olera nostris manibus instituta, profecto numquam istud temptandum iudicaretis".
"I was determined to know beans" (Thoreau)
My son, with beans from his garden

More beans

Beans shelled and dried

Friday, July 30, 2010


Hate at First Sight

Charles Lamb, in his essay on Imperfect Sympathies, quotes these lines from Heywood's Hierarchie of Angels (1635):
—We by proof find there should be
'Twixt man and man such an antipathy,
That though he can show no just reason why
For any former wrong or injury,
Can neither find a blemish in his fame,
Nor aught in face or feature justly blame,
Can challenge or accuse him of no evil,
Yet notwithstanding hates him as a devil.
In seventeenth century Oxford, a wayward student named Tom Brown (1663–1704) was on the verge of being expelled, when John Fell (1625-1686, Dean of Christ Church and Bishop of Oxford) offered him a pardon, on the condition that Tom translate on the spot a Latin epigram by Martial (1.33). Here is Tom's bold, extemporaneous translation:
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this alone I know full well,
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.
And here is Martial's original couplet:
Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
  Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Iconography of Arboricide, 1

L.W. King, ed., Bronze Reliefs from the Gates of Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, B.C. 860-825 (London: British Museum, 1915), Plate VIII, Band II.2 (Campaign in Armenia, 860 B.C.), Upper Register (Burning of a city of Urartu and cutting down of its date-plantations), Lower Register (Assyrian chariots and archers at the storming of a city of Urartu):

Look at the upper left hand part of the relief to see the tree-cutting.



Funeral of a Lover of Horace

The London Magazine: or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer (1733), pp. 264-265 (May 6):
This Night was buried at Whittlesea, Mr. John Underwood, of Nassington; of whose Funeral we had the following odd Account from Whittlesea, viz. He was brought to the Grave at Five, and as soon as the Burial Service was over, an Arch was turned over the Coffin, in which was placed, over his Breast, a small Piece of white Marble, with this Inscription, Non omnis moriar, J. Underwood, 1733. When the Grave was filled up, and the Turf laid down, the six Gentlemen who followed him to the Grave sung the last Stanza of the 20th Ode of the 2d Book of Horace: Every Thing was done according to his Desire; no Bell was toll'd, no one was invited, but the six Gentlemen, and no Relation follow'd his Corpse; the Coffin was painted Green, according to his Direction, and he was laid in it with all his Cloaths on; under his Head was placed Sanadon's Horace, at his Feet Bentley's Milton; in his right Hand a small Greek Testament, with this Inscription in Golden Letters, εἴ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ, J. U. in left Hand a little Edition of Horace, with this Inscription, Musis Amicus, J.U. and Bentley's Horace under his Arse. After the Ceremony was over they went back to his House, where his Sister had provided a very handsome cold Supper; the Cloth being taken away, the Gentlemen sung the 31st Ode of the 1st Book of Horace, and drank a chearful Glass, and went home about Eight. He left near 6000 l. to his Sister, upon Condition of her observing this his Will. He order'd his Sister, to give each of the Gentlemen ten Guineas, and desired that they would not come in black Cloaths. Then follows a Direction about his Burial, as above; and the Will ends thus — which done, I would have them take a chearful Glass, and think no more of John Underwood.
I owe knowledge of Underwood's funeral to Penelope Wilson, "Horace and eighteenth century commentary," in L.B.T. Houghton and Maria Wyke, Perceptions of Horace: A Roman Poet and His Readers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 271-289 (at 276, with n. 10), who quotes only a bit of an account from The London Evening Post no. 849, 8-10 May 1733.

The Greek εἴ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ is from Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ..." The inscription Non omnis moriar ("I shall not completely die") is from Horace, Odes 3.30.6, and Musis amicus ("A friend to the Muses") is the opening of Horace, Odes 1.26. The last stanza of Horace, Odes 2.20, sung at the graveside, is:
absint inani funere neniae
    luctusque turpes et querimoniae;
        compesce clamorem ac sepulcri
        mitte supervacuos honores.
In John Conington's translation:
No dirges for my fancied death;
  No weak lament, no mournful stave;
All clamorous grief were waste of breath,
  And vain the tribute of a grave.
Horace, Odes 1.31, sung after the funeral, starts Quid dedicatum poscit Apollinem — a somewhat odd choice, as I would have expected one of the convivial odes, not a hymn to Apollo, to precede "a chearful Glass". The hostility to Richard Bentley is noteworthy ("at his Feet Bentley's Milton" and "Bentley's Horace under his Arse").

Wednesday, July 28, 2010



Horace, Odes 1.31.17-20 (tr. Niall Rudd):
Grant, o son of Latona, that I may enjoy what I possess—in good health, I pray you, and with full mental vigour; and may I have an old age that is not lacking in dignity or bereft of music.

frui paratis et valido mihi,
Latoe, dones, et, precor, integra
    cum mente, nec turpem senectam
        degere nec cithara carentem.


A Line of Greek

Edward Thomas, Horae Solitariae (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1902), p. 16:
When I speak a line of Greek I seem to taste nectar and ambrosia.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Publish or Perish?

E.K. Rand, letter to James B. Conant (April 1935), quoted in Arthur F. Stocker, "Edward Kennard Rand," The American Scholar 52 (1983) 89-97 (at 94):
As for publication, we should cease to regard it as a major criterion of scholarship. It is true that an inquiring and original mind—which is, of course, a prime essential—cannot help making fresh observations and fruitful discoveries, but it matters not whether he disseminates them on paper or in the intellects of his pupils. The latter way is "productive scholarship" combined with art. If a paper or a book is the outcome of his thought, well and good. If he prefers to wait till his thoughts mellow, all the better. If he never publishes at all, that is not necessarily against him. The possession of a keen and original mind can be told in a half hour's conversation. It is also easy to find out within a few years whether the possessor of such a mind is constantly improving it, or whether he is content with his own brilliance and the modicum of information necessary for his task. In the Classics, I should rate higher that scholar who has made friends with the great authors of Greece and Rome, who steadily deepens his intimacy with them, and who can inspire his pupils with an eagerness to make the same friendship with them.


Greatest Book Written in Greek

G.P. Goold, "Richard Bentley: A Tercentenary Commemoration," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 67 (1963) 285-302 (at 296):
The greatest book written in Greek is the New Testament, though a Chinese who studied Greek in the classics departments of Occidental universities might well become an old man without ever discovering the fact.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I Bow Before the Idol

Logan Pearsall Smith, Mammon (from Trivia):
Moralists and Church Fathers have named it the root of all Evil, the begetter of hate and bloodshed, the sure cause of the soul's damnation. It has been called 'trash,' 'muck,' 'dunghill excrement,' by grave authors. The love of it is denounced in all Sacred Writings; we find it reprehended on Chaldean bricks, and in the earliest papyri. Buddha, Confucius, Christ, set their faces against it; and they have been followed in more modern times by beneficed Clergymen, Sunday School Teachers, and the leaders of the Higher Thought. But have the condemnations of all the ages done anything to tarnish that bright lustre? Men dig for it ever deeper into the earth's intestines, travel in search of it farther and farther to arctic and unpleasant regions.

In spite of all my moral reading, I must confess that I like to have some of this gaudy substance in my pocket. Its presence cheers and comforts me, diffuses a genial warmth through my body. My eyes rejoice in the shine of it; its clinquant sound is music in my ears. Since I then am in his paid service, and reject none of the doles of his bounty, I too dwell in the House of Mammon. I bow before the Idol, and taste the unhallowed ecstasy.

How many Altars have been overthrown, and how many Theologies and heavenly Dreams have had their bottoms knocked out of them, while He has sat there, a great God, golden and adorned, and secure on His unmoved throne?
Related post: The Worship of Mammon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Discoverers and Miners

Arthur F. Stocker, "Edward Kennard Rand," The American Scholar 52 (1983) 89-97 (at 93):
In the phrontisteria of this world, as in Heaven, there are many mansions. In some dwell the discoverers of great truths hitherto unknown or unrecognized, in others live the miners of data, who gather and sort diverse bits of new information that become building blocks out of which the edifices of the future can later be constructed.



Excerpts from John Stuart Mill, On Liberty:

Chapter I (Introductory):
Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.


There is, in fact, no recognized principle by which the propriety or impropriety of government interference is customarily tested. People decide according to their personal preferences. Some, whenever they see any good to be done, or evil to be remedied, would willingly instigate the government to undertake the business; while others prefer to bear almost any amount of social evil, rather than add one to the departments of human interests amenable to governmental control. And men range themselves on one or the other side in any particular case, according to this general direction of their sentiments; or according to the degree of interest which they feel in the particular thing which it is proposed that the government should do; or according to the belief they entertain that the government would, or would not, do it in the manner they prefer; but very rarely on account of any opinion to which they consistently adhere, as to what things are fit to be done by a government. And it seems to me that, in consequence of this absence of rule or principle, one side is at present as often wrong as the other; the interference of government is, with about equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly condemned.


The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.
Chapter II (On the Liberty of Thought and Discussion):
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.


Yet it is as evident in itself as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.


In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognizant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter — he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.


...that very frequent infirmity of English minds, which makes them take a preposterous pleasure in the assertion of a bad principle, when they are no longer bad enough to desire to carry it really into practice.


In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away. Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.


Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners.
Chapter III (Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being):
Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.


In our times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual, or the family, do not ask themselves — what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?


In some such insidious form there is at present a strong tendency to this narrow theory of life, and to the pinched and hidebound type of human character which it patronizes. Many persons, no doubt, sincerely think that human beings thus cramped and dwarfed, are as their Maker designed them to be; just as many have thought that trees are a much finer thing when clipped into pollards, or cut out into figures of animals, than as nature made them. But if it be any part of religion to believe that man was made by a good Being, it is more consistent with that faith to believe, that this Being gave all human faculties that they might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and consumed, and that he takes delight in every nearer approach made by his creatures to the ideal conception embodied in them, every increase in any of their capabilities of comprehension, of action, or of enjoyment.


In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.


Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
Chapter IV (Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual):
There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person's taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Dear Reader

Amalar of Metz, Missae Expositionis Geminus Codex, first paragraph of Codex I, quoted by Eleanor Shipley Duckett, Carolingian Portraits: A Study in the Ninth Century (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962; rpt. 1988), p. 98:
If any reader of this work of mine suffers nausea as he gets to the end, he is not to blame me, but himself. Before he ever began to read it, he knew quite well how little renown I have for scholarship, and it is only his fault if he has stuck to it until the last page.
The Latin is probably in Jean Michel Hanssen, ed., Amalari Episcopi Opera Liturgica Omnia, 3 vols. (Rome: Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, 1948-1950 = Studi e Testi, 138-140), which is unavailable to me.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The Freedom of Scanty Fare

Greek Anthology 9.43 (Parmenion of Macedonia, tr. W.R. Paton):
The simple covering of my cloak is enough for me; and I, who feed on the flowers of the Muses, shall never be the slave of the table. I hate witless wealth, the nurse of flatterers, and I will not stand in attendance on one who looks down on me. I know the freedom of scanty fare.
The same, tr. Peter Jay in The Greek Anthology and Other Ancient Greek Epigrams: A Selection in Modern Verse Translations (London: Allen Lane, 1973), p. 237:
The protection of a cheap coat suffices. I
Who graze on the Muses' flowers, will not be slave
To any table. I hate wealth's inanity,
The hot-bed of hangers-on. I wait
On no one's frown, I know
A meagre diet's freedom.
The same, tr. Florent Chrestien in Epigrammata ex Libris Graecae Anthologiae (Lutetiae: Ex Typographia Roberti Stephani, 1608), folio 5 verso:
Sat mihi sat vilis laena est; servire recuso
  Mensis, Musarum munere donec alar.
Odi assentantes & opes sine mente superbas:
  Libertas coenae me iuvat exiguae.
The same, tr. Hugo Grotius:
Sat mihi palliolum pro tegmine: non ego mensis
  Servio, qui pascor floribus Aonidum.
Triste & adulantes & nutus triste potentum
  Ferre mihi; in modica libera vita dape est.
The original Greek:
Ἀρκεῖ μοι χλαίνης λιτὸν σκέπας, οὐδὲ τραπέζαις
  δουλεύσω, Μουσέων ἄνθεα βοσκόμενος.
μισῶ πλοῦτον ἄνουν, κολάκων τροφόν, οὐδὲ παρ' ὀφρὺν
  στήσομαι· οἶδ' ὀλίγης δαιτὸς ἐλευθερίην.
Commentary in A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, The Greek Anthology: The Garland of Philip and Some Contemporary Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), vol. II, p. 324.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Black-Eyed Susan

Concerning the genus Rudbeckia, see Nathaniel Lord Britton and Addison Brown, An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions, 2nd ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913; rpt. New York: Dover, 1970), III, 469:
Perennial or biennial (rarely annual), mostly rigid, usually rough or hispid herbs, with alternate undivided lobed or pinnatifid leaves, and large long-peduncled heads of tubular (mostly purple) and radiate (yellow) flowers. Involucre hemispheric, its bracts imbricated in 2-4 series. Receptacle conic or convex, with chaffy concave scales subtending or enveloping the disk-flowers. Ray-flowers neutral, the rays entire or toothed. Disk-flowers perfect, fertile, their corollas 5-lobed. Anthers entire or minutely 2-mucronate at the base. Style-branches tipped with hirsute appendages. Achenes 4-angled, obtuse or truncate at the apex. Pappus coroniform, sometimes of 2-4 short teeth, or none. [In honor of Claus Rudbeck, 1630-1702, Swedish anatomist and botanist.]

About 30 species, natives of North America and Mexico. In addition to the following, some 20 others occur in the southern and western United States. Type species: Rudbeckia hirta L.
But is the genus named after the elder Rudbeck, or his son, who lived from 1660 to 1740? See Linnaeus, letter to the younger Rudbeck (July 29, 1731), quoted in Wilfrid Blunt, The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus (London: W. Collins, 1971; rpt. Francis Lincoln Ltd., 2001), p. 35:
So long as the earth shall survive and as each spring shall see it covered with flowers, the Rudbeckia will preserve your glorious name....I have chosen a noble plant in order to recall your merits and the services you have rendered, a tall one to give an idea of your stature; and I wanted it to be one which branched and flowered and fruited freely, to show that you cultivated not only the sciences but also the humanities. Its rayed flowers will bear witness that you shone among savants like the sun among the stars; its perennial roots will remind us that each year sees you live again through new works. Pride of our gardens, the Rudbeckia will be cultivated throughout Europe and in distant lands where your revered name must long have been known. Accept this plant, not for what it is but for what it will become when it bears your name.
I can't find the original letter online, and I don't even know if it was written in Latin or Swedish, but there is a more complete translation of the letter in A.L.A. Fée, Vie de Linné (Paris: F.G. Levrault, 1832), pp. 85-87.

I also don't know which one of the 30 Rudbeckia species is in my garden, but it's probably not Rudbeckia hirta, as Britton and Brown (p. 470) call this species "biennial or sometimes annual" (p. 470), and the flowers in my garden are definitely perennial. There is a good description of the black-eyed susan in Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1964), pp. 121-122 (July 18 = Susan's Eyes):
Black-eyed Susan's eyes aren't really black at all. They are a purplish-brown, as anyone can see who takes the trouble to look for more than a passing glance at the Susans which are so profuse now at the roadside and in the meadows. Rudbeckia hirta is the official name, the botanical name, and it is a biennial flower that came out of the West along with commercial clover seed. Once in the East, it took to the soil and climate with vigor and pertinacity. Now its dark-eyed yellow flowers are common from Maine southward, wherever it finds a foothold. And it is particularly adaptable to almost any foothold available.

The yellow petals have a peculiarly rich golden color. They are full of sunlight. Like so many of the Compositae, its petals vary in number—thirteen on this flower, fifteen on another of the same plant, fourteen on the next flower. And they curl and twist, sometimes fray out at the tips for no obvious reason. The flower's sepals, the green "petals" that encase the bud and later form a supporting background for the flower, outnumber the petals, sometimes as much as two to one. And there are countless florets encircling the disk, Susan's eye; they open their tiny blossoms in succession and ring the disk with still another halo of golden yellow, the ripened pollen.

Bees and butterflies love the Susans, and so do most country youngsters. Weeds they certainly are when they invade the garden, but at the roadside they are bright and jaunty and full of the Summer sun. And they don't discourage easily, as many a gardener knows. Cut them or pull them up—they'll be back, as surely as the July sunshine, to which they belong.
Black-Eyed Susan, from my garden (July 14, 2010)


Praise of Laziness

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), Praise of Laziness (Lob der Faulheit):
Laziness, now I want to bring you, too, a little song of praise. O — how trouble — some — it is for me — to extol — you — as you deserve! However, I will do my best; after work, to rest is good.

Summum bonum! The one who possesses you, his life is untroubled — alas! — I'm — yawning — I'm — getting worn out — now — please — forgive me for being unable to sing to you; indeed, you are preventing me from doing so.

Faulheit, jetzo will ich dir
Auch ein kleines Loblied bringen. —
O — wie sau — er — wird es mir —
Dich — nach Würden — zu besingen!
Doch, ich will mein bestes tun,
Nach der Arbeit ist gut ruhn.

Höchstes Gut! wer dich nur hat,
Dessen ungestörtes Leben —
Ach! — ich — gähn' — ich — werde matt —
Nun — so — magst du — mir's vergeben,
Daß ich dich nicht singen kann;
Du verhinderst mich ja dran.
German text from Peter Demetz and W.T.H. Jackson, An Anthology of German Literature: 800-1750 (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 324, who in a note explain that sauer (usually = "sour, bitter") here = "troublesome, laborious".

Pieter van der Heyden, Desidia (Sloth),
after Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Related posts:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The Majority

Bias, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.5.88 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Most men are bad.

οἱ πλεῖστοι κακοί.


Caw, Caw, Caw

James Henry, A Half Year's Poems (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold and Sons, 1854), p. 44:
Caw, caw, caw,
Blithe Jackdaw,
      Come here to me;
Why so shy? Thou and I
      May well agree.

I for great
Church and State
      Care not one spittle,
And I trow,
Wise bird, thou
      Car'st just as little.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Content with Little

Greek Anthology 7.736 (Leonidas of Tarentum, tr. W.R. Paton):
Vex not thyself, O man, leading a vagrant life, rolled from one land to another. Vex not thyself if thou hast a little hut to cover thee, warmed by a little fire, if thou hast a poor cake of no fine meal kneaded by thy hands in a stone trough, if thou hast mint or thyme for a relish or even coarse salt not unsweetened.
The same, tr. N.M. Kay (commentary on Martial 11.32):
Don't wear yourself out pursuing the wandering life, migrating from land to land, don't wear yourself out, if a barn warmed by a small kindled fire be your shelter and the bread kneaded in your trough by your own hands be of plain, not good quality wheat, and you have pennyroyal, thyme and bitter, tasty salt to go with your bread.
The same, tr. Robert Bland:
Cling to thy home! if there the meanest shed
Yield thee a hearth and shelter for thy head,
And some poor plot, with vegetables stored,
Be all that Heaven allots thee for thy board,—
Unsavory bread, and herbs that scattered grow
Wild on the river brink or mountain brow,
Yet e'en this cheerless mansion shall provide
More heart's repose than all the world beside.
The same, tr. J.S. Phillimore:
O man of woman born, be not a rover!
  Each day a day's march spanned;
Ever a rolling stone the wide world over,
  Trundled from land to land!

Be not a rover—tho' the barest shanty
  Circle your bones about;
Fire on the hearth, and be it ne'er so scanty,
  To keep the winter out:

Altho' a bannock (dry and sorry feeding)
  Be all you call your own,
Meagre in meal, and that your own hands' kneading,
  Worked in a scoop of stone;

Altho' for kitchen herbs you find no flavours
  But common thyme and mint;
No sauce but salt that's tart in the lump, but savours
  Spiced in a dainty hint.
The same, tr. F.A. Wright:
I tramp the roads and wander far,
Yet know not want and know not care.
Flat stones for kneading trough I take,
And make myself an oaten cake.
Some mint or thyme serves me for meat,
Or lump of rock salt bitter-sweet;
And o'er my head a well thatched barn
With fire of sticks to keep me warm.
Greek original from Gow and Page, The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), vol. 1, p. 118:
Μὴ φθείρευ, ὤνθρωπε, περιπλάνιον βίον ἕλκων,
  ἄλλην ἐξ ἄλλης εἰς χθόν' ἀλινδόμενος·
μὴ φθείρευ· κενεή σε περιστέξαιτο καλιή
  ἣν θάλποι μικκὸν πῦρ ἀνακαιόμενον,
εἰ καί σοι λιτή τε καὶ οὐκ εὐάλφιτος εἴη    5
  φυστὴ ἐνὶ γρώνῃ μασσομένη παλάμαις,
εἰ καί σοι γλήχων ἢ καὶ θύμον ἢ καὶ ὁ πικρός
  ἁδυμιγὴς εἴη χόνδρος ἐποψίδιος.

3 φθείρευ κενεή Ap.B. φθείρ' ἐν κενεηῖ P | περιστέξαιτο Mein. -στέψ- P
7 εἰ Toup η P
Jan van Goyen, Peasant Huts with a Sweep Well


With Impunity

Claudian, On Stilicho's Consulship 1.228-231 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
Safe it is to hunt amid the vast silence of the distant Hercynian forest, and in the woods that old-established superstition has rendered awful, our axes fell the trees the barbarian once worshipped, and nought is said.

ut procul Hercyniae per vasta silentia silvae
venari tuto liceat, lucosque vetusta
religione truces et robur numinis instar
barbarici nostrae feriant impune bipennes.
Max Liebermann, Holzhacker im Inneren eines Waldes


Monday, July 19, 2010


Homely Comforters

A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, XLI:
  In my own shire, if I was sad,
Homely comforters I had:
The earth, because my heart was sore,
Sorrowed for the son she bore;
And standing hills, long to remain,
Shared their short-lived comrade's pain.
And bound for the same bourn as I,
On every road I wandered by,
Trod beside me, close and dear,
The beautiful and death-struck year:
Whether in the woodland brown
I heard the beechnut rustle down,
And saw the purple crocus pale
Flower about the autumn dale;
Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood.

  Yonder, lightening other loads,
The seasons range the country roads,
But here in London streets I ken
No such helpmates, only men;
And these are not in plight to bear,
If they would, another's care.
They have enough as 'tis: I see
In many an eye that measures me
The mortal sickness of a mind
Too unhappy to be kind.
Undone with misery, all they can
Is to hate their fellow man;
And till they drop they needs must still
Look at you and wish you ill.
Mark Sadlier, Bluebells on Wenlock Edge, Shropshire
(Photograph from The Guardian, June 7, 2009)

Sunday, July 18, 2010



W.H. Auden, A Thanksgiving:
  When pre-pubescent I felt
that moorlands and woodlands were sacred:
  people seemed rather profane.

  Thus, when I started to verse,
I presently sat at the feet of
  Hardy and Thomas and Frost.

  Falling in love altered that,
now Someone, at least, was important:
  Yeats was a help, so was Graves.

  Then, without warning, the whole
Economy suddenly crumbled:
  there, to instruct me, was Brecht.

  Finally, hair-raising things
that Hitler and Stalin were doing
  forced me to think about God.

  Why was I sure they were wrong?
Wild Kierkegaard, Williams and Lewis
  guided me back to belief.

  Now, as I mellow in years
and home in a bountiful landscape,
  Nature allures me again.

  Who are the tutors I need?
Well, Horace, adroitest of makers,
  beeking in Tivoli, and

  Goethe, devoted to stones,
who guessed that—he never could prove it—
  Newton led Science astray.

  Fondly I ponder You all:
without You I couldn't have managed
  even my weakest of lines.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. beek, v.1 ("Now only Sc. or north. dial."), sense 2:
intr. To expose oneself to, or disport in, pleasurable warmth; to bask.
On Horace at Tivoli, see Gilbert Highet, Poets in a Landscape (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), pp. 113-119, with notes on p. 260.


A Poem by William Morris

William Morris, Tapestry Trees:

I am the Roof-tree and the Keel;
I bridge the seas for woe and weal.


High o'er the lordly oak I stand,
And drive him on from land to land.


I heft my brother's iron bane;
I shaft the spear, and build the wain.


Dark down the windy dale I grow,
The father of the fateful Bow.


The war-shaft and the milking-bowl
I make, and keep the hay-wain whole.


The King I bless; the lamps I trim;
In my warm wave do fishes swim.


I bowed my head to Adam's will;
The cups of toiling men I fill.


I draw the blood from out the earth;
I store the sun for winter mirth.


Amidst the greenness of my night,
My odorous lamps hang round and bright.


I who am little among trees
In honey-making mate the bees.


Love's lack hath dyed my berries red:
For Love's attire my leaves are shed.


High o'er the mead-flowers' hidden feet
I bear aloft my burden sweet.


Look on my leafy boughs, the Crown
Of living song and dead renown!
The vine is not out of place among these trees, at least according to Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants 1.3.1 (tr. Arthur Hort):
A tree is a thing which springs from the root with a single stem, having knots and several branches, and it cannot easily be uprooted; for instance, olive fig vine.
In Notes and Queries 10th Series, No. 228 (May 9, 1908) 370, "C.C.B." asked what "In my warm wave do fishes swim" meant. In 10th Series, No. 235 (June 27, 1908) 514, "ST. SWITHIN" answered, "The poet probably refers to the fact that sardines, anchovies, and other denizens of the deep, having ended their aquatic life, are translated to oil," and "T.F.D" opined that it "is merely a poetical way of saying that fish are fried in olive oil."

Related posts:

Saturday, July 17, 2010


What the World Needs Now

W.H. Auden, from The Age of Anxiety, Part One (Prologue):
The world needs a wash and a week's rest.


Ovid Exiled

James Henry, To Ovid Departing for Tomi, from Poematia (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold & Sons, 1866), p. 89:
Lament not, poet, though thou leav'st behind thee
Thy dear-loved Roman hills and Tiber brown,
And house and home and family and friends,
Thou leav'st behind thee, too, the implacable,
Jealous, vindictive, iron-hearted tyrant,
With all his meanness, greatness, pomp and pride.
Lament not, poet, though thou takest with thee
— Sad comrades! — exile, loneliness, and want,
Thou takest with thee, too, the laurel crown
And all men's sympathy except thy foe's.
Still thou lamentest — ah! I will not blame thee,
Apollo never but on one condition
Bestows the never-fading laurel crown:
That it be kept perpetual wet with tears.
J.M.W. Turner, Ovid Banished from Rome


Tu Ne Quaesieris

George Otto Trevelyan, Interludes in Verse and Prose (London: George Bell and Sons, 1905), pp. 100-101:
Matilda, will you ne'er have ceased apocalyptic summing,
And left the number of the beast to puzzle Dr. Cumming?
You should not vex your charming brains about (confusion take her!)
The Babylonian Lament, the pretty dragon-breaker.
What can't be cured must be endured. Perchance a gracious heaven
May spare us till the fated year of eighteen sixty-seven.1
Perchance Jove's Board of Public Works the dread decree has passed;
And this cold season, with its joys, is doomed to be our last.
Let's to the supper-room again, though Kitmutgars may frown,
And in Lord Elgin's dry champagne wash all these tremors down:
And book me for the fifteenth walse: there, just beneath my thumb;
No, not the next to that, my girl! The next may never come.2

1This was the date fixed by Dr. Cumming for the end of all things.
2"Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero."
This is a paraphrase of Horace, Odes 1.11 (incorrectly "Lib. I, Carm. 2" in Trevelyan's table of contents):
Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
On "Kitmutgars," see Lieutenant Greenwood, Narrative of the Late Victorious Campaign in Affghanistan (London: Henry Coburn, 1844), p. 104:
Whenever people go out to dinner in India, each person is attended by his own kitmutgar, who stands behind his master's chair during dinner and attends upon him.
"Dr. Cumming" in Trevelyan's paraphrase is John Cumming (1807-1881). George Eliot's attack on "Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming," Westminster Review (October 1855), rpt. in her Essays and Leaves from a Note Book (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1900), pp. 92-122, is still timely, because preachers like Cumming still flourish — Pat Robertson comes to mind, who predicted that the world would end in 1982.

Adriano Cecioni, "The End of the World"
(caricature of Dr. Cumming
in Vanity Fair, April 13, 1872)

Hat tip: Geoffrey Brock.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Lazy Man's Song

Po Chü-i, Lazy Man's Song, tr. by Arthur Waley in More Translations from the Chinese (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), p. 51:
I have got patronage, but am too lazy to use it;
I have got land, but am too lazy to farm it.
My house leaks; I am too lazy to mend it.
My clothes are torn; I am too lazy to darn them.
I have got wine, but am too lazy to drink;
So it's just the same as if my cellar were empty.
I have got a harp, but am too lazy to play;
So it's just the same as if it had no strings.
My wife tells me there is no more bread in the house;
I want to bake, but am too lazy to grind.
My friends and relatives write me long letters;
I should like to read them, but they're such a bother to open.
I have always been told that Chi Shu-yeh1
Passed his whole life in absolute idleness.
But he played the harp and sometimes transmuted metals,
So even he was not so lazy as I.

1Also known as Chi K'ang. A famous Quietist.
Charles Spencelayh, Forty Winks
Related posts:


Sint Maecenates

James Henry, Poematia (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold & Sons, 1866), p. 58:
"Pshaw! the poetic breed's extinct," said once
A starred and gartered courtier to a poet;
"We have no Horaces or Virgils now."
"True, may it please your lordship," said the poet,
"The race died out with the Mecenases."
Martial 1.107 (tr. Walter Ker):
Oft you say to me, dearest Lucius Julius: "Write something great! You are a lazy man." Give me leisure, and leisure such as once Maecenas provided for Flaccus and his own Virgil; then would I essay to build up works that should live throughout ages, and to rescue my name from the fire. Into unfruitful fields steers care not to bear the yoke; a fat soil wearies, but the very labour delights.

Saepe mihi dicis, Luci carissime Iuli,
  'Scribe aliquid magnum: desidiosus homo es.'
Otia da nobis, sed qualia fecerat olim
  Maecenas Flacco Vergilioque suo:
condere victuras temptem per saecula curas
  et nomen flammis eripuisse meum.
in steriles nolunt campos iuga ferre iuvenci:
  pingue solum lassat, sed iuvat ipse labor.
Martial 8.55.1-6 (tr. Walter Ker):
Although our grandsires' age yields to our own times, and Rome has waxed greater in company with her chief, you wonder divine Maro's genius is seen no more, and that no man with such a trump as his blows loud of war. Let there be many a Maecenas, many a Maro, Flaccus, will not fail, and even your fields will give you a Virgil.

Temporibus nostris aetas cum cedat avorum
  creverit et maior cum duce Roma suo,
ingenium sacri miraris desse Maronis
  nec quemquam tanta bella sonare tuba.
sint Maecenates, non derunt, Flacce, Marones
  Vergiliumque tibi vel tua rura dabunt.
Where are our modern Maecenases? How many poets do Bill Gates and Warren Buffett support? Not one, so far as I know.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Time to Sit and Read My Books

T'ao Ch'ien (365-427), Reading the Book of Hills and Seas, tr. by Arthur Waley in A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1919), p. 114:
In the month of June the grass grows high
And round my cottage thick-leaved branches sway.
There is not a bird but delights in the place where it rests:
And I too — love my thatched cottage.
I have done my ploughing:
I have sown my seed.
Again I have time to sit and read my books.
In the narrow lane there are no deep ruts:
Often my friends' carriages turn back.
In high spirits I pour out my spring wine
And pluck the lettuce growing in my garden.
A gentle rain comes stealing up from the east
And a sweet wind bears it company.
My thoughts float idly over the story of King Chou
My eyes wander over the pictures of Hills and Seas.
At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
He will never be happy, whom such pleasures fail to please!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


An Image of Old Age

Chekhov, Swan Song, Scene I, tr. Ronald Hingley in Anton Chekhov: Twelve Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992; rpt. 1999), p. 27:
Old age — whether you try to wriggle out of it or make the best of it or just act the fool, the fact is your life's over. Sixty-eight years down the drain, damn it! Gone with the wind! The cup's drained, there's just a bit left at the bottom: the dregs. That's the way of it, that's how it is, old man.
In a similar manner Chaucer, Canterbury Tales I, 3891-3894 (Prologue to the Reeve's Tale), represents the allotted span of life as the amount of liquid in a barrel. Let's suppose the barrel contains wine, because Chaucer's father was a vintner. When we are born, the spigot is opened, and the wine starts to spill out. When the barrel is empty, life comes to an end. Here is Nevill Coghill's modern English translation, followed by Chaucer's original Middle English:
Certain, when I was born, so long ago,
Death drew the tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task,
And now there's little but an empty cask.
My stream of life's but drops upon the rim.

For sikerly, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lyf and leet it gon,
And ever sithe hath so the tappe yronne
Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lyf now droppeth on the chymbe.



St. Stephen of Perm (1349-1396)

Anna Kuznetsova, "St. Stephen of Perm: Missionary and Popular Saint," in The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered Full Many Ways: Festschrift in Honor of János M. Bak (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999), pp. 222-229 (at 226, notes omitted):
This story is combined with another one about St. Stephen's destroying the birch tree specially venerated by pagans and even new converts. The saint decided to cut the tree down and he did it over three days. When he began cutting the birch, various voices were heard screaming and asking him to leave them in peace. As Stephen was unable to complete his project on the first day, in the evening he left his axe in the tree and went away. Next morning, to his surprise, the birch appeared untouched and the axe was next to it on the ground. However, on the third day St. Stephen managed to cut down the tree and he threw it into the water. The fall of the birch was followed by a great storm and even an earthquake....On the place where the birch tree stood, St. Stephen built a church dedicated to Michael the Archangel. When the old wooden church was dismantled in 1787, the stump of the birch tree was discovered. It was used as the altar, probably the idea of St. Stephen himself.
The source of this legend is Petr Šestakov, Svjatoj Stefan, pervosvjatitel' Permskij [St. Stephen, the first bishop of Perm] (Kazan: Universitetskaja tipografia, 1868), pp. 38-40, according to Kuznetsova, n. 28 on p. 229.

The Life of St. Stephen of Perm by Epiphanius the Wise (died 1420) apparently also contains some other tree-cutting episodes (Kuznetsova, p. 224, with n. 13 on p. 228).

See also Alexander Chuvyurov, "Trees in Komi (Zyrian) Rituals and Beliefs," Pro Ethnologia 18 (2004) 69-86 (at 69-70, notes omitted):
In the hagiography of St. Stephen of Perm it is mentioned that in Ust-Vym, on the bank of the Vym River, there stood a big birch tree especially worshipped by local people. As the author of the hagiography says, this tree was so big that three people were hardly able to encircle its trunk with their arms (Povest... 1996:68). According to the same source, the Permians (Komi-Zyrians) took sacrificial animals and hides to this tree. The Komi-Zyrians worshipped this tree as a deity, maintaining that any disrespectful act towards itthreatened people with all kinds of troubles (Povest... 1996: 69). Several legends have been passed down describing how St. Stephen of Perm chopped this birch tree down. The aforementioned story, about St.Stephen of Perm, presents a colourful description of this event. According to this source, St. Stephen was chopping this birch for three days, and in the course of this process the birch, like a living creature, uttered cries of pain reminding people of the voices of men, women and children. During chopping, blood streamed out of the tree (Povest... 1996: 69). As the birch was so big, the saint was not able to chop it down on the first day. He drove his axe into the tree and went to have a rest. When morning came and he returned to the tree, he saw that it was standing undamaged, but his axe, which he had left stuck in the trunk, was lying on the ground, next to the birch tree (Povest... 1996: 69). And it was only on the third day that the saint, according to the source, was able to chop down the birch tree, worshipped by the Komi-Zyrians, and it fell on the ground, crying and groaning loudly. The tree was burnt right after it had been chopped down. Later on, St. Stephen of Perm had a church erected on the site of this birch tree in the honour of the holy archistrateges Michael and Gabriel (Gavriil) (Povest... 1996: 70).
Unfortunately, I can't find complete translations of primary sources, only these summaries.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Tree Identification

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1966), p. 304:
I would like to have the ability Professor Jack, of Harvard and the Arnold Arboretum, told his students he had of identifying twigs with his eyes shut, merely from the sound of their swish through the air ("Hornbeam, honeysuckle, Lombardy poplar. Ah—a folded Transcript").
This was John George Jack (1861–1949).


The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean

Robinson Jeffers, The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean:
Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled "Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

"The world's in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

"Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,"
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.


Hoorch, Hoorch, Hoorch and Gak, Gak, Gak

James Henry, Wordsworth and the Pig, in The Unripe Windfalls (Dublin: University Press, 1851), pp. 19-20:
Wordsworth walked once near Ambleside,
  Upon a summer's day,
And, upward gazing, struck his lyre
  To this majestic lay:—

"There's poetry in every thing,
  In small as well as big"—
But just as he had got so far,
  He trod upon a pig.

"Hoorch!" quoth the pig, with such a grunt,
  As you might well excuse,
If ever you had seen the nails
  In the great poet's shoes.

"Hoorch!" quoth the poet, "there it is,
  As plain as plain can be;
Even in this pig's grunt I do hear
  The voice of poetry.

"There's poetry in every thing,
  In small as well as big;
In Goody Blake and Harry Gill,
  And in this grunting pig.

"There's poetry in every thing
  We hear, or see, or smell;
You have it here in 'hoorch! hoorch! hoorch!'
  And there in Peter Bell.

"For poetry's but natural thought
  In natural sounds expressed,
And that which hath the least of art
  The truest is and best.

"Of poets, therefore, we're the first,
  Thou grunting pig and I;
For where's the poet that with us
  In artlessness can vie?"

Elate he said: then onward passed,
  And bade the pig adieu;
And then his lyre he struck again,
  And sang with rapture new:—

"There's poetry in every thing,
  In small as well as big;
In Goody Blake and Harry Gill,
  And in yon grunting pig."
James Henry, A Half-Year's Poems (Dresden: C.C. Meinhold and Sons, 1854), p. 45:
The Roman Lyrist's soul, 'tis said,
Out of his body when it fled,
Entered the body of a swan,
And there continued to sing on.

But when the bard of Ambleside,
Following the example, died,
His spirit — never of much use —
Entered the body of a goose,
And, faithful to its ancient knack,
Kept gabbling ever, gak gak gak.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Pluses and Minuses

Overland Park, Kansas, is number 7 on a list of 100 Best Places to Live in America, 2010 edition. Among its minuses is "not much excitement". I would put that in the plus column.

A few years ago Sixty Minutes correspondent Morley Safer labelled St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the "most boring" cities in the United States. In response, Mrs. Laudator temporarily changed our telephone answering machine message to "Hello. You have reached the most boring family in the most boring city in the United States. Leave your message at the tone." She was joking (I think).

It's a reliable rule of thumb, that only boring people are ever bored. The German philosopher Schopenhauer in his essays (translated by T. Bailey Saunders) constantly harps on this theme:
An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount of diversity or social pleasure, theatres, excursions and amusements, can ward off boredom from a dullard. (The Wisdom of Life, chap. 1: Division of the Subject)

For in solitude, where every one is thrown upon his own resources, what a man has in himself comes to light; the fool in fine raiment groans under the burden of his miserable personality, a burden which he can never throw off, whilst the man of talent peoples the waste places with his animating thoughts. (The Wisdom of Life, chap. 2: Personality, or What a Man Is)

It is easy to see why people are so bored; and also why they are sociable, why they like to go about in crowds — why mankind is so gregarious. It is the monotony of his own nature that makes a man find solitude intolerable. (Counsels and Maxims, Section 9)


Caesarius of Arles (470-542)

[These posts on arboricide are notes to myself for a book I'm writing.]

Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 14.4, text in Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis Sermones, ed. G. Morin, Pars I, Editio 2 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1953 = Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, 103), pp. 71-72; tr. Mary Magdeleine Mueller in St. Caesarius, Sermons, Volume I (1-80) (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1956; rpt. 2004 = The Fathers of the Church, 31), pp. 82-83:
I also advise you to destroy all the temples which you find. Do not make vows to trees or pray to fountains. Avoid enchanters as poison of the Devil. Do not hang on yourself and your family diabolical phylacteries, magic letters, amber charms, and herbs. Whoever does this evil should not doubt that he has committed a sacrilege. If anyone knows that near his home there are altars or a temple or profane trees where religious promises are made, he should be eager to destroy them by pulling or cutting them down. If anyone fails to do this, on judgment day he will have to render the whole account for the souls of however many come there and commit dreadful crimes.

Iterum admoneo vos omnia fana destruere, ubicumque inveneritis. Nolite ad arbores vota reddere; nolite ad fontes orare. Praecantatores quasi venenum diaboli fugite. Phylacteria diabolica, caracteres, sucinos et herbas nolite vobis et vestris appendere: quia qui hoc malum fecerit, sacrilegium se non dubitet admisisse. Quicumque iuxta domum suam aras aut fanum aut arbores profanas ubi vota reddantnr, esse cognoverit, studeat confringere, dissipare atque succidere; quia, si hoc facere dissimvlauerit, quanticumque ibi venerint, et sacrilegia nefanda commiserint, totum hoc de illius anima exacturus est .... in die iudicii.
Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 53.1-2, text Morin, pp. 233-234; tr. Mueller pp. 263-264:
(1) It is a source of pleasure to us, dearly beloved, to see you faithfully coming to church, and for this we give the greatest thanks to God. Truly, this is becoming and proper for Christans, to hasten like good sons to their mother the Church with the greatest longing and true piety. But, although we rejoice at this, dearly beloved, to see you hasten faithfully to church, we are sad and we grieve because we know that some of you rather frequently go over to the ancient worship of idols like the pagans who have no God or grace of baptism. We have heard that some of you make vows to trees, pray to fountains, and practice diabolical augury. Because of this there is such sorrow in our hearts that we cannot receive any consolation. What is worse, there are some unfortunate and miserable people who are not only unwilling to destroy the shrines of the pagans but even are not afraid or ashamed to build up those which have been destroyed. Moreover, if anyone with a thought of God wants to burn the wood of those shrines or to tear to pieces and destroy the diabolical altars, they become angry, rave with fury, and are excited with excessive frenzy. They even go so far as to dare to strike those who out of love for God are trying to overthrow the wicked idols; perhaps they do not even hesitate to plan their death. What are those unfortunate, miserable people doing? They are deserting the light and running to darkness; they reject God and embrace the Devil. They desert life while they follow after death; by repudiating Christ they proceed to impiety. Why, then, did those miserable people come to church? Why did they receive the sacrament of baptism—if afterwards they intended to return to the profanation of idols? Truly in them is fulfilled what was written: 'The dog is returned to his vomit: and the pig to his wallowing in the mire.' They do not fear what the Lord said through His Prophet: 'He that sacrificeth to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord'; moreover, in the psalms: 'All the gods of the Gentiles are devils, but the Lord made the heavens'; and again: 'Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols.'

(2) Therefore, brethren, whoever you are that have not done such wrong to the loving Christ, see to it that you never do so. Be careful lest those desperate, wicked men overwhelm you, and lest after Christ's sacraments you return to the poison of the Devil. Rather, rebuke whomever you recognize as such, admonish them quite harshly, chide them if you can; if they are not corrected thus, pull their hair. If they still continue, tie them with bonds of iron, so that a chain may hold those whom Christ's grace does not hold. Then, do not permit them to restore the shrine, but endeavor to tear to pieces and destroy them wherever they are. Cut the impious wood down to the roots, break up the altars of the Devil. Moreover, know this, dearly beloved, that when he is baptized every man is separated from the following and army of the Devil. However, if later on there is a return to the practice of that impiety which we mentioned before, Christ is immediately deserted and the Devil again takes hold. It would have been a less serious matter not to come to Christ than afterwards to desert Him, according to what the Apostle Peter says about the matter: 'It were better for them not to have known the way of justice than, having known it, to turn back.'

(1) Gratum nobis est, fratres dilectissimi, et maximas Deo gratias agimus, quia vos ad ecclesiam fideliter venire videmus: quia et re vera hoc decet et expedit christianis, ut <ad> matrem suam ecclesiam quasi boni filii cum summo desiderio et vera pietate concurrant. Et licet hinc gaudeamus, fratres carissimi, quia vos ad ecclesiam videmus fideliter currere, contristamur tamen et dolemus, quia aliquos ex vobis cognoscimus ad antiquam idolorum culturam frequentius ambulare, quomodo pagani sine deo et sine baptismi gratia faciunt. Audivimus aliquos ex vobis ad arbores vota reddere, ad fontes orare, auguria diabolica observare: de qua re tantus dolor est in animis nostris, ut nullam possumus consolationem recipere. Sunt enim, quod peius est, infelices et miseri, qui paganorum fana non solum destruere nolunt, sed etiam quae destructa fuerant aedificare nec metuunt nec erubescunt. Et si aliquis deum cogitans aut arbores fanaticos incendere aut aras diabolicas voluerit dissipare atque destruere, irascuntur et insaniunt et furore nimio succenduntur; ita ut etiam illos, qui pro Dei amore sacrilega idola conantur evertere, aut caedere praesumant, aut forsitan de illorum morte cogitare non dubitent. Quid faciunt infelices et miseri? Lucem deserunt, et ad tenebras currunt: contemnunt deum, amplectuntur diabolum: vitam deserunt, mortem sequuntur: Christum repudiant, et ad sacrilegia vadunt. Ut quid miseri ad ecclesiam venerunt? ut quid sacramentum baptismi acceperunt, si postea ad idolorum sacrilegia redituri erant? Impletur enim in illis illud quod scriptum est: CANIS REVERSUS AD VOMITUM SUUM, ET PORCUS AD VOLUTABRUM SUUM. Non timent illud quod dixit dominus per prophetam: SACRIFICANS IDOLIS ERADICABITUR, NISI DOMINO SOLI; et in psalmis: OMNES DII GENTIUM DAEMONIA, DOMINUS VERO CAELOS FECIT; et iterum: CONFUNDANTUR OMNES QUI ADORANT SCULPTILIA, QUI GLORIANTUR IN SIMULACRIS SUIS.

(2) Vos ergo, fratres, quicumque estis, qui tantum malum Christo propitio non fecistis, videte ne aliquando faciatis, videte ne vos circumveniant homines perditi atque perversi, ut post Christi sacramenta ad diaboli venena redeatis; sed magis castigate quoscumque tales cognoscitis, admonete durius, increpate severius. Et si non corriguntur, si potestis, caedite illos; si nec sic emendantur, et capillos illis incidite. Et si adhuc perseverant, vinculis ferreis adligate: ut quos non tenet Christi gratia, teneat vel catena. Fanum ergo reparare nolite permittere; immo magis, ubicumque fuerit, destruere et dissipare contendite. Arbores etiam sacrilegas usque ad radicem incendite, aras diaboli comminuite. Et hoc scitote, fratres carissimi, quia omnis homo, quando baptizatur, de grege diaboli et ab exercitu illius separatur. Quod si postea ad ista quae supra diximus sacrilegia celebranda redierit, statim <a> Christo deseritur, et iterum a diabolo occupatur. Levius illi fuerat ad Christum non venire, quam postea Christum deserere, secundum quod de talibus dicit Petrus apostulus: MELIUS, inquid, ILLIS FUERAT NON COGNOSCERE VIAM IUSTITIAE, QUAM POST COGNITIONEM RETRORSUM CONVERTI.
Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 54.5, text Morin, p. 239; tr. Mueller, p. 269:
Therefore, Christians should not fulfill vows to trees or adore fountains, if by God's grace they desire to be free from eternal punishment. So, if a man has any kind of shrines on his land or in his country house, trees or altars near his estate where miserable men are wont to fulfill such vows, if he does not destroy them and cut them down, he will doubtless be a participant in those impious practices which are carried on there. How is it that when those trees where vows are fulfilled are cut down no one takes the wood of them to his hearth? See the misery and foolishness of men: they pay honor to a dead tree, but despise the commands of the living God. They do not dare to throw the branches of a tree into the hearth, but by their wickedness they cast themselves into hell.

Pro qua re nec ad arbores debent christiani vota reddere, nec ad fontes adorare, si se volunt per dei gratiam de aeterno supplicio liberari. Et ideo quicumque in agro suo, aut in villa, aut iuxta villam aliquas arbores aut aras vel quaelibet fana habuerit, ubi miseri homines solent aliqua vota reddere, si eas non destruxerit atque succiderit, in illis sacrilegiis, quae ibi facta fuerint, sine dubio particeps erit. Nam et illud quale est, quod, quando arbores illae ubi vota redduntur ceciderint, nemo sibi ex illis arboribus lignum ad focum adfert? Et videte miseriam vel stultitiam generis humani: arbori mortuae honorem inpendunt, et dei viventis praecepta contemnunt; ramos arboris non sunt ausi mittere in focum, et se ipsos per sacrilegium praecipitant in infernum.



The Transmission of Texts

Tom Stoppard, The Invention of Love (New York: Grove Press, 1998), pp. 24-25:
Housman But isn't it of use to establish what the ancient authors really wrote?

Jowett It would be on the whole desirable rather than undesirable and the job was pretty well done, where it could be done, by good scholars dead these hundred years and more. For the rest, certainty could only come from recovering the autograph. This morning I had to have typewritten an autograph letter I wrote to the father of a certain undergraduate. The copy as I received it asserted the Master of Balliol had a solemn duty to stamp out unnatural mice. In other words, anyone with a secretary knows that what Catullus really wrote was already corrupt by the time it was copied twice, which was about the time of the first Roman invastion of Britain: and the earliest copy that has come down to us was written about 1,500 years after that. Think of all those secretaries! — corruption breeding corruption from papyrus to papyrus, and from the last disintegrating scrolls to the first new-fangled parchment books, with a thousand years of copying-out still to come, running the gauntlet of changing forms of script and spelling, and absence of punctuation — not to mention mildew and rats and fire and flood and Christian disapproval to the brink of extinction as what Catullus really wrote passed from scribe to scribe, this one drunk, that one sleepy, another without scruple, and of those sober, wide-awake and scrupulous, some ignorant of Latin and some, even worse, fancying themselves better Latinists than Catullus — until! — finally and at long last — mangled and tattered like a dog that has fought its way home, there falls across the threshold of the Italian Renaissance the sole surviving witness to the thirty generations of carelessness and stupidity: the Verona Codex of Catullus; which was almost immediately lost again, but not before being copied with one last opportunity for error. And there you have the foundation of the poems of Catullus as they went to the printer for the first time, in Venice 400 years ago.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Chekhov and the Environment

Anton Chekhov, Panpipes, in The Steppe and Other Stories, tr. Ronald Wilks (London: Penguin Books: 2001) pp. 102-110 (at 104-106, ellipses in original):
'It's a real shame!' he sighed after a short silence. 'Lord, what a crying shame! Of course, it's all God's will — it wasn't us who made the world. All the same, my friend, it's a terrible shame. If a single tree withers away or, let's say, one of your cows dies, you feel sorry. So what will it be like, my friend, if the whole world goes to wrack and ruin? There is so much that's good, Lord Jesus Christ! The sun, the sky, the woods, the rivers, living creatures — they've all been created and fashioned so they fit in with each other. Everything has its allotted task and knows its place. And all this must perish!'

A sad smile passed over the shepherd's face and his eyelids trembled.

'You say that the world's heading for ruin,' Meliton said thoughtfully. 'Maybe the world will end soon, but you can hardly take just birds as a sign.'

'It's not only birds,' said the shepherd. 'It's beasts as well — cattle, bees and fish...If you don't believe me ask any old man. Every one of them'll tell you that fish ain't anything like what they used to be. Every year there's less and less fish in the sea, lakes and rivers. Here in the Peschanka, as I remember, you could catch two-foot pike and there was burbot and bream — all goodly-sized fish. But now you can thank your lucky stars if you catch a small pike or a six-inch perch. There's not even decent ruff. Every year it gets worse and worse and soon there won't be any fish at all! As for the rivers — they'll dry up, most likely!'

'You're right — that they will!'

'That's it! Every year they get shallower and shallower, there's no longer those nice deep pools there used to be, me friend. See those bushes over there? asked the old man, pointing to one side. 'Behind them there's an old river-bed — "the backwater" it's called. In my father's day that's where the Peschanka flowed, but now look where the devil's taken it! It keeps changing course and you see, it'll keep changing course till it dries up altogether. Other side of Kurgasov there used to be marshes and ponds, but where are they now? And what became of all them little streams? In this very wood there used to be a stream with so much water in it the peasants only had to dip their creels in it to catch pike, and wild duck used to winter there. But even at spring flood there's no decent water in it now. Yes, me friend, things are bad everywhere you look. Everywhere!'

There was silence. Lost in thought, Meliton stared before him. He wanted to think of a single part of nature as yet untouched by the all-embracing ruin. Bright patches of light glided over the mist and the slanting sheets of rain as if over frosted glass, only to vanish immediately — the rising sun was trying to break through the clouds and glimpse the earth.

'Yes — and the forests too,' Meliton muttered.

'And the forests too,' repeated the shepherd. 'they're being cut down, they catch fire or dry up and there's no new growth. What does grow is felled right away. One day it comes up and the next it's chopped down and so it goes till there's nothing left. Ever since we got our freedom, me friend, I've been minding the village herd and before that I was one of squire's shepherds too — grazed this very spot — and I can't remember one summer's day when I wasn't here. And all the time I keep watching God's works. I've been able to keep a close watch on things in me lifetime and as I sees it now all kinds of plants are dying out, whether it's rye, vegetables, flowers — everything's heading one way...'
Panpipes was written in 1887.

Anton Chekhov, The Wood-Demon, tr. Ronald Hingley in The Oxford Chekhov, Volume III = Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, The Wood-Demon (London: Oxford University Press, 1964; rpt. 1976), pp. 199-272 (appendix on pp. 273-299).

Act I, Scene VII (pp. 216-217):
VOYNITSKY. Whenever I've been favoured with your speeches on behalf of the forests every word has been stale, frivolous and biased. I'm sorry, but I know what I'm talking about, I know your speeches for the defence almost by heart. For instance. [Raising his voice and making gestures as if in imitation of KHRUSCHOV.] O men and women, you destroy our forests, but they are the glory of our earth, they teach man to appreciate beauty and give him a sense of grandeur. Forests alleviate a harsh climate. In a mild climate less effort is spent on the struggle for existence, so that men and women are gentler and more affectionate. In countries with a mild climate, people are handsome, adaptable and sensitive, their speech is elegant and their movements are graceful. Art and learning flourish among them, their philosophy is cheerful and they treat their womenfolk with great delicacy and chivalry. And so on and so forth. That’s all very charming, but so unconvincing that you must allow me to carry on burning logs in my stoves and building my barms of wood.

KHRUSCHOV. By all means cut timber if you really need it, but it's time we stopped ruining the forests. All the forests of Russia are crashing down before the axe, millions upon millions of trees perish, the homes of birds and beasts are devastated, rivers grow shallow and dry up, wonderful scenery disappears without trace, and all because man’s so lazy and hasn’t the sense to bend down and take his fuel from the ground. Only an unreasoning brute could burn beauty like this [points to the trees] in his stove, destroying what we cannot create. Man has been granted reason and the power to create, so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day. You look at me ironically and you find everything I say stale and frivolous, but when I walk past our village woodlands which I've saved from the axe or hear the rustle of my own saplings, planted with these hands, I feel that I too have some slight control over the climate and that if man is happy a thousand years from now I'll have done a bit towards it myself. When I plant a young birch and later see it covered with green and swaying in the breeze, my heart fills with pride at the thought that I'm helping God to create a living organism.

THEODORE [interrupting]. Your health, Mr. Wood-Demon.
Act III, Scene XII (pp. 250-251):
KHRUSCHOV. Let me go over and see Kuznetsov. Let me tell him you've changed your mind. How about it? You're going to fell a thousand trees. And what are you destroying them for? Just for two or three thousand roubles to buy a few miserable dresses for your wife and indulge yourself in a little luxury! Why destroy them? So that posterity may curse us as a lot of savages? If you, a scholar and a distinguished man, can be so cruel, what about those who haven’t your advantages? This is quite appalling.
Act IV, Scene VI (pp. 259-260):
SONYA. What are you drawing?

KHRUSCHOV. Oh, nothing of any interest.

SONYA. Is it a plan?

KHRUSCHOV. No, it’s a map of the forests in our district. I made it. [Pause.] The green colouring shows the forests of our grandfathers' time and before. Light green shows where they've been felled during the last twenty-five years — oh, and the blue shows where they're still standing. Yes.
Act IV, Scene VIII (p. 264):
KHRUSCHOV. Listen to me, Serebryakov. For twenty-five years you've been a professor and done academic work while I've planted trees and practised medicine. But what's the point of these things, and who gets anything out of them, if we're not kind to those we're working for? [....] Everything's gone to rack and ruin, it's all going to blazes. You people call me a wood-demon, but I'm not the only one, you know. You've all got a demon inside you, and you're all wandering in a dark wood and feeling your way.
In Act IV, Scene IX (pp. 265-267), when a fire starts in the Telibeyev Woods, Khruschov rushes off, but in Act IV, Scene XI (pp. 269-270) he soon returns, ostensibly to get a horse, but really because he can’t bear to be apart from Sonya. So much for his ideals!

The Wood-Demon had its premiere on December 27, 1889. It was a failure. Ten years later (October 16, 1899), Chekhov wrote in a letter to A.I. Urusov, who wanted to publish the play (Hingley, p. 281):
I beg you not to be angry, but I can’t publish The Wood-Demon. I hate the play and I’m trying to forget it. Whether it’s the fault of the play itself or of the circumstances in which it was written and staged, I don’t know. But it would be real blow to me if some unknown force were to drag it out of obscurity and bring it to life. There’s a fine example of perverted parental love for you.

Chekhov did, however, reuse portions of The Wood-Demon in another play, Uncle Vanya, tr. Ronald Hingley in The Oxford Chekhov, Volume III = Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, The Wood-Demon (London: Oxford University Press, 1964; rpt. 1976), pp. 15-67 (with appendix on pp. 300-304).

Act I (pp. 27-28):
HELEN. I’ve already heard how fond you are of forestry work. You can do a lot of good that way of course, but doesn’t it interfere with your real business in life? You are a doctor after all.

ASTROV. God alone knows what our real business in life is.

HELEN. And is it interesting?

ASTROV. It’s interesting work, yes.

VOYNITSKY [ironically]. Oh, very!

SONYA. No, it’s extremely interesting. Dr. Astrov plants new woods every year and he’s already been given a bronze medal and a certificate. He’s doing his best to save the old forests from destruction. If you’ll listen to what he has to say you’ll agree with him completely. He says that forests are the glory of our earth, that they teach man to appreciate beauty and give him a sense of grandeur. Forests alleviate a harsh climate. In countries with a mild climate less effort is spent on the struggle for existence, so that men and women are gentler and more affectionate. In such places people are handsome, adaptable and sensitive, their speech is elegant and their movements are graceful. Art and learning flourish among them, their philosophy is cheerful and they treat their womenfolk with great delicacy and chivalry.

VOYNITSKY. Loud cheers! This is all very charming, but not in the least convincing, so [to ASTROV] allow me, my friend, to carry on burning logs in my stoves and building my barns of wood.

ASTROV. You can burn peat in your stoves and make your barns of stone. All right, I grant your point—cut the timber if you need it. But why ruin the forests? The forests of Russia are crashing down before the axe, millions upon millions of trees perish, the homes of birds and beasts are devastated, rivers grow shallow and dry up, wonderful scenery disappears without trace, and all because man’s so lazy—hasn’t the sense to bend down and take his fuel from the ground. [To HELEN.] Don’t you agree, madam? Only an unreasoning brute could burn beauty like this in his stove, destroying what we cannot create. Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day. [To VOYNITSKY.] You look at me ironically, You don’t take any of this seriously, and—and perhaps I really have got a bee in my bonnet. But when I walk past our village woodlands which I've saved from the axe or hear the rustle of my own saplings, planted with my own hands, I feel that I too have some slight control over the climate and that if man is happy a thousand years from now I'll have done a bit towards it myself. When I plant a young birch and later see it covered with green and swaying in the breeze, my heart fills with pride and I—. [Seeing the LABOURER, who has brought a glass of vodka on a tray.] However, [drinks] I must go. Anyway, this is all a bee in my bonnet, I daresay. I bid you good day.
Act I (p. 29):
HELEN. It’s just what Astrov was saying a moment ago—you all wantonly destroy the forests, and soon there won’t be anything left on earth. You destroy men and women too every bit as wantonly, and soon, thanks to you, there will be no loyalty, integrity or unselfishness left on earth. Why does it upset you so much to see a woman who doesn’t belong to you? Because—and the doctor’s right—there’s a demon of destruction in every one of you. You don’t spare anything, whether it’s the trees, the birds—or women or one another.
Act III (pp. 47-48):
ASTROV. Now look at this. This gives a picture of our district as it was fifty years ago. Dark green and light green stand for woodlands, and half the entire area was wooded. Where I have this red cross-hatching over the green, that was the home of elk and wild goat. I show both flora and fauna. This lake here was the home of swans, geese and wild duck, and they made ‘a powerful lot of birds’, as the old peasants say, no end of them—whole clouds swarming overhead. Besides the villages and larger settlements there were, as you see, isolated hamlets all over the place, odd farmsteads, hermitages and watermills. There were lots of cattle and horses. Those are shown in blue. Do you see this area where there’s such a lot of blue? There were any number of horses there, an average of three per household. [Pause.] Now let’s look lower down and see what things were like twenty-five years ago. Here only a third of the area’s under timber. There are no more wild goats, but there are still some elk. The green and blue colouring is less in evidence. And so it goes on, so it goes on. Now let’s move on to part three, a picture of the district as it is today. There are odd bits of green here and there in patches, but no continuous stretches. The elk, swans and wood-grouse are no more. The old hamlets, farmsteads, hermitages and wood-mills have vanished without trace. The general picture is one of a gradual and unmistakable decline, and it obviously needs only another ten or fifteen years to become complete.
If an appreciation for forests was supposed to foster finer relations between men and women, it didn't work in Astrov's case—he makes unwelcome advances to Helen in Act III.


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