Saturday, August 31, 2013


I Can't See It

George Bourne, pseudonym of George Sturt (1863-1927), Change in the Village (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1912), p. 139:
An oldish man, who had been telling me one evening how they used to live in his boyhood, looked pensively across the valley when he had done, and so stood for a minute or two, as if trying to recover his impressions of that lost time. At last, with appearance of an effort to speak patiently, "Ah," he said, "they tells me times are better now, but I can't see it;" and it was plain enough that he thought our present times the worse.


A Turn in the Nearest Wood

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "A Quiet Afternoon," The Clerk of the Woods (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), pp. 34-41 (at 34-35):
After running hither and thither in search of beauty or novelty, try a turn in the nearest wood. So my good genius whispered to me just now; and here I am. I believe it was good advice.

This venerable chestnut tree, with its deeply furrowed, shadow-haunted, lichen-covered bark of soft, lovely grays and grayish greens, is as stately and handsome as ever. How often I have stopped to admire it, summer and winter, especially in late afternoon, when the level sunlight gives it a beauty beyond the reach of words. Many a time I have gone out of my way to see it, as I would have gone to see some remembered landscape by a great painter.

There is no feeling proud in such company. Anything that can stand still and grow, filling its allotted place and contented to fill it, is enough to put our futile human restlessness to the blush. The wind has long ago blown away some of its branches, but it does not mind. It is busy with its year's work. I see the young burrs, no bigger than the end of my little finger. When the nuts are ripe the tree will let them fall and think no more about them. How different from a man! When he does a good thing, if by chance he ever does, he must put his hands behind his ears in hopes to hear somebody praising him. Mountains and trees make me humble. I feel like a poor relation.

Friday, August 30, 2013



Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), The World of Herodotus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), pp. 80-81:
The smallness of the Greek political unit gave rise to a kind of patriotism which has no parallel in the modern world. A Greek belonged to his community in a way no one nowadays can understand without an effort of the imagination. In it and through it he found, or failed to find, all the satisfactions that his life demanded. We get a hint of how much he loved it by the sort of epithets which Greek poets applied to towns or places: violet-crowned Athens; lovely Salamis—the word has nothing to do with scenery: it means 'inspiring himeros' which is properly the longing of a man for a woman—the holy citadel of Troy. I do not know exactly what Pindar had in mind when he called Athens violet-crowned; but at least it is not the sort of epithet a man nowadays would think of applying to Birmingham. The word was often used of the Graces and the Muses; so perhaps when Pindar thought of Athens he connected her in his mind with those fair creatures. And everyone remembers how Pericles, in his funeral speech at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian war, urged his fellow-Athenians to be 'lovers' of their city; and the Greek word he used was no vague or general one, but precisely that which means a man who loves a woman—like Solon's word when he wrote of lovely Salamis.
Id., pp. 186-187:
Place, and the asssociations of place, had for a Greek a deeper meaning than they can possibly have in our more diffused and undifferentiated world, where a man can move a hundred, or a thousand, miles and still feel himself at home. But the Greek was rooted in his little community; there it lay, on some lonely hill, perhaps, or in the corner of some deserted inlet of the coast, isolated and alone, the symbol to him of everything he held dear, his only protection, such as it was, against wild nature, and the enemy who might at any moment be at the gates. Every stone of it was sacred, every yard of its surrounding fields and olive-groves and scanty pasture. He knew it all, and loved it all, as he loved his own house; it was his intimate possession, haunted and blessed by its own guardian spirits and gods. And because it was in perpetual peril, he only loved it the more. I have said something in a previous chapter about the adjectives which Greek poets found it natural to apply to their towns and islands—adjectives which to us seem more suitable for a lover to apply to his beloved; and perhaps it was this same passionate attachment which made the Greeks lavish so much labour on the adornment of their homes. Even the defence-walls which surrounded a town were works of exquisite craftsmanship, the stones which composed them being cut and squared with ungrudging labour, to endure for ever. It is hard for us to think of Homer's phrase 'the holy citadel of Troy' as anything but a piece of literary grace; but for a Greek, in every age, his citadel was in fact, and not in metaphor, a holy place: his gods lived with him there, the projections of his own love.
Related posts:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


A Roman Coin Portraying a Soldier Shielding His Comrade

In Greater Love Hath No Man, I mentioned the Greek verb ὑπερασπίζω, meaning "cover with a shield, defend." The verb occurs (as aorist active participle) in Appian, Civil Wars 2.16.106 (about Julius Caesar; tr. Horace White):
His likeness was painted in various forms, in some cases crowned with oak as the savior of his country, by which crown the citizens were accustomed formerly to reward those to whom they owed their safety.

σχήματά τε ἐπεγράφετο ταῖς εἰκόσι ποικίλα, καὶ στέφανος ἐκ δρυὸς ἦν ἐπ᾽ ἐνίαις ὡς σωτῆρι τῆς πατρίδος, ᾧ πάλαι τοὺς ὑπερασπίσαντας ἐγέραιρον οἱ περισωθέντες.
White's translation is a bit free. More literally: "by which crown those who had been saved were accustomed formerly to reward those who had covered them with a shield."

Cf. Suetonius, Life of Julius 2:
At the storming of Mytilene Thermus awarded him the civic crown.

a Thermo in expugnatione Mytilenarum corona civica donatus est.
The storming of Mytilene occurred in 80 B.C. Thermus was the propraetor M. Minucius Thermus. On this and another award of the civic oak-leaf crown to Caesar, see Stefan Weinstock, Divus Julius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971; rpt. 2004), pp. 162-167.

By an odd coincidence, there is a Roman coin issued by another Thermus (Q. Therm. M. f.) showing a Roman soldier shielding his comrade:

Michael H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974; rpt. 2001), vol. I, pp. 324-325 (no. 319), dates the coin to 103 B.C., identifies the moneyer as "Q. Minucius M.f. Ter.", and says, "The types doubtless allude to an act of martial heroism by one of the moneyer's ancestors — it is idle (pace C. Cavedoni, Bullettino 1845, 184) to speculate which."

The reference is to C. Cavedoni, "Di alcune medaglie di famiglie romane," Bullettino dell'Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica per l'Anno 1845, pp. 177-192 (at 184-185).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


An Offering to Pan

Greek Anthology 6.42 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Poor Alcimenes, having tasted the gifts of fruitful summer in a little garden, when he brought to Pan as a present an apple, a fig, and some water, said: “Thou givest me from thy treasury the good things of life; so accept these, the fruits from the garden and the water from thy rock, and give me in return more than thou hast received.”

Ἀλκιμένης ὁ πενιχρὸς ἐπὶ σμικρῷ τινι κήπῳ
  τοῦ φιλοκαρποφόρου γευσάμενος θέρεος,
ἰσχάδα καὶ μῆλον καὶ ὕδωρ γέρα Πανὶ κομίζων,
  εἶπε· σύ μοι βιότου τῶν ἀγαθῶν ταμίας·
ὧν τὰ μὲν ἐκ κήποιο, τὰ δ᾽ ὑμετέρης ἀπὸ πέτρης
  δέξο, καὶ ἀντιδιδοὺς δὸς πλέον ὧν ἔλαβες.
Latin translation by Hugo Grotius:
Alcimenes parvis regnat qui pauper in hortis,
  Nactus ut aestatis tempora laeta fuit:
Aridulam ficum, malum quod fragrat, aquamque
  Do tibi, Pan, nostris auctor habende bonis.
Ex hortis nempe illa, tua de ruре sed istam
  Accipe, et acceptis da, rogo, plura mihi.


Dogma and Belief

Ezra Pound (1885-1972), Selected Prose 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson (New York: New Directions, 1975), p. 49:
Dogma is bluff based upon ignorance.
Belief is a cramp, a paralysis, an atrophy of the mind in certain positions.



Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), Cross Creek, 14 (Toady-frogs, lizards, antses, and varmints): "
Martha," I asked, "just exactly what is a varmint?"

"Why, a wild-cat be's a varmint, Sugar," she said. "Skunks be varmints, an' 'coons an' foxes an' 'possums. Minkses, too. A panther be's a varmint, an' a bear. All them wild things, Sugar, out in the woods. Tigers be varmints, an' lions. A lion," she said earnestly, "he'll kill you right now. We ain't got tigers an' lions, praise God, but did we have, they'd be varmints."

She pondered.

"But a cow, now, Sugar, hit ain't a varmint. Nor a hog. Them's beas'es."

She chuckled.

"Heap o' folkses be varmints," she said.

A varmint then, is any one of the wild things in the woods either definitely predatory or of no domestic service. A human varmint is one who possesses skulking qualities and may be expected to be "low down."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013



Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "My Real Estate," A Rambler's Lease (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 1-21 (at 7):
For it is a sort of unwritten but inexorable law in W——, as in fact it appears to be throughout New England, that no pine must ever be allowed to reach more than half its normal growth; so that my trees are certain to fall under the axe as soon as their present owner is out of the way. I am not much given to superstition. There are no longer any dryads, it is to be presumed; and if there were, it is not clear that they would be likely to take up with pines; but for all that, I cherish an almost affectionate regard for any trees with which I have become familiar. I have mourned the untimely fate of many; and now, seeing that I have been entrusted with the guardianship of these few, I hold myself under a kind of sacred obligation to live as long as possible, for their sakes.
Id., "An Old Road," pp. 45-69 (at 67-68):
And yet, proudly and affectionately as I talk of it, Back Street is not what it once was. I have already mentioned the straightening, as also the widening, both of them sorry improvements. Furthermore, there was formerly a huge (as I remember it) and beautifully proportioned hemlock-tree, at which I used to gaze admiringly in the first years of my wandering hither. What millions of tiny cones hung from its pendulous branches! The magnificent creation should have been protected by legislative enactment, if necessary; but no, almost as long ago as I can remember, long before I attained to grammar-school dignities, the owner of the land (so he thought himself, no doubt) turned the tree into firewood. And worse yet, the stately pine grove that flourished across the way, with mossy bowlders underneath and a most delightsome density of shade,—this, too, like the patriarchal hemlock, has been cut off in the midst of its usefulness.
"Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth cheer!"
Now there is nothing on the whole hillside but a thicket of young hard-wood trees (I would say deciduous, but in New England, alas, all trees are deciduous), through which my dog loves to prowl, but which warns me to keep the road. Such devastations are not to be prevented, I suppose, but at least there is no law against my bewailing them.

Albin Egger-Lienz (1868-1926), Die Holzfäller



What a Marvelous Time It Was

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 77:
What a marvelous time it was when everything was alive, according to human imagination, and humanly alive, in other words inhabited or formed by beings like ourselves; when it was taken as certain that in the deserted woods lived the beautiful Hamadryads and fauns and woodland deities and Pan, etc., and, on entering and seeing everything as solitude, you still believed that everything was inhabited and that Naiads lived in the springs, etc., and embracing a tree you felt it almost palpitating between your hands and believed it was a man or a woman like Cyparissus, etc., and the same with flowers, etc., just as children do.

Che bel tempo era quello nel quale ogni cosa era viva secondo l’immaginazione umana e viva umanamente, cioè abitata o formata di esseri uguali a noi! quando nei boschi desertissimi si giudicava per certo che abitassero le belle Amadriadi e i fauni e i silvani e Pane ec., ed entrandoci e vedendoci tutto solitudine pur credevi tutto abitato! e cosí de' fonti abitati dalle Naiadi ec. E stringendoti un albero al seno te lo sentivi quasi palpitare fra le mani, credendolo un uomo o donna, come Ciparisso ecc.! E cosí de' fiori ec., come appunto i fanciulli.
Hat tip: Stephen Pentz.


A Little Hic, Haec, Hoc

R.D. Blackmore (1825-1900), Cradock Nowell, chapter VI (Very Careful Grounding):
They were now to go to Oxford, and astonish the natives there, by showing that a little hic, haec, hoc, may come even out of Galilee; that a youth never drawn through the wire-gauge of Eton, Harrow, or Rugby, may carry still the electric spark, and be taper and well-rounded. Half their learning accrued sub dio, in the manner of the ancients. Uncle John would lead them between the trees and down to some forest dingle, the boy on his right hand construing aloud or parsing very slowly, the little spark at his left all glowing to explode at the first mistake. Δεξιόσειρος made the running, until he tripped and fell mentally, and even then he was set on his legs, unless the other was down upon him; but in the latter case the yoke-mate leaped into the harness. The stroke-oar on the river that evening was awarded to the one who paced the greatest number of stades in the active voice of expounding. The accuracy, the caution, born of this warm rivalry, became at last so vigilant, that the boy who won the toss for the right-hand place at starting, was almost sure of the stroke-oar.

So they passed the matriculation test with consummate ease, and delighted the college tutor by their clear bold writing. They had not read so much as some men have before entering the University, but all their knowledge was close and firm, and staunch enough for a spring-board. And they wrote most excellent Latin prose, and Greek verse easily flowing.
out of Galilee: "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John 7:52).
sub dio: "under the open sky, in the open air" (Lewis & Short, s.v. divus II.B)
Δεξιόσειρος, sc. ἵππος: "right-hand trace-horse in team of four, which did the hardest work: hence, generally, vigorous, impetuous" (Liddell-Scott-Jones).

Monday, August 19, 2013


You Shall Hear the Note of His Pipe

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), "Pan's Pipes," from Virginibus Puerisque:
The Greeks figured Pan, the god of Nature, now terribly stamping his foot, so that armies were dispersed; now by the woodside on a summer noon trolling on his pipe until he charmed the hearts of upland ploughmen. And the Greeks, in so figuring, uttered the last word of human experience. To certain smoke-dried spirits matter and motion and elastic ethers, and the hypothesis of this or that other spectacled professor, tell a speaking story; but for youth and all ductile and congenial minds, Pan is not dead, but of all the classic hierarchy alone survives in triumph; goat-footed, with a gleeful and an angry look, the type of the shaggy world: and in every wood, if you go with a spirit properly prepared, you shall hear the note of his pipe.


Let Practical People Sneer

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "Esoteric Peripateticism," A Rambler's Lease (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 189-205 (at 193-194):
What a benediction of repose falls upon us sometimes from an old tree, as we pass under it! So self-poised it seems; so alive, and yet so still! It was planted here before we were born. It will be green and flourishing long after we are dead. In it we may behold a perfect illustration of the dignity and peace of a life undeviatingly obedient to law,—the law of its own being; never in haste, never at a loss, but in every fibre doing, day by day, its appropriate work. Sunshine and rain, heat and cold, calm and storm,—all minister to its necessities. It has only to stand in its place and grow; happy in springtime, with its buds and leaves; happy in autumn, with its fruit; happy, too, in winter,—repining not when forced to wait through months of bareness and dearth for the touch of returning warmth. Enviable tree! As we contemplate it, we feel ourselves rebuked, and, at the same time, comforted. We, also, will be still, and let the life that is in us work itself out to the appointed end.
Id., pp. 197-198:
How shall one blest with a feeling for the woods put into language the delight he experiences in sauntering along their shady aisles? He enjoys the stillness, the sense of seclusion, the flicker of sunlight and shadow, the rustle of leaves, the insect's hum, the passing of the chance butterfly, the chirp of the bird, or its full-voiced song, the tracery of lichens on rock and tree, the tuft of ferns, the carpet of moss, the brightness of blossom and fruit,—all the numberless sights and sounds of the forest; but it is not any of these, nor all of them together, that make the glory of the place. It is the wood—and this is something more than the sum of all its parts—which lays hold upon him, taking him, as it were, out of the world and out of himself. Let practical people sneer, and the industrious frown; we who retain our relish for these natural and innocent felicities may well enough be indifferent to neighborly comments. Whatever worldlings may think, the hour is not wasted that brings with it tranquillity of mind and an uplifting of the heart. We seem to be going nowhere and looking for nothing? Yes; but one may be glad to visit the Land of Beulah, though he have no special errand thither.

Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), In the Woods


An Invisible Man

Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (© 2011; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2013), p. 248:
The translator is spotted only when he has failed; his success lies in ensuring he be forgotten. The search for the natural and proper expression is the search for that which no longer feels like a translation. What is required is to give to the reader the illusion that he has direct access to the original. The ideal translator is an invisible man. His aesthetic is that of the pane of glass. If the glass is perfect, you cease to see it, viewing only the landscape beyond it; it is only in so far as the glass contains flaws that you become conscious of the thickness of the glass which hangs between you and the landscape.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


A Great Torture

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter II.19 (April 27, 1632), "To Captain C. Price", pp. 410-411 (at 411):
I find it true now, that one of the greatest tortures that can be in the negotiation of the World is, to have to do with perverse irrational half-witted men, and to be worded to death by nonsense; besides, as much Brain as they have, is as full of scruples as a Burr is of prickles; which is a quality incident to all those that have their heads lightly ballasted, for they are like Buoys in a barr'd Port, weaving perpetually up and down.


Burial Wishes of Richard Burton

Dear Mike,

'Kayf' sent me to biographies of Burton and also by chance to his burial wishes. As this has been a recent thread on the blog, here they are — bizarrely fulfilled, as fate would have it.

Mary S. Lovell, A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton (1998; rpt. London: Abacus, 2004), pp. 728-729 (footnote omitted; ellipsis in original):
During one of their daily walks along the 'Largo del Promontorie' in front of their house [in Trieste], the couple visited the grave of Richard's predecessor, Charles Lever, in the Protestant burial ground. Some months earlier Richard had told the Protestant chaplain – in the presence of of the Vice-Consul, P.P Cautley – that he was an atheist. However, he said, he had been brought up in the Church of England, 'and that is now officially my church.' Cautley thought Burton might have said this to shock the clergyman rather than make a declaration of faith. But Richard knew that in the absence of a positive declaration to the contrary, in the event of his death he would be considered as an Anglican. Lever's grave was situated in a damp and melancholy corner which habitually collected bits of paper and rubbish blown in by the wind. Isabel recalled that Richard had shuddered as he looked at Lever's grave, and said to her. 'If I die here, don't bury me there. They will insist ... will you be strong and fight against it?' When she asked where he wanted to be buried he said he would prefer a burial at sea, for he hated the idea of being underground. Regarding cremation, she said, 'He made his usual joke at a serious thing, "I do not want to burn before I've got to."' Isabel told him she would not be unable to cope with a burial at sea and asked, '"Won't anything else do?'" "Yes," he said, "I should like us to lie in a tent, side by side."' She let the matter rest here.
Id., pp.748-749 (footnote omitted; ellipsis in original):
She [Isabel] was desperately anxious to accede to the wishes Richard had expressed during their walk a few months earlier; 'he hated darkness so much that he would never have the blind down lest he might lose a glimpse of light from twilight to dawn.' But she could not think how to enable them to lie 'side by side in a tent' until she thought of the Taj Mahal and conceived the idea of a small mausoleum. She would build 'an Arab tent ... made of dark Forest of Dean stone and white Carrara marble, where filtered light could be admitted and where Richard's coffin could lie above ground on a bier. Her letter in November to Messrs Dyke, Stonemasons of Highgate, commissioned a structure based on the tent the Burtons had used in Syria. It was not – as some have written – a Bedouin tent (i.e. the low black traditional tent of the desert) but a tall white structure, designed by Richard and made in Damascus, in which he was not obliged to stoop and which they used on his many journeys.
Only the most determined taphophile would traipse down to Mortlake (SW14) to visit the tomb, but I hope to one day. In view of his widow's cremation of his unpublished papers, there's a rather cruel irony in Burton's "I do not want to burn before I've got to."

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Related posts:


Greater Love Hath No Man

Greek Anthology 7.232 (attributed to Antipater or to Anyte), tr. W.R. Paton:
This Lydian land holds Amyntor, Philip's son, whose hands were often busied with iron war. Him no painful disease led to the house of Night, but he perished holding his round shield over his comrade.

Λύδιον οὖδας ἔχει τόδ᾽ Ἀμύντορα, παῖδα Φιλίππου,
  πολλὰ σιδηρείης χερσὶ θιγόντα μάχης·
οὐδέ μιν ἀλγινόεσσα νόσος δόμον ἄγαγε Νυκτός,
  ἀλλ᾽ ὄλετ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ἑτάρῳ σχὼν κυκλόεσσαν ἴτυν.
The same, tr. T.F. Higham:
Amyntor, son of Philip, lies
  Entombed in Lydian land;
In battle's iron exercise
  He proved his stubborn hand.
No sickness dragged the veteran here,
  Where Night is journey's end;
He lived and died a targeteer,
  He died to shield a friend.
The same, tr. A.D. Clarke:
Amyntor, Philip's son, in iron fight
Oft tested, doth in Lydian soil abide;
No sickness brought him to the House of Night:
Holding his buckler o'er his friend, he died.
The same, tr. Tony Harrison:
This piece of Lydian earth holds Amyntor,
Philip's son, hardened by battles to iron war.
No lingering disease dragged him off to his end,
killed, with his shield held high above his friend.
The same, tr. Burton Raffel:
Amyntor, Philip's son, lies in this Lydian soil.
His hands were full of iron war.
No sickness led him into the darkness:
He died holding his shield over a wounded friend.
A Latin translation by Hugo Grotius:
Tam bene qui toties pugnavit, Amyntora tellus
  Lyda tegit, sobolem, clare Philippe, tuam.
Non domitus morbo, sed scuto fortiter hostem
  A sociis arcens, ad loca noctis abit.
On holding a shield above a wounded comrade see also the Greek words ὑπερασπίζω, ὑπερασπισμός, and ὑπερασπιστής.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Enthusiasm as a Producer of Happiness

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "A November Chronicle," A Rambler's Lease (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 121-139 (at 134-135):
Altogether it was a high day for two enthusiasts, though no doubt it would have looked foolish enough to ordinary mortals, our spending several dollars of money and a whole day of time,—in November, at that,—all for the sake of ogling a few birds, not one of which we even attempted to shoot. But what then? Tastes will differ; and as for enthusiasm, it is worth more than money and learning put together (so I believe, at least, without having experimented with the other two) as a producer of happiness. For my own part, I mean to be enthusiastic as long as possible, foreseeing only too well that high spirits cannot last forever.


Nature's Grand Design

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "A Green Mountain Corn-Field," A Rambler's Lease (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), pp. 99-113 (at 104-105):
The import of this apparent wastefulness and cruelty of Nature, her seeming indifference to the welfare of the individual, is a question on which it is not pleasant, and, as I think, not profitable, to dwell. We see but parts of her ways, and it must be unsafe to criticise the working of a single wheel here or there, when we have absolutely no means of knowing how each fits into the grand design, and, for that matter, can only guess at the grand design itself. Rather let us content ourselves with the prudent saying of that ancient agnostic, Bildad the Shuhite: "We are but of yesterday, and know nothing." The wisest of us are more or less foolish, by nature and of necessity; but it seems a gratuitous superfluity of folly to ignore our own ignorance. For one, then, I am in no mood to propose, much less to undertake, any grand revolution in the order of natural events. Indeed, as far as I am personally concerned, I fear it would be found but a dubious improvement if the wildness were quite taken out of the world,—if its wilderness, according to the word of the prophet, were to become all like Eden. Tameness is not the only good quality, whether of land or of human nature.
Id., pp. 107-108:
It is evident, however, that for birds, as for ourselves, the same thing often has both a bright and a dark side. If men are sometimes heartless, and never to be altogether confided in, yet at the same time their doings are in various respects conducive to the happiness and increase of feathered life; and this not only in the case of some of the more familiar species, but even in that of many which still retain all their natural shyness of human society. A clearing like that in which I was now resting offers an excellent illustration of this; for it is a rule without exceptions that in such a place one may see and hear more birds in half an hour than are likely to be met with in the course of a long day's tramp through the unbroken forest. The mourning warbler himself likes a roadside copse better than a deep wood, jealous as he may be of man's approach. Up to a certain point, civilization is a blessing, even to birds. Beyond a certain point, for aught I know, it may be nothing but a curse, even to men.


A Slave to My Own Freedom

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "Five Days on Mount Mansfield," The Footpath Way (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892), pp. 90-110 (at 106-107):
I have spoken hitherto as if I were the only sojourner at the summit, but there was another man, though I seldom saw him; a kind of hermit, living in a little shanty under the lee of the Nose. Almost as a matter of course he was reputed to be of good family and to read Greek, and the fact that he now and then received a bank draft evidently gave him a respectable standing in the eye of the hotel clerk. Something—something of a very romantic nature, we may be sure—had driven him away from the companionship of his fellows, but he still found it convenient to be within reach of human society. Like all such solitaries, he had some half-insane notions. He could not sleep indoors, not for a night; it would ruin his health, if I understood him correctly; and because of wild animals—bears and what not—he made his bed on the roof of his hermitage. I had often dreamed of the enjoyment of a life in the woods all by one's self, but such a mode of existence did not gain in attractiveness as I saw it here in the concrete example. On the whole I was well satisfied to sleep in the hotel and eat at the hotel table. Liberty is good, but I thought it might be undesirable to be a slave to my own freedom.

Friday, August 16, 2013



Henry David Thoreau, Journals (October 14, 1857):
Was there ever such an autumn? And yet there was never such a panic and hard times in the commercial world. The merchants and banks are suspending and failing all the country over, but not the sand-banks, solid and warm, and streaked with bloody blackberry vines. You may run upon them as much as you please,1—even as the crickets do, and find their account in it. They are the stockholders in these banks, and I hear them creaking their content. You may see them on change any warm hour. In these banks too, and such as these, are my funds deposited, a fund of health and enjoyment. Their (the crickets) prosperity and happiness and, I trust, mine do not depend on whether the New York banks suspend or no. We do not rely on such slender security as the thin paper of the Suffolk bank. To put your trust in such a bank is to be swallowed up and undergo suffocation. Invest, I say, in these country banks. Let your capital be simplicity and contentment. Withered goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) is no failure, like a broken bank, and yet in its most golden season nobody counterfeits it. Nature needs no counterfeit-detector. I have no compassion for, nor sympathy with, this miserable state of things. Banks built of granite, after some Grecian or Roman style, with their porticoes and safes of iron, are not so permanent, and cannot give me so good security for capital invested in them, as the heads of withered hardhack in the meadow. I do not suspect the solvency of these. I know who is their president and cashier.

1 You cannot break them. If you should slump, 't is to a finer sand.


Small Points of Grammar

Roger Ascham (1515-1568), The Scholemaster (London: John Daye, 1570), pp. 66-67 (from Book II):
Some man perchance will smile, and laugh to scorne this my writyng, and call it idle curiositie, thus to busie my selfe in pickling about these small pointes of Grammer, not fitte for my age, place and calling, to trifle in: I trust that man, be he neuer so great in authoritie, neuer so wise and learned, either, by other mens iudgement, or his owne opinion, will yet thinke, that he is not greater in England, than Tullie was at Rome, not yet wiser, nor better learned than Tullie was him selfe, who, at the pitch of three score yeares, in the middes of the broyle betwixt Cæsar and Pompeie, whan he knew not, whether to send wife & children, which way to go, where to hide him selfe, yet, in an earnest letter, amongest his earnest councelles for those heuie tymes concerning both the common state of his contrey, and his owne priuate great affaires he was neither vnmyndfull nor ashamed to reason at large, and learne gladlie of Atticus, a lesse point of Grammer than these be, noted of me in Salust, as, whether he should write, ad Piræea, in Piræea, or in Piræeum, or Piræeum sine præpositione: And in those heuie tymes, he was so carefull to know this small point of Grammer, that he addeth these wordes Si hoc mihi ζήτημα persolueris, magna me molestia liberaris. If Tullie, at that age, in that authoritie, in that care for his contrey, in that ieoperdie for him selfe, and extreme necessitie of hys dearest frendes, beyng also the Prince of Eloquence hym selfe, was not ashamed to descend to these low pointes of Grammer, in his owne naturall tong, what should scholers do, yea what should any man do, if he do thinke well doyng, better than ill doyng: And had rather be, perfite than meane, sure than doutefull, to be what he should be, in deed, not seeme what he is not, in opinion. He that maketh perfitnes in the Latin tong his marke, must cume to it by choice & certaine knowledge, not stumble vpon it by chance and doubtfull ignorance: And the right steppes to reach vnto it, be these, linked thus orderlie together, aptnes of nature, loue of learnyng, diligence in right order, constancie with pleasant moderation, and alwayes to learne of them that be best, and so shall you iudge as they that be wisest.


To Do for Himself as Far as Possible

George Bourne, pseudonym of George Sturt (1863-1927), A Farmer's Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1922), p. 37:
He loved, nay, he needed, to do for himself as far as possible—to mend his own fences, clear out his own ditches, cut firing for himself, be his own horse-doctor, cow-doctor; for so he received in his own hands, eyes, skin, brain, the messages that come from wood, from water, from animal life. He wanted no one between him and necessity: no shield; no screen; no servant.
George Bourne, pseudonym of George Sturt (1863-1927) Change in the Village (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1912), pp. 28-29:
Unlike the rest of us, labouring people are unable to shirk any of life's discomforts by "getting a man" or "a woman," as we say, to do the disagreeable or risky jobs which continually need to be done. If a cottager in this village wants his chimney swept, or his pigstye cleaned out, or his firewood chopped, the only "man" he can get to do it for him is himself. Similarly with his wife. She may not call in "a woman" to scrub her floor, or to wash and mend, or to skin a rabbit for dinner, or to make up the fire for cooking it. It is necessary for her to be ready to turn from one task to another without squeamishness, and without pausing to think how she shall do it. In short, she and her husband alike must practise, in their daily doings, a sort of intrepidity which grows customary with them; and this habit is the parent of much of that fine conduct which they exhibit so carelessly in moments of emergency.
Id., pp. 117-118:
It was of the essence of the old system that those living under it subsisted in the main upon what their own industry could produce out of the soil and materials of their own countryside. A few things, certainly, they might get from other neighbourhoods, such as iron for making their tools, and salt for curing their bacon; and some small interchange of commodities there was, accordingly, say between the various districts that yielded cheese, and wool, and hops, and charcoal; but as a general thing the parish where the peasant people lived was the source of the materials they used, and their well-being depended on their knowledge of its resources. Amongst themselves they would number a few special craftsmen—a smith, a carpenter or wheelwright, a shoemaker, a pair of sawyers, and so on; yet the trades of these specialists were only ancillary to the general handiness of the people, who with their own hands raised and harvested their crops, made their clothes, did much of the building of their homes, attended to their cattle, thatched their ricks, cut their firing, made their bread and wine or cider, pruned their fruit-trees and vines, looked after their bees, all for themselves.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


A Wanton Insult Put Upon Old England

George Sturt (1863-1927), The Wheelwright's Shop (1923; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 23:
One aspect of the death of Old England and of the replacement of the more primitive nation by an "organised" modern state was brought out forcibly and very disagreeably by the War against Germany. It was not only that one saw the beautiful fir-woods going down, though that was bad. The trees, cut into lengths, stripped of their bark and stacked in piles, gave to many an erst secluded hill-side a staring publicity. This or that quiet place, the home of peace, was turned into a ghastly battle-field, with the naked and maimed corpses of trees lying about. Bad enough, all this was. Still, trees might grow again; the hollows might recover their woodland privacy and peace for other generations to enjoy. But what would never be recovered, because in fact War had already found it all but dead, was the English understanding of timber, the local knowledge of it, the patriarchal traditions of handling it. Of old there had been a close relationship between the tree-clad country-side and the English who dwelt there. But now the affection and the reverence bred of this—for it had been with something near to reverence that a true provincial beheld his native trees—was all but gone. A sort of greedy prostitution desecrated the native woods. All round me I saw and heard of things being done with a light heart that had always seemed to me to be wicked—things as painful to my sympathies as harnessing a carriage-horse to a heavy dray, or as pulling down a cathedral to get building-stone. I resented it; resented seeing the fair timber callously felled at the wrong time of year, cut up too soon, not "seasoned" at all. Perhaps the German sin had made all this imperative; yet it was none the less hateful. Not as waste only was it hateful: it was an outrage on the wisdom of our forefathers—a wanton insult put upon Old England, in her woods and forests.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



To Distant Ages of the World Let Us Revert

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Excursion 4.847-887:
Once more to distant ages of the world
Let us revert, and place before our thoughts
The face which rural solitude might wear
To the unenlightened swains of pagan Greece.        850
—In that fair clime, the lonely herdsman, stretched
On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
With music lulled his indolent repose:
And, in some fit of weariness, if he,
When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear        855
A distant strain, far sweeter than the sounds
Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched,
Even from the blazing chariot of the sun,
A beardless Youth, who touched a golden lute,
And filled the illumined groves with ravishment.        860
The nightly hunter, lifting a bright eye
Up towards the crescent moon, with grateful heart
Called on the lovely wanderer who bestowed
That timely light, to share his joyous sport:
And hence, a beaming Goddess with her Nymphs,        865
Across the lawn and through the darksome grove,
Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
By echo multiplied from rock or cave,
Swept in the storm of chase; as moon and stars
Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven,        870
When winds are blowing strong. The traveller slaked
His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked
The Naiad. Sunbeams, upon distant hills
Gliding apace, with shadows in their train,
Might, with small help from fancy, be transformed        875
Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly.
The Zephyrs fanning, as they passed, their wings,
Lacked not, for love, fair objects whom they wooed
With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque,
Stripped of their leaves and twigs by hoary age,        880
From depth of shaggy covert peeping forth
In the low vale, or on steep mountain side;
And, sometimes, intermixed with stirring horns
Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard,—
These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood        885
Of gamesome Deities; or Pan himself,
The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring God!


Books in Art, IV

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Thy Word is a Lamp unto My Feet and a Light unto My Path, in Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Accession Number F79-12):

Carl Johann Spielter (1841-1922), Sonntag Nachmittag, sold for €2,881 at Uppsala Auktionskammare (December 6, 2011; lot 1082):


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Travels in the Isle of Man

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter II.77 (March 3, 1646), "To Sir K.D., at Rome", pp. 507-509 (at 507-508):
I have travell'd the Isle of Man, I mean this little World, which I have carried about me and within me so many years: For as the wisest of Pagan Philosophers said, that the greatest Learning was the knowledge of one's self, to be his own Geometrician; if one do so, he need not gad abroad to see Fashions, he shall find enough at home, he shall hourly meet with new fancies, new humours, new passions within doors.

This travelling o'er of one's self is one of the paths that leads a Man to Paradise: It is true, that 'tis a dirty and dangerous one, for it is thick set with extravagant Desires, irregular Affections, and Concupiscences, which are but odd Comrades, and oftentimes do lie in Ambush to cut our Throats: There are also some melancholy companions in the way, which are our Thoughts, but they turn many times to be good Fellows, and the best company; which makes me, that among these disconsolate walls I am never less alone than when I am alone; I am oft-times sole, but seldom solitary. Some there are who are over-pestered with these companions, and have too much mind for their bodies; but I am none of those.
"Among these disconsolate walls": Howell was imprisoned in the Fleet for eight years, "on his account purely for his allegiance to the king, but more likely because of the insolvency to which he confesses in Familiar Letters," according to D.R. Woolf, "Howell, James (1594?–1666)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

"I am never less alone than when I am alone": An echo of Cicero, De Officiis 3.1.1 (tr. Walter Miller):
Cato, who was of about the same years, Marcus, my son, as that Publius Scipio who first bore the surname of Africanus, has given us the statement that Scipio used to say that he was never less idle than when he had nothing to do and never less lonely than when he was alone.

P. Scipionem, Marce fili, eum, qui primus Africanus appellatus est, dicere solitum scripsit Cato, qui fuit eius fere aequalis, numquam se minus otiosum esse, quam cum otiosus, nec minus solum, quam cum solus esset.


New versus Old Authors

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter IV.31 (February 3, ?), "To Mr. W. Price, at Oxon.", pp. 609-611 (at 609-610):
There could hardly better news be brought to me, than to understand that you are so great a Student, and that having pass'd through the briars of Logic, you fall so close to Philosophy: Yet I do not like your method in one thing, that you are so fond of new Authors, and neglect the old, as I hear you do. It is the ingrateful Genius of this Age, that if any Sciolist can find a hole in an old Author's coat, he will endeavour to make it much more wide, thinking to make himself somebody thereby; I am none of those; but touching the Ancients, I hold this to be a good moral Rule, Laudandum quod bene, ignoscendum quod aliter dixerunt: The older an Author is, commonly the more solid he is, and the greater teller of Truth.
Id., letter IV.43 (August 30, ?), "To the truly honoured the Lady Sibylla Brown, at her House near Sherburn", pp. 629-634 (at 629):
Madam, in these peevish times, which may be call'd the Rust of the Iron Age, there is a race of cross-grain'd People, who are malevolent to all Antiquity. If they read an old Author, it is to quarrel with him, and find some hole in his coat; they slight the Fathers of the primitive Times, and prefer John Calvin, or a Casaubon before them all.


Fate of Ancient Authors

John Mennes (1599-1671), "To a friend upon a journey to Epsam Well," Musarum Deliciae: or, The Muses Recreation. Conteining Severall Pieces of Poetique Wit. The second Edition. By Sr J.M. and Ja: S. (London: Henry Herringman, 1656), pp. 3-7 (lines 30-57 on pp. 4-5):
Close by the Well, you may discerne        30
Small shrubs of Eglantine and Fern,
Which shew the businesse of the place;
For here old Ops her upper face
Is yellow, not with heat of summer,
But safroniz'd with mortall scumber.        35
But then the pity to behold
Those antient Authors, which of old
Wrote down for us, Philosophy,
Physick, Music, and Poetry,
Now to no other purpose tend,        40
But to defend the fingers end.
Here lyes Romes Naso torn and rent,
New reeking from the Fundament;
Galens old rules could not suffice,
Nor yet Hippocrates the wise.        45
Not teaching, how to clense, can doe,
Themselves must come and wipe it too.
Here did lye Virgil, there lay Horace,
Which newly had wip'd his, or her Arse.
Anacreon reeled too and fro,        50
Vex'd, that they us'd his papers so.
And Tully with his Offices,
Was forc'd to doe such works as these.
Here lies the Letter of a Lover,
Which piece-meale did the thing discover.        55
Sonnets halfe written would not stay,
But must necessity obey.
33 Ops: Mother Earth
35 scumber: "The dung of a dog or fox. Hence dial., filth, dirt" (Oxford English Dictionary, citing this verse; surprisingly, there is no entry in the dictionary for saffronize, although there is for saffron as a verb = "To dye with saffron; also, to give a saffron-yellow colour to")

Related posts:
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013


They Think They Are of the Cabinet-Council of God

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter IV.44 (n.d.), "To Sir L.D., in Paris", pp. 634-636 (at 634-635):
Concerning the posture of things here, we are still involv'd in a cloud of Confusion, 'specially touching Church-matters: A race of odd crack-brain'd Schismatiques do croak in every corner; but, poor things, they rather want a Physician to cure cure them of their madness, than a Divine to confute them of their errors. Such is the height of their spiritual pride, that they make it nothing to interpret every tittle of the Apocalypse; they make a shallow rivulet of it, that one may pass over and scarce wet his ankles; whereas the greatest Doctors of the Church compar'd it to a deep Ford wherein an Elephant might swim. They think they are of the Cabinet-Council of God, and not only know his Attributes, but his Essence...



James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter III.21 (March 25, 1646), "To Sir Paul Neale, Kt.", pp. 544-545:
Or I may say, Translations are like the wrong side of a Turkey Carpet, which useth to be full of thrums and knots, and nothing so even as the right side: Or one may say (as I spake elsewhere), that Translations are like Wines ta'en off the lees, and poured into other vessels, that must needs lose somewhat of their first strength and briskness, which in the pouring, or passage rather, evaporates into Air.

Moreover, touching Translations, it is to be observ'd, that every Language hath certain Idioms, Proverbs, and peculiar Expressions of its own, which are not rendible in any other, but paraphrastically; therefore he overacts the office of an Interpreter who doth enslave himself too strictly to Words or Phrases. I have heard of an excess among Limners, call'd too much to the Life, which happens when one aims at Similitude more than Skill: So in version of Languages, one may be so over-punctual in words, that he may mar the matter. The greatest fidelity that can be expected in a Translator, is to keep still a-foot and entire the true genuine sense of the Author, with the main design he drives at...


Punishment for Arboricide: St. Hyacinth of Amastris

Here are some excerpts from Nicetas Paphlagon, Oratio XIX = "Laudatio S. Hyacinthi Amastreni," Patrologia Graeca 105, cols. 417-440, also in Acta Sanctorum, Julii Tomus IV (1868), die 17, pp. 222-231, in my rough translation.

§ 4, on the inhabitants of Amastris (PG cols. 421-424 = AS p. 223):
They turned their attention to a certain one of the trees in their vicinity, called "lotos," naturally beautiful to look at and flourishing in its condition. Enchanted beyond measure in their silly minds and overcome by its beauty, they considered it a god and thought it should be propitiated with priests and sacrifices.

δένδρῳ δέ τινι τῶν παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς, λωτῷ μὲν καλουμένῳ, ὡραίῳ δὲ τὴν θέαν, ὡς εἰκὸς, καὶ εὐθαλεῖ τὴν κατασκευὴν προσχόντες, καὶ τὸν ἀνόητον νοῦν ἀμέτρως καταθελχθέντες, καὶ ἡττηθένθες τῆς αὐτοῦ καλλονῆς, τοῦτο Θεὸν νενομήκασιν· ἱερεῦσί τε καὶ θυσίαις ἐξιλάσκεσθαι ᾤοντο δεῖν.
§ 9, Hyacinth addressing the inhabitants of Amastris (PG cols. 427-428 = AS p. 225):
This is full of much foolishness and excessive obtuseness, to devote oneself to a little, weak, absolutely senseless tree and to offer worship to it as to God.

πολλῆς τοῦτο γέμει ἀλογίας, ὑπερβαλλούσης ἀναισθησίας βραχεῖ καὶ ὑποσάθρῳ ξύλῳ, καὶ ἀνονήτῳ πάντα προσανέχειν τε καὶ λατρεύειν ὡς Θεῷ.
§ 10, Hyacinth addressing the inhabitants of Amastris (PG cols. 427-428 = AS p. 225):
Therefore, if you place any trust in me, citizens, if you care at all about your own salvation, cut down this tree and throw it into the fire...

εἴ τι οὖν ἐμοὶ πείθεσθε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, εἴ τι μέλει τῆς οἰκείας σωτηρίας ὑμῖν, τὸ μὲν δένδρον τοῦτο ἐκκόψατε, καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλετε...
§ 12 (PG cols. 429-430 = AS p. 227):
Previously, as has been said, he persisted with his words, but when he could not restrain them from this error, next he shows the power that lies in deeds. Girding the loins of his mind and drawing power from Jesus Christ in prayer, he takes a sharp axe in his hand and, at noon in summer, unseen by anyone, he chops the tree of error down root and branch.

ἀλλὰ τοῖς λόγοις, ὡς εἴρηται, πρότερον ἐγκείμενος, ἐπεὶ μὴ οἷός τ᾽ ἦν ἐν τούτοις τῆς πλάνης ἐκείνης ἐπισχεῖν, ἑπομένως λοιπὸν τὴν ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων δύναμιν ἐκδείκνυται, καὶ τὰς τῆς διανοίας ὀσφῦς ἀναζωσάμενος, καὶ τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῇ προσευχῇ δύναμιν ἐπισπασάμενος, εἶτα πέλεκυν ὀξὺν λαβὼν τῇ χειρὶ, καὶ θερινῆς μεσημβρίας πάντας διαλαθὼν, πρόῤῥιζον ἐκκόπτει τὸ τῆς πλάνης φυτόν.
§ 13 (PG cols. 431-432 = AS p. 227):
The priests came to make their customary sacrifice to the tree. When they saw that it had been cut down and was shamefully broken to pieces down to the ground, they were at first stunned, naturally overcome by great amazement.

ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἧκον οἱ ἱερεῖς τὴν νενομισμένην τῷ δένδρῳ θυσίαν ἀποδώσοντες, ἐκκοπὲν δὲ τοῦτο, καὶ κατὰ γῆς ἀτίμως εἶδον καταῤῥαγὲν, πρῶτον μὲν ἀπηνεοῦντο, θάμβει πολλῷ, κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς, περιεχόμενοι.
§ 14 (PG cols. 431-432 = AS p. 227):
First they considered who could be responsible for this disaster. Then they gradually called to mind the admonitions of Hyacinth. They understood that the deed could be attributed to no one else except the one who loathed the communal sacrifice as accursed and who repeatedly criticized and tried to hinder those who offered it. With one impulse they attacked him....Leaping on him with kicks and punches, they dragged him by the hair; they pulled him this way and that on the ground, striking him with sticks and pelting him with stones. Having tortured him thus in all kinds of ways, they brought him before the leader of the city.

πρῶτον μὲν τὸν αἴτιον αὐτοῖς ταύτης ἀνεσκοποῦντο τῆς συμφορᾶς· ἔπειτα τῶν Ὑακίνθου κατὰ μικρὸν εἰς ἀνάμνησιν ἥκοντες νουθεσιῶν· καὶ κατανενοηκότες ὡς οὐδενὸς ἂν εἴη ἄλλου τὸ ἔργον, ἢ τοῦ καὶ τῶν θυσιῶν τὴν μετάληψιν ὡς ἐναγῆ μυσαττομένου, καὶ τοῖς θυσιάζουσιν ἐπιτιμῶντος ἢ προσωχθηκότος, ὁρμῶσι μὲν ὁμόσε κατ᾽ αὐτοῦ πάντες....καὶ τοῖς ποσὶ μὲν λὰξ, ταῖς χερσὶ δὲ πὺξ ἐναλλόμενοι, εἷλκον τῶν τριχῶν· ἐσπάρασσον κατὰ γῆς, τοῖς ξύλοις παίοντες, τοῖς λίθοις βάλλοντες, καὶ οὕτω παντοδαπῶς αὐτὸν αἰκισάμενοι, τῷ τῆς πόλεως ἡγεμόνι παρεστήσαντο.
§ 17 (PG cols. 433-436 = AS p. 228):
When the leader heard these words, first he ordered Hyacinth to be stretched out on the ground and beaten with rods. For a long time his flesh was mangled and his bones were pounded. He moistened the ground with his blood. He uttered no sound. In silence he was transported to Lord Jesus. Praying to Him with soundless pleas and supplications, he easily endured the torture. The crowd kept shouting, "Leader, call the executioner, call the one who'll pull his teeth out. In the same way that he cut down our god, let his teeth be cut out, let them be dug out by the roots with iron pincers." As this deadly sentence was carried out on him, the maddened crowds still didn't let go of their insanity. They shouted at him as he was bound again like a bundle of faggots*, rent asunder, pulled along the ground, and dragged out of the city to be stabbed with sharp reeds and pelted with rocks. When all the murderous attack on him and punishment had reached its end, and they had tortured him so pitilessly, they dragged him up to the top of a mountain. Having made him a single wound from head to foot and having put him to death, as evening had already arrived, they left his body as food for wild beasts.

Ἐπεὶ τούτων ἀκοῦσαι τὸν ἡγεμόνα τῶν ῥημάτων, πρῶτον μὲν κατὰ γῆς αὐτὸν ἐκταθέντα, ξύλοις ἀγρίοις μαστιγοῦσθαι διετάξατο. Ἐπὶ πολὺ δὲ τὰς σάρκας ξαινομένου, καὶ τὰ ὀστᾶ θλωμένου, καὶ τῷ αἵματι βάπτοντος τὴν γῆν· οὐδεμίαν δὲ φωνὴν ἀφιέντος· ἡσυχῆ δὲ πρὸς τὸν Κύριον ἐξεστῶτος Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἀνεκλαλήτοις αὐτῷ προσευχαῖς ἐντυγχάνοντος· καὶ εὐμαρῶς τὰς αἰκίας ὑποφέροντος, ὁ δῆμος ἐπεφώνει· Κάλει τὸν δήμιον, ὦ ἡγεμὸν, κάλει τὸν τοὺς ὀδόντας ἐκριζώσοντα· ὥσπερ οὗτος ἐξεκοψε τὸν ἡμέτερον Θεὸν, οὔτως αὐτοῦ οἱ ὀδόντες ἐκκοπτέσθωσαν, σιδηρᾷ λαβίδι ῥιζόθεν ὀρυττέσθωσαν· καὶ ταύτης ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ πέρας τῆς ἀποφάσεως λαβούσης, οὐδ᾽ οὕτως οἱ ἐμβρόντητοι δῆμοι τῆς μανίας καθυφίεσαν· αὖθις δὲ τοῦτον δεσμούμενον, τρόπον δένδρου κοπεντος, σπαράσσεσθαί τε καὶ σύρεσθαι κατὰ τῆς γῆς ἐβόων· ἐξελκόμενόν τε τῆς πόλεως, ἐκκεντᾶσθαι καλάμοις ὀξέσι, καὶ λίθοις καταλεύεσθαι. Ἐπεὶ δὲ πᾶσα τέλος ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ ἡ μιαιφόνος εἴληφεν ὁρμὴ καὶ βουλὴ, τὸν μὲν οὕτως ἀνηλεῶς καταικίσαντες, καὶ ἄχρις ὀφρύος τοῦ ὄρους ἐξελκύσαντες, ἀπὸ κεφαλῆς δὲ μέχρι ποδῶν ἓν τραῦμα τοῦτον ἀποδείξαντες καὶ θανατώσαντες, ἑσπέρας ἤδη φθασάσης, θηρσὶ τὸ σῶμα κατέλιπον βοράν.
* I translated τρόπον δένδρου κοπίντος as "like a bundle of faggots," but perhaps the phrase refers to a rope around a felled tree.

Obverse of a lead seal of Michael Stryphnos, grand doux and husband of Theodora, sister of the Empress Euphrosyne Doukaina, wife of Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203), Dumbarton Oaks Collection 33.1.3651:

The seal is described as follows by Nicolas Oikonomides, A Collection of Dated Byzantine Lead Seals (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1986), pp. 119-120 (seal no. 126):
St. Theodore (at left) and St. Hyakinthos standing. St. Theodore holds an inclined spear (right hand) and a shield, both resting on the ground. In the center there is an (elm) tree. St. Hyakinthos, beardless, swings an ax with both hands to fell the tree....This image seems to have a Paphlagonian source of inspiration since it depicts St. Theodore and, especially, St. Hyakinthos of Amastris, who is not a very commonly represented saint and who suffered martyrdom for cutting down an elm tree venerated by the pagans (18 July).
I'm not sure what basis there is for Oikonomides' identification of the tree as an elm. The tree most associated with the neighborhood of Amastris is the box. See e.g. Catullus (4.13: Amastri Pontica et Cytore buxifer = "Pontic Amastris and box-wood-bearing Cytorus"), Pliny the Elder (Natural History 16.28.71: buxus Pyrenaeis ac Cytoriis montibus plurima et Berecyntio tractu = "the box abounds in the Pyrenees and the Kidros mountains and in the Berecyntus district," tr. H. Rackham), and Strabo (12.3.10: πλείστη δὲ καὶ ἀρίστη πύξος φύεται κατὰ τὴν Ἀμαστριανήν, καὶ μάλιστα περὶ τὸ Κύτωρον = "The most and the best box‑wood grows in the territory of Amastris, and particularly round Cytorum," tr. H.L. Jones).

St. Hyacinth lived in the fourth century, his encomiast Nicetas Paphlagon in the ninth.

I haven't seen François Halkin, ed., "Martyre de saint Hyacinthe," Hagiographica Inedita Decem (Turnhout: Brepols, 1989 = Corpus Christianorum, Series Graeca, 21).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Monday, August 12, 2013



Richard F. Burton (1821-1890), Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah (London: Tylston and Edwards, 1893), p. 9:
And this is the Arab's Kayf. The savouring of animal existence; the passive enjoyment of mere sense; the pleasant languor, the dreamy tranquillity, the airy castle-building, which in Asia stand in lieu of the vigorous, intensive, passionate life of Europe. It is the result of a lively, impressible, excitable nature, and exquisite sensibility of nerve; it argues a facility for voluptuousness unknown to northern regions, where happiness is placed in the exertion of mental and physical powers; where Ernst ist das Leben; where niggard earth commands ceaseless sweat of face, and damp chill air demands perpetual excitement, exercise, or change, or adventure, or dissipation, for want of something better. In the East, man wants but rest and shade: upon the banks of a bubbling stream, or under the cool shelter of a perfumed tree, he is perfectly happy, smoking a pipe, or sipping a cup of coffee, or drinking a glass of sherbet, but above all things deranging body and mind as little as possible; the trouble of conversations, the displeasures of memory, and the vanity of thought being the most unpleasant interruptions to his Kayf. No wonder that "Kayf" is a word untranslatable in our mother-tongue!1

1 In a coarser sense "kayf" is app1ied to all manner of intoxication. Sonnini is not wrong when he says, "the Arabs give the name of Kayf to the voluptuous relaxation, the delicious stupor, produced by the smoking of hemp."
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James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter III.8 (March 3, 1646), "To the Rt. Hon. my Lord of D.", pp. 523-527 (at 524):
But under Favour this Word Learning is taken in a narrower Sense among us than among other Nations; we seem to restrain it only to the Book; whereas, indeed, any Artisan whatsoever (if he know the Secret and Mystery of his Trade) may be called a learned Man: A good Mason, a good Shoemaker, that can manage St. Crispin's Lance handsomely, a skilful Yeoman, a good Shipwright, &c., may be all called learned Men; and indeed the usefullest sort of learned Men; for without the two first we might go barefoot, and lie abroad as Beasts, having no other Canopy than the wild Air; and without the two last we might starve for Bread, have no Commerce with other Nations, or ever be able to tread upon a Continent. These, with such-like dextrous Artisans, may be termed learned Men, and the more behoveful for the Subsistence of a Country, than those Polymathists that stand poring all Day in a Corner upon a Moth-eaten Author, and converse only with dead Men.
Id., p. 525:
The extravagant Humour of our Country is not to be altogether commended, that all Men should aspire to Booklearning: There is not a simpler Animal, and a more superfluous Member of State, than a mere Scholar, than only a self-pleasing Student; he is—Telluris inutile pondus.
Id., pp. 526-527:
There is an odd opinion among us, that he who is a contemplative Man, a Man who weds himself to his study, and swallows many books, must needs be a profound Scholar, and a great learned Man, tho' in reality he be such a dolt, that he hath neither a retentive faculty to keep what he hath read, nor wit to make any useful Application of it in common discourse; what he draws in lieth upon dead Lees, and never grows fit to be broach'd. Besides, he may want Judgment in the choice of his Authors, and knows not how to turn his hand either in weighing or winnowing the soundest opinions. There are divers who are cried up for great Clerks who want discretion. Others, tho' they wade deep into the causes and knowledge of things, yet they are subject to screw up their wits, and soar so high, that they lose themselves in their own Speculations; for thinking to transcend the ordinary pitch of Reason, they come to involve the common Principles of Philosophy in a Mist; instead of illustrating things, they render them more obscure; instead of a plainer and shorter way to the Palace of Knowledge, they lead us thro' briery, odd uncouth paths, and so fall into the fallacy call'd ignotum per ignotius. Some have the hap to be term'd learned Men, tho' they have gathered up but the scraps of Knowledge here and there, tho' they be but but smatterers, and mere sciolists, scarce knowing the Hoties of things; yet, like empty casks, if they can make a Sound, and have a Gift to vent with Confidence what they have suck'd in, they are accounted great Scholars.
Hoties, plural of hoti, i.e. "A cause, a reason; a statement introduced by ‘because’, or the fact denoted by such a statement" (Oxford English Dictionary), from Greek ὅτι.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


A Capital Offence

Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (© 2011; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2013), p. 399:
Then, the Sino-Soviet split ended the intellectual importations from the USSR, and it was conveniently decided that Mao Zedong Thought represented the highest development of Marxist-Leninist philosophy; therefore, in order to fill the ideological vacuum, Mao’s Thought suddenly expanded and acquired polyvalent functions; its study became a reward for the meritorious, a punishment for the criminal, a medicine for the sick; it could answer all questions and solve all problems; it even performed miracles that were duly recorded; its presence was felt everywhere: it was broadcast in the streets and in the fields, it was put to music, it was turned into song and dance; it was inscribed everywhere—on mountain cliffs and on chopsticks, on badges, on bridges, on ashtrays, on dams, on teapots, on locomotives; it was printed on every page of all newspapers. (This, in turn, created some practical problems: in a poor country, where all paper is recycled for a variety of purposes, one had always to be very careful when wrapping groceries or when wiping one’s bottom, not to do it with Mao’s ubiquitous Thought—which would have been a capital offence.)
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Vivitur Parvo Bene

Ryōkan (1758-1831), tr. Kazuaki Tanahashi in Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan (Boston: Shambhala, 2012), p. 124:
With little desire, all is sufficient;
with grabbing mind, myriad things are confined.
Light vegetables satisfy my hunger.
A patched robe wraps my body.
Walking alone, I am accompanied by deer.
Singing aloud, I play with village children.
I wash my ears in a creek under the boulder,
delighted by pine trees on a ridge.
The same, tr. Ryūichi Abé and Peter Haskel in Great Fool: Zen Master Ryōkan: Poems, Letters, and Other Writings (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996), p. 196:
Desire nothing, and you're content with everything
Pursue things, and you're thwarted at every turn
Wild greens can stave off hunger
A simple robe serves to cover the skin
Going for a solitary stroll
  I fall in with the deer
When the children from the village sing, I join
  right in at the top of my lungs
I cleanse my ears in the sound of water
  tumbling over rocks
And gladden my heart with the whisper of pines
  high on the mountains' peaks
The same, tr. Misao Kodama and Hikosaku Yanagishima in The Zen Fool Ryōkan (Rutland: Tuttle, 1999), pp. 89-90:
Without a craving
I crave nothing
With a craving
I crave everything
Among the mountains
I can feed myself on herbs
And get along
Wearing only one robe.
Rambling alone
I make friends
With deer and others.
I can join the village children
Singing loudly with them.
To wash my soiled ears clean,
I go to the stream
Under the rocks
And on the peaks I make friends
With the pines standing there.
For the Chinese see Kodama and Yanagishima, p. 90.


Johannes ad Oppositum

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter III.23 (February 20, 1647), "To the Hon. Sir Edward Spencer, Kt., at his House near Branceford", pp. 547-551 (at 548):
But there are some men that are of a mere negative genius, like Johannes ad oppositum, who will deny, or at least cross and puzzle anything, tho' never so clear in itself, with their but, yet, if, &c.; they will flap the lye in Truth's teeth, tho' she visibly stand before their face without any vizard: Such perverse cross-grain'd spirits are not to be dealt withal by arguments, but palpable proofs; as if one should deny that the fire burns, or that he hath a nose on his face; there is no way to deal with him, but to pull him by the tip of the one, and put his finger into the other.
This reminds me of a famous passage from Boswell's Life of Johnson (aetat. 54, A.D. 1763):
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute it thus.'

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Burial Wishes of James Howell

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter II.29 (March 26, 1643), "To Sir Edw. Sa., Knight", pp. 421-423 (at 422-423):
This little sackful of bones, I thought to bequeath to Westminster-Abbey, to be interred in the Cloyster within the South-side of the Garden, close to the Wall, where I would have desir'd Sir H.F. (my dear Friend) to have inlay'd a small piece of black Marble, and cause this Motto to have been insculped on it, Hucusque peregrinus, heic domi; or this, which I would have left to his Choice, Hucusque Erraticus, heic Fixus: And instead of strewing my grave with Flowers, I would have desir'd him to have grafted thereon some little Tree of what sort he pleas'd, that might have taken root downward to my dust, because I have been always naturally affected to woods and groves, and those kind of vegetables, insomuch, that if there were any such thing as a Pythagorean Metempsychosis, I think my soul would transmigrate into some Tree, when she bids this body farewell.
According to D.R. Woolf, "Howell, James (1594?–1666)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "Howell died in the parish of St Andrew's, Holborn, and was buried on 3 November 1666 outside the Temple Church. A monument of Howell's design was erected in the Temple Church at a cost of £30." The inscription on the monument (destroyed in World War II) read:
Jacobus Howell Cambro-Britannus, Regius Historiographus (in Anglia primus), qui post varias peregrinationes, tandem naturae cursum peregit, satur annorum & famae, domi forisque huc usque erraticus, hic fixus 1666.
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Can You Bear It?

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, Scene 3:
THOMASINA: Oh, Septimus! — can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides — thousands of poems — Aristotle's own library brought to Egypt by the noodle's ancestors! How can we sleep for grief?

SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock. Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady! You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew? I have no doubt that the improved steam-driven heat-engine which puts Mr Noakes into an ecstasy that he and it and the modern age should all coincide, was described on papyrus. Steam and brass were not invented in Glasgow.


The Music of Sappho

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Introduction to Burton Raffel, tr., Pure Pagan: Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments (New York: The Modern Library, 2004), pp. xiii-xxii (at xiv):
Given the kinship of the ancient lyre, or barbitos, to the autoharp, Sappho's cunningly woven assonances and consonances probably sounded like Mother Maybelle Carter.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Difference in Opinion

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter III.26 (July 28, 1648), "To R.K., Esq., at St. Gile's", pp. 553-554 (at 553):
Difference in Opinion, no more than a differing Complexion, can be cause enough for me to hate any. A differing Fancy is no more to me than a differing Face. If another hath a fair Countenance, tho' mine be black; or if I have a fair Opinion, tho' another have a hard-favour'd one, yet it shall not break that common league of Humanity which should be betwixt rational creatures, provided he corresponds with me in the general offices of Morality and civil uprightness: This may admit him to my acquaintance and conversation, tho' I never concur with him in opinion; He bears the Image of Adam, and the Image of the Almighty, as well as I; he had God for his Father, tho' he hath not the same Church for his Mother. The omniscient Creator, as he is only Kardiognostic, so he is the sole Lord of the whole inward Man: It is he who reigns o'er the faculties of the soul, and the affections of the Heart: 'Tis he who regulates the Will, and rectifies all obliquities in the Understanding by special illuminations, and oftentimes reconciles Men as opposite in Opinions, as Meridians and Parallels are in point of extension, whereof the one draws from East to West, the other from North to South.


Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter II.50 (March 17, 1639), "To my Hon. Friend, Sir C.C.", pp. 443-445 (at 445):
I fell also to think what advantage those innocent Animals had of Man, who, as soon as Nature cast them into the world, find their Meat dress'd, the Cloth laid, and the Table cover'd; they find their Drink brew'd, and the Buttery open, their Beds made, and their Cloaths ready: and tho' Man hath the faculty of Reason to make him a compensation for the want of those advantages, yet this Reason brings with it a thousand perturbations of mind and perplexities of spirit, griping cares and anguishes of thought, which those harmless silly creatures were exempted from. Going on, I came to repose myself upon the trunk of a Tree, and I fell to consider further what advantage that dull Vegetable had of those feeding Animals, as not to be so troublesome and beholden to Nature, nor to be subject to starving, to diseases, to the inclemency of the weather, and to be far longer-liv'd. Then I spied a great Stone, and sitting a-while upon't, I fell to weigh in my thoughts that that Stone was in a happier condition, in some respects, than either of those sensitive Creatures or Vegetables I saw before; in regard that that Stone, which propagates by assimilation, as the Philosophers say, needed neither grass nor hay, or any aliment for restauration of nature, nor water to refresh its roots, or the heat of the Sun to attract the moisture upwards, to increase growth, as the other did. As I directed my pace homeward, I spied a Kite soaring high in the Air, and gently gliding up and down the clear Region so far above my head, that I fell to envy the Bird extremely, and repine at his happiness, that he should have a privilege to make a nearer approach to Heaven than I.
James Howell reposing himself upon the trunk of a tree, as depicted by Abraham Bosse:



Libero de Libero (1903-1981), Borrador, Diario 1933-1955 (Torino: ERI, 1994), pp. 70-71 (May 3, 1941; tr. Eric Thomson):
There was a eucalyptus beneath my window, an ancient one, with timid foliage; and there for a season a nightingale had its nocturnal forest home, and I talked to the nightingale, which used to come at night to sing for me. The other day I came across workmen who were cutting it down; and already felled the trunk revealed the bloody laceration of the roots as the workmen were cutting it up into transportable blocks. For no reason, they cut it down and the eucalyptus was bleeding there butchered. They've killed my tree and a round scar is left behind in its place like the lid of an abyss.

C'era un eucalipto sotto la mia finestra, antico, con una timida fronda: e là un usignuolo per una stagione ebbe la sua foresta notturna, e io parlai all'usignuolo che veniva di notte a cantare per me. L'altro giorno ho trovato operai che l'abbattevano; e già caduto il tronco mostrava lo strappo sanguigno delle radici e gli operai lo segavano per farne ciochi trasportabili. Senza un perché, l'hanno tagliato, e l'eucalipto sanguinava sgozzato. Hanno ucciso il mio albero, e sul luogo è rimasta una cicatrice rotonda come il coperchio d'un abisso.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Thursday, August 08, 2013


The Minimum

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), "Sash Windows Opening on the Foam" (1986), rpt. in Words of Mercury (London: John Murray, 2003), pp. 126-130 (at 126):
'Where a man’s Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is, there shall his heart be also'; and, of course, Lemprière, Fowler, Brewer, Liddell and Scott, Dr Smith, Harrap and Larousse and a battery of atlases, bibles, concordances, Loeb classics, Pléiade editions, Oxford Companions and Cambridge histories; anthologies and books on painting, sculpture, architecture, birds, beasts, fishes, trees and stars; for if one is settling in the wilds, a dozen reference shelves is the minimum; and they must be near the dinner table where arguments spring up which have to be settled then or never.
Photograph of a bookshelf in Fermor's house, from Maggie Rainey-Smith, "Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor," A Curious Half-Hour (June 11, 2011):

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


On the Hurry of This Time

Austin Dobson (1840-1921), "On the Hurry of This Time," in his Collected Poems, 5th ed. (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd, 1902), p. 472:
                    (To F.G.)

With slower pen men used to write,
        Of old, when "letters" were "polite;"
    In ANNA'S, or in GEORGE'S days,
    They could afford to turn a phrase
Or trim a straggling theme aright.

They knew not steam; electric light
Not yet had dazed their calmer sight;—
    They meted out both blame and praise
        With slower pen.

Too swiftly now the Hours take flight!
What's read at morn is dead at night:
    Scant space have we for Art's delays,
    Whose breathless thought so briefly stays,
We may not work—ah! would we might!—
        With slower pen.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Doall, Starveall, and Cheatall

Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849), "Will It Rain?" in his Poetical Works, Vol. II (London: Henry S. King, 1876), p. 209:
"Bread!" the starver faintly sigheth;
"I have none!" the robb'd replieth;
Doall loseth, Starveall winneth;
Cheatall laugheth, while he sinneth;
Work grim-gaspeth o'er spare diet;
And the Million-Tongued is quiet.

When the forest breatheth deeply,
Darkèd sun down shining steeply;
When the noon-night scarcely shifteth;
And the windy cloud uplifteth
Not a leaf the mute heav'ns under;
Then, the thoughtful look for thunder!


A Problem for Polytheists

For a polytheist, who believes in the existence of many gods, a question naturally arises. To which of the gods in particular should he pray and sacrifice to achieve a specific goal? In ancient Greece, one way to answer this question was to consult an oracle. On this question posed to oracles see H.S. Versnel, Coping With the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2011 = Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, 173), pp. 46-49.

Jon D. Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 109, provides a translation of a private inquiry of this type on a lead tablet from the oracle of Zeus at Dodona:
Gods. May I have good fortune.
Evandros and his wife consult Zeus Naios and Dione. To whom of the gods or heroes or divinities should they pray and sacrifice so that they themselves and their household may fare better both now and for all time?
Mikalson cites H.W. Parke, The Oracles of Zeus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), and I don't know whether the translation is Mikalson's or Parke's.

Here is the Greek text, from The Packard Humanities Institute's Searchable Greek Inscriptions, where it is dated "ca. 300-167 BC":
θεοί. τύχαν ἀγαθάν. ἐπικοινῆται Εὔβαν-
δρος {Εὔανδρος} καὶ ἁ γυνὰ τῶι Διεὶ τῶι Νάωι καὶ τᾶι Δι-
ώναι τίνι κα φεῶν {θεῶν} ἢ ἡρώων ἢ δαιμόνων
εὐχόμενοι καὶ φύοντες {θύοντες} λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινο-
ν πράσσοιεν καὶ αὐτοὶ καὶ ἁ οἴκησις καὶ νῦν
καὶ ἰς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον.
Some elementary notes to myself on the Greek:
The text of the lead tablet was first published in Constantin Carapanos, Dodones et ses ruines (Paris: Librarie Hachette et Cie, 1878), [T.I:] Texte, p. 71, and [T. II:] Planches, pl. XXXIV, no. 3. There is also a text with notes by August Fick in Sammlung der griechischen Dialekt-Inschriften, II.1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1885), pp. 120-121, no. 1582. The most recent edition is in Éric Lhôte, Les lamelles oraculaires de Dodone (Genève: Droz, 2006 = Hautes Études du Monde Gréco-romain, 36), Corpus, No 8, which I haven't seen, because the relevant pages are hidden in Google Books.

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