Thursday, July 31, 2014


The Tomb of Flavius Agricola

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 6.17985a, tr. Mary Beard et al., Religions of Rome, Vol. 2: A Sourcebook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 236:
My home was Tibur; Flavius Agricola I was called. I am the one you can see lying there, just as I used to lie at dinner, carefully looking after myself for all the years Fate allowed me. And I never spared the wine. My darling wife, Flavia Primitiva, died before me, chaste and attentive worshipper of Isis, with whom I spent thirty years of happiness. For consolation, she left me her body's fruit — Aurelius Primitivus, who will tend my grave with piety and will preserve for ever my resting-place. Friends, who read this, heed what I say: mix the wine, bind the garland round your brow, drink far from here. And do not withhold the pleasures of love with beautiful women. When death comes, everything will be consumed by earth and fire.
The Latin:
Tibur mihi patria, Agricola sum vocitatus,
Flavius idem, ego sum discumbens ut me videtis.
Sic et aput superos annis, quibus fata dedere,
animulam colui nec defuit umqua(m) Lyaeus.
Praecessitque prior Primitiva gratissima coniuncxs,        5
Flavia et ipsa, cultrix deae Phariaes casta
sedulaque et forma decore repleta
cum qua ter denos dulcissimos egerim annos.
Solaciumque sui generis Aurelium Primitivum
tradidit, qui pietate sua coleret fastigia nostra,        10
hospitiumque mihi secura servavit in aevum.
Amici, qui legitis, moneo miscete Lyaeum
et potate procul redimiti tempora flore
et venereos coitus formosis ne denegate puellis:
cetera post obitum terra consumit et ignis.        15
The inscription is now lost, but the statue is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, inventory number 1972.148:

Katherine M.D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 103-104 (endnotes, on pp. 229-230, omitted):
A statue now in Indianapolis shows a bearded man reclining on a couch, his upper torso bare; in his left hand he holds a drinking cup, his right is raised to the wreath on his head (Fig. 54). The figure acted as a funerary monument, with an opening at the foot of the couch for the urn that held the ashes of the deceased. The identification of the same figure in a drawing in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo now in Windsor Castle revealed its history; it was discovered in Rome in 1626, in excavations beneath St. Peter's, in what we now call the Vatican Necropolis, when the foundations were being laid for Bernini's baldacchino. For those who were hoping to find the tomb of St. Peter, our man was a grave disappointment; even more shocking, however, was the inscription originally written on the base of the couch. The dead man, who gives his name as Flavius Agricola from Tibur, speaks in indifferent hexameters: 'I am reclining here, as you see me, just as I did among the living in the years which fate gave me, I nurtured my little soul and wine was never in short supply.' He goes on to speak of his wife of 30 happy years. Flavia Primitiva, who has died first, of her pious worship of the goddess Isis and of her beauty, and then apparently of the support of his stepson Aurelius Primitivus. Then he continues (l.12): 'Friends who read this, I advise you, mix up the wine and drink far away, binding your brows with flowers, and do not spurn the pleasures of Venery with beautiful girls; all the rest after death the earth consumes and fire'. This was too much for the Vatican; the Pope, Urban VIII, ordered the inscription first to be plastered over, then the whole base to be destroyed, and threatened with 'the most rigorous excommunication and the most horrible threats' whoever divulged the verses. The statue, minus base, ended up decorating the garden of the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, whose attitude toward these matters was very different from that of his papal uncle.
I guess I have incurred excommunication by divulging the verses.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The Fog of War

Thucydides 7.44.1 (tr. Charles Forster Smith):
By this time the Athenians were getting into a state of so great confusion and perplexity that it has not been easy to learn from either side just how the several events occurred. In the daytime things are clearer, of course, yet even so those who are present do not know everything that happens, but each man barely knows what happens near himself; but in a battle by night—the only one that took place in this war between large armies—how could anyone know anything clearly?

καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἤδη ἐν πολλῇ ταραχῇ καὶ ἀπορίᾳ ἐγίγνοντο οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι, ἣν οὐδὲ πυθέσθαι ῥᾴδιον ἦν οὐδ' ἀφ' ἑτέρων ὅτῳ τρόπῳ ἕκαστα ξυνηνέχθη. ἐν μὲν γὰρ ἡμέρᾳ σαφέστερα μέν, ὅμως δὲ οὐδὲ ταῦτα οἱ παραγενόμενοι πάντα πλὴν τὸ καθ' ἑαυτὸν ἕκαστος μόλις οἶδεν· ἐν δὲ νυκτομαχίᾳ, ἣ μόνη δὴ στρατοπέδων μεγάλων ἔν γε τῷδε τῷ πολέμῳ ἐγένετο, πῶς ἄν τις σαφῶς τι ᾔδει;


A Happy versus a Discontented Disposition

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter VII (Mr. Hilary, i.e. Mr. "Cheerful," speaking):
It is very true; a happy disposition finds materials of enjoyment everywhere. In the city, or the country—in society, or in solitude—in the theatre, or the forest—in the hum of the multitude, or in the silence of the mountains, are alike materials of reflection and elements of pleasure. It is one mode of pleasure to listen to the music of 'Don Giovanni,' in a theatre glittering with light, and crowded with elegance and beauty: it is another to glide at sunset over the bosom of a lonely lake, where no sound disturbs the silence but the motion of the boat through the waters. A happy disposition derives pleasure from both, a discontented temper from neither, but is always busy in detecting deficiencies, and feeding dissatisfaction with comparisons. The one gathers all the flowers, the other all the nettles, in its path. The one has the faculty of enjoying everything, the other of enjoying nothing. The one realises all the pleasure of the present good; the other converts it into pain, by pining after something better, which is only better because it is not present, and which, if it were present, would not be enjoyed. These morbid spirits are in life what professed critics are in literature; they see nothing but faults, because they are predetermined to shut their eyes to beauties. The critic does his utmost to blight genius in its infancy; that which rises in spite of him he will not see; and then he complains of the decline of literature. In like manner, these cankers of society complain of human nature and society, when they have wilfully debarred themselves from all the good they contain, and done their utmost to blight their own happiness and that of all around them. Misanthropy is sometimes the product of disappointed benevolence; but it is more frequently the offspring of overweening and mortified vanity, quarrelling with the world for not being better treated than it deserves.



Here are a few notes on the translation of Philoctetes in Sophocles, Antigone. The Women of Trachis. Philoctetes. Oedipus at Colonus. Edited and Translated by Hugh-Lloyd Jones (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994 = Loeb Classical Library, vol. 21).

484-485 (pp. 302-303; Philoctetes to Neoptolemus):
νεῦσον, πρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου, τέκνον,

Consent! In the name of Zeus the god of suppliants himself, be persuaded!
Many times in the play Philoctetes addresses Neoptolemus with the vocative τέκνον (son), as an older man to a younger. The two characters are not father and son, of course. In most of these passages, Lloyd-Jones translates the form of address, but not here, and also not at 1397-1399 (pp. 398-399):
ἔα με πάσχειν ταῦθ᾽ ἅπερ παθεῖν με δεῖ·
ἃ δ᾽ ᾔνεσάς μοι δεξιᾶς ἐμῆς θιγών,
πέμπειν πρὸς οἴκους, ταῦτά μοι πρᾶξον, τέκνον.

Allow me to suffer what it is my fate to suffer! But do for me what you swore, clasping my right hand, that you would do: escort me home!
At lines 484 and 1399, τέκνον is not translated.

755-756 (pp. 328-329):
δεινόν γε τοὐπίσαγμα τοῦ νοσήματος.
δεινὸν γὰρ οὐδὲ ῥητόν· ἀλλ᾽ οἴκτιρέ με.

The burden of the sickness is grievous.
Grievous, indeed, and indescribable!
Here Lloyd-Jones doesn't translate ἀλλ᾽ οἴκτιρέ με at the end of line 756: "But pity me."

1213-1217 (pp. 376-377; Philoctetes speaking):
ὦ πόλις πόλις πατρία,
πῶς ἂν εἰσίδοιμ᾽
ἄθλιός σ᾽ ἀνήρ,
ὅς γε σὰν λιπὼν ἱερὰν
λιβάδ᾽ ἐχθροῖς ἔβαν Δαναοῖς
ἀρωγός· ἔτ᾽ οὐδέν εἰμι.

O my city, O my native city, if only I could see you, wretched man that I am, I who left your sacred stream and went to help the Greeks! I am nothing any more!
In line 1216 the Greeks are ἐχθροῖς (hated), but the adjective is not translated. Jebb translates "the Danai, mine enemies."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The History of Mankind

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 12, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 130:
The history of mankind is little else than a narrative of designs which have failed, and hopes that have been disappointed. In all matters of emulation and contest, the success of one implies the defeat of another, and at least half the transaction terminates in misery. And in designs not directly contrary to the interest of another, and therefore not opposed either by artifice or violence, it frequently happens, that by negligence or mistake, or unseasonable officiousness, a very hopeful project is brought to nothing.


Getting Through the Day

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter V (Mr. Listless speaking):
But I must say, modern books are very consolatory and congenial to my feelings. There is, as it were, a delightful north-east wind, an intellectual blight breathing through them; a delicious misanthropy and discontent, that demonstrates the nullity of virtue and energy, and puts me in good humour with myself and my sofa.
Id., chapter VII:
I contrive to get through my day by sinking the morning in bed, and killing the evening in company; dressing and dining in the intermediate space, and stopping the chinks and crevices of the few vacant moments that remain with a little easy reading.


One Good Thing in the World

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Nightmare Abbey, chapter I (on Mr. Glowry):
Disappointed both in love and in friendship, and looking upon human learning as vanity, he had come to a conclusion that there was but one good thing in the world, videlicet, a good dinner...

Monday, July 28, 2014


Of One Mind

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 11, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 118 (on 1 Peter 3.8 "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous"):
By the union of minds which the Apostle recommends, it must be supposed that he means not speculative, but practical union; not similitude of opinions, but similitude of virtues. In religious opinions, if there was then any disagreement, they had then living authority, to which they might have recourse; and their business was probably, at that time, more to defend their common faith against the heathen, than to debate any subtilties of opinion among themselves. But there are innumerable questions, in which vanity or interest engages mankind, which have little connection with their eternal interest; and yet often inflame the passions, and produce dislike and malevolence. Sects in philosophy, and factions in the state, easily excite mutual contempt, or mutual hatred. He whose opinions are censured, feels the reputation of his understanding injured; he, whose party is opposed, finds his influence resisted, and perhaps his power, or his profit, in danger of diminution. It could not be the intention of St. Peter, that all men should think alike, either of the operations of nature, or the transactions of the state; but that those who thought differently, should live in peace; that contradiction should not exasperate the disputants, or that the heat should end with the controversy, and that the opposition of party (for such there must sometimes be) should not canker the private thoughts, or raise personal hatred or insidious enmity.
Id., pp. 125-126:
That a precept of courtesy is by no means unworthy of the gravity and dignity of an apostolical mandate, may be gathered from the pernicious effects which all must have observed to have arisen from harsh strictness and sour virtue: such as refuses to mingle in harmless gaiety, or give countenance to innocent amusements, or which transacts the petty business of the day with a gloomy ferociousness that clouds existence. Goodness of this character is more formidable than lovely; it may drive away vice from its presence, but will never persuade it to stay to be amended; it may teach, it may remonstrate, but the hearer will seek for more mild instruction. To those, therefore, by whose conversation the heathens were to be drawn away from errour and wickedness; it is the Apostle's precept, that they be courteous, that they accommodate themselves, as far as innocence allows, to the will of others; that they should practise all the established modes of civility, seize all occasions of cultivating kindness, and live with the rest of the world in an amicable reciprocation of cursory civility, that Christianity might not be accused of making men less chearful as companions, less sociable as neighbours, or less useful as friends.


Philoctetes' Treasure

Sophocles, Philoctetes 31-37 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I see an empty dwelling with no man there.
And are there none of the things that make a home in there?
Yes, a bed of leaves pressed down, as though for someone who camps there.
But is the rest bare, and is there nothing there beneath the roof?
Yes, a cup made from a single piece of wood, the work of a poor craftsman, and with it stones for making a fire.
The treasures that you are describing must be his.

ὁρῶ κενὴν οἴκησιν ἀνθρώπων δίχα.
οὐδ᾽ ἔνδον οἰκοποιός ἐστί τις τροφή;
στιπτή γε φυλλὰς ὡς ἐναυλίζοντί τῳ.
τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἔρημα, κοὐδέν ἐσθ᾽ ὑπόστεγον;
αὐτόξυλόν γ᾽ ἔκπωμα, φλαυρουργοῦ τινος        35
τεχνήματ᾽ ἀνδρός, καὶ πυρεῖ᾽ ὁμοῦ τάδε.
κείνου τὸ θησαύρισμα σημαίνεις τόδε.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. πυρεῖον:
firesticks, h.Merc. 111, S.Ph. 36, Thphr.HP5.3.4, D.S.5.67, etc.; τάχ' ἂν ..τρίβοντες, ὥσπερ ἐκ πυρείων, ἐκλάμψαι ποιήσαιμεν τὴν δικαιοσύνην Pl.R.435a; πυρεῖά τε χερσὶν ἐνώμων Theoc.22.33; ἀμφὶ πυρήϊα δινεύεσκον A.R.1.1184; πυρεῖα συντρίψαντες Luc.VH1.32; the stationary piece was called ἐσχάρα, the drill τρύπανον, Thphr.Ign.64.
But we know from the same play (lines 295-297) that Philoctetes used stones, not firesticks, to start a fire:
[A]nd then there would be no fire! But by rubbing one stone painfully against another I made the hidden spark flash out, the thing that has always been my preservation.

                             εἶτα πῦρ ἂν οὐ παρῆν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πέτροισι πέτρον ἐκτρίβων μόλις
ἔφην᾽ ἄφαντον φῶς, ὃ καὶ σῴζει μ᾽ ἀεί.
The definition of πυρεῖον in Liddell-Scott-Jones as "firesticks" is probably too restrictive, therefore. Jebb's "means of kindling a fire" (in his commentary on Philoctetes, line 36) would be a better definition.

On various ancient fire-starting techniques see R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. VI (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966) pp. 1-13, with notes on pp. 89-92.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Sweet Content

Barnabe Barnes (1571-1609), Sonnet LXVI, in Parthenophil and Parthenophe: A Critical Edition, ed. Victor A. Doyno (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971), pp. 40-41:
Ah sweet content, where is thy mylde abode?
    Is it with shepheardes and light-harted swaynes?
    Which sing vpon the downes and pype abroade
    Tending their flockes and cattell on the playnes?
Ah sweet content, where doest thou safely rest?
    In heauen, with Angels which the prayses sing
    Of him that made and rules at his behest
    The mindes, and harts of euery liuing thing?
Ah sweet content, where doth thine harbour hold,
    Is it in Churches, with Religious men,
    Which please the goddes with prayers manifold,
    And in their studies meditate it then.
Whether thou doest in heauen, or earth appeare,
    Be where thou wilt, thou wilt not harbour here.
Related post: Sweet Content (by Brian Fairfax).

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Learning Greek and Latin, or Not

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), England and the English (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1833), pp. 170-171:
I see, sir, you yet think Greek and Latin are excellent things, are worth the sacrifice of all else. Well, then, on this ground let us meet you. Your boy will go to Eton to learn Greek and Latin; he will stay there eight years (having previously spent four at a preparatory school), he will come away, at the end of his probation, but what Latin or Greek will he bring with him? Are you a scholar yourself, examine then the average of young men of eighteen; open a page of some author they have not read, have not parrot-like got by heart; open a page in the dialogues of Lucian, in the Thebaid of Statius. Ask the youth, you have selected from the herd, to construe it as you would ask your daughter to construe a page of some French author she has never seen before, a poem of Regnier, or an exposition in the Esprit des Lois. Does he not pause, does he not blush, does he not hesitate, does not his eye wander abroad in search of the accustomed “Crib,” does he not falter out something about lexicons and grammars, and at last throw down the book and tell you he has never learnt that, but as for Virgil or Herodotus, there he is your man! At the end then of eight years, without counting the previous four, your son has not learnt Greek and Latin, and he has learnt nothing else to atone for it.


Books Have Become My Life

Yang Hsün-chi (1456-1544), "Inscribed on the Doors of My Bookshelves," tr. John Timothy Wixted, in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 273:
Mine was a trading family
Living in Nan-Hao district for a hundred years.
I was the first to become a scholar,
Our house being without a single book.
Applying myself for a full decade,
I set my heart on building a collection.
Though not fully stocked with minor writings,
Of major works, I have nearly everything:
Classics, history, philosophy, belles-lettres—
Nothing lacking from the heritage of the past.
Binding up the volumes one by one in red covers,
I painstakingly sew them by hand.
When angry, I read and become happy;
When sick, I read and am cured.
Piled helter-skelter in front of me,
Books have become my life.
The people of the past who wrote these tomes,
If not sages, were certainly men of great wisdom.
Even without opening their pages,
Joy comes to me just fondling them.
As for my foolish family, they can't be helped;
Their hearts are set on money alone.
If a book falls on the floor, they don't pick it up;
What do they care if they get dirty or tattered?
I'll do my best by these books all my days,
And die not leaving a single one behind.
There are some readers among my friends—
To them I'll give them all away.
Better that than have my unworthy sons
Haul them off to turn into cash.


Homesick for the Present

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Contemporaneousness," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 329-331 (at 329-330):
Theoretically, it should make no difference to our enjoyment of it whether a work of art is new or old. There are standards of goodness and badness by which every work of whatever period may be judged. If it is good, then we admire it whether it was created this morning or three thousand years ago; if it is found to be bad, then we don't like it—and there is, or at any rate there should be, the end of the matter.

But this is true only in theory. When it comes to practice we find that this sublime disregard of time and space is not the obvious and easy thing we supposed it to be. Even when we are familiar and at home with every style and convention of art, we find that the period at which any given work was created does condition our appreciation of it. Literary scholars, and all those who for some reason have ever had to shut themselves up for any length of time in a library of nothing but ancient books, know what it is to be homesick from out of the past for the present. After a few weeks of unintermitted reading in the sixteenth century, what a blissful sensation it is to open a contemporary novel—even if it happens to be not a very good one, and even if our ancient reading has been of the choicest! At moments like these we infinitely prefer H.G. Wells to Shakespeare. He is contemporary, he breathes the same atmosphere as ourselves, his problems are our problems, and though his works may prove, in the words of the old poet, "damnably moldy a hundred years hence," when King Lear will still serenely remain what it is and always has been; though we know very well that, judged by any standard, they compare, to say the least of it, poorly with those of Shakespeare; we are ready, after too long a sojourn in the past, to turn to him with passionate avidity.

Friday, July 25, 2014


The Hawking Index

Jordan Ellenberg, "The Summer's Most Unread Book Is...," Wall Street Journal (July 3, 2014):
It's beach time, and you've probably already scanned a hundred lists of summer reads. Sadly overlooked is that other crucial literary category: the summer non-read, the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," widely called "the most unread book of all time."

How can we find today's greatest non-reads? Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we're guessing most people are likely to have read.
Some years ago I bought a good, sturdy copy of William Langland's Piers the Plowman, with notes by W.W. Skeat, for two dollars. The first eighty lines have interlinear and marginal notes in ink. Obviously the original owner didn't read more than three pages of the text before giving up. I find this very often in secondhand school editions of Greek and Latin texts—English definitions of practically every word, scrawled all over the first few pages, then no sign that the rest of the book was read at all.

The Hawking Index could be skewed upwards, however, by selective skimming. See, for example, how a young woman describes her friend, a student at Yale, in William Deresiewicz, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," New Republic (July 21, 2014):
No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing.
Related post: Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac.


The Deteriorationist

Here are some speeches of Mr. Escot, "the deteriorationist," in Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Headlong Hall.

Chapter I:
"[T]hese improvements, as you call them, appear to me only so many links in the great chain of corruption, which will soon fetter the whole human race in irreparable slavery and incurable wretchedness: your improvements proceed in a simple ratio, while the factitious wants and unnatural appetites they engender proceed in a compound one; and thus one generation acquires fifty wants, and fifty means of supplying them are invented, which each in its turn engenders two new ones; so that the next generation has a hundred, the next two hundred, the next four hundred, till every human being becomes such a helpless compound of perverted inclinations, that he is altogether at the mercy of external circumstances, loses all independence and singleness of character, and degenerates so rapidly from the primitive dignity of his sylvan origin, that it is scarcely possible to indulge in any other expectation, than that the whole species must at length be exterminated by its own infinite imbecility and vileness."
Chapter II:
"I am certain," said Mr Escot, "that a wild man can travel an immense distance without fatigue; but what is the advantage of locomotion? The wild man is happy in one spot, and there he remains: the civilised man is wretched in every place he happens to be in, and then congratulates himself on being accommodated with a machine, that will whirl him to another, where he will be just as miserable as ever."
Chapter IV:
"Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none."
Chapter VII:
"Profound researches, scientific inventions: to what end? To contract the sum of human wants? to teach the art of living on a little? to disseminate independence, liberty, and health? No; to multiply factitious desires, to stimulate depraved appetites, to invent unnatural wants, to heap up incense on the shrine of luxury, and accumulate expedients of selfish and ruinous profusion. Complicated machinery: behold its blessings. Twenty years ago, at the door of every cottage sate the good woman with her spinning-wheel: the children, if not more profitably employed than in gathering heath and sticks, at least laid in a stock of health and strength to sustain the labours of maturer years. Where is the spinning-wheel now, and every simple and insulated occupation of the industrious cottager? Wherever this boasted machinery is established, the children of the poor are death-doomed from their cradles. Look for one moment at midnight into a cotton-mill, amidst the smell of oil, the smoke of lamps, the rattling of wheels, the dizzy and complicated motions of diabolical mechanism: contemplate the little human machines that keep play with the revolutions of the iron work, robbed at that hour of their natural rest, as of air and exercise by day: observe their pale and ghastly features, more ghastly in that baleful and malignant light, and tell me if you do not fancy yourself on the threshold of Virgil's hell, where
Continuo auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,
Infantumque animæ flentes, in limine primo,
Quos dulcis vitæ exsortes, et ab ubere raptos,
Abstulit atra dies, et FUNERE MERSIT ACERBO!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014



Greek Anthology 7.339 (by Palladas?, tr. W.R. Paton):
It was not for any sin of mine that I was born of my parents. I was born, poor wretch, and I journey towards Hades. Oh death-dealing union of my parents! Oh for the necessity which will lead me to dismal death! From nothing I was born, and again I shall be nothing as at first. Nothing, nothing is the race of mortals. Therefore make the cup bright, my friend, and give me wine the consoler of sorrow.

Οὐδὲν ἁμαρτήσας γενόμην παρὰ τῶν με τεκόντων·
    γεννηθεὶς δ᾽ ὁ τάλας ἔρχομαι εἰς Ἀΐδην.
ὦ μῖξις γονέων θανατηφόρος· ὤ μοι ἀνάγκης,
    ἥ με προσπελάσει τῷ στυγερῷ θανάτῳ.
οὐδὲν ἐὼν γενόμην· πάλιν ἔσσομαι, ὡς πάρος, οὐδὲν·
    οὐδὲν καὶ μηδὲν τῶν μερόπων τὸ γένος·
λοιπόν μοι τὸ κύπελλον ἀποστίλβωσον, ἑταῖρε,
    καὶ λύπης †ὀδύνην τὸν Βρόμιον πάρεχε.
This is Paton's Greek text, but he provides no apparatus. Here is the apparatus for line 8 from Hugo Stadtmüller's edition:

I don't have access to Pierre Waltz, ed., Anthologie grecque, T. IV (Paris: Les Belles-Lettres, 1938), but I believe that Alexandre-Marie Desrousseaux conjectured Ἅιδην for ὀδύνην therein.


Don't Read Books!

Yang Wan-li (1127-1206), "Don't Read Books!", tr. Jonathan Chaves in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 254:
Don't read books!
Don't chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away,
    leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly
    with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
    like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don't turn into a haggard old man,
it's annoying for others to have to hear you.

It's so much better
    to close your eyes, sit in your study,
    lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
    burn incense.
It's beautiful to listen to the wind,
    listen to the rain,
    take a walk when you feel energetic,
    and when you’re tired go to sleep.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


An Offering and a Prayer

Greek Anthology 6.31 (by Nicarchus?, tr. W.R. Paton):
I have offered this as a common gift to Pan the goat-treader, to Dionysus the giver of good fruit, and to Demeter the Earth-goddess, and I beg from them fine flocks, good wine and to gather good grain from the ears.

Αἰγιβάτῃ τόδε Πανὶ, καὶ εὐκάρπῳ Διονύσῳ,
    καὶ Δηοῖ Χθονίῃ ξυνὸν ἔθηκα γέρας.
αἰτέομαι δ᾽ αὐτοὺς καλὰ πώεα καὶ καλὸν οἶνον,
    καὶ καλὸν ἀμῆσαι καρπὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀσταχύων.
Goat-treader? See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. αἰγιβάτης:
goat-mounting, epith. of he-goats, etc., Pi. Fr. 201; of Pan, Theoc. Ep. 5.6, AP 6.31.
Likewise Paton translates χιμαιροβάτᾳ as "goat-treader" at Greek Anthology 6.35.1 (also an epithet of Pan), although he does render αἰγοβάταις as "goat-mounting" at Greek Anthology 12.41.4. J.M. Edmonds similarly mis-translates αἰγιβάταν as "goat-foot" at Theocritus, Epigrams 5.6.

I'm reminded of the famous statue of Pan in the ‘"Secret Room" of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples:

The suffix -βάτης is related to βαίνω. See Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Greek Comedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 256, index s.v. βαίνειν. Another compound of -βάτης with an obscene meaning is ὀπισθοβάτης (mounting from behind).

On the other hand, cf. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. tread, v., senses 8.a: "Of the male bird: To copulate with (the hen)" and 8.b: "absol. Of birds: To copulate."

Related post: Bowdlerization.


A Difficult Task

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Disraeli," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 79-89 (at 88):
It is extremely difficult to discover what one really loves and understands best. Human nature is so impressible and imitative. We meet people, read books, and unconsciously propose to ourselves to like what they like, feel as they feel. Many do not discover to their dying day even what gives them pleasure.


The Prince of All Scribaceous Authors

Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Robert Burton," Portraits (1931; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 52-58 (at 54):
He is the Prince of all scribaceous authors, men who read and read and read till learning must find vent, and they have to scribble, scribble, scribble.
Id., pp. 57-58:
There was really no hatred at all in Burton, so that even when he almost bursts himself in Herculean effort to express his abhorrence, he merely sends our spirits up. I believe that is the explanation. If there was any hatred in him, it hardly amounted to more than an endearing cantankerousness which was swamped in a love, not of men, but of words. Words. He lived like a king, a despot in the realm of words. Outside it he was a bewildered, innocent-eyed, single-hearted old scholar understanding little of the world, next to nothing of its wickedness, and only something of its miseries. Thus it comes about that his book, though it is an exposure of men's crimes, delusions, and follies, is a sweet-natured book; grand, absurd, profuse, and sweet.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. scribacious: "Given to, or fond of, writing," marked as rare, with no alternate form scribaceous and only one example, dated 1677. Scribacious can also be found in Carlyle and Emerson. Cf. modern Latin scribax.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Images of the Gods

Julian, fragment of a letter to a priest, 294 D (tr. Wilmer Cave Wright):
It follows that he who loves the gods delights to gaze on the images of the gods, and their likenesses, and he feels reverence and shudders with awe of the gods who look at him from the unseen world.

οὐκοῦν καὶ ὅστις φιλόθεος ἡδέως εἰς τὰ τῶν θεῶν ἀγάλματα καὶ τὰς εἰκόνας ἀποβλέπει, σεβόμενος ἅμα καὶ φρίττων ἐξ ἀφανοῦς ὁρῶντας εἰς αὐτὸν τοὺς θεούς.


On the Shortness of Time

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922), "On the Shortness of Time," Poetical Works, Vol. I (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1914), p. 87:
If I could live without the thought of death,
Forgetful of time's waste, the soul's decay,
I would not ask for other joy than breath
With light and sound of birds and the sun's ray.
I could sit on untroubled day by day
Watching the grass grow, and the wild flowers range
From blue to yellow and from red to grey
In natural sequence as the seasons change.
I could afford to wait, but for the hurt
Of this dull tick of time which chides my ear.
But now I dare not sit with loins ungirt
And staff unlifted, for death stands too near.
I must be up and doing—ay, each minute.
The grave gives time for rest when we are in it.


Man Was Made to Stay at Home

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), "Travelling Abroad," in New Writings by William Hazlitt. Collected by P.P. Howe (New York: Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, 1925), pp. 9-31 (at 9):
I am one of those who do not think that much is to be gained in point either of temper or understanding by travelling abroad. Give me the true, stubborn, unimpaired John Bull feeling, that keeps fast hold of the good things it fancies in its exclusive possession, nor ever relaxes in its contempt for foreign frippery and finery. What is the use of keeping up an everlasting see-saw in the imagination between brown-stout and vin ordinaire, between long and short waists, between English gravity and French levity? The home-brewed, the home-baked, the home-spun, 'dowlas, filthy dowlas for me!'
Man was made to stay at home—(why else are there so many millions born who never dreamt of stirring from it?)—to vegetate, to be rooted to the earth, to cling to his local prejudices, to luxuriate in the follies of his forefathers.
Dowlas, filthy dowlas: William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, 3.3.68. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dowlas as "A coarse kind of linen."



First three stanzas of a song by Guiraut Riquier (1230?-1292?), tr. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971), pp. 315, 317:
Never more will a man be in this world thanked for well composing fair words and pleasant airs, nor for being eager for esteem, so much is the world come to its decline. For that which used to inspire merit, approval, and praise, I hear blamed as the utmost folly, and that which one used to criticize and blame, I see upheld, and hear it praised by all.

I see those in power bold to take, and see them reluctant to welcome and give; tardy and bashful to speak the truth, and shameless and clever in lying. Loyalty they serve not, nor love, but with deceit they contend among themselves; they have no regard for mercy and are avid of occasion to sin.

Withal it's said that the world is improved, and that it's more valorous than it ever was! And he seems indeed bereft of wit who thinks that, and he far more who says so. For never in the world were knaves and cheats so suffered as now, when the great lords make great wrong, with their help, seem natural right, and when he is most sought after who best knows how to work it.
The Provençal, id., pp. 314, 316:
Ja mais non er hom en est mon grazitz
Per ben trobar belhs digz e plazens sos,
Ni per esser de bon grat enveyos,
Tant es lo muns avengutz deschauzitz.
Quar so que sol dar pretz, grat, e lauzor,
Aug repenre per folhia major;
E so qu'om sol repenre e blasmar
Vey mantener, ez aug per tot lauzar.

De tolre vey los poderos arditz vey volpilhs de condutz e de dos;
E de dir ver tardius e vergonhos,
E de mentir frontiers et yssernitz.
E lialtat no servan, ni amor,
Mas ab enjan s'aziran entre lor;
Et a merce no.s volon regardar,
E son cobe d'aizina de peccar.

Ab tot ditz hom que.l mun es corregitz,
E pus que mais no fo es valoros!
E pareys be de conoyssensa blos
Qui so pessa, e trop pus qui o ditz.
Qu'anc el mon mais tant no foron trachor
Ni falsari sufert, que.l gran senhor
Fan de gran tort, ab elh, bon dreg semblar,
Et es volgutz mais qui.n sap pus obrar.
For more information on this song see Corpus des troubadours. Performances on CD: La Tròba: Anthologie chantée des Troubadours (Troubadours Art Ensemble, dir. Gérard Zuchetto, Tròba Vox label), vol. 5, disc 5, track 9, and The Last of the Troubadours (Martin Best Medieval Ensemble, Naxos label), track 16.

Thanks very much to the generous friend who gave me Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry and many other books.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Parts of Speech

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Journals and Papers, tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Vol. 1 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967), p. 14 (I A 126, March, 1836):
All of human life could well be conceived as a great discourse in which different people come to represent the different parts of speech (this might also be applicable to nations in relation to each other). How many people are merely adjectives, interjections, conjunctions, adverbs; how few are nouns, action words, etc.; how many are copulas.

People in relation to each other are like the irregular verbs in various languages—almost all the verbs are irregular.
In Danish:
Hele Msklivet kunde godt lade sig opfatte som en stor Tale, hvor da de forskjellige Msk. komme til at repræsentere de forskjellige Taledele (dette lader sig maaskee ogsaa overføre paa Staterne i Forhold til hverandre). Hvor mange Msk. ere ikke blot Adjectiver, Interjectioner, Conjunctioner, Adverbier, hvor faa ere Subst., Gjerningsord etc., hvor mange ere copula.

Det gaaer med Msk. i Forhold til hverandre, som med de uregelmæssige Verber i adskillige Sprog, alle Verberne ere næsten uregelmæssige.


A Certain Void

Paul Valéry (1871-1945), Variety: Second Series, tr. William Aspenwall Bradley (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), p. 245:
If a great catastrophe is not announced in the morning, we feel a certain void: "There is nothing in the papers today," we sigh.
In French, from his Oeuvres, I (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 1048:
S'il n'y a point ce matin quelque grand malheur dans le monde, nous nous sentons un certain vide. — « Il n'y a rien aujourd'hui dans les journaux », disent-ils.


Reversed Alchemy

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Thayer's Beethoven," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 272-273 (at 272):
Certain authors possess the secret of a kind of reversed alchemy; they know how to turn the richest gold into lead. The most interesting subjects become in their hands so tedious that we can hardly bear to read about them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Subterfuges of Book Buyers

John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), pp. 154-155 (footnotes omitted):
In September 1742 Bach, then aged fifty-seven, bought a de luxe edition of Martin Luther's complete works in seven volumes. According to a little note in his own hand about 'these German and magnificent writings of the late D.[octor] M.[artin] Luther' that had previously belonged to two distinguished theologians, Calov and Mayer, he had paid ten thalers for them. On his shelves he already had fourteen fat folios of Luther's writings, including the Tischreden, plus a Second Quarto volume of his Hauß-Postilla, besides many volumes of sermons, Bible commentaries and devotional writings by other authors, most of whom cited Luther generously. So why the new purchase? Was it just because this was the new Altenburg edition, whereas he already had the Jena version? Bach's working library, estimated to have contained at least 112 different theological and homiletic works, was less like a typical church musician's and more what one might expect to find in the church of a respectably sized town, or that 'many a pastor in Bach's day would have been proud to have owned'. It is slightly odd, too, that the price Bach claimed he had paid for these new volumes appears to have been obliterated and rather clumsily altered to ten thalers from a figure likely to have been twice or even three times as large—in the same month a Leipzig bookseller, Theophil Georg, published a four-volume catalogue of new and old Luther editions which quoted twenty thalers for the Altenburg edition. Was Bach too embarrassed to admit to his wife the full price he had paid—amounting to perhaps half a month's salary?
I confess to similar ruses to conceal from Mrs. Laudator the extent of my book buying, e.g. keeping newly purchased books in the trunk of my car until I can smuggle them into the house undetected.

Felix Vallotton, Le Bibliophile

Thanks to the friend who gave me a copy of Gardiner's book, delivered to my house in a plain brown wrapper.



Conrad Celtis, Epigrams 2.46, tr. Leonard Forster, Selections from Conrad Celtis, 1459-1508 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1948), p. 35:
What but the fame of your ruin is left, O Rome, of so many Consuls and Caesars? Devouring time does so consume all things, nothing permanent exists in the world. Virtue and books alone survive.
The Latin, id., p. 34:
Quid superest, o Roma, tuae nisi fama ruinae
    De tot consulibus Caesaribusque simul?
Tempus edax sic cuncta vorat nilque exstat in orbe
    Perpetuum, Virtus scriptaque sola manent.
Forster cites this as "Epigr. II.6 ... ed. Hartfelder," but it is numbered II.46 in Fünf Bücher Epigramme von Konrad Celtis, ed. Karl Hartfelder (Berlin: Verlag von S. Calvary & Co., 1881), pp. 32-33.

Cf. id., 5.60 ("Ad mortem," p. 114 Hartfelder, my translation):
You destroy everything, O Death, you seize everything won by toil:
    After death Virtue and books alone survive.

Omnia, mors, perimis, rapis omnia parta labore:
    Post mortem probitas scriptaque sola manent.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


The Glory, the Beauty, and the Delight of Nature

John Wilson (1785-1854), aka Christopher North, "Sir Henry Steuart's Theory of Transplantation," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume XXIII, No. CXXXVII (April, 1828) 409-430, partially rpt. as "Trees" in his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1842), pp. 96-107 (at 96-97):
Trees are indeed the glory, the beauty, and the delight of nature. The man who loves not trees—to look at them—to lie under them—to climb up them, (once more a schoolboy,)—would make no bones of murdering Mrs. Jeffs. In what one imaginable attribute, that it ought to possess, is a tree, pray, deficient? Light, shade, shelter, coolness, freshness, music, all the colours of the rainbow, dew and dreams dropping through their umbrageous twilight at eve or morn,—dropping direct,—soft, sweet, soothing, and restorative, from heaven. Without trees, how, in the name of wonder, could we have had houses, ships, bridges, easy-chairs, or coffins, or almost any single one of the necessaries, conveniences, or comforts of life? Without trees, one man might have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but not another with a wooden ladle.

Tree by itself tree, "such tents the patriarchs loved,"—Ipse nemus,—"the brotherhood of trees,"—the grove, the coppice, the wood, the forest,—dearly, and after a different fashion, do we love you all!—And love you all we shall, while our dim eyes can catch the glimmer, our dull ears the murmur, of the leaves,—or our imagination hear at midnight, the far-off swing of old branches groaning in the tempest. Oh! is not merry also sylvan England? And has not Scotland, too, her old pine forests, blackening up her highland mountains? Are not many of her rivered valleys not unadorned with woods,—her braes beautiful, with their birken shaws?—And does not stately ash or sycamore tower above the kirk-spire, in many a quiet glen, overshadowing the humble house of God, "the dial-stone aged and green," and all the deep-sunk, sinking, or upright array of grave-stones, beneath which
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep?"
We have the highest respect for the ghost of Dr. Johnson; yet were we to meet it by moonlight, how should we make it hang its head on the subject of Scottish trees! Look there, you old, blind, blundering blockhead! That pine forest is twenty miles square! Many million trees, there, have at least five hundred arms each, six times as thick as ever your body was, sir, when you were at your very fattest in Bolt Court. As for their trunks—some straight as cathedral pillars—some flung all awry in their strength across cataracts—some without a twig till your eye meets the hawk's nest diminished to a black-bird's, and some overspread, from within a man's height of the mossy sward, with fantastic branches, cone-covered, and green as emerald—what say you, you great, big, lumbering, unwieldy ghost you, to trunks like these? And are not the forests of Scotland the most forgiving that ever were self-sown, to suffer you to flit to and fro, haunting unharmed their ancient umbrage? Yet—Doctor—you were a fine old Tory every inch of you, for all that, my boy—so come glimmering away with you into the gloom after us—don't stumble over the roots—we smell a still at work—and neither you nor I—shadow nor substance (but, prithee, why so wan, good Doctor? Prithee, why so wan?) can be much the worse, eh, of a caulker of Glenlivat?

Every man of landed property, that lies fairly out of arm's-length of a town, whether free or copyhold, be its rental above or below forty shillings a-year, should be a planter. Even an old bachelor, who has no right to become the father of a child, is not only free, but in duty bound to plant a tree. Unless his organ of philoprogenitiveness be small indeed, as he looks at the young, tender plants in his own nursery-garden, his heart will yearn towards them with all the longing and instinctive fondness of a father.
On the murder of Betty Jeffs see Annual Register 70 (1828) 308-319. On Samuel Johnson's criticism of the treeless aspect of Scotland, see Papadendrion.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Avoid the Uninitiated Mob

Conrad Celtis, Odes 1.11 ("Ad Sigismundum Fusilium Vratislaviensem" = "To Sigismund Fusilius of Breslau"), lines 21-32, tr. Leonard Forster, Selections from Conrad Celtis, 1459-1508 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1948), pp. 29, 31:
Disregard the angry clamour of the lying masses; avoid the uninitiated mob, and you will know happiness and the truth that is revealed to few.

Take the great mastiff as an example: beset by the loud yapping of curs, he despises the noise of lesser breeds and goes his way in silence.

On then! Learn the three sacred languages, which will bring you much honour; along with the Hebrew and the Latin tongues the writings of the famous Athenians.
The Latin, id., pp. 28, 30, with apparatus:
Sperne mendacis rabiosa vulgi
Murmura indoctam fugiens catervam
Et datum paucis poteris beatus
        Noscere verum.

Magnus exemplo tibi sit Molossus.        25
Quem premunt vasto fremitu catelli,
Ille sed serpit tacitus minorum
        Murmura temnens.

Perge tres sacras modo nosse linguas,
Quae tibi magnum tribuent honorem,        30
Cum Palestina Latioque claro
        Cecrope scriptam.

28 ridens Pindter
29 ff, Perge tres...stanza lacking Or.
31 Latiamque all texts
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


An Apostle of Gloom

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "How the Days Draw In," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 86-90 (at 87):
Some day I shall compile an Oxford Book of Depressing Verse, which shall contain nothing but the most magnificent expressions of melancholy and despair. All the obvious people will be in it and as many of the obscure apostles of gloom as vague and miscellaneous reading shall have made known to me.
Huxley never compiled such a book, unfortunately. One apostle of gloom who might have merited inclusion in it is Leonidas of Tarentum. Here is one of his darker poems (Greek Anthology 7.472, tr. W.R. Paton):
Man, infinite was the time ere thou camest to the light, and infinite will be the time to come in Hades. What is the portion of life that remains to thee, but a pin-prick, or if there be aught tinier than a pin-prick? [5] A little life and a sorrowful is thine; for even that little is not sweet, but more odious than death the enemy. Men built as ye are, of such a frame of bones, do ye lift yourselves up to the air and the clouds? See, man, how little use it is; for at the end of the thread [10] a worm seated on the loosely woven vesture reduces it to a thing like a skeleton leaf, a thing more loathly than a cobweb. Enquire of thyself at the dawn of every day, O man, what thy strength is and learn to lie low, content with a simple life; [15] ever remembering in thy heart, as long as thou dwellest among the living, from what stalks of straw thou art pieced together.
The Greek, from A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, Vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 132 (Leonidas, no. LXXVII):
Μυρίος ἦν, ὤνθρωπε, χρόνος πρὸ τοῦ ἄχρι πρὸς ἠῶ
    ἦλθες, χὠ λοιπὸς μυρίος εἰν Ἀίδῃ.
τίς μοῖρα ζωῆς ὑπολείπεται ἢ ὅσον ὅσσον
    στιγμὴ καὶ στιγμῆς εἴ τι χαμηλότερον;
μικρή σευ ζωὴ τεθλιμμένη, οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτή        5
    ἡδεῖ᾽ ἀλλ᾽ ἐχθροῦ στυγνοτέρη θανάτου.
ἐκ τοίης ὥνθρωποι ἀπηκριβωμένοι ὀστῶν
    ἁρμονίης †ὕψος τ᾽† ἠέρα καὶ νεφέλας.
ὦνερ, ἴδ᾽ ὡς ἀχρεῖον, ἐπεὶ περὶ νήματος ἄκρον
    εὐλὴ ἀκέρκιστον λῶπος ἐφεζομένη        10
†οἷον τὸ ψαλάθριον ἀπεψιλωμένον οἷον†
    πολλῷ ἀραχναίου στυγνότερον σκελετοῦ.
ἠοῦν ἐξ ἠοῦς ὅσσον σθένος, ὦνερ, ἐρευνῶν
    εἴης ἐν λιτῇ κεκλιμένος βιοτῇ
αἰὲν τοῦτο νόῳ μεμνημένος ἄχρις ὁμιλῇς        15
    ζωοῖς ἐξ οἵης ἡρμόνισαι καλάμης.
Another translation, by Peter Green, in Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 175-176:
Endless, O man, the time that elapsed before you
    Came to the light, and endless time there'll be
In Hades: what share of life remains but a pinprick, or whatever's
    Less than a pinprick? A brief spell
Of affliction is yours, and even that lacks sweetness,
    Is more hateful a foe than death.
Compacted from such a framework of bones, O man, can you, do you
    Still reach out to air and sky? See, man,
How useless your striving: by the half-woven fabric
    A worm sits over the threads, till all
Wears thin as a skeletal leaf, is more abhorrent
    By far than the spider's web.
Search out your strength, O man, at each day's dawning,
    Bow low, be content with a frugal life, in your heart
Always remember, so long as you mingle with the living,
    From what jackstraw you're made.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Three Imperatives

George Santayana's Marginalia. A Critical Selection, Book One: Abell - Lucretius, ed. John McCormick (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011), p. 262, with note:
Come bién y caga fuerte
y no temas a la muerte1
1 Eat heartily and fiercely shit / and have no fear of death.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.



A Happy Spectator

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Chaucer," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 126-139 (at 128):
But there have been few, and, except for Chaucer, no poets of greatness, who have been in love with earth for its own sake, with Nature in the sense of something inevitably material, something that is the opposite of the supernatural. Supreme over everything in this world he sees the natural order, the "law of kind," as he calls it. The teachings of most of the great prophets and poets are simply protests against the law of kind. Chaucer does not protest, he accepts. It is precisely this acceptance that makes him unique among English poets. He does not go to Nature as the symbol of some further spiritual reality; hills, flowers, sea, and clouds are not, for him, transparencies through which the workings of a great soul are visible. No, they are opaque; he likes them for what they are, things pleasant and beautiful, and not the less delicious because they are definitely of the earth earthy. Human beings, in the same way, he takes as he finds, noble and beastish, but, on the whole, wonderfully decent. He has none of that strong ethical bias which is usually to be found in the English mind. He is not horrified by the behaviour of his fellow-beings, and he has no desire to reform them. Their characters, their motives interest him, and he stands looking on at them, a happy spectator.


Arboricide Committed by John, a Syrian Monk

Theodoret of Cyrrhus, A History of the Monks of Syria, tr. R.M. Price (1985; rpt. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008 = Cistercian Studies Series, 88), p. 152 (XXIII.1, on John):
He is so raised above all human things that he reaps no comfort from them. Clear proof of this I shall provide at once. When some well-meaning person planted an almond-tree right by his bed, which then with time became a tree, providing him with shade and feasting his eyes, he ordered it to be cut down, to stop him enjoying any relief therefrom.

οὕτω δέ ἐστι τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων ἁπάντων ὑπέρτερος ὡς μηδεμίαν ἐκ τούτων καρποῦσθαι παραψυχήν. καὶ τούτου τεκμήριον ἐναργὲς αὐτίκα παρέξομαι. ἐπειδὴ γάρ τις τῶν σπουδαίων ἀμυγδάλην παρ' αὐτὴν ἐφύτευσε τὴν στιβάδα, εἶτα τῷ χρόνῳ δένδρον γενομένη σκιάν τε αὐτῷ παρεῖχε καὶ τὴν ὄψιν εἱστία, ἀποτμηθῆναι ἐκέλευσεν, ἵνα μηδεμιᾶς ἐκεῖθεν ἀπολαύοι ψυχαγωγίας.


Thursday, July 17, 2014


Waiting for You

Greek Anthology 7.342 (tr. W.R. Paton):
I am dead, but await thee, and thou too shalt await another. One Hades receives all mortals alike.

κάτθανον, ἀλλὰ μένω σε· μενεῖς δέ τε καὶ σὺ τιν᾽ ἄλλον·
    πάντας ὁμῶς θνητοὺς εἷς Ἀίδης δέχεται.


A Reputation for Profound Learning and Exquisite Taste

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Conxolus," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 205-209 (at 205):
To know what everybody else knows—that Virgil, for example, wrote the Aeneid, or that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles—is rather boring and undistinguished. If you want to acquire a reputation for learning at a cheap rate, it is best to ignore the dull and stupid knowledge which is everybody's possession and concentrate on something odd and out of the way. Instead of quoting Virgil quote Sidonius Apollinaris, and express loudly your contempt of those who prefer the court poet of Augustus to the panegyrist of Avitus, Majorianus and Anthemius. When the conversation turns on Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights (which of course you have not read) say you infinitely prefer The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. When Donne is praised, pooh-pooh him and tell the praiser that he should read Gongora. At the mention of Raphael, make as though to vomit outright (though you have never been inside the Vatican); the Raphael Mengses at Petersburg, you will say, are the only tolerable paintings. In this way you will get the reputation of a person of profound learning and exquisite taste. Whereas, if you give proof of knowing your Dickens, of having read the Bible, the English classics, Euclid and Horace, nobody will think anything of you at all. You will be just like everybody else.


The Proper Disposition of a Student

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Sermon 8, in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 14: Sermons, edd. ‎Jean H. Hagstrum and ‎James Gray (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 90:
Since no man can teach what he has never learned, the value and usefulness of the latter part of life must depend in a great measure upon the proper application of the earlier years; and he that neglects the improvement of his own mind, will never be enabled to instruct others. Light must strike on the body, by which light can be reflected. The disposition therefore, which best befits a young man, about to engage in a life of study, is patience in enquiry; eagerness of knowledge; and willingness to be instructed; a due submission to greater abilities and longer experience; and a ready obedience to those, from whom he is to expect the removal of his ignorance, and the resolution of his doubts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Plutarch on Quietude

Plutarch, fragment 143, tr. F.H. Sandbach:
How wise a thing, it would seem, is quietude! In particular it serves for studying to acquire knowledge and wisdom, by which I do not mean the wisdom of shop and market-place, but that mighty wisdom which makes him that acquires it like to God. Those forms of study that are practised in towns among the crowds of humanity exercise the so-called shrewdness that is really knavery. Hence those who excel in them have been diversified by the needs of city life, like so many fancy products of the culinary art, <and have become ready to do innumerable wrongs> and indeed to perform innumerable dreadful services. But solitude, being wisdom's training-ground, is a good character-builder, and moulds and reforms men's souls. There is nothing to stand in the way of their development, nor are they straightway distorted by collision with many small conventions, as are souls that are confined in towns; living in a pure air and for the most part away from the haunts of men, they grow up erect and sprout their wings, watered by quietude's streams, so smooth and pellucid. Here the mind turns to diviner sorts of learning and sees with a clearer vision. This, surely, is the reason why it was in solitary spots that man founded all those shrines of the gods that have been long established from ancient times, above all those of the Muses, of Pan and the Nymphs, and of Apollo and all gods who are our guides in music; to my mind, they kept the blessings of education away from the dreadful and abominable influences of the towns.

σοφὸν ἔοικε χρῆμα τὸ τῆς ἡσυχίας πρός τ' ἄλλα καὶ εῖς ἐπιστήμης καὶ φρονήσεως μελέτην· λέγω δὲ οὐ τὴν καπηλικὴν καὶ ἀγοραίαν, ἀλλὰ τὴν μεγάλην, ἥτις ἐξομοιοῖ θεῷ τὀν αὐτὴν ἀναλαβόντα. αἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι καὶ τοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων ὄχλοις γιγνόμεναι μελέται γυμνάζουσι τὴν λεγομένην δριμύτητα, πανουργίαν οὖσαν· ὥστε τοὺς ἐν αὐταἰς ἄκρους οἷον ὐπὸ μαγείρων τῶν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι χρειῶν διαπεποικιλμένους πόσα δ' οὐχὶ ** πόσα δ' οὐχὶ καὶ διακονήματα δεινὰ ἐργάζεσθαι· ἡ δ' ἐρημία, σοφίας οὖσα γυμνάσιον, ἠθοποιὸς ἀγαθὴ καὶ πλάττει καὶ μετευθύνει τῶν ἀνδρῶν τὰς ψυχάς. οὐδὲν γὰρ αὐταῖς ἐμπόδιόν ἐστι τῆς αὐξήσεως, οὐδὲ πρὸς πολλὰ καὶ μικρὰ νόμιμα προσπταίουσαι κάμπτονται εὐθύ, καθάπερ αἱ ταῖς πόλεσιν ἐναπειλημμέναι ψυχαί· ἀλλ' ἐν ἀέρι καθαρῷ καὶ τὰ πολλὰ ἔξω διαιτώμεναι τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀνίασιν ὀρθαὶ καὶ πτεροφυοῦσιν, ἀρδόμεναι τῷ διαυγωτάτῳ τε καὶ λειοτάτῳ ῥεύματι τῆς ἡσυχίας, ἐν ᾧ τά τε μαθήματα τοῦ νοῦ θεοειδέστερα καὶ καθαρώτερον ὁρᾷ. διὰ τοῦτό τοι καὶ τῶν θεῶν τὰ ἷερά, ὅσα ἐκ τοῦ ἀρχαίου πάλαι νενόμισται, τοῖς ἐρημοτάτοις χωρίοις ἐνίδρυσαν οἱ πρῶτοι, μάλιστα δὲ Μουσῶν τε καὶ Πανὸς καὶ Νυμφῶν καὶ Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ ὅσοι μουσικῆς ἡγεμόνες θεοί, διακρίναντες, ὡς οἷμαι, τὰ παιδείας καλὰ τῶν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι δεινῶν τε καὶ μιαρῶν τινῶν.
Sandbach's introductory note on this fragment:
F. Wilhelm, Rh. Mus. lxxiii (1924), pp. 466 ff., translates into German and accumulates a mass of illustrative material. He notes that the question of retirement from city life was in the air in the latter part of the first century A.D., as is shown by the discussions of Seneca, Epist. lxviii, Epictetus, iv.4, Dio Chrysostom, xx, Quintilian, x.3.32 ff., Tacitus, Dialogus, 12 f.
The reference is to Friedrich Wilhelm, "Plutarchos ΠΕΡΙ ΗΣΥΧΙΑΣ (Stob. IV 16, 18 p. 398 f. H.)," Rheinisches Museum 73.4 (1924) 466-482.


One of Humanity's Chronic Weaknesses

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Bacon's Symbolism," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 26-28 (at 26):
All things are profoundly symbolical to those who are ready to believe they are. Men have no tails; neither have guinea-pigs. Death's-heads appear to grin ironically. The stars of heaven fall into patterns of strange and dubious significance; the Great Bear is also a plough, a wain, and a dipper. In the Bestiaries the leopard is made the symbol of Christ because of his habit of sleeping in his den and only waking up after three days, when he exhales a breath so piercingly sweet that all living creatures are drawn towards him and so become his prey. In some Bestiaries the lion also symbolizes the founder of our religion; in others both lion and leopard stand for the devil. All is profoundly mysterious in symbology, and the art of parable and allegory is hard to learn, because there are so many masters, each interpreting the same phenomenon in his own way. Stones will preach as many sermons as there are Jaqueses to contemplate them; the running brooks contain a whole Bodleian. To see the world in terms of symbolism is one of humanity's chronic weaknesses. One must be immensely sophisticated to believe that things are what they seem to be—opaque objects, interesting in themselves and for themselves, and not transparent windows through which to gaze on further and more significant realities beyond.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014



Greek Anthology 7.321 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Dear Earth, receive old Amyntichus in thy bosom, mindful of all his toil for thee. Many an evergreen olive he planted in thee and with the vines of Bacchus he decked thee; he caused thee to abound in corn, and guiding the water in channels he made thee rich in pot-herbs and fruit. Therefore lie gently on his grey temples and clothe thee with many flowers in spring.

Γαῖα φίλη, τὸν πρέσβυν Ἀμύντιχον ἔνθεο κόλποις,
    πολλῶν μνησαμένη τῶν ἐπὶ σοὶ καμάτων.
καὶ γὰρ ἀειπέταλόν σοι ἐνεστήριξεν ἐλαίην
    πολλάκι, καὶ Βρομίου κλήμασιν ἠγλάῑσεν,
καὶ Δηοῦς ἔπλησε, καὶ ὕδατος αὔλακας ἕλκων
    θῆκε μὲν εὐλάχανον, θῆκε δ᾽ ὀπωροφόρον.
ἀνθ᾽ ὧν σὺ πρηεῖα κατὰ κροτάφου πολιοῖο
    κεῖσο, καὶ εἰαρινὰς ἀνθοκόμει βοτάνας.


Master Five-Willows

T'ao Ch'ien (365-427), "Biography of Master Five-Willows," in The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien, tr. David Hinton (Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1993), pp. 13-14:
No one knows where he came from. His given and literary names are also a mystery. But we know there were five willows growing beside his house, which is why he used this name. At peace in idleness, rarely speaking, he had no longing for fame or fortune. He loved to read books, and yet never puzzled over their profound insights. But whenever he came upon some realization, he was so pleased that he forgot to eat.

He was a wine-lover by nature, but he couldn't afford it very often. Everyone knew this, so when they had wine, they’d call him over. And when he drank, it was always bottoms-up. He’d be drunk in no time; then he’d go back home, alone and with no regrets over where things are going.

In the loneliness of his meager wall, there was little shelter from wind and sun. His short coat was patched and sewn. And made from gourd and split bamboo, his cup and bowl were empty as often as Yen Hui's. But he kept writing poems to amuse himself, and they show something of who he was. He went on like this, forgetting all gain and loss, until he came naturally to his end.

In appraisal we say: Ch'ien Lou said Don’t make yourself miserable agonizing over impoverished obscurity, and don’t wear yourself out scrambling for money and honor. Doesn't that describe this kind of man perfectly? He’d just get merrily drunk and write poems to cheer himself up. He must have lived in the most enlightened and ancient of times. If it wasn't Emperoor Wu-huai's reign, surely it was Ko-t'ien's.


Musings of a Scholarly Recluse

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), Fanshawe, chapter II:
He called up in review the years, that, even at his early age, he had spent in solitary study—in conversation with the dead—while he had scorned to mingle with the living world, or to be actuated by any of its motives. He asked himself to what purpose was all this destructive labor, and where was the happiness of superior knowledge? He had climbed but a few steps of a ladder that reached to infinity—he had thrown away his life in discovering, that, after a thousand such lives, he should still know comparatively nothing. He even looked forward with dread—though once the thought had been dear to him—to the eternity of improvement that lay before him. It seemed now a weary way, without a resting place, and without a termination; and at that moment he would have preferred the dreamless sleep of the brutes that perish, to man's proudest attribute, of immortality.

Fanshawe had hitherto deemed himself unconnected with the world, unconcerned in its feelings, and uninfluenced by it in any of his pursuits. In this respect he probably deceived himself. If his inmost heart could have been laid open, there would have been discovered that dream of undying fame, which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities. But, at any rate, he had seemed, to others and to himself, a solitary being, upon whom the hopes and fears of ordinary men were ineffectual.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Death and the Mysteries

Plutarch, fragment 178, tr. F.H. Sandbach:
Thus we say that the soul that has passed thither is dead (olôlenai), having regard to its complete (eis to holon) change and conversion. In this world it is without knowledge, except when it is already at the point of death; but when that time comes, it has an experience like that of men who are undergoing initiation into great mysteries; and so the verbs teleutân (die) and teleisthai (be initiated), and the actions they denote, have a similarity. In the beginning there is straying and wandering, the weariness of running this way and that, and nervous journeys through darkness that reach no goal, and then immediately before the consummation every possible terror, shivering and trembling and sweating and amazement. But after this a marvellous light meets the wanderer, and open country and meadow lands welcome him; and in that place there are voices and dancing and the solemn majesty of sacred music and holy visions. And amidst these, he walks at large in new freedom, now perfect and fully initiated, celebrating the sacred rites, a garland upon his head, and converses with pure and holy men; he surveys the uninitiated, unpurified mob here on earth, the mob of living men who, herded together in mirk and deep mire, trample one another down and in their fear of death cling to their ills, since they disbelieve in the blessings of the other world.

οὕτω κατὰ τὴν εἰς τὸ ὅλον μεταβολὴν καὶ μετακόσμησιν ὀλωλέναι τὴν ψυχὴν λέγομεν ἐκεῖ γενομένην· ἐνταῦθα δ´ ἀγνοεῖ, πλὴν ὅταν ἐν τῷ τελευτᾶν ἤδη γένηται· τότε δὲ πάσχει πάθος οἷον οἱ τελεταῖς μεγάλαις κατοργιαζόμενοι. διὸ καὶ τὸ ῥῆμα τῷ ῥήματι καὶ τὸ ἔργον τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ τελευτᾶν καὶ τελεῖσθαι προσέοικε. πλάναι τὰ πρῶτα καὶ περιδρομαὶ κοπώδεις καὶ διὰ σκότους τινὲς ὕποπτοι πορεῖαι καὶ ἀτέλεστοι, εἶτα πρὸ τοῦ τέλους αὐτοῦ τὰ δεινὰ πάντα, φρίκη καὶ τρόμος καὶ ἱδρὼς καὶ θάμβος· ἐκ δὲ τούτου φῶς τι θαυμάσιον ἀπήντησεν καὶ τόποι καθαροὶ καὶ λειμῶνες ἐδέξαντο, φωνὰς καὶ χορείας καὶ σεμνότητας ἀκουσμάτων ἱερῶν καὶ φασμάτων ἁγίων ἔχοντες· ἐν αἷς ὁ παντελὴς ἤδη καὶ μεμυημένος ἐλεύθερος γεγονὼς καὶ ἄφετος περιιὼν ἐστεφανωμένος ὀργιάζει καὶ σύνεστιν ὁσίοις καὶ καθαροῖς ἀνδράσι, τὸν ἀμύητον ἐνταῦθα τῶν ζώντων καὶ ἀκάθαρτον ἐφορῶν ὄχλον ἐν βορβόρῳ πολλῷ καὶ ὁμίχλῃ πατούμενον ὑφ´ ἑαυτοῦ καὶ συνελαυνόμενον, φόβῳ δὲ θανάτου τοῖς κακοῖς ἀπιστίᾳ τῶν ἐκεῖ ἀγαθῶν ἐμμένοντα.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


An Accomplished Man

Callimachus, Epigrams 35 Pfeiffer = Greek Anthology 7.415 (tr. W.R. Paton):
This is the tomb of Callimachus that thou art passing. He could sing well, and laugh well at the right time over the wine.
The same (tr. A.W. Mair):
'Tis the tomb of Battus' son that thou art passing—one who was well skilled in poesy and well skilled in season to laugh over the wine.
The Greek:
Βαττιάδεω παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδας, εὖ μὲν ἀοιδὴν
   εἰδότος, εὖ δ᾽ οἴνῳ καίρια συγγελάσαι.


Ravenna Park

Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously about the Planet (London: Atlantic Books, 2012), p. 94:
[S]tate bureaucracies become a danger to the environment as soon as they acquire the role of controlling rather than containing what is done. A nice illustration is provided by the story of Ravenna Park in Seattle. This was established in 1887 by Mr and Mrs William W. Beck, who bought several parcels of land on the outskirts of the city, in order to preserve and provide access to the giant fir trees growing there — some 400 feet high and 20 feet in diameter. They built a pavilion for concerts and nature lectures, and charged a 25¢ entrance fee to the park, which would be visited by around 10,000 people every day. In 1911 the city, in response to conservationist pressure, bought the park under a compulsory purchase order for $135,663. Almost at once the giant trees began disappearing, cut down and sold by park employees, sometimes with a bureaucratic rubber stamp that condemned a particular tree as a 'threat to public safety'. By 1925 none of the trees remained.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.




P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), Heavy Weather, chapter 7:
'Ah, but you see, I'm his secretary.'

'Why should the fact that you're your uncle's secretary—?'

'Not my uncle's. Old Emsworth's. Pronouns are the devil, aren't they? You start saying "he" and "his" and are breezing gaily along, and you suddenly find you've got everything all mixed up. That's Life, too, if you look at it in the right way.'
Id., chapter 11:
'It seemed out of the question that he could effect an escape—I am speaking of the fellow, not of Pirbright—and you may imagine his astonishment, therefore—I am speaking of Pirbright, not of the fellow—when, on returning, he discovered that that is just what had occurred. The door of the shed was open, and he—I am once more speaking of the fellow—was gone.'

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Vanitas Vanitatum

A sonnet by Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664), translated by Judith Ryan:
Wherever you look, you see nothing but transience on earth. What this man builds today, that man tears down tomorrow: where cities now stand, there will be a meadow on which a shepherd's child will play with the herds of animals.

What now blossoms splendidly will soon be trodden down. The beating heart, the defiant will is ash and bone tomorrow. Nothing lasts forever, neither bronze nor marble. Now fortune laughs, now troubles thunder down on us.

The fame of great deeds must pass away like a dream. How can that toy of time, the fragile human being, survive? Alas, what is all this, which we regard as precious,

other than a poor nothingness, shadow, dust, and wind. Like a meadow flower that one cannot find again. Yet no person wants to consider that which is eternal.
The German, in modern spelling:
Du siehst, wohin du siehst, nur Eitelkeit auf Erden.
Was dieser heute baut, reißt jener morgen ein:
Wo jetzt noch Städte stehn, wird eine Wiese sein,
Auf der ein Schäferskind wird spielen mit den Herden.

Was jetzt noch prächtig blüht, soll bald zertreten werden.
Was jetzt so pocht und trotzt, ist morgen Asch' und Bein,
Nichts ist, das ewig sei, kein Erz, kein Marmorstein.
Jetzt lacht das Glück uns an, bald donnern die Beschwerden.

Der hohen Taten Ruhm muss wie ein Traum vergehn.
Soll denn das Spiel der Zeit, der leichte Mensch, bestehn?
Ach! Was ist alles dies, was wir für köstlich achten,

Als schlechte Nichtigkeit, als Schatten, Staub und Wind;
Als eine Wiesenblum', die man nicht wieder find't.
Noch will, was ewig ist, kein einzig Mensch betrachten!
Another translation, by Marvin S. Schindler:
You see wherever you turn only vanity on earth.
What one man builds today, another tears down tomorrow:
Where now proud cities stand will be a meadow soon,
On which a shepherd's child will dally with his herds.

What blooms so lovely now will soon be trampled down.
What boasts now and defies will be tomorrow's dust and ashes.
Nothing is eternal, neither bronze nor marble monument.
If Fortune now smiles on us, she'll thunder soon with hardships.

The fame of splendid deeds must pass away like dreams.
Can then Time's hapless plaything, fragile man, remain?
Oh! what is everything that we consider precious,

But wretched emptiness, but shadow, dust, and air?
But a wild flower on the meadow which one will find no more.
And yet, no one will contemplate what lies beyond all time.

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer, who sent his translation of the sonnet, in which the rhymes and the meter of the original are imitated:
Whatever here you see, you see but empty shadow.
What these erect today, tomorrow those destroy:
What is a crowded town, tomorrow makes a meadow
Where playing with his flock is only a shepherd boy.

What now in glory blooms, too soon is trampled under,
What conquers and defies, is soon but ash and bone.
There's nothing that endures, not bronze, not solid stone.
Wherever Fortune laughed, misfortunes darkly thunder.

Our glories of high deeds all vanish like a dream.
How could a man survive, that tiny toy of Time?
And O! what are all things that we regard as great

But scraps of nothingness, but shadows, dust, and wind,
And blossoms of the field, that soon no one will find?
And that which does endure, none wish to contemplate.

Friday, July 11, 2014



Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Gay Science, Book IV, § 319 (tr. Walter Kaufmann, who notes that this passage is "quintessential Nietzsche"):
As interpreters of our experiences.—One sort of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and their kind: They have never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. "What did I really experience? What happened in me and around me at that time? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will opposed to all deceptions of the senses and bold in resisting the fantastic?" None of them has asked such questions, nor do any of our dear religious people ask them even now. On the contrary, they thirst after things that go against reason, and they do not wish to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. So they experience "miracles" and "rebirths" and hear the voices of little angels! But we, we others who thirst after reason, are determined to scrutinize our experiences as severely as a scientific experiment—hour after hour, day after day. We ourselves wish to be our experiments and guinea pigs.

Als Interpreten unserer Erlebnisse.— Eine Art von Redlichkeit ist allen Religionsstiftern und Ihresgleichen fremd gewesen:—sie haben nie sich aus ihren Erlebnissen eine Gewissenssache der Erkenntniss gemacht. "Was habe ich eigentlich erlebt? Was gierig damals in mir und um mich vor? War meine Vernunft hell genug? War mein Wille gegen alle Betrügereien der Sinne gewendet und tapfer in seiner Abwehr des Phantastischen?"—so hat Keiner von ihnen gefragt, so fragen alle die lieben Religiösen auch jetzt noch nicht: sie haben vielmehr einen Durst nach Dingen, welche wider die Vernunft sind, und wollen es sich nicht zu schwer machen, ihn zu befriedigen,—so erleben sie denn "Wunder" und "Wiedergeburten" und hören die Stimmen der Englein! Aber wir, wir Anderen, Vernunft-Durstigen, wollen unseren Erlebnissen so streng in's Auge sehen, wie einem wissenschaftlichen Versuche, Stunde für Stunde, Tag um Tag! Wir selber wollen unsere Experimente und Versuchs-Thiere sein.


A Full Life

Greek Anthology 7.348 (by Simonides, tr. W.R. Paton):
Here I lie, Timocreon of Rhodes, after drinking much and eating much and speaking much ill of men.

πολλὰ πιὼν καὶ πολλὰ φαγὼν, καὶ πολλὰ κάκ᾽ εἰπὼν
    ἀνθρώπους, κεῖμαι Τιμοκρέων Ῥόδιος.


Treeless Lacedaemon

Margaret Alexiou, "The historical lament for the fall or destruction of cities," chapter 5 of The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, 2nd ed. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), pp. 83-101, discusses Antipater's famous lament for the destruction of Corinth (Greek Anthology 9.151), but doesn't mention a lesser known anonymous lament for the destruction of Sparta (Greek Anthology 7.723, tr. W.R. Paton):
Lacedaemon, formerly unconquered and uninvaded, thou seest the Olenian smoke on the banks of Eurotas. No shade of trees hast thou left; the birds nest on the ground and the wolves hear not the bleating of sheep.

ἁ πάρος ἄδμητος καὶ ἀνέμβατος, ὦ Λακεδαῖμον,
    καπνὸν ἐπ᾽ Εὐρώτᾳ δέρκεαι Ὠλένιον,
ἄσκιος· οἰωνοὶ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς οἰκία θέντες
    μύρονται· μήλων δ᾽ οὐκ ἀίουσι λύκοι.
Paton's translation omits μύρονται (weep, mourn) in line 4, which J.W. Mackail includes in his translation:
O Lacedaemon, once unsubdued and untrodden, thou seest shadeless the smoke of Olenian campfires on the Eurotas, and the birds building their nests on the ground wail for thee, and the wolves do not hear any sheep.
The following notes contain no original insights. All of the information comes from the commentaries of Mackail and Gow-Page.

Lacedaemon's previous condition is expressed by two privative adjectives, ἄδμητος (unsubdued) and ἀνέμβατος (untrodden, i.e. by enemy troops); her present condition is also expressed by a privative adjective, ἄσκιος (unshaded). Lacedaemon is unshaded because trees, which provide shade, have been cut down by the invading army. Birds make their nests on the ground because their customary haunts, the trees, are now gone. Cf. Stesichorus' warning to the Locrians to curb their insolence (Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.21.8, 1394b-95a, tr. J.H. Freese):
In such cases Laconic apophthegms and riddling sayings are suitable; as, for instance, to say what Stesichorus said to the Locrians, that they ought not to be insolent, lest their cicadas should be forced to chirp from the ground.

ἁρμόττει δ᾽ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις καὶ τὰ Λακωνικὰ ἀποφθέγματα καὶ τὰ αἰνιγματώδη, οἷον εἴ τις λέγει ὅπερ Στησίχορος ἐν Λοκροῖς εἶπεν, ὅτι οὐ δεῖ ὑβριστὰς εἶναι, ὅπως μὴ οἱ τέττιγες χαμόθεν ᾁδωσιν.
Cf. Aristotle, History of Animals 5.30, 556 a 21 (tr. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson):
The cicada is not found where there are no trees.

οὐ γίνονται δὲ τέττιγες ὅπου μὴ δένδρα ἐστιν.
The warning that cicadas will sing from the ground is therefore equivalent to a threat that trees will be cut down.

What is Olenian smoke? It is usually explained as smoke from fires set by soldiers from Olenus, a small town that was a member of the Achaean League. The Achaean League under the command of Philopoemen was responsible for the subjugation of Sparta. But Felix Bölte, Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XVII 2, 2440, s.v. Olenos, argued that Ὠλένιον in our poem was not an adjective derived from Olenus, but rather the word ὠλένιον defined by Hesychius as δεινόν, κακόν. S. Mersinias, "Emendations and Interpretations in Epigrams," Minerva 9 (1995) 71-77 (at 76-77), accepts Bölte's argument and translates καπνὸν ... ὠλένιον as "dreadful smoke." It had been a point of civic pride "that no Spartan woman had ever seen the smoke of an enemy's fires" (Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus 31.5, tr. Bernadotte Perrin: ὅτι γυνὴ Λάκαινα καπνὸν οὐχ ἑώρακε πολέμιον). This boast could no longer be made. It might even be that the smoke comes from burning trees. It's easier to set fire to a tree than to chop it down.

Thanks to Michael Hendry for making the commentary of Gow and Page available to me.


Thursday, July 10, 2014


A Voice from Beyond the Grave

Greek Anthology 7.32 (by Julianus, Prefect of Egypt, on Anacreon, tr. W.R. Paton):
Often I sung this, and I will cry it from the tomb, "Drink ere ye put on this garment of the dust."

πολλάκι μὲν τόδ᾽ ἄεισα, καὶ ἐκ τύμβου δὲ βοήσω·
    "πίνετε, πρὶν ταύτην ἀμφιβάλησθε κόνιν."


Charon's Fee

The earliest references to a fee paid to the ferryman Charon for passage to the underworld occur in Aristophanes' Frogs, here in Jeffrey Henderson's translation and with his notes.

First you’ll come to a vast lake, quite bottomless.

Then how will I cross it?

An ancient mariner will ferry you across in a little boat no bigger than this, for a fare of two obols.18

Wow, what power those two obols have everywhere! How did they make their way down there?

Theseus brought them.19

18 The traditional fare was one obol; here “two obols” probably refers to the two-obol dole introduced by the politician Cleophon in 410 (Aristotle, Constitution 28.3; IG i3 375-77), perhaps to the price of a theater ticket (but then "everywhere is hard to explain).

19 The journey of Theseus, an Athenian hero, to the underworld was well known, and was dramatized in Critias' tragedy Perithous (date unknown, and alternatively attributed in antiquity to Euripides).

εὐθὺς γὰρ ἐπὶ λίμνην μεγάλην ἥξεις πάνυ

                  εἶτα πῶς γε περαιωθήσομαι;

ἐν πλοιαρίῳ τυννουτῳί σ᾽ ἀνὴρ γέρων
ναύτης διάξει δύ᾽ ὀβολὼ μισθὸν λαβών.

ὡς μέγα δύνασθον πανταχοῦ τὼ δύ᾽ ὀβολώ.
πῶς ἠλθέτην κἀκεῖσε;

                                        Θησεὺς ἤγαγεν.
Off you go. Pay your fare!

Here's your two obols.

ἔκβαιν᾽, ἀπόδος τὸν ναῦλον.

                                                   ἔχε δὴ τὠβολώ.
The Wikipedia article on Charon's obol is better than most Wikipedia articles, but doesn't mention some recent scholarly works. In the following selective bibliography, works not cited in the Wikipedia article are marked with an asterisk:
* Caronte: un obolo per l'aldilà (Napoli: Macchiaioli, 1995 = La parola del passato: rivista di studi classici, no. 50, fasc. 282-285, pp. 162-541), table of contents here

* Francesca Ceci, "La deposizione nella tomba: continuità di un rito tra paganesimo e cristianesimo," Histria Antiqua 13 (2005) 407-416

* Francesca Ceci,"L'interpretazione di monete e chiodi in contesti funerari: esempi dal suburbio romano," in Michael Heinzelmann et al., edd., Römischer Bestattungsbrauch und Beigabensitten in Rom, Norditalien und den Nordwestprovinzen von der Späten Republik bis in die Kaiserzeit / Culto dei morti e costumi funerari romani, Roma, Italia settentrionale e province nord-occidentali dalla tarda repubblica all'età imperiale. Internationales Kolloquium, Rom 1.-3. April 1998 (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2001), pp. 87-95

* Jean-Marc Doyen, "The 'Charon's Obol': Some Methodological Reflexions," Journal of Archaeological Numismatics 2 (2012) I-XVIII

Keld Grinder-Hansen, "Charon's Fee in Ancient Greece? Some Remarks on a Well-Known Death Rite," in Recent Danish Research in Classical Archaeology: Tradition and Renewal (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1991 = Acta Hyperborea, 3), pp. 207-218

Susan T. Stevens, "Charon's Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice," Phoenix 45 (1991) 215-229

* Trouvailles monétaires de tombes: actes du deuxième colloque international du Groupe Suisse pour l'Étude des Trouvailles Monétaires, Neuchâtel, 3-4 mars 1995 / Fundmünzen aus Gräbern: Sitzungsbericht des zweiten internationalen Kolloquiums der Schweizerischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Fundmünzen, Neuenburg, 3.-4. März 1995, edd. Olivier F. Dubuis et al. (Lausanne: Éditions du Zèbre, 1999 = Études de numismatique et d'histoire monétaire / Untersuchungen zu Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, 2), table of contents here, includes G. Thüry, "Charon und die Funktion der Münzen in Gräbern," pp. 17-30

Wednesday, July 09, 2014



Rosalie L. Colie (1924-1972), "Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus," Atlantic Wall and Other Poems (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 49:
His journeys set the world about his ears.
    Comfort was what he thought he wanted,
In spite of which with all God-fearing fears
    He tinkered, more than grace was granted.

Save one, the towns in which he laid his head
    Knew this ear-muffed Christian not their kind:
Clasped to his chafing pommel, fled
    That timorous knight-errant of the mind.

On palimpsest and word of God he practiced
    His fiery celibate half-frocked pride.
Love took him still: the sophomoric fact is
    That Folly chose herself to be his bride.

Honed thin by her, Erasmus died in bed,
    His nose as pointed as his pen,
And praised up to the moment he was dead
    Folly's substantial golden gifts to men.

He prayed in Latin to his learned Lord,
    But with his breath's last susurrus
He died in Dutch, expecting childhood's God.
    O sainted Socrates, now pray for us!

Quentin Metsys, Erasmus of Rotterdam

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related post: The Company of Saints.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?