Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Dermatology in Horace

Horace, Satires 1.3.73-75 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
One who expects his friend not to be offended by his own warts will pardon the other's pimples. It is but fair that one who craves indulgence for failings should grant it in return.

qui ne tuberibus propriis offendat amicum
postulat, ignoscet verrucis illius: aequum est
peccatis veniam poscentem reddere rursus.
Good advice, which Erasmus (Adagia I vi 91, tr. R.A.B. Mynors) says "has all the look of a proverb." Cf. Seneca, On the Happy Life 27 (tr. John W. Basore): "You look at the pimples of others when you yourselves are covered with a mass of sores" (papulas observatis alienas obsiti plurimis ulceribus).

Horace also mentions a wen (polypus) afflicting someone named Hagna in line 40 of the same satire. As an aside, I sometimes wonder if people know the meaning of wen ("sebaceous cystic tumour under the skin, occurring chiefly on the head," Oxford English Dictionary). How else to explain that there is a hair care product called WEN®? The words wen and hair, in combination, suggest to me a bristle growing out of a warty facial excrescence. Not a pretty picture.

The mysterious Campanian disease mentioned by Horace in the fifth satire of his first book may have been a skin ailment. Here is the passage in context (Satires 1.5.56-64, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
And first Sarmentus: "You, I say, are like a wild horse." We laugh, and Messius himself, " I grant you," and tosses his head. "Oh!" says Sarmentus, "if only the horn had not been cut out of your forehead, what would you do, when you can threaten, thus dehorned?" Now an unsightly scar had disfigured the left side of his bristly brow. With many a joke on his Campanian disease and on his face, he begged him to dance the Cyclops shepherd-dance: he would need neither mask nor tragic buskin.

                       prior Sarmentus: "equi te
esse feri similem dico." ridemus, et ipse
Messius "accipio," caput et movet. "o tua cornu
ni foret exsecto frons," inquit, "quid faceres, cum
sic mutilus minitaris?" at illi foeda cicatrix
saetosam laevi frontem turpaverat oris.
Campanum in morbum, in faciem permulta iocatus,
pastorem saltaret uti Cyclopa rogabat:
nil illi larva aut tragicis opus esse cothurnis.
What the Commentator Cruquianus says ad loc. (my translation) is probably no more than a guess:
For this, as though by nature, is characteristic of almost all inhabitants of Campania, that on the temples of the head big warts grow, like horns. When they have the warts cut off, scars remain on the face, like marks of horns cut out.

hoc enim quasi a natura Campanis fere omnibus inest, ut capitis temporibus magnae verrucae innascantur in modum cornuum, quas cum incidi faciunt, cicatrices in fronte manent, quasi notae exsectorum cornuum.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Antipathy Overcome

T.S. Eliot, "Goethe as the Sage," On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1957), pp. 207-227 (at 210):
And antipathy overcome, when it is antipathy to any figure so great as Goethe, is an important liberation from a limitation of one's own mind.



George Santayana, Persons and Places, I.x (The Latin School):
What idle thoughts had been wandering for years through all those empty heads in all those tedious school hours! In the best schools, almost all school-time is wasted. Now and then something is learned that sticks fast; for the rest the boys are given time to grow and are kept from too much mischief.


A Doctor's Degree

Erasmus, A Fish Diet, in The Colloquies of Erasmus, tr. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 312-357 (at 329):
FISH-MONGER. On the other hand, you should have confidence in anyone with a doctor's degree.

BUTCHER. But among these I find some more ignorant and more absurd than those who are completely uneducated.

SALSAMENTARIUS. Caeterum quibus contigit titulus doctoris, his oportet fidere.

LANIO. Verum in his quoque comperio nonnullos multo rudiores ac stultiores illis, qui prorsus sunt illiterati.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Particularly Intelligible Now

T.S. Eliot, "Virgil and the Christian World," On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1957), pp. 121-131 (at 125-126):
The fact that every major poetic form employed by Virgil has some precedent in Greek verse, must not be allowed to obscure the originality with which he recreated every form he used. There is I think no precedent for the spirit of the Georgics, and the attitude towards the soil, and the labour of the soil, which is there expressed, is something that we ought to find particularly intelligible now, when urban agglomeration, the flight from the land, the pillage of the earth and the squandering of natural resources are beginning to attract attention. It was the Greeks who taught us the dignity of leisure; it is from them that we inherit the perception that the highest life is the life of contemplation. But this respect for leisure, with the Greeks, was accompanied by a contempt for the banausic occupations. Virgil perceived that agriculture is fundamental to civilization, and he affirmed the dignity of manual labour.
Isaak Levitan, Evening in the Field


Prayer for Philologists

Erasmus, The Apotheosis of That Incomparable Worthy, John Reuchlin, in The Colloquies of Erasmus, tr. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), pp. 79-86 (at 85):
O sacred spirit, bless languages and those who study them; prosper godly speech; bring to nought evil speech, infected by the poison of hell.

O sancta anima, sis felix linguis, sis felix linguarum cultoribus, faveto linguis sanctis, perdito malas linguas, infectas veneno gehennae.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


On Concealing One's Feelings

Lucian, Slander 24 (tr. H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler):
I know nothing so characteristic of a warped slavish nature as to bite the lip while you nurse your spite and cultivate your secret hatred, one thing on your heart and another on your tongue, playing with the gay looks of comedy a lamentable sinister tragedy.

οὗ δὴ ἐγὼ οὐδὲν οἶμαι ἀδικώτερον οὐδὲ δουλοπρεπέστερον, ἐνδακόντα τὸ χεῖλος ὑποτρέφειν τὴν χολὴν καὶ τὸ μῖσος ἐν αὑτῷ κατάκλειστον αὔξειν ἕτερα μὲν κεύθοντα ἐνὶ φρεσίν, ἄλλα δὲ λέγοντα καὶ ὑποκρινόμενον ἱλαρῷ καὶ κωμικῷ τῷ προσώπῳ μάλα περιπαθῆ τινα καὶ ἰοῦ γέμουσαν τραγῳδίαν.


Our Common Fate

Schiller, Our Common Fate (Das gemeinsame Schicksal, tr. Paul Carus):
O, how we struggle and hate! Inclinations, opinions divide us.
  Yet in the meantime thy locks turn into silver like mine.

Siehe, wir hassen, wir streiten, es trennet uns Neigung und Meinung;
  Aber es bleichet indess dir sich die Locke wie mir.

Saturday, February 25, 2012



Goethe, Torquato Tasso, II.4 (lines 830-832), tr. Maurice Baring in Have You Anything to Declare? A Note Book with Commentaries (London: William Heinemann Ltd., n.d), p. 180:
We mortals are most wonderfully tried,
Nor could we bear it, were we not vouchsafed
By Nature a divine frivolity.

Wir Menschen werden wunderbar geprüft,
Wir könnten's es nicht ertragen, hätt' uns nicht
Den holden Leichtsinn die Natur verliehn.


Parliamentary Institutions

George Santayana, Persons and Places, II.xxiv (Official Career at Harvard):
The Faculty meetings were an object-lesson to me in the futility of parliamentary institutions. Those who spoke spoke badly, with imperfect knowledge of the matter in hand, and simply to air their prejudices. The rest hardly listened. If there was a vote, it revealed not the results of the debate, but the previous and settled sentiments of the voters. The uselessness and the poor quality of the whole performance were so evident that it surprised me to see that so many intelligent men—for they were intelligent when doing their special work—should tamely waste so much time in keeping up the farce. But parliamentary institutions have a secret function in the Anglosaxon world, like those important glands that seem useless to a superficial anatomy. There is an illusion of self-government, especially for members of the majority; there is a gregarious sense of safety and reassurance in being backed, or led, or even opposed by crowds of your equals under conventional safeguards and guarantees; and there is solace to the vague mind in letting an anonymous and irresponsible majority be responsible for everything. You grumble but you consent to put up with the course that things happen to take.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Two Sides of the Same Coin

George Santayana, Persons and Places, I.ii (My Father):
Rejection is a form of self-assertion. You have only to look back upon yourself as a person who hates this or that to discover what it is that you secretly love.


I Could Well Be Wrong

M.A. Screech, Erasmus: Ecstasy and the Praise of Folly (London: Penguin Books, © 1980), p. 63 (discussing Erasmus, Praise of Folly 180-181 Kan):
There are several nuances here which are difficult to render in English. There is, for example, the use of the word religio in apparently two different senses, with religiosae res in another. I have done my best to translate what seems to be the appropriate shade of meaning, but I could well be wrong.
This expression (itself Erasmian in tone) of scholarly diffidence struck me when I read it —"I could well be wrong."

I wish I heard it more often, especially in public discourse these days, when I listen to politicians pontificating about subjects far outside their expertise, e.g. theology and science. What a heavy burden, to be so certain about everything!


Lord of Trees

E.R. Dodds, Euripides. Bacchae. Edited with Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. x-xi:
To the Greeks of the classical age Dionysus was not solely, or even mainly, the god of wine. Plutarch tells us as much, confirming it with a quotation from Pindar,1 and the god's cult titles confirm it also: he is Δενδρίτης or Ἔνδενδρος, the Power in the tree; he is Ἄνθιος the blossom-bringer, Κάρπιος the fruit-bringer, Φλεύς or Φλέως, the abundance of life. His domain is, in Plutarch's words, the whole of the ὑγρὰ φύσις—not only the liquid fire in the grape, but the sap thrusting in a young tree, the blood pounding in the veins of a young animal, all the mysterious tides that ebb and flow in the life of nature. Our oldest witness, Homer, nowhere explicitly refers to him as a wine god;2 and it may be that his association with certain wild plants, such as the fir and the ivy, and with certain wild animals, is in fact older than his association with the vine. It was the Alexandrines, and above all the Romans—with their tidy functionalism and their cheerful obtuseness in all matters of the spirit—who compartmentalized Dionysus as 'jolly Bacchus' the wine-god with his riotous crew of nymphs and satyrs.3 As such he was taken over by Renaissance painters and poets; and it was they in turn who shaped the image in which the modern world pictures him.

1 Is. et os. 35, 365 A, quoting Pindar, fr. 140 Bowra.

2 This may of course be accidental; but it odd, as Farnell says, that Maron, though a Thracian and a vine-rgower [sic, read vine-grower], is represented as a priest not of Dionysus but of Apollo.

3 Horace is an exception: Odes, 2.19 and 3.25 show a deeper understanding of the god's true nature.
Id., pp. 80-81 (on lines 109-110 καὶ καταβακχιοῦσθε δρυὸς / ἢ ἐλάτας κλάδοισι, i.e. 'and consecrate yourselves with twigs of oak or fir'):
For Dion. as Lord of Trees cf. his cult titles Ἔνδενδρος (in Boeotia, Hesych. s.v.), Δενδρεύς (Studemund, Anecd. Varia, i.268), Δενδρίτης (Plut. Q. Conv. 5.3.1, 675 F), and Jeanmaire, Dionysos, 12 ff. There were in Hellenistic times δενδροφορίαι in his honour (Strabo 10.3.10, Artemidorus, p. 141.13 Hercher), though these may be due in part to the influence of the Attis-cult. Oak and fir are the typical trees of Cithaeron (Sandys), as of many Greek forests; but there may be ritual reasons for their frequent appearance in the Bacchae (oak 685, 703, 1103; fir 684, 1061, 1098). A θίασος of Dionysus Δρυοφόρος existed at Philippi close to Mt. Pangaeum, one of the original homes of the cult (Bull. Corr. Hell. 1900, pp. 322 f.); on a fifth-century coin of Abdera we see the god carrying a fir-tree in his hand (Münzer-Strack, Münzen von Thrakien, I.i, pl. 2, No. 4); and the fir-tree on which Pentheus sat was a holy tree (1058 n.).
Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 35 = Moralia 365 A-B (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
To show that the Greeks regard Dionysus as the lord and master not only of wine, but of the nature of every sort of moisture, it is enough that Pindar be our witness, when he says
May gladsome Dionysus swell the fruit upon the trees,
The hallowed splendour of harvest time.
For this reason all who reverence Osiris are prohibited from destroying a cultivated tree or blocking up a spring of water.

ὅτι δ' οὐ μόνον τοῦ οἴνου Διόνυσον, ἀλλὰ καὶ πάσης ὑγρᾶς φύσεως Ἕλληνες ἡγοῦνται κύριον καὶ ἀρχηγόν, ἀρκεῖ Πίνδαρος μάρτυς εἶναι λέγων
δενδρέων δὲ νομὸν Διόνυσος πολυγαθὴς
αὐξάνοι, ἁγνὸν φέγγος ὀπώρας.
διὸ καὶ τοῖς τὸν Ὄσιριν σεβομένοις ἀπαγορεύεται δένδρον ἥμερον ἀπολλύναι καὶ πηγὴν ὕδατος ἐμφράττειν.
Plutarch, Convivial Questions 5.3.1 = Moralia 675 F (tr. Paul A. Clement and Herbert B. Hoffleit):
Practically all Greeks sacrifice to Poseidon the Life-Giver and to Dionysus the Tree-god.

καὶ Ποσειδῶνί γε Φυταλμίῳ Διονύσῳ δὲ Δενδρίτῃ πάντες ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν Ἕλληνες.
See also Valdis Leinieks, The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides Bakchai (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1996), pp. 179-180.

Related post: Arboreal Epithets of Greek Gods.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Rackham, Willis, and Goold

James Willis, Latin Textual Criticism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972), pp. 3-4:
Mr. Rackham's Pliny is vitiated in both text and translation by ignorance of (inter alia) ancient astronomy: 2,91 in austrino polo means 'in the southern sky,' not 'at the south pole,' which none of the ancients ever saw; 2,92 occasura caeli parte is not 'the western sky,' but 'that part of the celestial sphere in which are the stars that set,' being contrasted with those which are sub ipso septentrione (91) and never set; 2,97 defectus means 'eclipses,' 'occultations,' not 'settings'; 2,178 idem a Rhodo absconditur refers to Septentrio, not Canopus.
H. Rackham's edition and translation of Pliny's Natural History, Preface and Books 1-2, first appeared in 1938 as a volume in the Loeb Classical Library. For a 1991 reprinting, the series editor, G.P. Goold, added a "Bibliographical Note," but apparently no other changes were made. The errors mentioned by Willis can still be found in the translation.

Willis and Goold were classmates and friends. On p. x of Latin Textual Criticism, Willis wrote:
Acknowledgments are always tedious and seldom sincere. I should do very wrongly, however, if I did not say, and with emphasis, that nothing has helped me more towards an understanding of textual criticism than my many evenings of discussion with Professor G.P. Goold, who so often led my halting footsteps, after long and patient exposition, to some emendation made by Housman while shaving or by Bentley in his sleep.
Goold also remembered those evenings with Willis, in his "Noctes Propertianae," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71 (1967) 59-106 (at 80, 105-106), but a bit differently, with Willis as the leader, Goold as the follower. Recalling one occasion on which Willis corrected his interpretation of a passage from Ovid, Goold wrote:
With the emotions of one who has expected a call girl and opened the door to a nun, I weakly heard him describe my rendering as inaccurate, my perception as clouded, and my palaeographical explanation as pure babble from the padded cell.
Thanks to the benefactor who recently gave me all ten volumes of Pliny's Natural History in the Loeb Classical Library series. With these books I will spend many pleasant "noctes Plinianae."


Two Kinds of Sermons

George Santayana, Persons and Places, I.xi (The Church of the Immaculate Conception):
If later I was taken to some Unitarian church, it didn't matter. It seemed a little ridiculous, all those good people in their Sunday clothes, so demure, so conscious of one another, not needing in the least to pray or to be prayed for, nor inclined to sing, but liking to flock together once a week, as people in Spain flock to the paseo, and glad to hear a sermon like the leading article in some superior newspaper, calculated to confirm the conviction already in them that their bourgeois virtues were quite sufficient and that perhaps in time poor backward races and nations might be led to acquire them.


It is not difficult for a man with a ready tongue and a good memory to pluck moral and theological arguments from the patristic garden. St. Augustine alone will furnish flowers for a thousand good sermons. And this practice of repeating ancient authorities cannot be taxed with laziness. More diligence and more conscience are shown in ransacking the Fathers than in ventilating one's casual notions; and Catholic preachers at least are expected to preach the Gospel, and not some message new to the age.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012



Thanks to Eric Thomson for what follows.

Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 last week was Sir Hubert Parry, never a great favourite of mine but there are few in Britain who don't know or haven't sung his setting of Blake's Jerusalem. I doubt whether either Blake or Parry was thinking of 'dark Satanic' saw-mills, but the idea might have occurred to Parry in December 1917 when the Government laid claim to almost the last of the timber on his Gloucestershire family estate. A letter to his friend Harry Plunket Greene is quoted in Charles Larcom Graves, Hubert Parry: His Life and Works, vol. 2 (London: Macmillan, 1926) p. 86:
I have just arrived here after a harrowing three days at Highnam ... the situation is heart-rending. Government instructions to cut down a large number of the finest elms in the place! I had to go round this week to look at them all. Glorious, old, noble trees that have taken centuries to grow—and doomed irrevocably. They are going to clear the whole of the chestnut wood in the next fortnight—shave it off clean. The larch wood by the brickfields is to be cleared—and they threaten to take all the ash in the woods, as they say they are too good and straight. The place looks bald already. What it will be when they have accomplished all their fell designs is too tragic to think of.
By chance I recently came across the same adjective 'heart-rending' used in an almost identical context, but this time it is December 1940 and the estate, near Dunbar, belongs to The Earl of Haddington:
Binning Wood was taken over under emergency powers and the loggers moved in. Down crashed, day after day, week after week, 4500 oak trees, 2300 beech trees, 690 sycamores, the same number of ash trees, 640 birches, alder, gean and other hardwoods, almost a hundred lime and horse chestnut trees, 82 hornbeams, 39 sweet chestnuts, and around a thousand conifers, including the esteemed Scots pines. In the end nothing was left of the Earl of Haddington's fine wood but ten thousand stumps. It was heartrending — though he may have taken consolation on hearing that some of the best beech went to make Mosquito fighter-bombers in the war against Hitler.

Binning wood was not an isolated case. Once again Armageddon decimated some of the best woodlands on the home front, and this time the casualties were even heavier than in World War One. On the densely wooded Seafield Estates in the northeast three times as much timber was cut in the second war as in the first, when the toll had been bad enough. On Deeside the Great Tanar estate suffered serious loss. Rothiemurchus on Speyside, savaged before, was hit again. The Black Wood of Rannoch, spared at the eleventh hour in 1918, fell victim in the 1940s when most of the best trees were taken out. Shortly after the war, the naturalist Frank Fraser Darling was moved to declare 'our land is so devastated that we might as well have been the battlefield.'
John Fowler, Landscapes and Lives. The Scottish Forest Through the Ages (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002) pp. 183-4.




George Santayana, Persons and Places, I.xiii (The Harvard Yard):
Electricity, vacuum cleaning, and ladies' kitchens render life simpler and more decent; but central heating, in banishing fireplaces, except as an occasional luxury or affectation, has helped to destroy the charm of home. I don't mean merely the ancient and rustic sanctity of the hearth; I mean also the home-comforts of the modern bachelor. An obligatory fire was a useful and blessed thing. In northern climates it made the poetry of indoor life. Round it you sat, into it you looked, by it you read, in it you made a holocaust of impertinent letters and rejected poems. On the hob your kettle simmered, and the little leaping flames cheered your heart and ventilated your den. Your fire absolved you from half your dependence on restaurants, cafés, and servants; it also had the moralising function of giving you a duty in life from which any distraction brought instant punishment, and taught you the feminine virtues of nurse, cook, and Vestal virgin. Sometimes, I confess, these cares became annoying; the fire kept you company, but like all company it sometimes interrupted better things. At its best, a wood fire is the most glorious; but unless the logs are of baronial dimensions, it dies down too quickly, the reader or the writer is never at peace; while a hard-coal fire (which also sometimes goes out) sleeps like a prisoner behind its iron bars, without the liveliness of varied flames. The ideal fire is soft coal, such as I had in England and also in America when I chose; like true beauty in woman, it combines brilliancy with lastingness. I congratulate myself that in the Harvard Yard I was never heated invisibly and willy-nilly by public prescription, but always by my own cheerful fire, that made solitude genial and brought many a genial friend who loved cheerfulness to sit by it with me, not rejecting in addition a drink and a little poetry, no tedious epic, but perhaps one of Shakespeare's sonnets or an ode of Keats, something fit to inspire conversation and not to replace it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Epitaph for Timocritus

Anacreon 101 Diehl = Greek Anthology 7.160, tr. Guy Davenport, Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations 1950-1980 (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), p. 69:
He was a soldier in the wars.
Timokritos. This is his grave.
Sometimes blood-drinking Ares kills
Not the cowards but the brave.
Greek has words for blood-drinking and blood-thirsty, e.g. αἱματοπώτης (alt. αἱμηπότης, αἱμοπότης, αἱμοπώτης, αἱμωπός), αἱματορρόφος, αἱμόδιψος, but after a quick search I don't see any of these as epithets for Ares in C.F.H. Bruchmann, Epitheta Deorum Quae Apud Poetas Graecos Leguntur (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1893), pp. 36-43. Ares of course does love blood—he is φιλαίματος in another epitaph attributed to Anacreon (100 Diehl = Greek Anthology 7.226, line 3). But Davenport's "blood-drinking" doesn't appear in the Greek of Timocritus' epitaph:
Καρτερὸς ἐν πολέμοις Τιμόκριτος, οὗ τόδε σᾶμα·
  Ἄρης δ᾽ οὐκ ἀγαθῶν φείδεται, ἀλλὰ κακῶν.
C.M. Bowra, Early Greek Elegists (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), p. 181, translates the epitaph as follows:
Of brave Timocritus this is the grave:
The War-God spares the coward, not the brave.
Another translation, by Andrew Robert Burn, The Lyric Age of Greece (1960; rpt. Minerva Press, 1968), p. 316:
Good soldier was Timokritos, whose grave
This is. War spares the coward, not the brave.
See D.L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 135, who says:
Weber and Friedländer ask why the epigram should be taken away from Anacreon; the proper question was, why should it be given to him? The only witness, the Anthology, is notoriously unreliable in such a case. If the epigram was inscriptional, it was unsigned; and the ascription to Anacreon is presumably the product of guesswork; if it is a pseudo-epitaph, merely a literary exercise (for the sake of the neat pentameter), it is certainly much later than the age of Anacreon.

It is commonly assumed (e.g. by Bergk PLG 3.281, Peek 888, Wilamowitz TG 36 n. 4, Beckby 2.578) that the epigram is an inscriptional epitaph; if it is, it is probably much later than the age of Anacreon, for, as Friedländer observes (Epigrammata p. 69), 'the sententious pentameter has no counterpart on the tombstones, at least in the archaic period'; there is indeed nothing like it in the fifth century.
On the sentiment expressed in the pentameter, cf. Aeschylus fragment 100 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
But Ares ever loves to pluck all the fairest flowers of an armed host.

                                                ἀλλ᾽ Ἄρης φιλεῖ
ἀεὶ τὰ λῷστα πάντ᾽ ἀπανθίζειν στρατοῦ.
Sophocles, Philoctetes 436-437 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
War never willingly destroys a villain, but always noble men.

                           πόλεμος οὐδέν᾽ ἄνδρ᾽ ἑκὼν
αἱρεῖ πονηρόν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς χρηστοὺς ἀεί
Sophocles, fragment 724 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
My son, Ares loves to kill the noble and valiant; and they who are brave with their tongues escape destructive forces and keep out of trouble; for Ares cuts down nothing that belongs to evil.

τοὺς εὐγενεῖς γὰρ κἀγαθούς, ὦ παῖ, φιλεῖ
Ἄρης ἐναίρειν· οἱ δὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ θρασεῖς
φεύγοντες ἄτας ἐκτός εἰσι τῶν κακῶν·
Ἄρης γὰρ οὐδὲν τῶν κακῶν λωτίζεται.
Euripides, fragment 728 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
War does not usually achieve all its aims, but rejoices in the deaths of brave young men and spurns cowardly ones. This is an affliction for the city, but glorious for those that have died.

φιλεῖ τοι πόλεμος οὐ πάντ' εὐτυχεῖν,
ἐσθλῶν δὲ χαίρει πτώμασιν νεανιῶν,
κακοὺς δὲ μισεῖ. τῇ πόλει μὲν οὖν νόσος
τόδ᾽ ἐστί, τοῖς δὲ κατθανοῦσιν εὐκλεές.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Like Gods

Tennyson, The Lotos-Eaters, lines 153-173:
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurled
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.


Nec Te Quaesiveris Extra

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, tr. Walter Kaufmann), Vorspiel, § 3:

Where you stand, dig deep and pry!
Down there is the well.
Let the obscurantists cry:
"Down there's only—hell!"
In German:

Wo du stehst, grab tief hinein!
Drunten ist die Quelle!
Lass die dunklen Männer schrein:
"Stets ist drunten—Hölle!"


What a Lot of Books!

Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, chapter IV (tr. Lafcadio Hearn):
"What a lot of books!" she screamed. "And have you really read them all, Monsieur Bonnard?"

"Alas! I have," I replied, "and that is just the reason that I do not know anything; for there is not a single one of those books which does not contradict some other book; so that by the time one has read them all one does not know what to think about anything. That is just my condition, Madame."
In French:
"Que de livres!" s'écria-t-elle. "Et vous les avez tous lus, monsieur Bonnard?"

"Hélas! oui," répondis-je, "et c'est pour cela que je ne sais rien du tout, car il n'y a pas un de ces livres qui n'en démente un autre, en sorte que, quand on les connaît tous, on ne sait que penser. J'en suis là, madame."
Jacob Eberhard Gailer, in
Neuer Orbis Pictus für die Jugend (1842)

Related post: Have You Read Them All?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Powerful Forces

Anatole France (1844-1924), Thaïs, part III (L'Euphorbe, tr. Robert B. Douglas):
"There are forces, Lucius, infinitely more powerful than reason and science."

"What are they?" asked Cotta.

"Ignorance and folly," replied Aristaeus.
In French:
"Il y a des forces, Lucius, infiniment plus puissantes que la raison et que la science."

"Lesquelles?" demanda Cotta.

"L'ignorance et la folie," répondit Aristée.


The Romantic Outlook

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), p. 193:
The romantic outlook condemns success as such as both vulgar and immoral; for it is built, as often as not, on a betrayal of one's ideals, on a contemptible arrangement with the enemy. A correspondingly high value is placed upon defiance for its own sake, idealism, sincerity, purity of motive, resistance in the face of all odds, noble failure, which are contrasted with realism, worldly wisdom, calculation, and their rewards—popularity, success, power, happiness, peace bought at morally too high a price. This is the doctrine of heroism and martyrdom, as against that of harmony and wisdom. It is inspiring, audacious, splendid, and sinister too.

Saturday, February 18, 2012



Pliny, Natural History 2.5.22 (tr. H. Rackham):
Everywhere in the whole world at every hour by all men's voices Fortune alone is invoked and named, alone accused, alone impeached, alone pondered, alone applauded, alone rebuked and visited with reproaches; deemed volatile and indeed by most men blind as well, wayward, inconstant, uncertain, fickle in her favours and favouring the unworthy. To her is debited all that is spent and credited all that is received, she alone fills both pages in the whole of mortals' account; and we are so much at the mercy of chance that Chance herself, by whom God is proved uncertain, takes the place of God.

toto quippe mundo et omnibus locis omnibusque horis omnium vocibus Fortuna sola invocatur ac nominatur, una accusatur, rea una agitur, una cogitatur, sola laudatur, sola arguitur et cum conviciis colitur: volubilis, a plerisque vero et caeca existimata, vaga, inconstans, incerta, varia indignorumque fautrix. huic omnia expensa, huic omnia feruntur accepta, et in tota ratione mortalium sola utramque paginam facit, adeoque obnoxii sumus sorti, ut sors ipsa pro deo sit, qua deus probatur incertus.

Update from Karl Maurer:
The English translation is a pale shadow! Not that it's Rackham's fault; English just can't manage this. E.g. ruined is the first phrase, where 5 nouns -- mundo... locis... horis... vocibus -- are interwoven with the 3 adj. omnibus ... omnibusque ... omnium. That's better than Rackham's inert repetition of "alone" 6 times! Then the curious rhyming of "-atur" and "-itur" (5 + 3). Also the simultaneous A A B B and A B B A in "una agitur, una cogitatur, sola laudatur, sola arguitur". Then the carefully varied adj. endings: -ilis, -ata, -aga, -ans, -erta, -ia, -trix. And Pliny's anticlimactic last phrase is far more powerful than Rackham's climactic one.

And yet with all this it isn't really 'overwrought', it's rapid and transparent. Focus is not on the language but on the truth he is pointing to.


A Slow Reader

From Ian Jackson:
Your latest reminds me of this passage in Henry Mayr-Harting's account of Henry Chadwick in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
As regius professor in Cambridge he was a fellow of Magdalene College, where the many fond memories of him included his own delight when he returned some books to the college library late and with profuse apologies, to be answered by the kindly assistant, 'don't worry dear, I'm a slow reader myself' (private information).
Nietzsche defined a philologist as "a teacher of slow reading" ("ein Lehrer des langsamen Lesens").


Well-Read Men and Scholars

Sterling Dow, Fifty Years of Sathers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), p. 55:
There are still well-read men alive, but often they are not scholars; and scholars, alas, often have had insufficient time to read widely.

Friday, February 17, 2012


A Rule of Etiquette

Lindsay Goldwert, "Ew! 75% admit to calling, texting on the toilet," New York Daily News (February 2, 2012):
America's obsession with smart phones has come to a head.

Approximately 75% of people take their cell phones into the bathroom with them, according to a survey by the marketing agency 11Mark.

Out of 1,000 people polled, 87% of Android users admitted to talking, texting, or surfing the web while in the restroom, reports

BlackBerry and iPhone users were also unlikely to part with their phones just because nature called.

According to the survey, BlackBerry users are most likely to answer (75%) or make (48%) a call, while iPhone users are most likely to participate in social networking (52%) or to use an app (57%).
I myself don't carry a cell phone and so have never called, texted, or used an app while taking a crap, but perhaps this widespread practice has caused me to violate inadvertently another rule of etiquette, one laid down by Erasmus in his treatise De Civilitate Morum Puerilium (1530), viz. "It is impolite to greet someone who is urinating or defecating."

I owe the Erasmus reference to Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process. The Development of Manners. Changes in the Code of Conduct in Early Modern Times, tr. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Urizen Books, 1978), p. 130, who also cites (p. 133) Johann Christian Barth, The Gallant Ethic, in which it is shown how a young man should commend himself to polite society through refined acts and complaisant words. Prepared for the special advantage and pleasure of all amateurs of present-day good manners, 4th ed. (Desden and Leipzig, 1731), p. 288:
If you pass a person who is relieving himself you should act as if you had not seen him, and so it is impolite to greet him.
If I have ever inadvertently called someone on the telephone who answered while on the toilet, I apologize for violating the rule against greeting someone who is urinating or defecating.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.



Self-Induced Myopia

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), pp. 13-14:
Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakeable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possible doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of self-induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Innumerable Dead Vocables

Dear Mike:

Your recent post on Thomas Carlyle made me want to share with you this passage from Sartor Resartus, in which Teufelsdröckh complains of the inadequate instruction in the classical languages which he received at the Hinterschlag Gymnasium (the name Hinterschlag, of course, giving some idea of the preferred pedagogical method). You can add it to your collection of famous authors complaining of the dullness of their Latin teachers:

‘My teachers,’ says [Teufelsdröckh], ‘were hide-bound Pedants, without knowledge of man’s nature, or of boy’s; or of aught save their lexicons and quarterly account-books. Innumerable dead Vocables (no dead Language, for they themselves knew no Language) they crammed into us, and called it fostering the growth of mind. How can an inanimate, mechanical Gerund-grinder, the like of whom will, in a subsequent century, be manufactured at Nürnberg out of wood and leather, foster the growth of anything; much more of Mind, which grows, not like a vegetable (by having its roots littered with etymological compost), but like a spirit, by mysterious contact of Spirit; Thought kindling itself at the fire of living Thought? How shall he give kindling, in whose inward man there is no live coal, but all is burnt-out to a dead grammatical cinder? The Hinterschlag Professors knew syntax enough; and of the human soul thus much: that it had a faculty called Memory, and could be acted-on through the muscular integument by appliance of birch-rods.’ (Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, book II, chapter III: "Pedagogy")

I particularly like the epithet "Gerund-grinder."

Yours truly,
Stephen Wauck


Botched Latin

Geoff Herbert, "Air Force unit removes 'God' from logo; lawmakers warn of 'dangerous precedent'," in the Syracuse Post-Standard (February 9, 2012), reports on a tempest in a teapot.

Both the old logo and the new one are supposed to be in Latin, but if these photographs are to be trusted, both are ungrammatical:

During the Vietnam War, my draft lottery number was 36, and so the probability was high that I would be drafted. I dropped my college deferment, and the Selective Service System ordered me to report for a physical examination. The military doctor in charge of the examination asked me what I was studying in college, and I answered Latin. To my surprise, he recited in Latin some verses by Catullus, accurately. Maybe there are still members of the armed forces who know Latin, but if so, they evidently weren't consulted about the Air Force unit's logo.

Hat tip: Jim K.


The Learned Boy

James Crossley (1800-1883), autobiographical fragment, quoted by S.M. Ellis, "A Great Bibliophile: James Crossley," in Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu, and Others (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1931), pp. 223-265 (at 224-225, ellipses in original):
Perhaps some of the most agreeable moments in the mind of a scholar are those spent in the retrospection of early studies, in recalling the hours which first opened upon him the treasures of learning, in tracing back his acquaintance with a book to its first commencement in his youth....
A thousand pleasures do me bless,
And crown my soul with happiness,
as I fly back to that period when, uncramped by the restraint of any particular study, and unrestrained by the fetters of academical regimen, the mind was left to traverse the wide domain of literature, and seek amusement in perpetual variety: With what renewed gusto did I range over the contents of a well-fed library, from Rabelais to the Fathers; and from Coryate's Crudities to the Summa of Aquinas and the theological works of Boëthius! With what keenness of antiquarianism did I turn over the dusty volumes of Holinshed and Stow, or linger over the uncouth cuts and thrilling details of Fox's and Clarke's Martyrology! How I delighted to immerse myself in "all such readings as were never read," and neglect the more common and customary paths of every-day reading for the huge folios and quartos (which the sons of this degenerate age can hardly lift), for the miracles of industry which our forefathers have achieved. How happy was I, when only a boy of fifteen, if I could get into a corner with Hooker's Ecclesiasticall Politie, or Sir Walter Raleigh's History, and pounce upon the contents, as a kite pounces upon a sparrow. The writers of the Augustan Age I left to the perusal of others, for they were read by everybody; solacing myself instead with the poetry of Claudian, Ausonius, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Prudentius; and the prose of Aulus Gellius, Macrobius, and Ammianus Marcellinus. To me, the productions of declining Rome were more valuable than the glories of her zenith. How refreshing to my view were those bulky and endless tomes of commentaries, which the era of the Scaligers and Causabons poured forth. The text of a writer, without its due modicum of annotation, was to me as arid and ungrateful as a plain without a tree. The Fathers were my boon companions; through them I ranged from Hermes to Saxon Bede, passing ever and anon from the pure Latinity of Sulpicius Severus to the sharp and caustic epistles of St. Isidore, and the hard and embrowned quaintness of Tertullian. How light of heart was I, if at some of those dinners which my father used to give to the reverend sons of the church, I could amaze them by edging in some quotation from the Cassandra of Lycophron or the Dionysiaca of Nonnus, and procure the appellation of "The Learned Boy."
Crossley's preference for later Latin literature reminds me of the literary tastes of Des Esseintes in J.-K. Huysmans' novel À Rebours.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012



Erasmus, letter to James Batt (April 12, 1500):
I've turned my entire attention to Greek literature, and as soon as I've received money, I'll buy Greek authors first, then clothes.

Ad Graecas literas totum animum applicui; statimque vt pecuniam accepero, Graecos primum autores, deinde vestes emam.


Shall I Hold the Pot or Not?

Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 1.2.8-11 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
[8] For to one man it is reasonable to hold a chamber-pot for another, since he considers only that, if he does not hold it, he will get a beating and will not get food, whereas, if he does hold it, nothing harsh or painful will be done to him; [9] but some other man feels that it is not merely unendurable to hold such a pot himself, but even to tolerate another's doing so. [10] If you ask me, then, "Shall I hold the pot or not?" I will tell you that to get food is of greater value than not to get it, and to be flayed is of greater detriment than not to be; so that if you measure your interests by these standards, go and hold the pot." Yes, but it would be unworthy of me." [11] That is an additional consideration, which you, and not I, must introduce into the question. For you are the one that knows yourself, how much you are worth in your own eyes and at what price you sell yourself. For different men sell themselves at different prices.

[8] τῷ γάρ τινι εὔλογον τὸ ἀμίδα παρακρατεῖν αὐτὸ μόνον βλέποντι, ὅτι μὴ παρακρατήσας μὲν πληγὰς λήψεται καὶ τροφὰς οὐ λήψεται, παρακρατήσας δ᾽ οὐ πείσεταί τι τραχὺ ἢ ἀνιαρόν· [9] ἄλλῳ δέ τινι οὐ μόνον τὸ αὐτὸν παρακρατῆσαι ἀφόρητον δοκεῖ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ἄλλου παρακρατοῦντος ἀνασχέσθαι. [10] ἂν οὖν μου πυνθάνῃ "παρακρατήσω τὴν ἀμίδα ἢ μή;", ἐρῶ σοι ὅτι μείζονα ἀξίαν ἔχει τὸ λαβεῖν τροφὰς τοῦ μὴ λαβεῖν καὶ μείζονα ἀπαξίαν τὸ δαρῆναι τοῦ μὴ δαρῆναι· ὥστ᾽ εἰ τούτοις παραμετρεῖς τὰ σαυτοῦ, ἀπελθὼν παρακράτει. [11] "ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἂν κατ᾽ ἐμέ." τοῦτο σὲ δεῖ συνεισφέρειν εἰς τὴν σκέψιν, οὐκ ἐμέ. σὺ γὰρ εἶ ὁ σαυτὸν εἰδώς, πόσου ἄξιος εἶ σεαυτῷ καὶ πόσου σεαυτὸν πιπράσκεις· ἄλλοι γὰρ ἄλλων πιπράσκουσιν.
The slave in charge of holding the chamber-pot was the λασανοφόρος (lasanophóros).


Albert! Spare Those Trees

Plans for the construction of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 met with resistance from some. In particular, the destruction of trees in Hyde Park was a cause of concern. Two poems on the subject appeared in Punch 19 (1850), the first on p. 10:

Albert! spare those trees,
  Mind where you fix your show;
For mercy's sake, don't, please,
  Go spoiling Rotten Row.

That Ride, that famous Ride,
  We must not have destroyed,
For, ne'er to be supplied,
  Its loss will leave a void.

Oh! certainly there might
  Be for your purpose found
A more congenial site
  Than Hyde Park's hallowed ground.

Where Fashion rides and drives,
  House not Industrial Art;
But, 'mid the busy hives
  Right in the City's heart.

And, is it thy request
  The place that I'd point out?
Then I should say the best
  Were Smithfield, without doubt.

There, by all votes approved,
  The wide world's wares display,
The Market first removed
  For ever and a day.
Albert is of course the Prince Consort, and the poem is a parody of George P. Morris' Woodman, Spare That Tree.

The second poem, entitled "The Talking Elms; or, The Hamadryads of Hyde Park," appeared on p. 32:

"Oh, Elms, whose green from summer's glare
  The Knightsbridge road relieves,
Punch questions you, and answer fair,
  Craves of you, by your leaves.

"Say, Elms, why my LORD SEYMOUR came,
  And with official phlegm,
Marked, in the Woods and Forests' name,
  The white cross on each stem?

"And tell us all that you have seen
  Since great ACHILLES rose,
Who towers so tall above the green,
  And is so short of clothes?

"And if you think the Iron Duke,
  Who's set up over there,
The ugliest thing that we may look
  To see, here or elsewhere?"

"Oh, Punch, you know in ancient days,
  A Hamadryad came
To life with every tree, always,
  And it is still the same.

"And Hamadryads of the Park
  We are that talk to you;
And, as we cannot bite, we bark—
  'Tis all our barks can do.

"For every cross—Oh, sorry hap!—
  A lifeless trunk must roll;
No wonder it congeals the sap
  That mantles in each bole.

"With us young Elms, whate'er they please,
  The Woods and Forests dare;
But we have old and sturdy trees—
  Of whom they'd best beware.

"The Hamadryad of that tough
  And gnarled bush of broom,
Will speak his mind out, plain enough,
  'Ere he submit to doom.

"And there's the Hamadryad keen,
  Of that old kernel tree,
Stripped of his leaves of Lincoln green,
  Will ne'er consent to be.

"You ask me what I've seen, since first
  ACHILLES dared to show—
I've seen a generation pass
  Away through Rotten Row.

"How oft my happy shade has hung
  Round dainty waists and trim,
How oft my saucy light been flung
  Under the beaver's brim,

"To kiss bright eyes that now are dark,
  And light up many a smile
That, in those days, fired every spark
  Wno paced the Lady's Mile.

"How oft I've watched sweet faces, wan
  With midnight rout and ball,
Here gather roses, trotting on,
  And looking love to all.

"And serious statesmen I have seen
  Upon their cobs sedate,
Here take the air, and muse serene,
  Upon the night's debate.

"Workmen with wives and kids have sat
  Beneath my kindly shade,
And drank their beer and had their chat,
  When holiday they made.

"Such sights no more shall greet my eye;
  To make a site. I fall;
To die, is hard; but now to die,
  Is hardest fate of all.

"Now, that the world its treasure brings
  From North, South, East, and West,
And with a friendly greeting flings
  The store in England's breast.

"My sisters live to see the show,
  From mine, and forge, and loom,
But o'er my place the turf will grow,
  Feet will be on my tomb.

"But tell them, Punch—for it is true—
  'Ere on their plan they fix—
They might make glass and iron do,
  Eschewing lime and bricks.

"So o'er my green and happy grave,
  Might sparkle to the sky,
A mausoleum broad and brave,
  A glory to the eye!"

Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also comments:

It seems quite likely that the wizened gnome-like axeman in the cartoon is the doddery old Iron Duke himself, as it was he who had given his backing to the Hyde Park location. Here's a daguerreotype of him from six years earlier.

The statue of Achilles ("so short of clothes," line 12 of "The Talking Elms") in Hyde Park is indeed startlingly starkers:

"To Arthur Duke of Wellington
and his brave companions in arms
this statue of Achilles
cast from canon taken in the victories
of Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo
by their country women
is inscribed.

Placed on this spot
on the XVIII day of June MDCCCXXII
by command of
His Majesty George IIII."

I don't know whether it was these same countrywomen who stipulated that only the bare minimum of bronze be expended on the fig leaf but George Cruikshank had a field day with this brazen image of the Ladies' Fancy Man.

The resolution isn't good but fortunately the British Museum provides a transcription of the drollery:

Below the title: O' Killus Esq" &c &c—Erected in Hide Park, in Honor of the "Waterloo Man" & his Soger Men. Note—Supposed to be Erected by his Country women for the releif of his Starving Country men. Above the design: This Brazen Image was erected by the Ladies, in honor of Paddy Carey O' Killus, Esq. their Man O'Metal!!! Two designs side by side.

[1] The back view of the Achilles statue burlesqued on its high pedestal raised on a plinth. The figure wears spurred jack-boots, and is supported under the right thigh by a pair of army trousers decorated by a fig-leaf, and with a stripe inscribed Wellingtons. The posterior is exaggerated. On the pedestal: Placed on this Spot by Command of his | Majesty Geoe IIII—. Spectators crowd round it, all women except for one man who turns to a woman with a prurient leer and the Duke himself, in profile to the left, caricatured, who gazes up at it, stooping forward; he wears uniform with sword and jack-boots and holds his plumed cocked hat in both hands. A buxom lady stands beside him, pointing to the statue; she turns to him to say: See my Ball o' Wax [a slang term for shoemaker]! what we Ladies Can raise, when we wish to put a man in mind of what he has done & we hope will do again when call'd for!!! The Duke answers: The Honor is so great, that all I can say by the Powers, is that I'm Speechless. Two ladies stand arm-in-arm in back view, pointing up at the statue; a little boy asks: Is that—The Regents Bomb Mama? A telescope is directed at the statue, and a little girl is held above the crowd to see the sight. From the crowd labels ascend, inscribed: Do you think it will stand the Weather?; Bless you it will stand any thing; My Eyes what a Size!!; I see it!!

[2] A front view of the booted statue, displaying a grotesque face, and the fig-leaf. On the pedestal: To "Authur O'Bradly" and his | "Jolly Companions every one" | This Brazen Image of Patrick | O'Killus Esqr— | Is inscribed by their Country-women. Two women (right), arm-in-arm, gaze up. One exclaims: La! they must be a Brazen set of jades to stick up such a thing as this in public— what is it meant for? The other answers: I understand it is intended to represent His Grace after bathing in the Serpentine & defending himself from the attack of Constables. A little girl (or boy) points up, asking What is that Mama? The spectators on the left are generally better dressed and more sophisticated; among them is a negress. Seven of them say: This will be a place of great attraction in the height of the Season—; You mean the fall of the Leaf I suppose?; I would not give a fig for it; well, for my part I think it a great ugly useless thing; Pray Mem, have you seen the Original one—at Rome; O! yes—the Original is much finer.; I don't think its quite the thing—

On a piece of drapery suspended from the upper margin across both designs:

His Brawny Shoulders 4 ft Square
His Cheeks like thumping Kidney tatees
His legs would make a Chairman Stare
And Pat was loved by all the Ladies


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


A Match Made in Heaven

Samuel Butler, letter to Eliza Mary Ann Savage (November 21, 1884), in Letters between Samuel Butler and Miss E.M.A. Savage, 1871-1885 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935), pp. 349-350:
Yes it was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four, besides being very amusing.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Niminy-Piminy, Nimble-Wimble, and Niffnaffery

For Valentine's Day, a discussion of Platonic Love in Hélène de Surgère's circle, by D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), p. 239 (footnotes omitted):
To expressions of that neo-Platonic, high-thinking niminy-piminy which is the vogue among her set (and the natural corollary and counter-irritant to the unbridled lust of the other Renaissance extreme) she will listen, to use a homely folk-phrase, till the cows come home. The principal textbook for students of this affectation was a volume entitled Dialoghi d' Amore, by a Spanish Jew known as Léon Hébrieu. It consists of discourses between two personages, Philo and Sophia, on transcendental Love, a quasi-metaphysical, pseudo-mystical, cabbalistical, finicking manual which drove Ronsard, who detested such emasculate nimble-wimble, to protest against the vogue of
Leon Hebrieu, qui donne aux dames cognoissance
D'un amour fabuleux, la mesme fiction;
Faux, trompeur, mensonger, plein de fraude et d'astuce ...

Another textbook almost as fashionable among Hélène's group was La Parfaicte Amye, by Antoine Héroet of the Lyons School, dealing decasyllabically with the Platonic Idea of love, the bodiless union of affinities, the ultimate bliss, derived from the celestial contemplation of Beauty and Harmony. Shorn of all the fioriture, the gospel of this lily-handed school amounts, in practice, if one may be so gross, simply to this, that it is the lover's happiness and duty to pour down the beloved's slim white throat a mixture of as much flattery and deification as her conceit can stand, at the same time looking for no recompense but a touch of the hand in acknowledgment, a distant smile, a glance of acquiescence. That such niffnaffery made a warm-blooded man like Pierre de Ronsard furious is not strange.


A Pernicious Race of Little Odious Vermin

In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Part II, Chapter VI, Lemuel Gulliver gives the King of Brobdingnag an account of the history and institutions of Great Britain. The King replies:
My little Friend, Grildrig, you have made a most admirable Panegyrick upon your Country. You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness and Vice are the proper Ingredients for qualifying a Legislator. That Laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose interest and Abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some Lines of an Institution, which in its Original might have been tolerable; but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by Corruptions. It doth not appear from all you have said, how any one Perfection is required towards the Procurement of any one Station among you; much less that Men are ennobled on Account of their Virtue, that Priests are advanced for their Piety or Learning, Soldiers for their Conduct or Valour, Judges for their Integrity, Senators for the Love of their Country, or Counsellors for their Wisdom. As for yourself, (continued the King) who have spent the greatest Part of your Life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many Vices of your Country. But, by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pains wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin, that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Alas, Poor Yorick

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to two illustrations in works by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). In a curious variation on the vanitas theme, the illustrations show a skeleton contemplating a skull.

The first is from De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (Basel: J. Oporinus, 1543), p. 164:

The inscription on the tomb in this first illustration comes from Elegiae in Maecenatem 1.38: "Vivitur ingenio, caetera mortis erunt." In the translation by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff: "Genius means life, all else will belong to death."

The second illustration, similar to the first, comes from Suorum De Humani Corporis Fabrica Librorum Epitome (Basel: J. Oporinus, 1543):

The inscription on the tomb in this second illustration comes from Silius Italicus 12.243-244:
solvitur omne decus leto niveosque per artus
it Stygius color et formae populatur honores.
In J. Wight Duff's translation:
Death robbed him of all his beauty: a Stygian hue spread over his snow-white skin and destroyed his comeliness.



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books J.133 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
I forget most of what I have read, just as I do most of what I have eaten, but I know that both contribute no less to the conservation of my mind and my body on that account.

Ich vergesse das meiste, was ich gelesen habe, so wie das, was ich gegessen habe; ich weiss aber soviel, beides trägt nichtsdestoweniger zur Erhaltung meines Geistes und meines Leibes bei.


The Lady or the Incunable?

This post supplements Tell Me, My Son.

Ian Jackson, "Ever learning, ever dying," The Bookplate Journal (September 2004) 115-118, discussing the bookplate of the French scholar and bibliophile Anatole de Courde de Montaiglon:
Montaiglon had neither wife nor heir: as he explained to his favourite pupil Mario Schiff, 'Whenever I found myself smitten, I asked myself: "Look here, Anatole, do you like the lady more than a fine incunable?" I always preferred the incunable'.2

2. Mario Schiff, 'Anatole de Courde de Montaiglon 1824-1895' in Revue Bleue for 17 June 1899, p. 758.
(Pp. 115, 118.) The original French of the quotation:
'Quand je me voyais épris, je me disais: Voyons Anatole, aimes tu mieux mademoiselle une telle ou un bel incunable? J'aimais toujours mieux l'incunable!'
Montaiglon's bookplate bore the motto "De jour en jour en apprenant mourant," literally "From day to day, while learning, dying."

Thanks to Ian Jackson for sending me an offprint of his article and for pointing out the similarity between the quotations from Anatole de Courde de Montaiglon and Anatole France.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Words from Lincoln, on His Birthday

Ronald C. White, Jr., Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), pp. 138-139, quotes Lincoln as saying about Phineas Densmore Gurley (minister of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church):
I like Gurley. He don't preach politics. I get enough of that through the week, and when I go to church, I like to hear the gospel.
Amen, Brother Lincoln!


A Merchant's Prayer to Mercury

Ovid, Fasti 5.681-690 (tr. James George Frazer):
"Wash away the perjuries of past time," says he, "wash away my glozing words of the past day. Whether I have called thee to witness, or have falsely invoked the great divinity of Jupiter, in the expectation that he would not hear, or whether I have knowingly taken in vain the name of any other god or goddess, let the swift south winds carry away the wicked words, and may to-morrow open the door for me to fresh perjuries, and may the gods above not care if I shall utter any! Only grant me profits, grant me joy of profit made, and see to it that I enjoy cheating the buyer!"

"ablue praeteriti periuria temporis," inquit
  "ablue praeteritae perfida verba die.
sive ego te feci testem, falsove citavi
  non audituri numina vana Iovis,
sive deum prudens alium divamve fefelli,
  abstulerint celeres improba dicta Noti,
et pateant veniente die periuria nobis,
  nec curent superi siqua locutus ero.
da modo lucra mihi, da facto gaudia lucro,
  et fac ut emptori verba dedisse iuvet."
Clive Hamilton, The Freedom Paradox (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 56 (more here):
Deception is essential to modern marketing.
The English words market, merchant, and Mercury are all etymologically related.


The Art to Like My Own

John Norris (1657–1711), Content, first stanza, from A Collection of Miscellanies (London: Samuel Manship, 1710), p. 61:
        I bless my Stars I envy none,
Not great, nor wealthy, no nor yet the Wise,
        I've learn't the Art to like my own,
And what I can't attain to, not to prize.
        Vast Tracts of Learning I descry
Beyond the Sphere perhaps of my Activity,
And yet I'm ne're the more concern'd at this,
Than for the Gems that lye in the profound Abyss.

Saturday, February 11, 2012



J.R.R. Tolkien, letter to Christopher Tolkien (July 7, 1944):
There is the tragedy and despair of all machinery laid bare. Unlike art which is content to create a new secondary world in the mind, it attempts to actualize desire, and so to create power in this World; and that cannot really be done with any real satisfaction. Labour-saving machinery only creates endless and worse labour. And in addition to this fundamental disability of a creature, is added the Fall, which makes our devices not only fail of their desire but turn to new and horrible evil. So we come inevitably from Daedalus and Icarus to the Giant Bomber. It is not an advance in wisdom! This terrible truth, glimpsed long ago by Sam Butler, sticks out so plainly and is so horrifyingly exhibited in our time, with its even worse menace for the future, that it seems almost a world wide mental disease that only a tiny minority perceive it. Even if people have ever heard the legends (which is getting rarer) they have no inkling of their portent. How could a maker of motorbikes name his product Ixion cycles! Ixion, who was bound for ever in hell on a perpetually revolving wheel! Well, I have got over 2 thousand words onto this little flimsy airletter; and I will forgive the Mordor-gadgets some of their sins, if they will bring it quickly to you.
Samuel Butler, letter to the "Editor of the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand--13 June, 1863" (also published in Butler's Notebooks):
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.



Footnotes and Parentheses

William Shenstone (1714-1763), Essays on Men and Manners (Philadelphia: William W. Morse, 1804), p. 172:
It seems to me, that what are called notes at the bottom of pages (as well as parenthesis in writing) might be generally avoided, without injuring the thread of a discourse. It is true, it might require some address to interweave them gracefully into the text; but how much more agreeable would be the effect, than to interrupt the reader with such frequent avocations? How much more graceful to play a tune upon one set of keys, with varied stops, than to seek the same variety by an awkward motion from one set to another?


The State of Man

William Shenstone (1714-1763), Essays on Men and Manners (Philadelphia: William W. Morse, 1804), p. 162:
The state of man is not unlike that of a fish hooked by an angler. Death allows us but a little line. We flounce, and sport, and vary our situation: but when we would extend our schemes, we discover our confinement, checked and limited by a superior hand, who drags us from our element whenever he pleases.


Ease and Freedom

William Shenstone (1714-1763), Essays on Men and Manners (Philadelphia: William W. Morse, 1804), p. 104:
I cannot avoid comparing the ease and freedom I enjoy, to the ease of an old shoe; where a certain degree of shabbiness is joined with the convenience.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Tell Me, My Son

Anatole France, At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, chapter VII (tr. Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson):
What glory and what joy to read this unique manuscript found again in such wonderful fashion. I shall consecrate my days and my nights to it. I pity those ignorant men whose idleness throws them into debauchery. It is a miserable life they lead. What is a woman compared with an Alexandrian papyrus? Compare, I ask you, this most notable library with a wine-shop, the Petit Bacchus, and the handling this precious manuscript with the caresses one bestows on girls in an arbour, and tell me, my son, in which choice does true content abide?

Quelle gloire et quelles délices de lire ce manuscrit unique, retrouvé par une sorte de prodige! J'y veux consacrer mes jours et mes veilles. Je plains, mon fils, les hommes ignorants que l'oisiveté jette dans la débauche. Ils mènent une vie misérable. Qu'est-ce qu'une femme auprès d'un papyrus alexandrin? Comparez, s'il vous plaît, cette bibliothèque très noble au cabaret du Petit Bacchus et l'entretien de ce précieux manuscrit aux caresses que l'on fait aux filles sous la tonnelle, et dites-moi, mon fils, de quel côté se trouve le véritable contentement.



From The Bloody Brother, written by Massinger, Field, and Fletcher, in Norman Ault, ed., Elizabeth Lyrics from the Original Texts (1949; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1960), pp. 453-454:
Drink today, and drown all sorrow,
You shall perhaps not do it to-morrow:
Best, while you have it, use your breath;
There is no drinking after death.

Wine works the heart up, wakes the wit,
There is no cure 'gainst age but it:
It helps the head-ache, cough, and tisic,
And is for all diseases physic.

Then let us swill, boys, for our health;
Who drinks well, loves the commonwealth.
And he that will to bed go sober
Falls with the leaf still in October.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


The Days of Such Books Are Past

James Crossley (1800–1883), ed., The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, Vol. II, Part I (Chetham Society, 1855), p. 25, from the editor's footnote 1, discussing Claudius Salmasius, De Annis Climactericis (Leyden: Elzevir, 1648):
The days of such books are past, when a man could move lightly under the incumbrance of immense stores of learning, and while on his journey step aside at every turn, not "to sport with Amaryllis in the shade," but to have a tilt with Joseph Scaliger ("miserrime hallucinatus est Scaliger"); or with Picus of Mirandula ("falsus est Picus Mirandulanus") on some by-point; or engage single-handed with Cardan and the tribe of astrologers; or launch a thunderbolt against some Jesuit Patristic editor ("errat insulsum pecus Loioliticum"); or explain the meaning, never properly understood, of "gradarius equus"; plunge down into the depths of Petosiris, Necepso, hexagons, tetragons, and trigons, emerging in an emendation of Manilius ("proculdubio sic scripsit Manilius"), or Julius Firmicus ("caecutiunt interpretes, ita legendus est"), and an enquiry whether wine drinking prolongs life, arriving at the sensible conclusion ("plurimum refert quale sit vinum"), and as to the pernicious effects of water drinking ("gutturosos, torminosos, et podagrosos facit"); and, after completing a volume of a thousand pages, find that he was only just beginning to enter upon his subject.


Ronsard's World and Ours

D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), p. 328:
Having more leisure and (by God's mercy) fewer books than we, being unaware of the necessity to rush to and fro at maniac speed in pursuit of the Unattainable, the Renaissance poetry-lover was not heard to complain that an ode of twenty or fifty stanzas was of inordinate length. If it seemed good to the poet to use that amount of words to develop his thought, it provided all the more pleasure to fill a winter's evening,
Ces longues nuicts d'hyver, où la Lune ocieuse
Tourne si lentement son char tout à l'entour ...
So prolixity and repetition in a poet of Ronsard's stature no more offended or bored the men of his time than repetition and prolixity in a Bach fugue annoys a musician. Their minds, as I have said, were not easily fatigued or fretted. They had not to be kept constantly amused, like children or stockbrokers. They were not fed on spicy scraps by a semi-illiterate popular Press whose sole concern is to entertain; they sipped their reading slowly and meditatively, as an epicure sips Romanée-Conti. Ronsard lived and sang in a world of mental vigour and endurance whose most jaded moments were brimful of red-hot vitality compared with the numb and nervesick mental exhaustion of our present age.
Id., p. 329:
The great masters of the Renaissance exhilarate and dazzle and bewilder our shoddy decline and shame our machine-made middle-class mediocrity. The spectacle of a herd of modern trippers shambling through the Chateau of Amboise is a handy satirical illustration of this truth, needing no embroidery. Mingling with the perfume of Ronsard's roses is the light and air and brilliance of his age, and reading his pages we re-enter it with him in illusion and are enchanted. Here is, I think, one more obvious reason why Ronsard has returned to the Machine Age. He stands for so many noble and gracious things now in peril from without and within: the golden Classic Spirit, the fundamental Culture, the ancestral Religion which nourishes and supports it all.
Id., pp. 333-334:
Ronsard's world was bloody and beautiful, ours is bloody and ugly. His world produced masses of great song, ours does not. Amid the miseries of his time Ronsard sang like a nightingale, in the midst of ours the poets are dumb, or, if they attempt to sing, produce nothing but the harsh croaking of spiritual bankruptcy and despair, or tuneless and futile poncifs, inspired by a woolly optimism full of pathos; being rootless and drifting men afflicted by that malady of the West which, as Comte said, is a continual revolt against human antecedents. The mental health and vigour of Ronsard are tonic. Under his roses and raptures lurk the rooted certitudes. However far into folly the flesh may drive him, the spirit is intact. His dualism, pagan and Christian, resolves, whenever issue is seriously joined, in the triumph of reason, with the plain finality of that monumental line in the Song of Roland which says "Pagans are wrong and Christians are right". That eager wayward sword-keen mind, that vast hungry scholarship, that joyous appetite for life, that lifelong mastery and surfeit of fame bring him to the same conclusion as the strong mind of St. Thomas More and those other Renaissance humanists who never were beguiled by toys: sine auctoritate nulla vita.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Pecksniffery and Podsnappery

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dicken's birth, OED Online Word of the Day has been featuring words derived from characters in Dickens' novels, e.g. Pecksniff, defined as:
An unctuous hypocrite, a person who affects benevolence or pretends to have high moral principles; (also) a person who interferes officiously in the business of others.
and Podsnappery:
The characteristic behaviour or attitudes of Dickens's Mr Podsnap; insular complacency and blinkered self-satisfaction.
In addition to his literary gifts, Dickens was an acute psychologist, with a sharp eye for universal human types. How many Pecksniffs and Podsnaps do we still see strutting about every day!


A Little Knowledge of Nature

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Letters and Social Aims, new and rev. ed. (Boston: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1880), pp. 121-122:
The first care of a man settling in the country should be to open the face of the earth to himself, by a little knowledge of nature, or a great deal, if he can, of birds, plants, rocks, astronomy; in short, the art of taking a walk. This will draw the sting out of frost, dreariness out of November and March, and the drowsiness out of August. To know the trees is, as Spenser says of "the ash, for nothing ill." Shells, too; how hungry I found myself, the other day, at Agassiz's Museum, for their names! But the uses of the woods are many, and some of them for the scholar high and peremptory. When his task requires the wiping out from memory
                      "all trivial fond records
That youth and observation copied there,"
he must leave the house, the streets, and the club, and go to wooded uplands, to the clearing and the brook. Well for him if he can say with the old minstrel, "I know where to find a new song."


Defence of Rural Amenities against Big Business

D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), pp. 264-265:
There is a curiously modern ring about one of Ronsard's business dossiers, now in the municipal archives at Tours. A certain Fortin is trying to acquire some land owned by the monks of St. Cosme to extend his dye-factory, and already polluting the priory's waters. Ronsard points out to the municipal authorities of Tours2 that the said Fortin's chimneys and boilers will do nothing to benefit the local population and are not a public utility, as claimed, and the industrialist eventually, if I remember correctly, retires defeated. This is one of the earliest examples I know of the defence of rural amenities against Big Business. It is gratifying but not surprising to find Ronsard on the side of those gallant spirits waging endless and often fruitless war to-day to save what remains of rural England from defilement. That such things could happen in the Renaissance, and in Touraine, is interesting. On the one hand, all that craftsmanship in fine brick and stone and glass going up everywhere, august and gracious and lovely; on the other, the same kind of yahoo we know so well to-day, who would plant his chimneys in the island-valley of Avilion itself.

2 In a letter dictated to Amadis Jamyn.
This wasn't the only occasion on which Ronsard proved himself to be a proto-environmentalist (id., p. 272):
It is about this time, during a visit to his nephew, possibly, or to Croixval, that Ronsard is seized with anger on seeing the axe at work in his beloved forest of Gastine. The woodmen of Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, now King of Navarre, are converting a few acres of noble timber into a diamond necklace for some Paris mopsy (or, as Martellière more charitably deduces, into ready cash to pay some of the creditors of Henri's late extravagant mother, Jeanne d'Albret. The forest was sold in 1573, the year after her death). The outrage is sharp and personal to Ronsard. The tall oaks of Gastine, of which his forebears were so long wardens, have always been to the poet gentle living friends, counsellors, comforters, breathing memories of childhood's happiness, haunted by the kindly nymphs and dryads of Home.
Lewis continues to discuss this episode for a couple more pages, too much to transcribe. See also my post on Ronsard and the Forest of Gâtine.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Starved and Well-Fed Lexicons

The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley, Vol. II, Part I (Chetham Society, 1855), p. 23 (letter from Worthington to Samuel Hartlib, September 9, 1661, with the editor's footnote):
I do not like starved lexicons.3 When the signification is confirmed by good testimonies, (as in Buxtorf's Talmudic Lexicon,) and when fit apothegms, proverbs, observations, &c, are pertinently brought in under such a word, the reader better remembers the signification, and reads with more delight.

3 A sentence worthy of a good old scholar. A lean, lank lexicon is a prodigy demanding expiation. Dr. Johnson exulted that his dictionary would issue "vastâ mole superbus;" and Barker of Thetford, in the last conversation I had with him, claimed as his greatest merit, not his Junius discoveries, nor his monument (in two goodly octavos) to Dr. Parr, but that he had "plumped up the meagreness (!) of Harry Stephens."
"Barker of Thetford" is Edmund Henry Barker (1788-1839), who expanded Henri Estienne's Thesaurus Graecae Linguae into 12 folio volumes (London: Valpy, 1816-1828). C.J. Blomfield reviewed Vol. I, Partes I-IV, unfavorably in Quarterly Review 22 (1820) 302-348, and had this to say (at 329) about the scale of the expansion: "The 688th page of Mr. Valpy's Thesaurus corresponds with the 53d of the original work; consequently, if the same proportion be observed throughout, the new edition will be just thirteen times as bulky as the old one." Barker replied with Aristarchus Anti-Blomfieldianus: or, A Reply to the Notice of the New Greek Thesaurus... (London: J.H. Bohte, 1820), 112 pp. J.H. Monk answered Barker's Aristarchus Anti-Blomfieldianus in Quarterly Review 24 (1821) 376-400.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, February 06, 2012


Study Tips

Erasmus, letter to Peter Gillis (October 6, 1516, tr. Francis Morgan Nichols):
Most of our diseases proceed from the mind, and you will be less upset by the labours of study, if you regulate your studies by reason. Arrange your library, and all your letters and papers, in certain settled places. Do not allow yourself to be attracted now to one author and now to another, but take one of the best in your hands with no intention of letting him go until you have come to the last page, noting, as you go on, whatever seems worth remembering. Lay down for yourself a definite scheme of life, determining what you want to do, and at what hours; and do not crowd one thing upon another without finishing what you begin first; in this way you will lengthen your day, which is now almost totally lost. And whereas you find fault with your memory, you will do well, in my opinion, to make a diary for each year,—it is no great trouble to do so,—and note down daily, in a word or two, if anything has taken place that you wish not to forget.

Plerique morbi nobis ab animo proficiscuntur, et minus offenderis studii laboribus, si ratione studia tua modereris. Bibliothecam tuam, epistolas ac schedas omneis in certos nidulos redigas, neque temere nunc in hunc, nunc in illum autorem rapiaris, sed unum aliquem ex praecipuis in manus sumito, non relicturus prius, quam ad calcem usque perveneris, annotatis interim, quae digna memoratu videantur. Certum aliquod vitae genus ipse tibi praescribito, quid quibus horis agere velis. Nec alia super alia congere, nisi prioribus explicatis: ita diem, qui nunc pene totus intercidit, tibi reddideris longiorem. Et quoniam incusas memoriam, mea sententia profuerit, si in singulos annos fastos pares, non est res magni negocii, singulisque diebus annotes verbo, si quid extiterit, quod nolis oblivisci.
Matthias Stom, Young Man Reading by Candlelight


With Bacchus and Silenus

A poem (after Anacreon) by Pierre de Ronsard, translated by D.B. Wyndham Lewis in his biography Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), p. 48, n. 1:
For the Grand Turk I care nothing,
Nor for the Emperor either;
Gold does not enslave my life,
I bear no envy to kings;

My one and only care
Is to anoint my hair with perfume,
My concern is that a crown
Of flowers surrounds my head;

To-day's cares suffice me,
For to-morrow's I have no thought—
And who is able to foretell
Whether there be a to-morrow?

Vulcan, make me with your fine art
A deep goblet of silver
And with all your skill
Hollow its belly large

But do not grave around it
A sequence of stars,
Nor the celestial Chariot,
Nor troublesome Orion,

But a flourishing vine,
A smiling vine, laden
With bursting bunches,
With Bacchus and Silenus!
The French (id., pp. 47-48):
Du Grand Turc je n'ay soucy,
  Ny de l'Empereur aussi:
L'or n'attire point ma vie,
  Au Roys je ne porte envie:

J'ay soucy tant seulement
  D'oindre mon poil d'oignement,
J'ay soucy qu'une couronne
  De fleurs ma teste environne,

Le soin de ce jour me point,
  Du demain, je n'en ay point,
Et qui sçauroit bien cognoistre
  Si un lendemain doit estre?

Vulcan, fay moi d'un art gent
  Un creux gobelet d'argent,
Et de toute ta puissance
  Large creuse-luy la panse,

Et ne fay non point autour
  Des estoilles le retour,
Ny la Charrette celeste,
  Ny cet Orion moleste,

Mais bien un vignoble verd,
  Mais un cep riant, couvert
D'une grappe toute pleine
  Avec Bacchus et Silène!

Saturday, February 04, 2012


The Company of Saints

Erasmus, Convivium Religiosum (The Godly Feast, tr. Craig R. Thompson):
Sacred scripture is of course the basic authority for everything; yet I sometimes run across ancient sayings or pagan writings—even the poets— so purely and reverently and admirably expressed that I can't help believing their authors' hearts were moved by some divine power. And perhaps the spirit of Christ is more widespread than we understand, and the company of the saints includes many not in our calendar. Speaking frankly among friends, I can't read Cicero's De senectute, De amicitia, De officiis, De Tusculanis quaestionibus without sometimes kissing the book and blessing that pure heart, divinely inspired as it was.

Sacris quidem literis ubique prima debetur auctoritas; sed tamen ego nonnunquam offendo quaedam vel dicta a veteribus, vel scripta ab ethnicis, etiam poetis, tam caste, tam sancte, tam divinitus, ut mihi non possim persuadere, quin pectus illorum, quum illa scriberent, numen aliquod bonum agitaverit. Et fortasse latius se fundit spiritus Christi, quam nos interpretamur. Et multi sunt in consortio sanctorum, qui non sunt apud nos in catalogo. Fateor affectum meum apud amicos: non possum legere librum Ciceronis de Senectute, de Amicitia, de Officiis, de Tusculanis Quaestionibus, quin aliquotiens exosculer codicem ac venerer sanctum illud pectus, afflatum coeesti numine.
Later in the same colloquy, another character exclaims, "Saint Socrates, pray for us!" (Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis!) Among those I would like to see canonized is Erasmus.


Etymology and Definition of Teenager

Inspired by Arthur Golding's translation of a passage from Ovid, Eric Thomson proposes the following etymology and definition of teenager:
teenager, n. Pronunciation: /ˈtiːneɪdʒə(r)/ Forms: Also teen-ager.

Etymology: < † TEEN, v.1 + AGE n. + -ER suffix.

One who teens his or her parents, loosely, an adolescent.

† teen, v.1: To vex, irritate, annoy, anger, enrage, inflict suffering upon, afflict, harass, injure, harm.

Friday, February 03, 2012


The Holiness and Beauty of Night

Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod (1928), chapter VIII:
Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than with night. Primitive folk, gathered at a cave mouth round a fire, do not fear night; they fear, rather, the energies and creatures to whom night gives power; we of the age of the machines, having delivered ourselves of nocturnal enemies, now have a dislike of night itself. With lights and ever more lights, we drive the holiness and beauty of night back to the forests and the sea; the little villages, the crossroads even, will have none of it. Are modern folk, perhaps, afraid of night? Do they fear that vast serenity, the mystery of infinite space, the austerity of stars? Having made themselves at home in a civilization obsessed with power, which explains its whole world in terms of energy, do they fear at night for their dull acquiescence and the pattern of their beliefs? Be the answer what it will, to-day's civilization is full of people who have not the slightest notion of the character or the poetry of night, who have never even seen night. Yet to live thus, to know only artificial night, is as absurd and evil as to know only artificial day.

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