Tuesday, July 31, 2012



Cicero, Paradoxes of the Stoics 6.49 (tr. H. Rackham):
Which of us then is richer, the one who has a deficit or the one who has a surplus? the one who is in need or the one who has plenty? the one who requires more to keep him going the larger his property is, or the one who maintains himself by his own resources?

uter igitur est divitior, cui deest an cui superat? qui eget an qui abundat? cuius possessio quo est maior, eo plus requirit ad se tuendam, an quae suis se viribus sustinet?


A Little Higher than Crochet Work and a Little Lower than Chess Playing

E.R. Dodds (1893-1979), The Nature of University Studies in the Classics, quoted in Wayne Hankey, "Re-Evaluating E. R. Dodds' Platonism," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 103 (2007) 499-541 (at 506-507):
Composition is a means to an end; if it is treated as an end in itself, I fear it must fall into the class of elegant but useless accomplishments that once filled the too abundant leisure of the unemployed rich—its place on the scale of human values is perhaps—shall we say a little higher than crochet work and a little lower than chess playing? "A good composer" and "a good scholar" are not convertible terms. I have encountered brilliant composers who knew almost nothing of ancient civilisation or ancient thought, and did not care to understand the literature they could mimic so skilfully.
Related posts:


An Important Discovery

Bernard Lewis (1916-), Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian (New York: Viking: 2012), pp. 15-16:
At an early age I made an important discovery: that the pleasure of reading a book could be greatly increased and renewed at will if one actually owned it. To begin with, one could choose the time and place of reading the book, unconstrained by the need to return it to a library or other lawful owner. While reading, appreciation of any particular passage is enhanced by the comfortable awareness that it will always be there—the same words, the same lines, the same pages—whenever one might choose to return to it. And even when not actually reading the book, merely looking at it on the shelf evokes that special pleasure which one derives from the ownership of some beautiful and cherished object.

Robert Collinson, Absorbed in Robinson Crusoe

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Man the Architect of His Own Fortune?

There has been much debate recently about the antecedent of a pronoun in a speech delivered by President Obama on July 13, 2012, in Roanoke, Virginia:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
In the apodosis of the conditional sentence ("you didn't build that"), does the pronoun "that" refer back to the noun in the protasis ("if you've got a business"), or is the antecedent "roads and bridges" in the preceding sentence?

I have no opinion to express on the interpretation of the President's speech, but the controversy does remind me of some passages from Latin literature which claim that a man is the architect of his own fortune.

Plautus, Trinummus 363 (tr. Paul Nixon):
For I tell you, a man, a wise man, moulds his own destiny.

nam sapiens quidem pol ipsus fingit fortunam sibi.
Cicero, Paradoxes of the Stoics 5.34 (tr. H. Rackham; context = only the wise man is free):
...whose enterprises and courses of conduct all take their start from himself and likewise have their end in himself, there being no other thing that has more influence with him than his own will and judgement? to whom indeed Fortune, whose power is said to be supreme, herself submits—if, as the wise poet said, she is moulded for each man by his manners.

cuius omnia consilia, resque omnes, quas gerit, ab ipso proficiscuntur eodemque referuntur, nec est ulla res quae plus apud eum polleat quam ipsius voluntas atque iudicium? cui quidem etiam quae vim habere maximam dicitur fortuna ipsa cedit, si, ut sapiens poeta dixit, suis ea cuique fingitur moribus.
Pseudo-Sallust, Speech to Caesar 1.2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
But experience has shown that to be true which Appius says in his verses, that every man is the architect of his own fortune.

sed res docuit id verum esse, quod in carminibus Appius ait, fabrum esse suae quemque fortunae.
Cornelius Nepos, Life of Atticus 11.6 (tr. J.S. Watson):
He accordingly made it appear, to have been truly said, that "Every man's manners make his fortune."

itaque hic fecit ut vere dictum videatur: sui cuique mores fingunt fortunam hominibus.
For more parallels see Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #96 (pp. 112-113), where however on p. 113 the reference to "Fulgence, Exposio Virgilinae continentiae" should (I think) be corrected to "Fulgence, Expositio Virgilianae continentiae".

Thanks to the friend and benefactor who gave me a copy of the French translation of Tosi's dictionary of Latin and Greek proverbs, a most welcome addition to my library. "If I've got a library—I didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Or, as Ben Jonson wrote in An Epistle to a Friend, lines 4-6:
You have unto my Store added a Book,
On which with profit, I shall never look,
But must confess from whom what gift I took.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


The Farmer as Benefactor

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Farming:
He is the continuous benefactor. He who digs a well, constructs a stone fountain, plants a grove of trees by the roadside, plants an orchard, builds a durable house, reclaims a swamp, or so much as puts a stone seat by the wayside, makes the land so far lovely and desirable, makes a fortune which he cannot carry away with him, but which is useful to his country long afterwards. The man that works at home helps society at large with somewhat more of certainty than he who devotes himself to charities.


Pulpit Trees

John Clare (1793-1864), Remembrances, lines 21-30:
When jumping time away on old cross berry way
And eating awes like sugar plumbs ere they had lost the may
And skipping like a leveret before the peep of day
On the rolly polly up and downs of pleasant swordy well
When in round oaks narrow lane as the south got black again    25
We sought the hollow ash that was shelter from the rain
With our pockets full of peas we had stolen from the grain
How delicious was the dinner time on such a showry day
O words are poor receipts for what time hath stole away
The ancient pulpit trees and the play    30
Id., lines 61-70:
By Langley bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill
On cowper green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And the spreading lea close oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And cross berry way and old round oaks narrow lane    65
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again
Inclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors—though the brook is running still
It runs a sicker brook cold and chill    70
The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. pulpit, lists many compounds, but not pulpit-tree (Clare, line 30; cf. line 66). Remembrances is a poem of Clare's Northborough period (1832-1837). So far as I can determine from Google Books, this is the earliest appearance of the compound, which next seems to appear in John Stoughton (1807-1897), Spiritual Heroes; or, Sketches of the Puritans, Their Character and Times (New York: M.W. Dodd, 1848), p. 310, discussing Francis Holcroft (1628/9?–1692):
Till within a few years, there also remained in the midst of the wood, serving as a shelter for the confessor in bonds, a fine old oak, known through all the neighborhood as the pulpit-tree. The manorial houses and manorial trees of Great Britain are among the most interesting of our national relics. They possess a mystic meaning, unlocked by traditionary associations, as by the key of a hierophant; and surely, among such objects, the old tree, now hewn down, and the manor house still standing at Eversden, deserve to be classed. There was once the Gospel Beech in the wolds of Gloucestershire; and there is still the Gospel Oak at Stonely, near Wolverhampton, "favorable," as Strutt says, "to thought and devotion—to the reveries of the philosopher on ages past, and the contemplation of the Christian on the ages to come." Holcroft's pulpit-tree may be added to these; and the thought of it, with its more distinct legend, and more hallowed associations, will possess, I doubt not, the mind of many a reader as the image of a sort of Christian Dodona, beneath whose branches there used to sound the voice of an oracle, more wise and true than Greece, in the olden time, had ever heard.
Enough other occurrences of pulpit-tree appear in Google Books to suggest that the compound should perhaps merit inclusion in the OED. A similar expression used by Stoughton (Gospel Oak) appears among the compounds of gospel in the OED (cf. gospel-tree, also listed among compounds of gospel).

Hat tip: Robert J. O'Hara.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Handel as Stingy Host

From Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins, Anecdotes, Biographical Sketches and Memoirs (1822), as quoted in Edward F. Rimbault, "Goupy's Caricature of Handel," Notes and Queries (April 1, 1876) 263-265 (at 264):
At a time when Handel's circumstances were less prosperous than they had been, he invited Goupy to dine with him. The meal was plain and frugal, as he had warned his guest it must be; and for this Handel again apologized, adding that he would give him as hearty a welcome as when he could treat with claret and French dishes. Goupy returned a cordial reply; and they dined. Soon after dinner, Handel left the room, and his absence was so long, that Goupy at last, for want of other employ, strolled into the adjoining back-room, and walking up to a window, which looked diagonally on that of a small third room, he saw his host sitting at a table covered with such delicacies as he had lamented his inability to afford his friend. Goupy, to whom possibly such viands had little less relish than to his host, was so enraged, that he quitted the house abruptly, and published the engraving or etching—for my memory does not retain the fact accurately—in which Handel figures as a hog in the midst of dainties.
Miss Hawkin's father, Sir John Hawkins, the source of the story, was an acquaintance of Handel.

Here is Goupy's cartoon, titled The Charming Brute:

The following verses appear at the bottom of the cartoon:
The Figure's odd—yet who wou'd think,
Within this Tun of Meat and Drink,
There dwells a soul of soft Desires,
And all that HARMONY inspires?

Can contrast such as this be found?
Upon the Globe's extensive Round,
There can—yon Hogshead is his seat,
His sole Devotion is to Eat.
For a full account of this incident, see Ellen T. Harris, "Joseph Goupy and George Frideric Handel: From Professional Triumphs to Personal Estrangement," The Huntington Library Quarterly 71.3 (2008) 397-452 (at 432-436).

A similar story appears in Charles Burney, An Account of the Musical Performances in Westminster-Abbey...in Commemoration of Handel (London: Printed for the Benefit of the Musical Fund, 1785), p. 32, note a:
The late Mr. Brown, leader of his majesty's band, used to tell me several stories of HANDEL's love of good cheer, liquid and solid, as well as of his impatience. Of the former he gave an instance, which was accidentally discovered at his own house in Brook-street, where Brown, in the Oratorio season, among other principal performers, was at dinner. During the repast, Handel often cried out—" Oh—I have de taught;" when the company, unwilling that, out of civility to them, the public should be robbed of any thing so valuable as his musical ideas, begged he would retire and write them down; with which request, however, he so frequently complied, that, at last, one of the most suspicious had the ill-bred curiosity to peep through the keyhole into the adjoining room; where he perceived that dese taughts were only bestowed on a fresh hamper of Burgundy, which, as was afterwards discovered, he had received in a present from his friend, the late lord Radnor, while his company was regaled with more generous and spirited port.
Related post: Stingy Hosts.

Thanks to Eric Thomson, who provided most of the material for this post.


You Are an Eccentric Female

Letter from H.J. Rose to Dorothy Sayers (November 9, 1954), quoted in Domenico Accorinti, "Herbert Jennings Rose (1883–1961): The Scholar and His Correspondents," Illinois Classical Studies 33–34 (2008–2009) 65-107 (at 101):
You are an eccentric female to expect poets to mean something. The modern trend of criticism (or is it yesterday’s trend? Fashions succeed with dizzying haste these days) seems to be that poets should signify nothing much, but evoke emotions after a manner which to my ear suggests the remarks of Frère Jehan during the storm. As Gilbert might have said if he had been born later,
The meaning doesn’t matter if it’s only idle chatter
Of a Freudo-Jungian kind.
But of course you are interested in Dante, who was so höchst unmodern that he actually believed something and could reason about it intelligibly. Consequently he committed the gross solecism of writing verses which conveyed some kind of meaning to a reasonably careful reader. Perhaps, in his corner of the Elysian Authors' Club, he now amuses his fellow-members by remarks, not too polite, on sundry productions of the last thirty of forty years.
For "the remarks of Frère Jehan during the storm" see Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, book V, chapters 19-24. Rose modernizes "The meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter of a transcendental kind," from Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience.

Friday, July 27, 2012


More Feline Dedicatees of Books

Guy Davenport (1927-2005) dedicated a book of stories to his cat Humphrey. See Guy Davenport and Nicholas Kilmer, "Fragments from a Correspondence," Arion, Ser. 3, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Winter, 2006) 89-130 (at 127, Kilmer's note 31):
Although Guy always, in his letters to me, spelled Humphrey's name with an "e," The Jules Verne Steam Balloon (San Francisco: North Point Press 1987), is dedicated "To my friend Humphry 1971-1986."
Polyaenus, Stratagems of War, Volume I: Books 1-5. Edited and Translated by Peter Krentz and Everett L. Wheeler (Chicago: Ares, 1994), preface, p. v:
Wheeler would like to dedicate this work to his cat J.B., who loves to read Greek, and Krentz to his three sons Tyler, Will, and John, who are still too young to read at all.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson (on Davenport's dedication) and David Whitehead (on Wheeler's dedication).

Related post: Feline Dedicatees of Scholarly Books.


Senicide, Part IV

Strabo 10.5.6 (on Ceos; tr. W. Falconer):
There was an ancient law among these people, mentioned by Menander.

"Phanias, that is a good law of the Ceans; who cannot live comfortably (or well), let him not live miserably (or ill)."'

For the law, it seems, ordained that those above sixty years old should be compelled to drink hemlock, in order that there might be sufficient food for the rest. It is said that once when they were besieged by the Athenians, a decree was passed to the effect that the oldest persons, fixing the age, should be put to death, and that the besiegers retired in consequence.

παρὰ τούτοις δὲ δοκεῖ τεθῆναί ποτε νόμος, οὗ μέμνηται καὶ Μένανδρος
Καλὸν τὸ Κείων νόμιμόν ἐστι, Φανία:
ὁ μὴ δυνάμενος ζῆν καλῶς οὐ ζῇ κακῶς.
προσέταττε γάρ, ὡς ἔοικεν, ὁ νόμος τοὺς ὑπὲρ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη γεγονότας κωνειάζεσθαι καὶ τοῦ διαρκεῖν τοῖς ἄλλοις τὴν τροφήν: καὶ πολιορκουμένους δέ ποτε ὑπ' Ἀθηναίων ψηφίσασθαί φασι τοὺς πρεσβυτάτους ἐξ αὐτῶν ἀποθανεῖν, ὁρισθέντος πλήθους ἐτῶν, τοὺς δὲ παύσασθαι πολιορκοῦντας.
Aelian, Varia Historia 3.37 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
There is a law at Ceos that those who are extremely elderly invite each as if going to a party or to a festival with sacrifices, meet, put on garlands and drink hemlock. This they do when they become aware that they are incapable of performing tasks useful to their country, and that their judgment is by now rather feeble owing to the passing of time.

Νόμος ἐστὶ Κείων, οἱ πάνυ παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς γεγηρακότες, ὥσπερ ἐπὶ ξένια παρακαλοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς ἢ επί τινα ἑορταστικὴν θυσίαν, συνελθόντες καὶ στεφανωσάμενοι πίνουσι κώνειον, ὅταν ἑαυτοῖς συνειδῶσιν ὅτι πρὸς τὰ ἔργα τὰ τῇ πατρίδι λυσιτελοῦντα ἄχρηστοί εἰσιν, ὑποληρούσης ἤδη τι αὐτοῖς καὶ τῆς γνώμης διὰ τὸν χρόνον.
Aelian, Varia Historia 4.1 (tr. N.G. Wilson):
It was a custom in Sardinia that the children of aged parents beat them to death with clubs and buried them, in the belief that it was wrong for the excessively old to continue living, since the body, suffering through age, had many failings....The Derbiccae kill those who are seventy years of age. They sacrifice the men and strangle the women.

Νόμος ἐστὶ Σαρδῷος, τοὺς ἤδη γεγηρακότας τῶν πατέρων οἱ παῖδες ῥοπάλοις τύπτοντες ἀνῄρουν καὶ ἔθαπτον, αἰσχρὸν ἡγούμενοι τὸν λίαν ὑπέργηρων ὄντα ζῆν ἔτι, ὡς πολλὰ ἁμαρτάνοντος τοῦ σώματος τοῦ διὰ τὸ γῆρας πεπονηκότος.....Δερβίκκαι τοὺς ὑπὲρ ἑβδομήκοντα ἔτη βεβιωκότας ἀποκτείνουσι, τοὺς μὲν ἄνδρας καταθύοντες, ἀπάγχοντες δὲ τὰς γυναῖκας.
Erasistratus, fragment 3 Garofalo = Stobaeus 3.5.57 (my translation):
Erasistratus of Cos [sic], being already old and having an incurable sore on his foot, said, "It's good that I remember my native land." And he drank hemlock to the last drop.

Ἐρασίστρατος ὁ Κῷος ἤδη γεραιὸς ὢν ἕλκος ἐπὶ τοῦ ποδὸς δυσίατον ἔχων "εὖ γε" εἶπεν "ὅτι τῆς πατρίδος ὑπομιμνήσκομαι," καὶ κώνειον πιὼν κατέστρεψεν.
Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica, s.v. Ioulis (a city on Ceos; vol. I, p. 335, lines 8-13 Meineke; my translation):
Among them a law was established, as Menander [says]:
Good is the custom of the Ceans, Phanias,
He who is unable to live well, will not live badly.
For it ordered those over sixty years of age to be given hemlock, so that there would be enough food for the others.

παρ' οἷς νόμος ἐτέθη, ὡς Μένανδρος
καλὸν τὸ Κείων νόμιμόν ἐστι, Φανία,
ὁ μὴ δυνάμενος ζῆν καλῶς οὐ ζῇ κακῶς.
προσέταττε γὰρ τοὺς ὑπὲρ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη κωνειάζεσθαι, τοῦ διαρκεῖν τοῖς ἄλλοις τὴν τροφήν.
Meleager, in Greek Anthology 7.470 (tr. W.R. Paton):
A. "Tell him who enquires, who and whose son thou art." B. "Philaulus son of Eucratides." A. "And from whence dost thou say?" B. "..." A. "What livelihood didst thou choose when alive?" B. "Not that from the plough nor that from ships, but that which is gained in the society of sages." A. "Didst thou depart this life from old age or from sickness?" B. "Of my own will I came to Hades, having drunk of the Cean cup." A. "Wast thou old?" B. "Yea, very old." A. "May the earth that rests on thee be light, for the life thou didst lead was in accordance with wisdom and reason."

α. Εἶπον ἀνειρομένῳ τίς καὶ τίνος ἐσσί. β. φίλαυλος
  Εὐκρατίδεω. α. Ποδαπὸς δ᾽ εὔχεαι ...
α. Ἔζησας δὲ τίνα στέργων βίον; β. Οὐ τὸν ἀρότρου,
  οὐδὲ τὸν ἐκ νηῶν, τὸν δὲ σοφοῖς ἕταρον.
α. Γήραϊ δ᾽ ἢ νηῶν βίον ἔλλιπες; β. Ἤλυθον ᾍδαν
  αὐτοθελεί, Κείων γευσάμενος κυλίκων.
α. Ἠ πρέσβυς; β. Καὶ κάρτα. α. Λάχοι νύ σε βῶλος ἐλαφρὴ
  σύμφωνον πινυτῷ σχόντα λόγῳ βίοτον.
Related posts:

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Feline Dedicatees of Scholarly Books

John T. Ramsey, "David Roy Shackleton Bailey, 10 December 1917 · 28 November 2005," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 152.2 (June 2008) 267-278 (at 274):
It is widely known in scholarly circles that Shack dedicated volume one of the Letters to Atticus (1965) to Donum ("to the Gift of gifts, the whitest cat," Dono donorum aeluro candidissimo). What is perhaps less well known but deserves to be pointed out is that "Max," to whom Shack dedicated his Onomasticon to Cicero's Letters (1995) was a brown tabby, originally Kristine's cat, whose passing Shack greatly mourned.

Ernest Biéler (1863-1948), Portrait of Édouard Rod

Related posts:



Thanks to Alan Crease for introducing me to the word mumpsimus, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "A person who obstinately adheres to old ways in spite of clear evidence that they are wrong; an ignorant and bigoted opponent of reform."

The origin of the word mumpsimus is interesting:
< post-classical Latin mumpsimus (1517 in R. Pace De Fructu), use as noun of mumpsimus, an error for classical Latin sumpsimus 'we have taken' (see SUMPSIMUS n.), apparently in allusion to the story (1516 in Erasmus) of an illiterate English priest, who when corrected for reading 'quod ore mumpsimus' in the Mass, replied, 'I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus'.
The word first occurs in a letter from Erasmus to Henry Bullock (August 1516; tr. Francis Morgan Nichols):
Again, let them clear up, if they can, this dilemma. Do they allow any change to be made in the sacred text, or absolutely none at all? If any, why not first examine whether a change is rightly made or not? If none, what will they do with those passages where the existence of an error is too manifest to be concealed? Will they desire to follow the example of the priest, who having been used to say mumpsimus for twenty years, refused to change his practice, when told that he ought to read sumpsimus?

quin et illud dilemma, si possint, explicent: utrum permittunt aliquid novari in sacris libris an omnino nihil? si quicquam permittunt, cur non excutiunt potius recte mutatum sit necne? sin minus, quid facient illis locis in quibus mendum inesse manifestius est quam ut negari dissimularive possit? an hic sacrificum illum malint imitari, qui suum 'mumpsimus', quo fuerat viginti usus annos, mutare noluit, admonitus a quopiam 'sumpsimus' esse legendum?
The word quickly gained currency, e.g. in a letter from Richard Pace to Erasmus (August 5, 1517; tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
I really wonder, dear Erasmus, why you spend so much time in your letter on pacifying those donkeys listening to the lyre, unless perhaps the object of your elegant and authoritative letter was to deter other men of the same kidney (a difficult task) from making similar fools of themselves. They ought to be satisfied by your story of our mass-priest and his mumpsimus for sumpsimus. If, however, you wish to go further and attack them in print, I have one request to make of you, that you head your letter to them 'To the College of Numbskulls, with my worst wishes,' and let your first sentence begin 'Off with you to the bottomless pit of ignorance, you mere useless burden on the earth.'

sane miror, mi Erasme, cur in epistola tua tam longa oratione usus es ad istos asinos ad lyram placandos; nisi fortasse illud eleganti gravique epistola agere velles, ut alios quoque id genus homines (quod difficile est) a consimili fatuitate deterreres. satis enim erat istis illud quod scripsisti de 'mumpsimus' et 'sumpsimus' nostri sacrifici. quod si ulterius progredi et in eos scribere vis, cupio hoc unum abs te impetrare, ut hoc titulo epistolam ad illos scribas: Τῇ τῶν ἀνοήτων συνόδῳ κακῶς πράττειν. principium autem epistole detur: Ἄπαγε εἰς τὸ βάραθρον τῆς ἀμαθίας ὑμεῖς, ἀτεχνῶς ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης.
For more information see Peter Marshall, "Mumpsimus and Sumpsimus: The Intellectual Origins of a Henrician Bon Mot," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 52 (2001) 512-520.


Lawrence Durrell on Horace

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), On First Looking into Loeb's Horace:
I found your Horace with the writing in it;
Out of time and context came upon
This lover of vines and slave to quietness,
Walking like a figure of smoke here, musing
Among his high and lovely Tuscan pines.

All the small-holder's ambitions, the yield
Of wine-bearing grape, pruning and drainage
Laid out by laws, almost like the austere
Shell of his verses – a pattern of Latin thrift;
Waiting so patiently in a library for
Autumn and the drying of the apples;
The betraying hour-glass and its deathward drift.

Surely the hard blue winterset
Must have conveyed a message to him –
The premonitions that the garden heard
Shrunk in its shirt of hair beneath the stars,
How rude and feeble a tenant was the self,
An Empire, the body with its members dying –
And unwhistling now the vanished Roman bird?

The fruit-trees dropping apples; he counted them;
The soft bounding fruit on leafy terraces,
And turned to the consoling winter rooms
Where, facing south, began the great prayer,
With his reed laid upon the margins
Of the dead, his stainless authors,
Upright, severe on an uncomfortable chair.

Here, where your clear hand marked up
'The hated cypress' I added 'Because it grew
On tombs, revealed his fear of autumn and the urns',
Depicting a solitary at an upper window
Revising metaphors for the winter sea: 'O
Dark head of storm-tossed curls'; or silently
Watching the North Star which like a fever burns

Away the envy and neglect of the common,
Shining on this terrace, lifting up in recreation
The sad heart of Horace who must have seen it only
As a metaphor for the self and its perfection –
A burning heart quite constant in its station.

Easy to be patient in the summer,
The light running like fishes among the leaves,
Easy in August with its cones of blue
Sky uninvaded from the north; but winter
With its bareness pared his words to points
Like stars, leaving them pure but very few.

He will not know how we discerned him, disregarding
The pose of sufficiency, the landed man,
Found a suffering limb on the great Latin tree
Whose roots live in the barbarian grammar we
Use, yet based in him, his mason's tongue;
Describing clearly a bachelor, sedentary,
With a fond weakness for bronze-age conversation,
Disguising a sense of failure in a hatred for the young,

Who built in the Sabine hills this forgery
Of completeness, an orchard with a view of Rome;
Who studiously developed his sense of death
Till it was all around him, walking at the circus,
At the baths, playing dominoes in a shop –
The escape from self-knowledge with its tragic
Imperatives: Seek, suffer, endure. The Roman
In him feared the Law and told him where to stop.

So perfect a disguise for one who had
Exhausted death in art – yet who could guess
You would discern the liar by a line,
The suffering hidden under gentleness
And add upon the flyleaf in your tall
Clear hand: 'Fat, human and unloved,
And held from loving by a sort of wall,
Laid down his books and lovers one by one,
Indifference and success had crowned them all.'
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Gildersleeve's Sonnet on Horace

B.L. Gildersleeve enclosed a sonnet on Horace in a letter (dated April 28, 1920) to Paul Shorey, who edited Horace's Odes and Epodes (1898; rev. 1910). The sonnet is titled "Ad Leuconoen" and its opening quatrain paraphrases Horace's ode to Leuconoe (1.11):
Pry not into God's secrets, fair Lenore
Nor ask what end He hath decreed for us
Try not the fortune teller's abacus,
But bear whate'er the future hath in store.

This is the substance of Horatian lore,
O'er which the world has made a needless fuss.
For this self-styled vates Horatius
But curled the tails his fellow-porkers bore.

His motto was: I do not care a Damn.
His business was to pilfer from the Greek;
Most of his thefts have 'scaped the eye of day.

But all his loves are a transparent sham.
Mark you, against the bard I have no peak
I've just set down what Tyrrell has to say.
Robert Y. Tyrrell had his say on "Horatiolatry" in his lectures on Latin Poetry (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895), pp. 162-215. The "fellow-porkers" (line 8 of Gildersleeve's sonnet) are followers of Epicurus. Horace famously called himself a pig from Epicurus' sty (Epistles 1.4.16). In the penultimate line, "peak" is an alternate spelling of "pique."

Escutcheon of Laudator Temporis Acti, a "fellow-porker":

Update: Eric Thomson, slightly altering Dante, gives this salutary warning to porkers:
Fatty non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Charm for Making a Barren Tree Bear

H.J. Rose, "The Folklore of the Geoponica," Folklore 44 (1933) 57-90 (at 75-76):
Perhaps the most interesting charm is that in x.83, 1-2, for making a barren tree bear. "Gird yourself and take an axe, double or single-bladed. Go angrily towards the tree, as though you would cut it down. Now let someone approach you and beg you not to cut it down, saying that he will guarantee it to bear in future. Pretend to believe him and to spare the tree. It will then bear freely." It is to be noted that the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree (Luke xiii.6) assumes the existence of this very custom.
The Greek is on p. 319 of Heinrich Beckh's edition, Geoponica sive Cassiani Bassi Scholastici De Re Rustica Eclogae (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1895), with the chapter heading Δένδρον ἄκαρπον καρποφορεῖν. Ζωροάστρου:
[1] Συζωσάμενος καὶ ἀνακομβωσάμενος, καὶ λαβὼν πέλεκην ἢ ἀξίνην, μετὰ θυμοῦ πρόσελθε τῷ δένδρῳ, ἐκκόψαι τοῦτο βουλόμενος. [2] προσελθόντος δὲ σοί τινος, καὶ παραιτουμένου τὴν τούτου ἀποκοπήν, ὡς ἐγγυητοῦ περὶ τοῦ μέλλοντος καρποῦ γινομένου, δόξον πείθεσθαι καὶ φείδεσθαι τοῦ δένδρου, καὶ εὐφορήσει τοῦ λοιποῦ.
Luke 13.6-9:
[6] A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. [7] Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? [8] And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: [9] And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

[6] Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν. [7] εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν, Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ’ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον αὐτήν· ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ; [8] ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια· [9] κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον – εἰ δὲ μήγε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.
Richard Chenevix Trench, Notes on the Parables of our Lord, new and rev. ed. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1878), p. 256, n. 1:
Rosenmüller (Alte und Neue Morgenland, vol. v. p. 187) quotes from an Arabian writer this receipt for curing a palm-tree of barrenness: 'Thou must take a hatchet, and go to the tree with a friend, unto whom thou sayest, I will cut down this tree, for it is unfruitful. He answers, Do not so, this year it will certainly bear fruit. But the other says, It must needs be,—it must be hewn down; and gives the stem of the tree three blows with the back of the hatchet. His friend restrains him, crying, Nay, do it not, thou wilt certainly have fruit from it this year, only have patience, and be not overhasty in cutting it down; if it still refuses to bear fruit, then cut it down. Then will the tree that year be certainly fruitful and bear abundantly.' Compare Rückert, Brahmanische Erzählungen; S. de Sacy, Chrest. Arabe, vol. ii. p. 379; the same reappearing in the collection of tracts De Re Rusticâ, entitled Geoponica.
Note that Geoponica attributes the charm to Zoroaster.

J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Vol. II (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1911), pp. 21-22 (footnotes omitted):
Near Jugra in Selangor there is a small grove of durian-trees, and on a specially chosen day the villagers used to assemble in it. Thereupon one of the local sorcerers would take a hatchet and deliver several shrewd blows on the trunk of the most barren of the trees, saying, "Will you now bear fruit or not? If you do not, I shall fell you." To this the tree replied through the mouth of another man who had climbed a mangostin-tree hard by (the durian-tree being unclimbable), "Yes, I will now bear fruit; I beg of you not to fell me." So in Japan to make trees bear fruit two men go into an orchard. One of them climbs up a tree and the other stands at the foot with an axe. The man with the axe asks the tree whether it will yield a good crop next year and threatens to cut it down if it does not. To this the man among the branches replies on behalf of the tree that it will bear abundantly. Odd as this mode of horticulture may seem to us, it has its exact parallels in Europe. On Christmas Eve many a South Slavonian and Bulgarian peasant swings an axe threateningly against a barren fruit-tree, while another man standing by intercedes for the menaced tree, saying, "Do not cut it down; it will soon bear fruit." Thrice the axe is swung, and thrice the impending blow is arrested at the entreaty of the intercessor. After that the frightened tree will certainly bear fruit next year. So at the village of Ucria in Sicily, if a tree obstinately refuses to bear fruit, the owner pretends to hew it down. Just as the axe is about to fall, a friend intercedes for the tree, begging him to have patience for one year more, and promising not to interfere again if the culprit has not mended his ways by then. The owner grants his request, and the threatened Sicilians say that a tree seldom remains deaf to such a menace. The ceremony is performed on Easter Saturday. In Armenia the same pantomime is sometimes performed by two men for the same purpose on Good Friday. In the Abruzzi the ceremony takes place before sunrise on the morning of St. John's Day (Midsummer Day). The owner threatens the trees which are slow to bear fruit. Thrice he walks round each sluggard repeating his threat and striking the trunk with the head of an axe. In Lesbos, when an orange-tree or a lemon-tree does not bear fruit, the owner will sometimes set a looking-glass before the tree; then standing with an axe in his hand over against the tree and gazing at its reflection in the glass he will feign to fall into a passion and will say aloud, "Bear fruit, or I'll cut you down." When cabbages merely curl their leaves instead of forming heads as they ought to do, an Esthonian peasant will go out into the garden before sunrise, clad only in his shirt, and armed with a scythe, which he sweeps over the refractory vegetables as if he meant to cut them down. This intimidates the cabbages and brings them to a sense of their duty.


A Worshipper at Pan's Shrine

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers ("Sunday"):
In my Pantheon, Pan still reigns in his pristine glory, with his ruddy face, his flowing beard, and his shaggy body, his pipe and his crook, his nymph Echo, and his chosen daughter Iambe; for the great god Pan is not dead, as was rumored. No god ever dies. Perhaps of all the gods of New England and of ancient Greece, I am most constant at his shrine.
Related posts:

Monday, July 23, 2012



Moses Hadas, Hellenistic Culture: Fusion and Diffusion (1959; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), p. 119:
When the present has no room for glory men find solace in the glories of the past.


Hard Study Without Sense or Breeding

David Mallet (1701/2?–1765), Of Verbal Criticism, 15-34:
In error obstinate, in wrangling loud,    15
For trifles eager, positive, and proud;
Deep in the darkness of dull authors bred,
With all their refuse lumber'd in his head,
What every dunce from every dunghill drew
Of literary offals, old or new,    20
Forth steps at last the self-applauding Wight,
Of points and letters, chaff and straws, to write:
Sagely resolv'd to swell each bulky piece
With venerable toys, from Rome and Greece;
How oft, in HOMER, PARIS curl'd his hair;    25
If ARISTOTLE's Cap were round or square;
If in the cave, where DIDO first was sped,
To Tyre she turn'd her heels, to Troy her head.

Such the choice anecdotes, profound and vain,
That store a BENTLEY's and a BURMAN's brain:    30
Hence, PLATO quoted, or the Stagyrite,
To prove that flame ascends, and snow is white:
Hence, much hard study without sense or breeding,
And all the grave impertinence of reading.
Id., 79-88:
Blest Genius! who bestows his oil and pains
On each dull passage, each dull book contains;    80
The toil more grateful, as the task more low:
So Carrion is the quarry of a Crow.
Where his fam'd Author's page is flat and poor,
There, most exact the reading to restore;
By dint of plodding, and by sweat of face,    85
A bull to change, a blunder to replace:
Whate'er is refuse critically gleaning,
And mending nonsense into doubtful meaning.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Vergil, Georgics, Book I

Jorge Luis Borges, in a list of Talismans, included "Lines of Virgil and Frost" ("Líneas de Virgilio y de Frost"). A line in Vergil's Georgics (1.412) recently struck me as talismanic or magical, a line describing birds which are "charmed by some unfamiliar sweet impulse we cannot guess at" (C. Day Lewis' translation of "nescio qua praeter solitum dulcedine laeti").

Some might find the line flat and pedestrian, rather than magical and musical. Many Latin poets seem to have avoided the preposition praeter as prosaic, according to Bertil Axelson, Unpoetische Wörter: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der lateinischen Dichtersprache (Lund, 1945), pp. 81-82, n. 70, and in his Commentary on Ovid, Epistulae Ex Ponto, Book 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), Jan Felix Gaertner includes nescioquis in Appendix B = Prosaic Expressions (pp. 532-534, at 532).

Here are some excerpts from Vergil, Georgics, Book I (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):

From the first, Nature laid these laws and eternal covenants on certain lands, even from the day when Deucalion threw stones into the empty world, whence sprang men, a stony race.

continuo has leges aeternaque foedera certis
imposuit natura locis, quo tempore primum
Deucalion vacuum lapides iactavit in orbem,
unde homines nati, durum genus.
The great Father himself has willed that the path of husbandry should not run smooth, who first made art awake the fields, sharpening men's wits by care, nor letting his kingdom slumber in heavy lethargy.

                                                 pater ipse colendi
haud facilem esse viam voluit, primusque per artem
movit agros, curis acuens mortalia corda
nec torpere gravi passus sua regna veterno.
Toil triumphed over every obstacle, unrelenting Toil, and Want that pinches when life is hard.

                                    labor omnia vicit
improbus et duris urgens in rebus egestas.
Therefore, unless your hoe is ever ready to assail the weeds, your voice to terrify the birds, your knife to check the shade over the darkened land, and your prayers to invoke the rain, in vain, poor man, you will gaze on your neighbour's large store of grain, and you will be shaking oaks in the woods to assuage your hunger.

quod nisi et adsiduis herbam insectabere rastris
et sonitu terrebis avis et ruris opaci
falce premes umbras votisque vocaveris imbrem,
heu magnum alterius frustra spectabis acervum
concussaque famem in silvis solabere quercu.
I can repeat for you many olden maxims, unless you shrink back and are loath to learn such trivial cares.

possum multa tibi veterum praecepta referre,
ni refugis tenuisque piget cognoscere curas.
Thus by law of fate all things speed towards the worse and slipping away fall back even as if one, whose oars can scarce force his skiff against the stream, should by chance slacken his arms, and lo! headlong down the current the channel sweeps it away.

                                    sic omnia fatis
in peius ruere ac retro sublapsa referri,
non aliter quam qui adverso vix flumine lembum
remigiis subigit, si bracchia forte remisit,
atque illum in praeceps prono rapit alveus amni.
In cold weather farmers chiefly enjoy their gains, and feast together in merry companies. Winter's cheer calls them, and loosens the weight of care...

frigoribus parto agricolae plerumque fruuntur
mutuaque inter se laeti convivia curant.
invitat genialis hiems curasque resolvit...
Then the rooks, with narrowed throat, thrice or four times repeat their soft cries, and oft in their high nests, joyous with some strange, unwonted delight, chatter to each other amid the leaves.

tum liquidas corvi presso ter gutture voces
aut quater ingeminant, et saepe cubilibus altis
nescio qua praeter solitum dulcedine laeti
inter se in foliis strepitant.
For here are right and wrong inverted; so many wars overrun the world, sin walks in so many shapes; respect for the plough is gone; our lands, robbed of the tillers, lie waste, and curved pruning hooks are forged into straight blades.

quippe ubi fas versum atque nefas: tot bella per orbem,
tam multae scelerum facies, non ullus aratro
dignus honos, squalent abductis arva colonis,
et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


An Ode by Conrad Celtis

Conrad Celtis (1459-1508), Odes 1.16 (tr. Reinhard P. Becker)
To Sepulus, the Superstitious

You wonder why I don't murmur prayers
in church grinding my teeth.
This is the reason: the powers in heaven
hear also the silent prayers within me.
You wonder why but rarely you see me
shuffle my feet about in temples.
God lives in us, so I don't have to stare
at him in the pictures of painted idols.
You wonder why I prefer to go
into fields with running brooks and sunshine.
Here appears the Almighty to me in his splendor
and here his temples tower around me.
The Muses, too, love the woods, but hostile
to poets are cities and raging mobs.
So go and make fun of my faith with your stupid
prattle, Sepulus, fool that you are.

Ad Sepulum disidaemonem

Miraris nullis templis mea labra moveri
    murmure dentifrago.
est ratio, taciti quia cernunt pectoris ora
    numina magna poli.
miraris videas raris me templa deorum
    passibus obterere.
est deus in nobis, non est quod numina pictis
    aedibus intuear.
miraris campos liquidos Phoebumque calentem
    me cupidum expetere.
hic mihi magna Iovis subit omnipotentis imago,
    templaque summa dei.
silva placet musis, urbs est inimica poetis,
    et male sana cohors.
i nunc, et stolidis deride numina verbis
    nostra procax Sepule.
Related post: A New Creed.


A Prayer of Thanks

Moses Hadas, Hellenistic Culture: Fusion and Diffusion (1959; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), p. 71:
At the end of each tractate of the Talmud, even where the subject is torts or contracts, there is a formula to be recited by those who have finished studying it. In part it runs as follows:
I thank thee my God and God of my Fathers that thou hast set my lot among those that sit in the house of study and hast not set my lot among those that sit at the street corners: for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for things of study and they rise early for things of vanity; I toil and they toil, but I toil and receive reward and they toil and do not receive reward; I hasten and they hasten, but they hasten to the pit of destruction and I hasten to life in the world to come.

Friday, July 20, 2012


The Curse and Scourge of the Wilderness

William H.H. Murray, Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1869), pp. 16-17:
The fact is, nothing could induce me to visit Maine. If I was going east at all, I should keep on, nor stop until I reached the Provinces. I could never bring my mind to pass a month in Maine, with the North Woods within forty-eight hours of me. I will tell you why. Go where you will, in Maine, the lumbermen have been before you; and lumbermen are the curse and scourge of the wilderness. Wherever the axe sounds, the pride and beauty of the forest disappear. A lumbered district is the most dreary and dismal region the eye of man ever beheld. The mountains are not merely shorn of trees, but from base to summit fires, kindled by accident or malicious purpose, have swept their sides, leaving the blackened rocks exposed to the eye, and here and there a few unsightly trunks leaning in all directions, from which all the branches and green foliage have been burnt away. The streams and trout-pools are choked with saw-dust, and filled with slabs and logs. The rivers are blockaded with "booms" and lodged timber, stamped all over the ends with the owner's "mark." Every eligible site for a camp has been appropriated; and bones, offal, horse-manure, and all the débris of a deserted lumbermen's village is strewn around, offensive both to eye and nose. The hills and shores are littered with rotten wood, in all stages of decomposition, emitting a damp, mouldy odor, and sending forth countless millions of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes to prey upon you. Now, no number of deer, no quantities of trout, can entice me to such a locality. He who fancies it can go; not I.



Just Fooling

Excerpt from Abraham Flexner, "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge," commencement address, Bryn Mawr College, June 2, 1937; first published in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (July, 1937):
Let us look in another direction. In the domain of medicine and public health the science of bacteriology has played for half a century the leading role. What is its story? Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the German government founded the University of Strasbourg. Its first professor of anatomy was Wilhelm von Waldeyer, subsequently professor of anatomy in Berlin. In his "Reminiscences" he relates that among the students who went with him to Strasbourg during his first semester there, there was a small, inconspicuous, self-contained youngster of seventeen by name Paul Ehrlich. The usual course consisted of dissection and microscopic examination of tissues. Ehrlich paid little or no attention to dissection, but, as Waldeyer remarks in his "Reminiscences":
"I noticed quite early that Ehrlich would work long hours at his desk, completely absorbed in microscopic observation. Moreover, his desk gradually became covered with colored spots of every description. As I saw him sitting at work one day, I went up to him and asked what he was doing with all his rainbow array of colors on his table. Thereupon this young student in his first semester supposedly pursuing the regular course in anatomy looked up at me and blandly remarked, 'Ich probiere.' This might be freely translated, 'I am trying' or 'I am just fooling.' I replied to him, 'Very well. Go on with your fooling.' Soon I saw that without any teaching or direction whatsoever on my part I possessed in Ehrlich a student of unusual ability."
Waldeyer wisely left him alone. Ehrlich made his way precariously through the medical curriculum and ultimately procured his degree mainly because it was obvious to his teachers that he had no intention of ever putting his medical degree to practical use. He went subsequently to Breslau, where he worked under Professor Cohnheim, the teacher of our own Dr. Welch, founder and maker of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. I do not suppose that the idea of use ever crossed Ehrlich's mind. He was interested. He was curious; he kept on "fooling." Of course, his "fooling" was guided by a deep instinct,—but it was a purely scientific, not a utilitarian motivation. What resulted? Koch and his associates established a new science,—the science of bacteriology. Ehrlich's experiments were now applied by a fellow student, Weigert, to staining bacteria and thereby assisting in their differentiation. Ehrlich himself developed the staining of the blood film with the dyes on which our modern knowledge of the morphology of the blood corpuscles, red and white, is based. Not a day passes but that in thousands of hospitals the world over Ehrlich's technique is employed in the examination of the blood. Thus the apparently aimless fooling in Waldeyer's dissecting room in Strasbourg has become—without anyone's suspecting the result—a main factor in the daily practice of medicine.
Hat tip: Duane Smith, at Abnormal Interests.

Thursday, July 19, 2012



George Orwell (1903-1950), Looking Back on the Spanish War:
The damned impertinence of these politicians, priests, literary men, and what-not who lecture the working-class socialist for his "materialism"! All that the working man demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day, clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak, and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. Not one of those who preach against "materialism" would consider life livable without these things.


Senicide, Part III

Diodorus Siculus 2.57.4-5, summarizing Iambulus' account of the Islands of the Sun (tr. C.H. Oldfather):
[4] And the inhabitants, they tell us, are extremely long-lived, living even to the age of one hundred and fifty years, and experiencing for the most part no illness. [5] Anyone also among them who has become crippled or suffers, in general, from any physical infirmity is forced by them, in accordance with an inexorable law, to remove himself from life. And there is also a law among them that they should live only for a stipulated number of years, and that at the completion of this period they should make away with themselves of their own accord, by a strange manner of death; for there grows among them a plant of a peculiar nature, and whenever a man lies down upon it, imperceptibly and gently he falls asleep and dies.

[4] πολυχρονίους δ᾽ εἶναι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καθ᾽ ὑπερβολήν, ὡς ἂν ἄχρι τῶν πεντήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν ἐτῶν ζῶντας καὶ γινομένους ἀνόσους κατὰ τὸ πλεῖστον. [5] τὸν δὲ πηρωθέντα ἢ καθόλου τι ἐλάττωμα ἔχοντα ἐν τῷ σώματι μεθιστάνειν ἑαυτὸν ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν ἀναγκάζουσι κατά τινα νόμον ἀπότομον. νόμιμον δ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἐστι ζῆν ἄχρι ἐτῶν ὡρισμένων, καὶ τὸν χρόνον τοῦτον ἐκπληρώσαντας ἑκουσίως μεταλλάττειν ἐξηλλαγμένῳ θανάτῳ· φύεσθαι γὰρ παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἰδιοφυῆ βοτάνην, ἐφ᾽ ἧς ὅταν τις κοιμηθῇ, λεληθότως καὶ προσηνῶς εἰς ὕπνον κατενεχθεὶς ἀποθνήσκει.
Diodorus Siculus 3.33.5-6, on the Trogodytes (tr. C.H. Oldfather):
[5] Those who can no longer accompany the flocks by reason of old age bind the tail of an ox about their own necks and so put an end to their lives of their own free will; and if a man postpones his death, anyone who wishes has the authority to fasten the noose about his neck, as an act of good-will, and, after admonishing the man, to take his life. [6] Likewise it is a custom of theirs to remove from life those who have become maimed or are in the grip of incurable diseases; for they consider it to be the greatest disgrace for a man to cling to life when he is unable to accomplish anything worth living for. Consequently, a man can see every Trogodyte sound in body and of vigorous age, since no one of them lives beyond sixty years.

[5] οἱ δὲ διὰ τὸ γῆρας οὐ δυνάμενοι ταῖς ποίμναις ἀκολουθεῖν βοὸς οὐρᾷ τὸν αὐχένα περισφίγξαντες ἑαυτῶν ἀπολύονται τοῦ ζῆν προθύμως· τοῦ δὲ τὸν θάνατον ἀναβαλλομένου τὴν ἐξουσίαν ὁ βουλόμενος ἔχει τὸν δεσμὸν ὡς ἐπ᾽ εὐνοίᾳ περιθεῖναι καὶ μετὰ νουθετήσεως στερῆσαι τοῦ ζῆν. [6] ὁμοίως δὲ νόμιμον αὐτοῖς ἐστι τοὺς πηρωθέντας ἢ νόσοις δυσιάτοις συνεχομένους ἐξάγειν ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν· μέγιστον γὰρ τῶν κακῶν ἡγοῦνται τὸ φιλοψυχεῖν τὸν μηδὲν ἄξιον τοῦ ζῆν πράττειν δυνάμενον. διὸ καὶ πάντας μὲν ἰδεῖν ἔστι τοὺς Τρωγλοδύτας ἀρτίους μὲν τοῖς σώμασιν, ἰσχύοντας δ᾽ ἔτι ταῖς ἡλικίαις, ὡς ἂν μηδενὸς ὑπερβάλλοντος τὰ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη.
Related posts:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The Contents of Richard Mutimer's Bookcase

George Gissing (1857-1903), Demos, chapter V:
The one singular feature of the room was a small, glass-doored bookcase, full of volumes. They were all of Richard's purchasing; to survey them was to understand the man, at all events on his intellectual side. Without exception they belonged to that order of literature which, if studied exclusively and for its own sake,—as here it was,—brands a man indelibly, declaring at once the incompleteness of his education and the deficiency of his instincts. Social, political, religious,—under these three heads the volumes classed themselves, and each class was represented by productions of the 'extreme' school. The books which a bright youth of fair opportunities reads as a matter of course, rejoices in for a year or two, then throws aside for ever, were here treasured to be the guides of a lifetime. Certain writers of the last century, long ago become only historically interesting, were for Richard an armoury whence he girded himself for the battles of the day; cheap reprints or translations of Malthus, of Robert Owen, of Volney's 'Ruins,' of Thomas Paine, of sundry works of Voltaire, ranked upon his shelves. Moreover, there was a large collection of pamphlets, titled wonderfully and of yet more remarkable contents, the authoritative utterances of contemporary gentlemen—and ladies—who made it the end of their existence to prove: that there cannot by any possibility be such a person as Satan; that the story of creation contained in the Book of Genesis is on no account to be received; that the begetting of children is a most deplorable oversight; that to eat flesh is wholly unworthy of a civilised being; that if every man and woman performed their quota of the world's labour it would be necessary to work for one hour and thirty-seven minutes daily, no jot longer, and that the author, in each case, is the one person capable of restoring dignity to a down-trodden race and happiness to a blasted universe. Alas, alas! On this food had Richard Mutimer pastured his soul since he grew to manhood, on this and this only. English literature was to him a sealed volume; poetry he scarcely knew by name; of history he was worse than ignorant, having looked at this period and that through distorting media, and congratulating himself on his clear vision because he saw men as trees walking; the bent of his mind would have led him to natural science, but opportunities of instruction were lacking, and the chosen directors of his prejudice taught him to regard every fact, every discovery, as for or against something.

From Frans Masereel, Die Stadt (1925)


What to Wear to the Olympics

People are criticizing the uniforms of the United States Olympic team, uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren, because they were made in China, not in the United States:

If I were an Olympic athlete on the United States team, I would object to wearing a uniform that made me look like a sissy, no matter where it was manufactured.

In the fifth century B.C., what Hippias wore to the Olympic Games was not only locally made but made by himself. See Plato, Hippias Minor 368 b-c (tr. H.N. Fowler):
You said that once, when you went to Olympia, everything you had on your person was your own work; first the ring—for you began with that—which you had was your own work, showing that you knew how to engrave rings, and another seal was your work, and a strigil and an oil-flask were your works; then you said that you yourself had made the sandals you had on, and had woven your cloak and tunic; and, what seemed to every one most unusual and proof of the most wisdom, was when you said that the girdle you wore about your tunic was like the Persian girdles of the costliest kind, and that you had made it yourself.

ἔφησθα δὲ ἀφικέσθαι ποτὲ εἰς Ὀλυμπίαν ἃ εἶχες περὶ τὸ σῶμα ἅπαντα σαυτοῦ ἔργα ἔχων· πρῶτον μὲν δακτύλιον—ἐντεῦθεν γὰρ ἤρχου—ὃν εἶχες σαυτοῦ ἔχειν ἔργον, ὡς ἐπιστάμενος δακτυλίους γλύφειν, καὶ ἄλλην σφραγῖδα σὸν ἔργον, καὶ στλεγγίδα καὶ λήκυθον ἃ αὐτὸς ἠργάσω· ἔπειτα ὑποδήματα ἃ εἶχες ἔφησθα αὐτὸς σκυτοτομῆσαι, καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον ὑφῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτωνίσκον· καὶ ὅ γε πᾶσιν ἔδοξεν ἀτοπώτατον καὶ σοφίας πλείστης ἐπίδειγμα, ἐπειδὴ τὴν ζώνην ἔφησθα τοῦ χιτωνίσκου, ἣν εἶχες, εἶναι μὲν οἷαι αἱ Περσικαὶ τῶν πολυτελῶν, ταύτην δὲ αὐτὸς πλέξαι.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Nature's Bounty

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), The Life of the Fields (London: Chatto & Windus, 1891), pp. 71-73:
The little lawn beside the strawberry bed, burned brown there, and green towards the house shadow, holds how many myriad grass-blades? Here they are all matted together, long, and dragging each other down. Part them, and beneath them are still more, overhung and hidden. The fibres are intertangled, woven in an endless basket-work and chaos of green and dried threads. A blamable profusion this; a fifth as many would be enough; altogether a wilful waste here. As for these insects that spring out of it as I press the grass, a hundredth part of them would suffice. The American crab tree is a snowy mount in spring; the flakes of bloom, when they fall, cover the grass with a film—a bushel of bloom, which the wind takes and scatters afar. The extravagance is sublime. The two little cherry trees are as wasteful; they throw away handfuls of flower; but in the meadows the careless, spendthrift ways of grass and flower and all things are not to be expressed. Seeds by the hundred million float with absolute indifference on the air. The oak has a hundred thousand more leaves than necessary, and never hides a single acorn. Nothing utilitarian—everything on a scale of splendid waste. Such noble, broadcast, open-armed waste is delicious to behold. Never was there such a lying proverb as "Enough is as good as a feast." Give me the feast; give me squandered millions of seeds, luxurious carpets of petals, green mountains of oak leaves. The greater the waste, the greater the enjoyment—the nearer the approach to real life. Casuistry is of no avail; the fact is obvious; Nature flings treasures abroad, puffs them with open lips along on every breeze, piles up lavish layers of them in the free open air, packs countless numbers together in the needles of a fir tree. Prodigality and superfluity are stamped on everything she does. The ear of wheat returns a hundredfold the grain from which it grew. The surface of the earth offers to us far more than we can consume—the grains, the seeds, the fruits, the animals, the abounding products are beyond the power of all the human race to devour. They can, too, be multiplied a thousandfold. There is no natural lack. Whenever there is lack among us it is from artificial causes, which intelligence should remove.

From the littleness, and meanness, and niggardliness forced upon us by circumstances, what a relief to turn aside to the exceeding plenty of Nature! There are no bounds to it, there is no comparison to parallel it, so great is this generosity. No physical reason exists why every human being should not have sufficient, at least, of necessities. For any human being to starve, or even to be in trouble about the procuring of simple food, appears, indeed, a strange and unaccountable thing, quite upside down, and contrary to sense, if you do but consider a moment the enormous profusion the earth throws at our feet. In the slow process of time, as the human heart grows larger, such provision, I sincerely trust, will be made that no one need ever feel anxiety about mere subsistence. Then, too, let there be some imitation of this open-handed generosity and divine waste. Let the generations to come feast free of care, like my finches on the seeds of the mowing-grass, from which no voice drives them. If I could but give away as freely as the earth does!

Monday, July 16, 2012


Stingy Hosts

Adam Sisman, Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), pp. 168-169:
Boswell was amazed when Lonsdale ate a whole plate of fresh oysters without offering anybody else one. Most insulting of all, Lonsdale denied his guests wine, while drinking it himself. When a new guest naively asked for some white wine, Lonsdale replied, "No. That has never been asked for here." In a private moment, one of the hangers-on explained that while Lonsdale would spend thousands of pounds at elections, he was a miser who begrudged sixpence, let alone the six shillings a bottle of claret cost.
James Lowther, earl of Lonsdale (1736–1802), was one of the richest men in England. There are many striking parallels in classical literature to Lonsdale's stingy behavior toward his guests. Here are just a few.

Martial 3.60 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Since I am asked to dinner, no longer, as before, a purchased guest, why is not the same dinner served to me as to you? You take oysters fattened in the Lucrine lake, I suck a mussel through a hole in the shell; you get mushrooms, I take hog funguses; you tackle turbot, but I brill. Golden with fat, a turtle-dove gorges you with its bloated rump; there is set before me a magpie that has died in its cage. Why do I dine without you although, Ponticus, I am dining with you? The dole has gone: let us have the benefit of that; let us eat the same fare.

Cum vocer ad cenam non iam venalis ut ante,
  cur mihi non eadem quae tibi cena datur?
ostrea tu sumis stagno saturata Lucrino,
  sugitur inciso mitulus ore mihi:
sunt tibi boleti, fungos ego sumo suillos:
  res tibi cum rhombo est, at mihi cum sparulo.
aureus inmodicis turtur te clunibus implet,
  ponitur in cavea mortua pica mihi.
cur sine te ceno cum tecum, Pontice, cenem?
  sportula quod non est prosit, edamus idem.
Martial 6.11 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Do you wonder that to-day there is no Pylades, that there is no Orestes? Pylades, Marcus, drank the same wine as Orestes, and no better bread or field-fare was given to Orestes; but equal and the same was the dinner of the two. You gorge Lucrine oysters, watery mussels from Pelorus feed me; yet my palate too, Marcus, is that of a gentleman. Cadmean Tyre clothes you, Gaul with her greasy wool me: would you have me, Marcus, in a coarse wrapper love you in purple? That I may prove myself a Pylades, let someone prove himself to me an Orestes. That does not come about by talk, Marcus: by love win love.

Quod non sit Pylades hoc tempore, non sit Orestes
  miraris? Pylades, Marce, bibebat idem,
nec melior panis turdusve dabatur Orestae,
  sed par atque eadem cena duobus erat.
tu Lucrina voras, me pascit aquosa peloris:
  non minus ingenua est et mihi, Marce, gula.
te Cadmea Tyros, me pinguis Gallia vestit:
  vis te purpureum, Marce, sagatus amem?
ut praestem Pyladen, aliquis mihi praestet Oresten.
  hoc non fit verbis, Marce: ut ameris, ama.
Pliny, Letters 2.6 (tr. Betty Radice):
[1] It would take too long to go into the details (which anyway don't matter) of how I happened to be dining with a man—though no particular friend of his—whose elegant economy, as he called it, seemed to me a sort of stingy extravagance. [2] The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, dividing into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended himself and for us, another for his lesser friends (all his friends are graded) and his and our freedmen. [3] My neighbour at table noticed this and asked me if I approved. I said I did not. 'So what do you do?' he asked. 'I serve the same to everyone, for when I invite guests it is for a meal, not to make class distinctions; I have brought them as equals to the same table, so I give them the same treatment in everything.' [4] 'Even the freedmen?' ‘Of course, for then they are my fellow-diners, not freedmen.' 'That must cost you a lot.' 'On the contrary.' 'How is that?' 'Because my freedmen do not drink the sort of wine I do, but I drink theirs.' [5] Believe me, if you restrain your greedy instincts it is no strain on your finances to share with several others the fare you have yourself. It is this greed which should be put down and 'reduced to the ranks' if you would cut down your expenses, and you can do this far better by self-restraint than by insults to others.

[6] The point of this story is to prevent a promising young man like yourself from being taken in by this extravagance under guise of economy which is to be found at the table in certain homes. Whenever I meet with such a situation, my affection for you prompts me to quote it as a warning example of what to avoid. [7] Remember then that nothing is more to be shunned than this novel association of extravagance and meanness; vices which are bad enough when single and separate, but worse when found together.

[1] Longum est altius repetere nec refert, quemadmodum acciderit, ut homo minime familiaris cenarem apud quendam, ut sibi videbatur, lautum et diligentem, ut mihi, sordidum simul et sumptuosum. [2] Nam sibi et paucis opima quaedam, ceteris vilia et minuta ponebat. Vinum etiam parvolis lagunculis in tria genera discripserat, non ut potestas eligendi, sed ne ius esset recusandi, aliud sibi et nobis, aliud minoribus amicis - nam gradatim amicos habet -, aliud suis nostrisque libertis. [3] Animadvertit qui mihi proximus recumbebat, et an probarem interrogavit. Negavi. 'Tu ergo' inquit 'quam consuetudinem sequeris?' 'Eadem omnibus pono; ad cenam enim, non ad notam invito cunctisque rebus exaequo, quos mensa et toro aequavi.' [4] 'Etiamne libertos?' 'Etiam; convictores enim tunc, non libertos puto.' Et ille: 'Magno tibi constat.' 'Minime.' 'Qui fieri potest?' 'Quia scilicet liberti mei non idem quod ego bibunt, sed idem ego quod liberti.' [5] Et hercule si gulae temperes, non est onerosum quo utaris ipse communicare cum pluribus. Illa ergo reprimenda, illa quasi in ordinem redigenda est, si sumptibus parcas, quibus aliquanto rectius tua continentia quam aliena contumelia consulas.

[6] Quorsus haec? ne tibi, optimae indolis iuveni, quorundam in mensa luxuria specie frugalitatis imponat. Convenit autem amori in te meo, quotiens tale aliquid inciderit, sub exemplo praemonere, quid debeas fugere. [7] Igitur memento nihil magis esse vitandum quam istam luxuriae et sordium novam societatem; quae cum sint turpissima discreta ac separata, turpius iunguntur.
Lucian, On Salaried Posts in Great Houses 26 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
When night overtakes you hungry and thirsty, after a wretched bath you go to your dinner at an unseasonable hour, in the very middle of the night; but you are no longer held in the same esteem and admiration by the company. If anyone arrives who is more of a novelty, for you it is "Get back!" In this way you are pushed off into the most unregarded corner and take your place merely to witness the dishes that are passed, gnawing the bones like a dog if they get as far as you, or regaling yourself with gratification, thanks to your hunger, on the tough mallow leaves with which the other food is garnished, if they should be disdained by those nearer the head of the table.

Moreover, you are not spared other forms of rudeness. You are the only one that does not have an egg. There is no necessity that you should always expect the same treatment as foreigners and strangers: that would be unreasonable! Your bird, too, is not like the others; your neighbour's is fat and plump, and yours is half a tiny chick, or a tough pigeon—out-and-out rudeness and contumely! Often, if there is a shortage when another guest appears of a sudden, the waiter takes up what you have before you and quickly puts it before him, muttering: "You are one of us, you know." Of course when a side of pork or venison is cut at table, you must by all means have especial favour with the carver or else get a Prometheus-portion, bones hidden in fat. That the platter should stop beside the man above you until he gets tired of stuffing himself, but speed past you so rapidly—what free man could endure it if he had even as much resentment as a deer? And I have not yet mentioned the fact that while the others drink the most delectable and oldest of wines, you alone drink one that is vile and thick, taking good care always to drink out of a gold or silver cup so that the colour may not convict you of being such an unhonoured guest. If only you might have your fill, even of that! But as things are, though you ask for it repeatedly, the page "hath not even the semblance of hearing"!
Lucian, Saturnalia 22 (tr. K. Kilburn):
Tell them, moreover, to invite the poor to dinner, taking in four or five at a time, not as they do nowadays though, but in a more democratic fashion, all having an equal share, not one man stuffing himself with dainties with the servant standing waiting for him to eat himself to exhaustion, then when this servant comes to us he passes on while we are still getting ready to put out our hand, only letting us glimpse the platter or the remnants of the cake. And tell him not to give a whole half of the pig when it's brought in, and the head as well, to his master, bringing the others bones covered over. And tell the wine-servers not to wait for each of us to ask seven times for a drink but on one request to pour it out and hand it to us at once, filling a great cup as they do for their master. And let the wine be one and the same for all the guests—where is it laid down that he should get drunk on wine with a fine bouquet while I must burst my belly on new stuff?
The most extensive treatment of this theme in ancient literature is Juvenal's fifth satire, too long to quote here in full. Here are just a few lines (67-75, tr. G.G. Ramsay):
See with what a grumble another of them has handed you a bit of hard bread that you can scarce break in two, or lumps of dough that have turned mouldy—stuff that will exercise your grinders and into which no tooth can gain admittance. For Virro himself a delicate loaf is reserved, white as snow, and kneaded of the finest flour. Be sure to keep your hands off it: take no liberties with the bread-basket! If you are presumptuous enough to take a piece, there will be someone to bid you put it down: "What, Sir Impudence? Will you please fill yourself from your proper tray, and learn the colour of your own bread?"

ecce alius quanto porrexit murmure panem
vix fractum, solidae iam mucida frusta farinae,
quae genuinum agitent, non admittentia morsum.
sed tener et niveus mollique siligine fictus
servatur domino. dextram cohibere memento;
salva sit artoptae reverentia. finge tamen te
inprobulum, superest illic qui ponere cogat:
'vis tu consuetis, audax conviua, canistris
impleri panisque tui novisse colorem?'

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Excerpts from George Orwell (1903-1950), Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Chapter 1:
All human relationships must be purchased with money. If you have no money, men won't care for you, women won't love you; won't, that is, care for you or love you the last little bit that matters. And how right they are, after all! For, moneyless, you are unlovable. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. But then, if I haven't money, I don't speak with the tongues of men and of angels.
Chapter 2:
No fat person ever uses the word "fat" if there is any way of avoiding it. "Stout" is the word they use—or, better still, "robust." A fat man is never so happy as when he is describing himself as "robust."
Chapter 3:
What he realized, and more clearly as time went on, was that money-worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion—the only really felt religion—that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. Hence the profoundly significant phrase, to make good. The decalogue has been reduced to two commandments. One for the employers—the elect, the money-priesthood as it were—"Thou shalt make money"; the other for the employed—the slaves and underlings—"Thou shalt not lose thy job."


There are two ways to live, he decided. You can be rich, or you can deliberately refuse to be rich. You can possess money, or you can despise money; the one fatal thing is to worship money and fail to get it. He took it for granted that he himself would never be able to make money. It hardly even occurred to him that he might have talents which could be turned to account. That was what his schoolmasters had done for him; they had rubbed it into him that he was a seditious little nuisance and not likely to "succeed" in life. He accepted this. Very well, then, he would refuse the whole business of "succeeding"; he would make it his especial purpose not to "succeed." Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven; better to serve in hell than serve in heaven, for that matter. Already, at sixteen, he knew which side he was on. He was against the money-god and all his swinish priesthood.


There was hardly a soul in the firm who was not perfectly well aware that publicity—advertising—is the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced. In the red lead firm there had still lingered certain notions of commercial honour and usefulness. But such things would have been laughed at in the New Albion. Most of the employees were the hard-boiled, Americanised, go-getting type to whom nothing in the world is sacred, except money. They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket.


All over the darkish drawing-room, ageing, discoloured people sat about in couples, discussing symptoms. Their conversation was like the dripping of stalactite to stalagmite. Drip, drip. "How is your lumbago?" says stalactite to stalagmite. "I find my Kruschen Salts are doing me good," says stalagmite to stalactite. Drip, drip, drip.
Chapter 5:
"Hermione, dear, please don't call them the lower classes!"
"Why not? They are the lower classes, aren't they?"
"It's such a hateful expression. Call them the working class, can't you?"
"The working class, if you like, then. But they smell just the same."
"You oughtn't to say that kind of thing," he protested weakly.
"Do you know, Philip, sometimes I think you like the lower classes."
"Of course I like them."
"How disgusting. How absolutely disgusting."
Chapter 11:
Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1850.

But how absurd that even now, in the era of central heating and tinned peaches, a thousand so-called poets are still writing in the same strain! For what difference does spring or winter or any other time of year make to the average civilized person nowadays? In a town like London the most striking seasonal change, apart from the mere change of temperature, is in the things you see lying about on the pavement. In late winter it is mainly cabbage leaves. In July you tread on cherry stones, in November on burnt-out fireworks. Towards Christmas the orange peel grows thicker. It was a different matter in the Middle Ages. There was some sense in writing poems about spring when spring meant fresh meat and green vegetables after months of frowsting in some windowless hut on a diet of salt fish and mouldy bread.
Chapter 12:
The Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites Co. were sweeping the country with a monster campaign for their deodorant, April Dew. They had decided that B.O. and halitosis were worked out, or nearly, and had been racking their brains for a long time past to think of some new way of scaring the public. Then some bright spark suggested, What about smelling feet? That field had never been exploited and had immense possibilities. The Queen of Sheba had turned the idea over to the New Albion. What they asked for was a really telling slogan; something in the class of "Night-starvation"—something that would rankle in the public consciousness like a poisoned arrow. Mr. Warner had thought it over for three days and then emerged with the unforgettable phrase "P.P." "P.P." stood for Pedic Perspiration. It was a real flash of genius, that. It was so simple and so arresting. Once you knew what they stood for, you couldn't possibly see those letters "P.P." without a guilty tremor. Gordon had searched for the word "pedic" in the Oxford Dictionary and found that it did not exist. But Mr. Warner had said, Hell! what did it matter, anyway? It would put the wind up them just the same. The Queen of Sheba had jumped at the idea, of course.


Triumph of Ancient Technology

Patrick Radden Keefe, "Cocaine Incorporated," New York Times (June 15, 2012):
Michael Braun, the former chief of operations for the D.E.A., told me a story about the construction of a high-tech fence along a stretch of border in Arizona. "They erect this fence," he said, "only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they're flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side." He paused and looked at me for a second. "A catapult," he repeated. "We've got the best fence money can buy, and they counter us with a 2,500-year-old technology."

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Books Are Hard to Leave Behind

A poem by Yuan Mei (1716–1797), tr. Arthur Waley:
Everything else in life is easy to break with;
Only my books are hard to leave behind.
I want to go through them all again,
But the days hurry by, and there is not time.
If I start on the Classics I shall never get to history;
If I read philosophy, literature goes by the board.
I look back at the time when I purchased them—
Thousands of dollars, I never worried about the price.
If passages were missing, the pains I took to supply them,
And to fill out sets that were incomplete!
Of the finest texts many are copied by hand;
The toil of which fell to my office clerks.
Day and night I lived with them in intimacy.
I numbered their volumes and marked them with yellow and red.
How many branches of wax-candle light,
How many drops of weary heart's blood!
My sons and grandsons know nothing of this;
Perhaps the book-worms could tell their own tale.
Today I have had a great tidy-up,
And feel I have done everything I was born to do....
It is good to know that the people in the books
Are waiting lined up in the Land of the Dead.
In a little while I shall meet them face to face
And never again need to look at what they wrote!

Simon Renard de St. André, Vanitas

Update: Thanks to Phil Edgren, who identified the book in de St. André's Vanitas as Jean Puget de la Serre, Le Tombeau des Delices du Monde, opened to chapter IV (Le Tombeau des Plaisirs de l'Odorat). Here is the first page of chapter IV, from a different edition in Google Books:


The Worship of Money

There is a curious passage about the literal worship of money in Pliny, Natural History 34.38.137 (quoting Messala; tr. H. Rackham):
The family of the Servilii has a holy coin to which every year they perform sacrifices with the greatest devotion and splendour; and they say that this coin seems to have on some occasions grown bigger and on other occasions smaller, and that thereby it portends either the advancement or the decadence of the family.

Serviliorum familia habet trientem sacrum, cui summa cum cura magnificentiaque sacra quotannis faciunt. quem ferunt alias crevisse, alias decrevisse videri et ex eo aut honorem aut deminutionem familiae significare.
Related posts:

Friday, July 13, 2012


Dead, All Dead

George Orwell (1903-1950), Keep the Aspidistra Flying, chapter 1:
In all book-shops there goes on a savage Darwinian struggle in which the works of living men gravitate to eye-level and the works of dead men go up or down—down to Gehenna or up to the throne, but always away from any position where they will be noticed. Down in the bottom shelves the "classics," the extinct monsters of the Victorian age, were quietly rotting. Scott, Carlyle, Meredith, Ruskin, Pater, Stevenson—you could hardly read the names upon their broad dowdy backs. In the top shelves, almost out of sight, slept the pudgy biographies of dukes. Below those, saleable still and therefore placed within reach, was "religious" literature—all sects and all creeds, lumped indiscriminately together. The World Beyond, by the author of Spirit Hands Have Touched Me. Dean Farrar's Life of Christ. Jesus the First Rotarian. Father Hilaire Chestnut's latest book of R.C. propaganda. Religion always sells provided it is soppy enough. Below, exactly at eye-level, was the contemporary stuff. Priestley's latest. Dinky little books of reprinted "middles." Cheer-up "humour" from Herbert and Knox and Milne. Some highbrow stuff as well. A novel or two by Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. Smart pseudo-Strachey predigested biographies. Snooty, refined books on safe painters and safe poets by those moneyed young beasts who glide so gracefully from Eton to Cambridge and from Cambridge to the literary reviews.

Dull-eyed, he gazed at the wall of books. He hated the whole lot of them, old and new, highbrow and lowbrow, snooty and chirpy.


He looked at the time-dulled "classics" near his feet. Dead, all dead. Carlyle and Ruskin and Meredith and Stevenson—all are dead, God rot them. He glanced over their faded titles. Collected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson. Ha, ha! That's good. Collected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson! Its top edge was black with dust. Dust thou art, to dust returnest. Gordon kicked Stevenson's buckram backside. Art there, old false-penny? You're cold meat, if ever Scotchman was.


There were fifteen or twenty shelves of poetry. Gordon regarded them sourly. Dud stuff, for the most part. A little above eye-level, already on their way to heaven and oblivion, were the poets of yesteryear, the stars of his earlier youth. Yeats, Davies, Housman, Thomas, De la Mare, Hardy. Dead stars. Below them, exactly at eye-level, were the squibs of the passing minute. Eliot, Pound, Auden, Campbell, Day Lewis, Spender. Very damp squibs, that lot. Dead stars above, damp squibs below. Shall we ever again get a writer worth reading? But Lawrence was all right, and Joyce even better before he went off his coconut. And if we did get a writer worth reading, should we know him when we saw him, so choked as we are with trash?

John Frederick Peto (1854-1907), Take Your Choice

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Verses Wrongly Attributed to Cowper

Mrs. Maxwell Y. Maxwell, "Some Old Hampstead Trees and Their Associations," The Antiquary 35 (1899) 267-275 (at 271-272):
It is not possible to enumerate the historic trees of Hampstead without remembering the elms which stand close to Erskine House, at the back of the old Spaniard's Inn, for they remain standing as the result of the special intercession of Cowper.

Lord Chancellor Erskine had a passion for gardening, and employed the well-earned leisure from his arduous legal and political life in planting and digging. One of his favourite jokes on being found by a friend while at work with his spade in his kitchen garden was: "Here I am, enjoying my otium cum dignitate," or, as he said, "diggin' a taity." But in addition to digging potatoes, he also delighted to chop and fell trees, and once marked nine ancient elms as the victims of his hatchet, not from gratuitous cruelty, but because they obstructed a view which might be had on clear days of Windsor Castle in the far West, filmy and blue as a dream.

Many interesting visitors, of whom Edmund Burke was perhaps the most frequent, found their way to Evergreen Hall, as the house was at that time named, owing to Lord Erskine's arbaceous [sic] display. The political dinners which he gave were renowned for their gaiety, in consequence of the host's lively spirits, keen wit, and excellent tales, many of which have been preserved, but I must forbear their relation. Sir Samuel Romilly said: "I dined there one day at what might be called a great Opposition dinner; nothing could be more innocent than the conversation; the topics were light and trifling, politics being hardly mentioned." The Duke of Norfolk was of the party, Lord Grenville, and Lord Holland, besides many more nobles and gentlemen.

The visitor, however, whose protest so happily affected the destiny of the elms was not a politician, but a poet, and to his mind the intention of the Lord Chancellor seemed barbarous. Standing under the doomed branches, doubtless the melancholy poet could hear the wind sighing sadly among the leaves as they whispered their eternal farewell. Pleading for the elms, Cowper declared that the Muses would be indignant at so serious an offence against Nature, and represents them taking the fate of the trees into their own hands:
"Erskine," they cried, "at our command
Disarms his sacrilegious hand:
While yonder castle towers sublime
These elms shall brave the threats of Time."
The lawyer yielded to the persuasions of the poet, and the lives of the trees were restored to them when at the eleventh hour they seemed to be lost. And now, though Lord Erskine has been buried seventy years in the parish churchyard, and Cowper has passed behind the "frowning providence," of which he wrote, to the world where God reveals His "smiling face," the trees still stand as before and bow to the passing breeze.
A fine story, and I especially like Erskine's pun on otium cum dignitate. But the intercession of Cowper, and especially the verses attributed to him, are doutbful. No such verses are extant among Cowper's works. The story, in this form, seems to appear first in George Rose Emerson, London: How the Great City Grew (London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1862), pp. 263-264.

We know, from several other sources, who really penned those lines. Leigh Hunt, for example, in The Literary Examiner (August 23, 1823), wrote about the Nine Elms:
Nearly opposite, on the other side of the road, are nine elms, under which it is recorded that Pope and Lord Mansfield used to sit. It must not be omitted, to the eternal honour of Mr. Coxe, poet and auctioneer, and also of Lord Mansfield's eminent successor, that the Noble Lord having an intention of cutting down these nine elms, Mr. Coxe made a becoming petition in the name of the Nine Muses, which it was impossible for an Erskine to resist. So the elms are where they used to be, with, I hope, a better seat under them.
Mr. Coxe is Edward Coxe, Esq., of Hampstead Heath, author of a poem with the title To Commemorate the Preservation of the Nine Elms, on Hampstead Heath, which appeared in his Miscellaneous Poetry (Bath: R. Cruttwell, 1805), pp. 31-33 (motto and notes omitted):
The Muses, since the birth of Time,
Have ever dwelt on heights sublime,
On Pindus now they gather'd flowers,
Now sported in Parnassian bowers;
And late, when Murray deign'd to rove
Beneath Caen-Wood's sequester'd grove,
They wander'd oft when all was still,
With him and Pope on Hampstead-Hill.
One eve, as they inhal'd the breeze,
They mark'd a little clump of trees,
And chose it for their fav'rite shrine;
The trees were Elms—the number, Nine.

That the sweet groupe might flourish fast,
Fierce Boreas checks his piercing blast:
Keen Eurus, as he sweeps the glade,
Skims lightly o'er their hallow'd shade;
Around them young Favonius flings
Fresh dew-drops from his balmy wings;
And Spring, to deck the lovely scene,
Crowns them each year with softer green:
While near the blest enchanting spot,
Heard faintly from a lowly cot,
In concert with the sylvan quire,
An humbler Bard thus strikes the lyre;
As their expanding leaves display
The fostering hand of gentle May.

"Shall then the Muse's nurslings feel
"The axe's unrelenting steel?
"Shall Erskine, who the Nine invokes,
"Raise 'gainst the Nine its impious strokes:
"Shall he the feather'd songsters daunt,
"And fright them from this sacred haunt?
"Who, owning all the pow'rs that dwell
"Within the voice's magic swell,
"Is bound by ev'ry tie to be
"The guardian of sweet Harmony!"

The poet's prayer, the plaintive strain,
Reach'd not the Muses' ear in vain:

'Erskine,' they cry'd, 'at our command,
'Disarms his sacrilegious hand!
'While yonder castle towers sublime,
'These Elms shall brave the threats of Time,
'And strong in our protection rise,
'In rival height, to meet the skies;
'Proud their rich foliage to adorn
'With the first rays that gild the morn!'

Mrs. Maxwell's "arbaceous" (not in the Oxford English Dictionary) suggests a conflation of arboreal and herbaceous. Other examples can be found.


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