Saturday, January 31, 2015


Ancient Dates

Denis Feeney, Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), p. 15 (footnote omitted):
We are now in a position to see that correlating Greek and Roman dates means correlating Greek and Roman events. There is, in fact, no Greek or Latin word for "date." An ancient date is an event—or, to be more precise, any date is a relationship between two or more events. As inhabitants of the B.C.E./C.E. grid, we simply cannot help thinking of ancient writers as working with dates, which to us are numbers. But they are not connecting numbers; they are connecting significant events and people.



M. Annaei Lucani Belli Civilis Libri Decem. Editorum in Usum Edidit A.E. Housman (Oxford: Blackwell, 1926), pp. xxxiv-xxxv (on Cornelis Marinus Francken):
The width and variety of his ignorance are wonderful; it embraces mythology, palaeography, prosody, and astronomy, and he cannot keep it to himself...
Housman was kinder to Francken in Classical Review 14 (1900) 468:
Having occasion to speak of Mr Francken's MSS he adds the words 'cuius in emendando textu consilium non probo.' Neither do I approve it: Mr Francken's faculty for discovering truth is not great; but Mr Heitland and Mr Hosius too would do well to fix their attention less on Mr Francken's faults than on his merits: his disinterestedness, his freedom of judgment, his unwillingness to be duped.

Friday, January 30, 2015


As Best You Can

C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933), "As Best You Can," tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou:
Even if you cannot make your life the way you want,
try this, at least,
as best you can: do not demean it
by too much contact with the crowd,
by too much movement and idle talk.

Do not demean it by dragging it along,
by wandering all the time and exposing it
to the daily foolishness
of social relations and encounters,
until it becomes an importunate stranger.


A Marvelous Invention

Joseph Epstein, "What I Read," The Atlantic (August 25, 2010):
What, you might wonder, do I do with all the time I don't spend in endless swamp of ephemeral news? Well, I've made a little rediscovery of a marvelous invention called books, which I'm told are going out of style but which give a satisfaction much deeper than any other means of communication I know. You might want to turn off your computer, trash your newspaper, flick off your television, and give them a shot.

Ferdinand Heilbuth (1826-1889), The Reader


Train Up a Child

Claudian, Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius 39-50 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
Soon when thou couldst stand upright and walk with firm step thy sire forbade thee enervating sloth, luxurious ease, time-wasting slumbers. He strengthened thy young limbs with hard toils and rude was the training wherewith he exercised thy tender powers. Thou wert taught to bear winter's cruel cold, to shrink not before storm and tempest, to face the heat of summer, to swim across loud-roaring torrents, to climb mountains, to run o'er the plain, to leap ravines and hollows, to spend sleepless nights of watching under arms, to drink melted snow from thy casque, to shoot the arrow from the bow or hurl the acorn-missiles with a Balearic sling.

Mox ubi firmasti recto vestigia gressu,
non tibi desidias molles nec marcida luxu        40
otia nec somnos genitor permisit inertes,
sed nova per duros instruxit membra labores
et cruda teneras exercuit indole vires:
frigora saeva pati, gravibus non cedere nimbis,
aestivum tolerare iubar, transnare sonoras        45
torrentum furias, ascensu vincere montes,
planitiem cursu, valles et concava saltu,
nec non in clipeo vigiles producere noctes,
in galea potare nives, nunc spicula cornu
tendere, nunc glandes Baleari spargere funda.        50
Honorius was only ten years old at the time of his third consulship. Commenting on these lines, Alan Cameron, Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 40-41, points out:
In fact, of course, Honorius is a sad but classic example of an heir to the throne corrupted and demoralized by the stifling atmosphere of a palace education. Court eunuchs are a poor substitute for a mother who died when he was only one, and a father continually absent on campaigns.
For the idea, cf. Horace, Odes 3.2.1-3 (tr. Niall Rudd):
A youngster should be toughened by the rigours of a soldier's life, and learn how to put up with the constraints of poverty cheerfully.

Angustam amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Slender Props

The Triads of Ireland 75 (tr. Kuno Meyer):
Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail, the slender blade of green corn upon the ground, the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.

Tri cóil ata ferr folongat in mbith: cóil srithide hi folldeirb, cóil foichne for tuinn, cóil snáithe tar dorn dagmná.


Memorial Service

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: First Series, XXI: Three American Immortals, 3: Memorial Service:
Let us summon from the shades the immortal soul of James Harlan, born in 1820, entered into rest in 1899. In the year 1865 this Harlan resigned from the United States Senate to enter the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of the Interior. One of the clerks in that department, at $600 a year, was Walt Whitman, lately emerged from three years of hard service as an army nurse during the Civil War. One day, discovering that Whitman was the author of a book called "Leaves of Grass," Harlan ordered him incontinently kicked out, and it was done forthwith. Let us remember this event and this man; he is too precious to die. Let us repair, once a year, to our accustomed houses of worship and there give thanks to God that one day in 1865 brought together the greatest poet that America has ever produced and the damndest ass.


The Courage to Make a Mistake

H. Craig Melchert, "In Memoriam Calvert Watkins," Journal of Indo-European Studies 41 (2013) 506-526 (at 509):
[H]e epitomized this view by borrowing the phrase of the late Jochem Schindler: to be a productive scholar, one needs to have “Mut zum Irrtum” (1999: 11-12).
Id. (at 509-510):
His own openness to new ideas included the ability to change his mind, and one of the most important lessons he taught his students was that one must never invest too much of one's ego (much less one's sense of self-worth) in any of one's hypotheses. When asked about something he had written that he now rejected, he repeatedly cited with relish a quotation he attributed to Rudolf Thurneysen: "Das, was ich da geschrieben habe, ist Quatsch."
Mut zum Irrtum: Courage to err.

Das, was ich da geschrieben habe, ist Quatsch: What I've written there is nonsense.

Related post: In the Wrong.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


A Frugal Life Is Best

Claudian, Against Rufinus 1.200-219 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
The greedy man is always poor. Fabricius, happy in his honourable poverty, despised the gifts of monarchs; the consul Serranus sweated at his heavy plough and a small cottage gave shelter to the warlike Curii. To my mind such poverty as this is richer than thy wealth, such a home greater than thy palaces. There pernicious luxury seeks for the food that satisfieth not; here the earth provides a banquet for which is nought to pay. With thee wool absorbs the dyes of Tyre; thy patterned clothes are stained with purple; here are bright flowers and the meadow's breathing charm which owes its varied hues but to itself. There are beds piled on glittering bedsteads; here stretches the soft grass, that breaks not sleep with anxious cares. There a crowd of clients dins through the spacious halls, here is song of birds and the murmur of the gliding stream. A frugal life is best. Nature has given the opportunity of happiness to all, knew they but how to use it. Had we realized this we should now have been enjoying a simple life, no trumpets would be sounding, no whistling spear would speed, no ship be buffeted by the wind, no siege-engine overthrow battlements.

semper inops quicumque cupit. contentus honesto        200
Fabricius parvo spernebat munera regum
sudabatque gravi consul Serranus aratro
et casa pugnaces Curios angusta tegebat.
haec mihi paupertas opulentior, haec mihi tecta
culminibus maiora tuis. ibi quaerit inanes        205
luxuries nocitura cibos; hic donat inemptas
terra dapes. rapiunt Tyrios ibi vellera sucos
et picturatae saturantur murice vestes;
hic radiant flores et prati viva voluptas
ingenio variata suo. fulgentibus illic        210
surgunt strata toris; hic mollis panditur herba
sollicitum curis non abruptura soporem.
turba salutantum latas ibi perstrepit aedes;
hic avium cantus, labentis murmura rivi.
vivitur exiguo melius; natura beatis        215
omnibus esse dedit, si quis cognoverit uti.
haec si nota forent, frueremur simplice cultu,
classica non gemerent, non stridula fraxinus iret,
nec ventus quateret puppes nec machina muros.
Here is a snapshot of some of these lines from the new digital Loeb Classical Library:

Note that line 201 is wrongly numbered 121. In the actual hard-copy book (1922; rpt. 1990) the numbering is correct.


Should Education Be Fun?

Aristotle, Politics 8.4.4 (1339 a; tr. H. Rackham):
Now it is not difficult to see that one must not make amusement the object of the education of the young; for amusement does not go with learning—learning is a painful process.

ὅτι μὲν οὖν δεῖ τοὺς νέους μὴ παιδιᾶς ἕνεκα παιδεύειν, οὐκ ἄδηλον· οὐ γὰρ παίζουσι μανθάνοντες, μετὰ λύπης γὰρ ἡ μάθησις.


A Phalanx of Inferior Minds

John Jay Chapman (1862-1933), Lucian, Plato and Greek Morals (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931), pp. 1-3:
May the Muses forgive me if I seem ungrateful to that race of scholars who have given us access to the literature of Greece and Rome. When I am cross with them, the child scratches his nurse. For where should I have been without the protection and the solicitude of these great drudges who have been at work over my education for centuries? Nevertheless, there is something in a child, when he scratches his nurse, that is justified. She annoys him by her fussiness: she straightens his bib, corrects his manners, rules him in the bathtub, and bothers him with external attention. Is it not in spite of the attentions of the nurse that the inner, baffled, struggling spirit of the child comes into its own?

Literature is for our immediate happiness and for the awakening of more literature; and the life of it lies in the very seed and kernel of the grain. Footnotes and critical information attack the creative instinct. The spirit is daunted, the tongue tied by them. Many a lad has known less about Shakespeare after a college course on Shakespeare than he did when the only phrase he knew was 'Aroint thee, witch'—and he didn't know where that came from. Now he can write the etymology of the words on an examination paper; but the witch herself has vanished. Information is the enemy to poetry. If the old Greeks had known as much about Achilles as we do, the Iliad would never have been written. There was a certain professor at one of our colleges who for many years made it a practice to read aloud to his classes bits from the old English classics. In this way he gave the boys a taste for letters. Speaking of this man, William James once said to me, 'Oh, the authorities will never make X a full professor, because he doesn't know the critical stuff; yet X has done more for the cultivation of the Harvard boys than all the rest of us put together.'

The Nineteenth Century has left a hedge of critical literature about every writer of antiquity. By the time a student has bored his way through the treatises, he is old, and he is dull. He cannot taste the honey, for he has exhausted himself in cutting down the tree. Let us climb and sip. Three generations of modern scholars have befogged and begoggled their wits over Æschylus and Horace. Let us never read the learning of these investigators. Let us be ignorant, nimble, and enthusiastic. Let us never drink of that cup of delusion, critical knowledge. A scholar reads the books of other scholars, lest he shall say something that shows ignorance. Conscience and professional ambition keep him at it. He dare not miss a trick; just as the social climber dare not miss a party. Jaded and surfeited, both scholar and climber accept the servitude. They must know all these dull people, because these dull people are in the game that they are playing. Thus, one result of scholars and scholarship is to interpose a phalanx of inferior minds between the young intelligence and the great wits of the past. Must the novice read those forty pages of Wilamouwitz Mollendorff which cover each dialogue of Plato like the grease on a Strasbourg pâté?
At the risk of annoying by fussiness, I would correct Wilamouwitz Mollendorff to Wilamowitz-Moellendorff.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Obey Nature's Urgent Calls

Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Code of Health of the School of Salernum. Translated into English Verse, with an Introduction, Notes, and Appendix. By John Ordronaux (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1871), p. 47:
If thou to health and vigor wouldst attain,
Shun weighty cares—all anger deem profane,
From heavy suppers and much wine abstain.
Nor trivial count it, after pompous fare,
To rise from table and to take the air.
Shun idle, noonday slumber, nor delay
The urgent calls of Nature to obey.
These rules if thou wilt follow to the end,
Thy life to greater length thou mayst extend.
The Latin is more explicit about Nature's urgent calls:
Si vis incolumem, si vis te reddere sanum,
Curas tolle graves, irasci crede profanum.
Parce mero—coenato parum, non sit tibi vanum
Surgere post epulas; somne fuge meridianum;
Ne mictum retine, nec comprime fortiter anum;
Haec bene si serves, tu longo tempore vives.


A Reactionary

Francis Stuart Campbell (pseudonym of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn), "Credo of a Reactionary," The American Mercury, Vol. LVII, No. 235 (July 1943) 86-92 (at 86):
I do not hesitate to announce that I am a reactionary. I take a deep pride in the fact. I see no more virtue in looking forward longingly to an unknown future than in looking backward nostalgically to known and proven values.

The term "reactionary" as I use it does not stand for a definite and immutable set of ideas. It stands for an attitude of mind. As a reactionary I resent and oppose the spirit and the trends of the epoch I am forced to live in, and seek to restore the spirit which had its finest embodiment in by-gone periods.


The Pursuit of Utility

Aristotle, Politics 8.3.2 (1338 b; tr. H. Rackham):
To seek for utility everywhere is entirely unsuited to men that are great-souled and free.

τὸ δὲ ζητεῖν πανταχοῦ τὸ χρήσιμον ἥκιστα ἁρμόττει τοῖς μεγαλοψύχοις καὶ τοῖς ἐλευθερίοις.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Burial Wishes of Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), The Collected Poetry, Vol. III: 1939-1962, ed. Tim Hunt (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), p. 452:
I have told you in another poem, whether you've read it or not,
About a beautiful place the hard-wounded
Deer go to die in; their bones lie mixed in their little graveyard
Under leaves by a flashing cliff-brook, and if
They have ghosts they like it, the bones and mixed antlers are well content.
Now comes for me the time to engage
My burial place: put me in a beautiful place far off from men,
No cemetery, no necropolis,
And for God's sake no columbarium, nor yet no funeral.
But if the human animal were precious
As the quick deer or that hunter in the night the lonely puma
I should be pleased to lie in one grave with 'em.
1 "in another poem": with the title "The Deer Lay Down Their Bones" (id., pp. 407-408)

Robert Zaller, Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 368:
Like Una, he was cremated, and his ashes were buried beneath a yew tree in the courtyard of Tor House, where Una's had been laid twelve years before.
Related posts:


What Use Is Gold?

Anacreontea 36 (tr. David A. Campbell):
If Wealth offered life to mortals for gold, then I would persevere in hoarding it, so that if Death came he could take some and pass on. But since mortals cannot buy life, why should I groan in vain, why weep and wail? If I am fated to die, what use is gold? Let me drink, then, and when I have drunk the sweet wine join my friends or on a soft bed perform Aphrodite's rites.

ὁ Πλοῦτος εἴ γε χρυσοῦ
τὸ ζῆν παρεῖχε θνητοῖς,
ἐκαρτέρουν φυλάττων,
ἵν᾿, ἂν Θάνατος ἐπέλθῃ,
λάβῃ τι καὶ παρέλθῃ.
εἰ δ᾿ οὖν μὴ τὸ πρίασθαι
τὸ ζῆν ἔνεστι θνητοῖς,
τί καὶ μάτην στενάζω;
τί καὶ γόους προπέμπω;
θανεῖν γὰρ εἰ πέπρωται,
τί χρυσὸς ὠφελεῖ με;
ἐμοὶ γένοιτο πίνειν,
πιόντι δ᾿ οἶνον ἡδὺν
ἐμοῖς φίλοις συνεῖναι,
ἐν δ᾿ ἁπαλαῖσι κοίταις
τελεῖν τὰν Ἀφροδίταν.


A Professor of Greek and Latin

E.K. Rand (1871-1945), Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), p. 41:
A professor of Greek and Latin, therefore, according to Tertullian, is a necessary evil; that is more courteous than what most people consider him to-day — an unnecessary evil.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Dr. Buzby Examines the Class in the Bishop's Presence

F.A. Paley (1815-1888), "The Adventures of a Schoolboy. By a Convert," Dolman's Magazine 6 (July-December 1847) 319-327, 383-402, and 7 (January-June 1848) 20-25, 105-114, 138-147, 213-219, 286-290, 366-374 (at 7:21-24, from chapter VII):
Suddenly the doctor raised his head, and said, in a quick loud tone, "Wiggins."

Poor Wiggins started from his seat exactly as if he had been shot. He had to descend from the top-most tier of seats, and walk across the schoolroom to a kind of stool, upon which lessons were said into the doctor's left ear. He tried to look composed and confident; but the attempt was decidedly a failure. It was evident that he had lost all presence of mind, and might be guilty of any absurdity. He was a clever lad, but so exceedingly nervous that the doctor could not have made a worse choice, if his object was to exhibit to the bishop the proficiency of his second-class scholars.

"Shew me what you have been reading this last fortnight," said the doctor.

Wiggins gave him his book, devoutly hoping he might be asked to do what he had read yesterday or the day before.

"Is this the way you employ your time in school?" asked Dr. Buzby, turning to the end of Wiggins' book, and holding up a sketch of a bandy-legged pedagogue, in a portentous bag-wig, in the act of flogging the bare posteriors of a boy. Underneath was written: "Old Bandy walloping Jem Stumps." Poor Wiggins turned pale as death. It really was too bad; it was a breach of honour in the doctor.

"Go on, sir," thundered the doctor, "at Ecce puer."

Wiggins coughed, gasped, stammered, and began:

"Ecce, behold, puer, the boy, Veneris, of Venus—"

"Read it first," interposed the doctor.

"Ecce puer Veneris fert eversamque pharetram,
    Et fractos arcus, et sine luce facem;
Aspice demissus ut eat miserabilis alis,
    Pectoraque infesta tundat aperta manu."

"Now," said the doctor. And Wiggins contrived to put the four verses of Ovid's beautiful Elegy to Tibullus into respectable English.

"From what is pharetra derived?" asked the doctor, looking hard at him. "From the Greek, sir," answered Wiggins, very readily.

Hereupon the Bishop was distinctly seen to nod assent, as much as to say "Not so bad."

"And what is the Greek word from?" added the head master.

"From the Hebrew, sir," said Wiggins. This was a guess, but he thought he couldn't be far wrong. The doctor looked a little disconcerted.

"The root of it has been deduced ultimately from the cognate Sanscrit para," said the doctor, leaning back in his seat with a very pedantic air. "I mean, however, what Greek verb does the substantive come from?"

Wiggins was at fault. Another boy who sat near him, but out of the doctor's ken, promptly wrote on a piece of paper φέρω in very large letters, and held it up to him.

Alas! Wiggins was very shortsighted! He could only discern a dim outline on the paper; so in desperation he answered, after a moment's pause, "φιμόω, sir."

The doctor looked as black as his own ink-pot. The bishop didn't seem exactly to comprehend whether the answer was right or wrong, so he looked amiably neutral.

"And what is φιμόω?" he asked. Wiggins knew this, and answered "to muzzle."

"What then has a muzzle to do with a quiver?" said the doctor. A bright thought seemed to illumine Wiggins' brain. He doubted not but he had read the word aright; and there could be but one explanation—though it did seem rather odd—it was a hazard.

"Because quivers are tied up at the end to prevent the arrows from falling out at the mouth."

"Bah!" bellowed the doctor, in a voice of thunder. The bishop smiled good-naturedly.

"And pray, fool, can you tell me why Cupid carries your muzzled quiver, and a torch in his hand?" continued the doctor.

Wiggins couldn't doubt this at all. He had seen it a hundred times in Valentines, and in French picture books about love. So he unhesitatingly answered, "To toast and stick lovers' hearts, sir."

"You may go down, sir," said the doctor. Poor Wiggins descended, and caught a glimpse of the bishop holding his handkerchief to his mouth to prevent laughing. He felt that he must have said something very absurd, though he couldn't for his life conceive what it was.

After a short pause and interval of suspense, the doctor exclaimed, "Wicks."

A short dry cough was heard somewhere in the region of the furthermost form, and Wicks rose deliberately, descended, and walked slowly across the school with his hands in his pockets, and a closed book under his arm. He had been cracking nuts, or rather splitting them with a penknife, by a convenient process well known to schoolboys. He was both audibly and visibly chewing a plump kernel as he advanced towards the doctor's desk.

Now Wicks was, as we have already intimated, a boy of invincible impudence, audacity, and composure, under the most trying circumstances. Nothing could disturb his equanimity and self-possession. Not even the presence of a real live bishop shook his confidence. He was cool as a cucumber as he ascended the stool.

A companion and rival in impudence he had, who, being a bosom friend, had been sitting by him during the examination. A slip of white paper (commonly called a "pig-tail") had been playfully introduced by him under the collar of his friend's coat, just at the moment of the fearful summons, so that as he walked away from us towards the doctor, we could not help laughing at the ridiculous figure he made. The doctor, however, saw it not, but only cried out "Silence!"

Having finished his nut, and gulped down the accumulated débris of many others, of which he had a considerable store reserved in his cheek, to the great impediment of distinct articulation, Master Wicks opened his book, and winked at his schoolfellows. It was really irresistible. Three or four boys instantaneously exploded, and were ordered to write out a book of Homer on the spot.

"Now, sir," said the doctor, "Read."

Wicks commenced in a harsh unpoetical voice:

"Ferte per extremas gentes, et ferte per undas,
   Qua non ulla meum fœmina norit iter."

"Construe," said the doctor.

"Ferte, carry me, per extremas gentes, over extreme nations, et, and, ferte, carry me, per undas, over waves, qua, where, non ulla fœmina, never a female, norit, will know, meum iter, my path."

This was said all in a breath, without the least stop, and of course without the slightest appreciation of the exquisite sentiment conveyed by those lines of Propertius.

"A little coarse, sir, a little coarse," said the doctor, "especially at non ulla fœmina. What part of speech is qua?

"An adverb, sir."

"A pronoun relative," growled Dr. Buzby, "in the ablative case, agreeing with parte or via understood."

"The grammar says it's an adverb," retorted Wicks, nothing daunted, and at the same time producing a thumbed Latin grammar, bound in coarse canvas, from his coat pocket. "Here's the rule."

The doctor could not stand this. He turned red with rage, and dashed the grammar at Wicks's head, who adroitly avoided it by a scientific ducking of that important member.

"What! shew me a grammar," he exclaimed, "a dirty, stupid, ignorant child's grammar! I'll teach you to know better. Write out two hundred lines, beginning at the First Book."

"Please, sir, you told us last time never to come up without our grammars, and you set me the same imposition before for not having one with me at the time."

"What is it to you what I did the last time time?" demanded the doctor. "I may do one thing to day and the contrary tomorrow, for all I know."

"Very likely, sir," responded Wicks.

"Don't be insolent, you beast, or I'll flog you on the spot. Go down, sir, and take care how you answer me."

Wicks jumped nimbly down, and turned away. Here the doctor caught a glance of the pig-tail. "Come back!" he exclaimed.

The unconscious Wicks felt himself roughly seized by the hair, which was pulled so unmercifully by the doctor, that he put up his hands in an agony, and felt the pig-tail. "It wasn't me, sir; and I don't deserve to be treated so, for it wasn't my fault."

The next morning Dr. Buzby's desk was found to have been broken open. It contained a very putrid cat, an old wig with the hair singed off it, two or three chopped onions (the doctor never could bear the smell of them), a living rat, and certain other substances which I cannot mention. Of course Wicks proved an alibi, and knew nothing at all of the matter.


Wishful Thinking

Thucydides 4.108.4 (tr. Benjamin Jowett):
They judged rather by their own illusive wishes than by the safe rule of prudence. For such is the manner of men; what they like is always seen by them in the light of unreflecting hope, what they dislike they peremptorily set aside by an arbitrary conclusion.

τὸ δὲ πλέον βουλήσει κρίνοντες ἀσαφεῖ ἢ προνοίᾳ ἀσφαλεῖ, εἰωθότες οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὗ μὲν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν ἐλπίδι ἀπερισκέπτῳ διδόναι, ὃ δὲ μὴ προσίενται λογισμῷ αὐτοκράτορι διωθεῖσθαι.
Caesar, Gallic War 3.18 (tr. T. Rice Holmes):
In most cases men willingly believe what they wish.

Fere libenter homines id, quod volunt, credunt.
Caesar, Civil War 2.27 (tr. A.G. Peskett):
For what we desire we gladly believe.

Nam, quae volumus, et credimus libenter.
Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 1.7.3 (tr. P.A. Brunt)
In ignorance of the facts, they conjectured (as often happens in such cases) what they most desired.

ὅπερ φιλεῖ ἐν τοῖς τοιοῖσδε, οὐ γιγνώσκοντες τὰ ὄντα τὰ μάλιστα καθ᾽ ἡδονήν σφισιν εἴκαζον.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Proper Pursuits for an Old Man

Anacreontea 7 (tr. David A. Campbell):
The ladies say, 'Anacreon, you are old. Take a mirror and look: your hair is no longer there, and your brow is bare.' But I do not know whether my hair is still there or has gone; I do know that the closer Fate is, the more fitting it is for the old man to enjoy his fun and games.

λέγουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες·
'Ἀνάκρεον, γέρων εἶ·
λαβὼν ἔσοπτρον ἄθρει
κόμας μὲν οὐκέτ᾿ οὔσας,
ψιλὸν δέ σευ μέτωπον.'
ἐγὼ δὲ τὰς κόμας μέν,
εἴτ᾿ εἰσὶν εἴτ᾿ ἀπῆλθον,
οὐκ οἶδα· τοῦτο δ᾿ οἶδα,
ὡς τῷ γέροντι μᾶλλον
πρέπει τὸ τερπνὰ παίζειν,
ὅσῳ πέλας τὰ Μοίρης.


A Liberal Education

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), A Sand County Almanac. With Essays on Conservation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 133:
Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested.


First Day at School

F.A. Paley (1815-1888), "The Adventures of a Schoolboy. By a Convert," Dolman's Magazine 6 (July-December 1847) 319-327, 383-402, and 7 (January-June 1848) 20-25, 105-114, 138-147, 213-219, 286-290, 366-374 (at 6:322-323, from chapter II):
I was hoisted on to a chair, where I sat with my legs dangling, whilst my mother was garrulously expatiating on my brilliant talents and hopeful qualities. At length, turning sharply round to me, with a suddenness that made me drop my cap within the fender from the mere shock, he addressed me thus:

"Well, you little devil, can you tell me the future tense of τύπτω yet?"

I felt rather flattered than otherwise at being called a devil by so distinguished a man. There was something playful and friendly in such an appellation, which pleased me mightily. I wished, indeed, he had selected a less ominous verb than τύπτω for conjugation; but there was no help for it; so summoning up courage, and collecting my wandering faculties, I answered faintly, "τέτυφα, sir."

Dr. Buzby gave me a peculiar look, which seemed to say, "you and I shall have something more to do with that little verb before I have done with you."

It was only on going out again that my egregious blunder flashed upon me. I almost fainted with horror at the commission of it.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Real Musicians

E.K. Rand (1871-1945), Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 147-148 (on Boethius' De Musica; footnotes omitted):
Those of my readers who are musicians may be interested to know what, according to Boethius, a real musician is. There are three classes of people, he explains at the end of his first book, who have to do with music—performers, composers, and critics. Those of the first class, like harp-players, flute-players, and organists, must be excluded from the number of real musicians, since they are merely slaves. Their function is concerned with mere action, production, and is as subordinate and slavish as is the material body compared to the mind. Even a good performer is nothing more than a good slave. Then there is the second class, the composers, who are impelled to music not by reason or philosophy, but by a certain instinct, or inspiration. The Muses are responsible for what they do, not they themselves. They too, therefore, must be counted out. There remains the third class, the critics. "They alone," he declares, "are the real musicians, since their function consists entirely in reason and philosophy, in a knowledge of modes and rhythms, of the varieties of melodies and their combinations, in short, of all the matters that I shall treat in Volume II, as well as of the achievements of the composers." I once asked a friend of mine, a musical critic of some note, what he thought of this doctrine. He replied that he thought that Boethius was considerably in advance of his time and of our own. I did not venture to submit Boethius's ideas to a performer or a composer.


The Greek Lyrists Are the Thing

Robinson Jeffers, letter to Una Call Kuster (December 14, 1912):
Who is Galey—on Euripides, sweet?—I never heard of him; so you can exult over me. But then I don't care much for Euripides, Una; nor for any Greek drama—save in a spirit of pure dilettantism—except the Prometheus.—Even that has its lonqueurs.

But the Greek lyrists are the thing. Archilochus—Sappho—Alcaeus—so the good pedants have handed us down just a few miserable patches of their old magnificence. A pedant or grammarian, I think, is the worst possible judge of literature—except the general public.
Hat tip: Joel Eidsath, who writes, "Italics stand for underlining in the original. And while it's possible that Jeffers misspelled 'longueurs' in his letter, I would think that it's a transcription error."

"Who is Galey—on Euripides?" Indeed. Who is he? I never heard of him either. I suspect that "Galey" here is a mistake for "Paley," i.e. Frederick Apthorp Paley (1815-1888). Far from a decent academic library, I don't have access to a copy of Jeffers' letters.

From Ian Jackson:
Your conjectural emendation ("Paley" for "Galey") seems convincing but I believe it is wrong. I suggest that the correct reading is "Gayley". Charles Mills Gayley was the author of The Classic Myths in English Literature (1893), a delightful high school textbook that is rather too learned for today's graduate students — I think I gave you a copy a few years ago. (There is also a copy in Jeffers's Tor House library). Gayley lectured on 'Great Books' at the University of California at Berkeley. The classes proved so popular that after 1909 he delivered his lectures in the Greek Theater, often to crowds of 1000 and more. Gayley delivered five lectures on Euripides in the Greek Theater between Sept. 27th and November 22nd, 1912. Jeffers's letter to Una Kuster is dated December 14th, 1912. Between leaving her husband in Los Angeles in 1912 and marrying Jeffers in August of 1913, Una Kuster was enrolled as a graduate student in education at Berkeley. It seems likely that she attended Gayley's lectures or read about them in The Daily Californian, which published lengthy resumés.
I stand corrected, wiping the egg off my face.

Thanks to Joel Eidsath, I have now seen the relevant pages from James Karman, ed., The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers. With Selected Letters of Una Jeffers, Vol. I (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009). Una wrote a week earlier (December 7, 1912), "How very much I wanted you the other afternoon when Galey read Euripides so wonderfully."


An Old Decayed Thistle

Adam Sedgwick, letter to his niece Fanny Hicks (May 2, 1842), in John Willis Clark and Thomas McKenny Hughes, The Life and Letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, Vol. II (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1890), p. 42:
And, do you know, I am so sour-faced and ill-tempered, and abominably cross, and so hate myself, that I do not think you would now, if you saw me, give me one corner of your heart, or a single kiss. You might just as well kiss an old decayed thistle, which would leave its prickles sticking to your lips. Is not this a sorry account to give of myself? But alas! it is not more sorry than true.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Preference for and Avoidance of Certain Words

L.R. Palmer (1906-1984), The Latin Language (1954; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), p. 128:
Similar sensitivity to the tone of a word may explain why Caesar prefers non modo, non solum to the non tantum favoured by those who completed his work, tantum being ambiguous. It has been pointed out, too, that quomodo and quamquam are avoided by Caesar, although the latter occurs four times in Hirtius' Book 8 of the de bello gallico. Caesar, again, shows a preference for priusquam as against antequam and for posteaquam as against postquam. Differences of tone, vulgarism, and urbanity may account for many of these subtleties but, as Marouzeau suggests in his discussion of these facts, we should not ignore the factor of personal choice and sheer verbal habit. Why should Caesar never use quando or mox, and almost totally neglect igitur in favour of quare and itaque? Why his preference for timeo as against vereor and metuo? As for habit, the curious tendency for a word once activated to recur is illustrated by Caesar's use of the rare phrase e regione no fewer than seven times in the seventh book of the Gallic War although only one other example is found in the rest of that corpus.
See H. Merguet, Lexikon zu den Schriften Cäsars und seiner Fortsetzer, mit Angabe sämmtlicher Stellen (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1886).


Characteristics and Habits of the Gauls

From Caesar, Gallic War (tr. H.J. Edwards).

The Gauls are sudden and spasmodic in their designs.

Sunt Gallorum subita et repentina consilia.
For while the temper of the Gauls is eager and ready to undertake a campaign, their purpose is feeble and in no way steadfast to endure disasters.

Nam ut ad bella suscipienda Gallorum alacer ac promptus est animus, sic mollis ac minime resistens ad calamitates perferendas mens eorum est.
It is indeed a regular habit of the Gauls to compel travellers to halt, even against their will, and to ascertain what each of them may have heard or learnt upon every subject; and in the towns the common folk surround traders, compelling them to declare from what districts they come and what they have learnt there. Such stories and hearsay often induce them to form plans upon vital questions of which they must forthwith repent; for they are the slaves of uncertain rumours, and most men reply to them in fictions made to their taste.

Est enim hoc Gallicae consuetudinis, uti et viatores etiam invitos consistere cogant et quod quisque eorum de quaque re audierit aut cognoverit quaerant, et mercatores in oppidis vulgus circumsistat quibusque ex regionibus veniant quasque ibi res cognoverint pronuntiare cogant. His rebus atque auditionibus permoti de summis saepe rebus consilia ineunt, quorum eos in vestigio poenitere necesse est, cum incertis rumoribus serviant, et plerique ad voluntatem eorum ficta respondeant.
They left themselves no time to investigate: some were influenced by avarice, others by anger and the recklessness which is specially characteristic of their race, treating frivolous hearsay as assured fact.

Nullum sibi ad cognoscendum spatium relinquunt. Impellit alios avaritia, alios iracundia et temeritas, quae maxime illi hominum generi est innata, ut levem auditionem habeant pro re comperta.


The Old World

Yoshida Kenkō (c. 1283–c. 1352), Tsurezuregusa, no. 22, tr. Meredith McKinney in Kenkō and Chōmei, Essays in Idleness and Hōjōki (London: Penguin, 2013), p. 32:
One yearns for the old world in every way. Modern fashions just seem to grow more and more vulgar.

The most beautiful finely crafted wooden utensils are those from the old days. As for letters, those old ones on reused scraps are written in wonderful language. Everyday speech is also going from bad to worse.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


A Maker of Card-Indexes

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: First Series, XVII: George Jean Nathan:
The professor is nothing if not a maker of card-indexes; he must classify or be damned.
Arthur Stanley Pease, quoted in J.P. Elder et al., "Arthur Stanley Pease 1881-1964," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965) ix:
I will confess that I am by nature a collector, that I began with marbles and horse-chestnuts, advanced to postage stamps, continued with botany and books, and at all times have gathered facts and occasionally ideas.

These two latter items, in lack of sufficient cranial space for dead storage, I enter methodically on 3 x 5 slips of paper. When enough of a kind are amassed, they are outspread, classified, digested, written down, dehydrated, and lo! an article, or more rarely a book, to be perused by some lone watcher in Czechoslovakia or beside the Bay of Biscay.


How to Ensure Punctual Attendance at Staff Meetings

Caesar, Gallic War 5.56 (tr. H.J. Edwards):
This in the practice of the Gauls marks the beginning of a war; and by a general law all grown men are accustomed to assemble at it in arms, while the one who comes last to the assembly is put to death with every kind of torture in sight of the host.

Hoc more Gallorum est initium belli, quo lege communi omnes puberes armati convenire consuerunt; qui ex eis novissimus convenit, in conspectu multitudinis omnibus cruciatibus affectus necatur.


A Hearty Eater

Athenaeus 10.411 a-b (describing Heracles; tr. Charles Burton Gulick):
Epicharmus, for example, says in Busiris:
"First, if you should see him eating you would die.
His gullet thunders inside, his jaw rattles,
his molar crackles, his canine tooth gnashes,
he sizzles at the nostrils, he waggles his ears."
Ἐπίχαρμος μὲν ἐν Βουσίριδι λέγων·
πρῶτον μὲν αἴ κ᾽ ἔσθοντ᾽ ἴδοις νιν ἀποθάνοις.
βρέμει μὲν ὁ φάρυγξ ἔνδοθ᾽, ἀραβεῖ δ᾽ ἁ γνάθος,
ψοφεῖ δ᾽ ὁ γομφίος, τέτριγε δ᾽ ὁ κυνόδων,
σίζει δὲ ταῖς ῥίνεσσι, κινεῖ δ᾽ οὔατα.
Related post: A Very Valiant Trencherman.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Hedges for Defence

Caesar, Gallic War 2.17 (an ancient practice of the Nervii; tr. H.J. Edwards):
Having no strength in cavalry (for even to this day they care naught for that service, but all their power lies in the strength of their infantry), the easier to hamper the cavalry of their neighbours, whenever these made a raid on them, they cut into young saplings and bent them over, and thus by the thick horizontal growth of boughs, and by intertwining with them brambles and thorns, they contrived that these wall-like hedges should serve them as fortifications which not only could not be penetrated, but not even seen through.

Cum equitatu nihil possent (neque enim ad hoc tempus ei rei student, sed, quidquid possunt, pedestribus valent copiis), quo facilius finitimorum equitatum, si praedandi causa ad eos venissent, impedirent, teneris arboribus incisis atque inflexis crebrisque in latitudinem ramis enatis et rubis sentibusque interiectis effecerant, ut instar muri hae saepes munimenta praeberent, quo non modo non intrari, sed ne perspici quidem posset.
Strabo 4.3.5 (tr. Horace Leonard Jones):
Both the country of the Morini and that of the Atrebatii and Eburones resemble that of the Menapii; for much of it, though not so much as the historians have said (four thousand stadia), is a forest, consisting of trees that are not tall; the forest is called Arduenna. At the time of hostile onsets they used to intertwine the withes of the brushwood, since the withes were thorny, and thus block the passage of the enemy.

ἐμφερὴς δ᾿ ἐστὶ τῇ τῶν Μεναπίων ἥ τε τῶν Μορινῶν καὶ ἡ τῶν Ἀτρεβατίων καὶ Ἐβουρώνων· ὕλη γάρ ἐστιν οὐχ ὑψηλῶν δένδρων πολλὴ μέν, οὐ τοσαύτη δὲ ὅσην οἱ συγγραφεῖς εἰρήκασι, τετρακισχιλίων σταδίων, καλοῦσι δ᾿ αὐτὴν Ἀρδουένναν. κατὰ δὲ τὰς πολεμικὰς ἐφόδους συμπλέκοντες τὰς τῶν θάμνων λύγους, βατώδεις οὔσας, ἀπέφραττον τὰς παρόδους.
Related posts:


A New Circle in Hell

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), "The Devil in Manuscript," The New-England Magazine (November, 1835), rpt. in The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales (1852):
Now, what more appropriate torture would Dante himself have contrived, for the sinner who perpetrates a bad book, than to be continually turning over the manuscript?

Sunday, January 18, 2015


The Believing Mind

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: First Series, XI: Six Members of the Institute:
The believing mind is a curious thing. It must absorb its endless rations of balderdash, or perish.


Biblioholics Anonymous

Dear Mike,

"My name is Eric and I’m a biblioholic." When I was 22 I bought a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and indebted myself for 10 years. The Virgil Encyclopedia was the last reckless binge. The Loeb Classical Library? Yes, all of them, thanks, and I mean all of them, every last one. Don't care what they cost, I'll have them. The New Pauly? Yes, the lot, thanks. Children in rags and without a crust? Divorce and bankruptcy? Tough luck.

No, I've stopped. I haven't bought a book since yesterday. Went to the newsagent's kiosk this morning ostensibly to buy a paper. He usually has a rack of secondhand books, of the sort that used to be sold with newspapers. Where else can a decent man buy a book on a Sunday? With the heavy rain today there were none on display, which didn't stop me peering under the plastic covers. No fix today. Just a bloody newspaper. I could have killed him.

Eric [Thomson]


The Mills of the Gods Grind Slowly

Caesar, Gallic War 1.14 (tr. H.J. Edwards):
For it was the wont of the immortal gods to grant a temporary prosperity and a longer impunity to make men whom they purposed to punish for their crime smart the more severely from a change of fortune.

Consuesse enim deos immortales, quo gravius homines ex commutatione rerum doleant, quos pro scelere eorum ulcisci velint, his secundiores interdum res et diuturniorem impunitatem concedere.
Commentators cite an anonymous fragment of tragedy preserved by Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.23.20 (1399 b; tr. John Henry Freese):
It is not from benevolence that the deity bestows great blessings upon many, but in order that they may suffer more striking calamities.

πολλοῖς ὁ δαίμων οὐ κατ᾽ εὔνοιαν φέρων
μεγάλα δίδωσιν εὐτυχήματ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα
τὰς συμφορὰς λάβωσιν ἐπιφανεστέρας.
and Claudian, Against Rufinus 1.21-23 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
No longer can I complain that the unrighteous man reaches the highest pinnacle of success. He is raised aloft that he may be hurled down in more headlong ruin.

                          iam non ad culmina rerum
iniustos crevisse queror; tolluntur in altum,
ut lapsu graviore ruant.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


A Nation of Evangelists

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: First Series, I: Criticism of Criticism of Criticism:
We are, in fact, a nation of evangelists; every third American devotes himself to improving and lifting up his fellow-citizens, usually by force; the messianic delusion is our national disease.



H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: First Series, I: Criticism of Criticism of Criticism:
[A] professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas.


Anthia and Habrocomes

Here are a couple of notes on the translation of Anthia and Habrocomes in Longus: Daphnis and Chloe. Xenophon of Ephesus: Anthia and Habrocomes. Edited and Translated by Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009 = Loeb Classical Library, 69).

At 3.5.8 (p. 291), read Euippe for Euhippe. The Greek form of the name is Εὐίππη, which Henderson everywhere else (including the index) renders as Euippe.

5.4.8-9 (p. 333):
8. Anthia, convinced by these avowals, came out of the temple, and when they decided to rest in Memphis for three days, Anthia went to the temple of Apis. This temple was the most eminent in Egypt, and the god gave prophecies to those wanting them: 9. anyone who comes, prays, and makes an enquiry to the god, he emerges and the Egyptian boys in front of the temple foretell what the future holds in each case, sometimes in prose and sometimes in verse.
The translation is garbled at the beginning of sub-section 9, i.e. "anyone who comes, prays, and makes an enquiry to the god, he emerges..." The Greek is straighforward:
ἐπειδὰν γάρ τις προσελθὼν εὔξηται καὶ δεηθῇ τοῦ θεοῦ αὐτὸς μὲν ἔξεισιν...
Translate as follows:
for whenever anyone comes, prays, and makes an enquiry to the god, he emerges...
I would also insert a comma in the Greek between θεοῦ and αὐτὸς, i.e. between the subordinate and main clauses.

A friend dubbed me Λοεβομάστιξ (Loebomastix, i.e. castigator of the Loeb Classical Library; cf. Ὁμηρομάστιξ = Homeromastix).


Friday, January 16, 2015



Caesar, Gallic War 6.14 (tr. H.J. Edwards):
Report says that in the schools of the Druids they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training. And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted the practice for two reasons—that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory.

Magnum ibi numerum versuum ediscere dicuntur. Itaque annos nonnulli vicenos in disciplina permanent. Neque fas esse existimant ea litteris mandare, cum in reliquis fere rebus, publicis privatisque rationibus Graecis litteris utantur. Id mihi duabus de causis instituisse videntur, quod neque in vulgum disciplinam efferri velint neque eos, qui discunt, litteris confisos minus memoriae studere: quod fere plerisque accidit, ut praesidio litterarum diligentiam in perdiscendo ac memoriam remittant.


Remedia Amoris

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe 2.7.7 (Philetas speaking; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
No, there is no remedy for Love, none to drink, to eat, or chant in songs, except kissing, embracing, and lying down together with naked bodies.

Ἔρωτος γὰρ οὐδὲν φάρμακον, οὐ πινόμενον, οὐκ ἐσθιόμενον, οὐκ ἐν ᾠδαῖς λαλούμενον, ὅτι μὴ φίλημα καὶ περιβολὴ καὶ συγκατακλιθῆναι γυμνοῖς σώμασι.


Gardening in Retirement

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe 2.3.3-5 (Philetas speaking; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I have a garden, made by my own hands, that I have worked on ever since I retired from being a herdsman on account of old age. It has everything that the seasons produce in its due season: in spring roses, lilies, hyacinth, both kinds of violet; in summer poppies, wild pears, and every kind of apple; and currently vines, figs, pomegranates, and green myrtle berries. In the morning flocks of birds gather in this garden, some for food and some for song, for it is sheltered, shady, and watered by three springs. If the stone fence were removed it would look to be a sacred grove.

κῆπός ἐστί μοι τῶν ἐμῶν χειρῶν, ὃν ἐξ οὗ νέμειν διὰ γῆρας ἐπαυσάμην ἐξεπονησάμην, ὅσα ὧραι φύουσι πάντα ἔχων ἐν αὐτῷ καθ᾿ ὥραν ἑκάστην· ἦρος ῥόδα καὶ κρίνα καὶ ὑάκινθος καὶ ἴα ἀμφότερα, θέρους μήκωνες καὶ ἀχράδες καὶ μῆλα πάντα, νῦν ἄμπελοι καὶ συκαῖ καὶ ῥοιαὶ καὶ μύρτα χλωρά. εἰς τοῦτον τὸν κῆπον ὀρνίθων ἀγέλαι συνέρχονται τὸ ἑωθινόν, τῶν μὲν ἐς τροφήν, τῶν δὲ ἐς ᾠδήν· συνηρεφὴς γὰρ καὶ κατάσκιος καὶ πηγαῖς τρισὶ κατάρρυτος· ἂν περιέλῃ τις τὴν αἱμασιὰν ἄλσος ὁρᾶν οἰήσεται.
In Henderson's translation I noticed a minor misprint at 3.11.2 (p. 117 of the Loeb Classical Library edition), where Lamon should be Lamo: the Greek name is Λάμων, but Henderson everywhere else (including the index) renders it as Lamo.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Our Fellow Mortals

John Muir (1838-1914), A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), pp. 139-142:
Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit — the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.

From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material he has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals. The fearfully good, the orthodox, of this laborious patchwork of modern civilization cry "Heresy" on every one whose sympathies reach a single hair's breadth beyond the boundary epidermis of our own species. Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kind of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.

This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. After human beings have also played their part in Creation's plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.

Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?

But I have wandered from my object. I stated a page or two back that man claimed the earth was made for him, and I was going to say that venomous beasts, thorny plants, and deadly diseases of certain parts of the earth prove that the whole world was not made for him. When an animal from a tropical climate is taken to high latitudes, it may perish of cold, and we say that such an animal was never intended for so severe a climate. But when man betakes himself to sickly parts of the tropics and perishes, he cannot see that he was never intended for such deadly climates. No, he will rather accuse the first mother of the cause of the difficulty, though she may never have seen a fever district; or will consider it a providential chastisement for some self-invented form of sin.

Furthermore, all uneatable and uncivilizable animals, and all plants which carry prickles, are deplorable evils which, according to closet researches of clergy, require the cleansing chemistry of universal planetary combustion. But more than aught else mankind requires burning, as being in great part wicked, and if that transmundane furnace can be so applied and regulated as to smelt and purify us into conformity with the rest of the terrestrial creation, then the tophetization of the erratic genus Homo were a consummation devoutly to be prayed for.



Rose Macaulay, letter to Hamilton Johnson (November 1, 1952):
I do so love that introit "Rejoice we all in the Lord, keeping holy-day in honour of all the hallows, in whose solemnity the angels rejoice, and glorify the Son of God." I like it better, really, than in Latin perhaps because of that lovely old English word "hallows," which comes with its associations of poetry and ancient prose: "the blessed company of hallows", "Christ shall come, with all his hallows". I even like the oath "by all the hallows". A pity it is gone out, except in All Hallows, Hallow E'en, Hallow-tide, etc. I think I shall swear "by the Hallows" occasionally. Did you know that "halibut" means "holy flat-fish", because eaten on holy days ("butt" = flat-fish)? Well, anyhow, I like our version of that introit even better than the Latin "sanctorum omnium", though here you won't agree, I fancy.



H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: Third Series, XV: The Dismal Science:
The notion that German is a gnarled and unintelligible language arises out of the circumstance that it is so much written by professors. It took a rebel member of the clan, swinging to the antipodes in his unearthly treason, to prove its explicitness, its resiliency, it downright beauty. But Nietzsches are few, and so German remains soggy...
Related posts:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Ancient Twerking

Lillian B. Lawler, "A 'Mortar' Dance," Classical Journal 43.1 (Oct. 1947) 34:
Among the less noble forms of the Greek dance is one called variously igde, igdis, or igdisma. Pollux says in one passage (x, 103) that it is a schema, or figure; in another (iv, 101), that it is a "lascivious form of dance." Athenaeus (xiv, 629F) lists it among "funny" dances—geloiai orcheseis. Pollux (iv, 101) adds to his statement the fact that it involves rotation of the hips. Both Athenaeus and Pollux couple it with such lewd dances as the maktrismos and the apokinos. Antiphanes (see Pollux x, 103) implies that it was performed to the music of the flute. The author of the Etymologicum Magnum (pp. 464, 49-52) explains igde as "a mortar, in which we mix seasonings," and adds, "...and there is also a form of dance, igdismata, in which they used to rotate the hips in the manner of a pestle." Suidas defines igde as "a mortar," and igdisma as lygisma, that is, "writhing, twisting." Hesychius explains igdis as "mortar." In addition, he has an obscure gloss, igden:arsen, which has been emended to igden:orchesin—"a dance."

It is interesting that etymologically the names applied to this dance do not denote a pestle, as we might expect, but rather a mortar. The noun igdisma goes back to a hypothetical *igdizo, "grind, pound," which Boisacq (s.v. igdis) and Walde Hoffmann (s.v. ico) connect with Latin ico, "beat, strike." A mortar, of course, is a vessel in which something is ground, or beaten, or both.

From the names given to the dance, I believe that it must have included both a rotation of the hips, the movement which reminded the Greeks of the stirring of a pestle, and also an occasional sharp jerk, suggestive of pounding. This would differentiate it from other dances and schemata which involved similar hip movements for instance, the maktrismos, apokinos, aposeisis, rhiknousthai, etc. It was certainly a lewd performance, and was not, as some modern students of the dance have stated naively, a "folk dance" based on the "work rhythms" of pounding food in a mortar.

Oddly enough, we have an exact parallel both to the dance and to its name, in the modern theater. On the burlesque stage, rotations of the hips, I am told, are called "grinds," and sudden jerks of the body are known technically as "bumps"! Rhythmical "grinds" and "bumps," I am informed reliably, make up the typical dance of that estimable branch of our American theater. The ancient "mortar dance," be it said, was probably of about the same social standing as its modern counterpart!


I Like to Be in America

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices: Third Series, I: On Being an American:
And here, more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.


Work Songs

Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 1.9 (tr. J.W. Cohoon):
My case is like that of men who in moving or shifting a heavy load beguile their labour by softly chanting or singing a tune—mere toilers that they are and not bards or poets of song.

ὥσπερ οἱ κινοῦντες καὶ μεταφέροντες οὐκ εὔφορον βάρος φθέγγονταί τε καὶ ᾄδουσιν ἡσυχῇ τὸ ἔργον παραμυθούμενοι, ἐργάται ὄντες, οὐκ ᾠδοί τινες οὐδὲ ποιηταί μελῶν.
On work songs in Greek see Andromache Karanika, Voices at Work: Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

Related posts:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Dirty Books

H.L. Mencken, letter to Alfred A. Knopf, quoted in Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, "Note on the Texts," in her edition of H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: First, Second, and Third Series (New York: Library of America, 2010), p. 531:
Nothing looks worse than a dirty book.
In context (ibid.):
He was also a careful proofreader of his own work, and encouraged Knopf (in a letter of March 24, 1921, noting some typographical errors in the first printing of Prejudices: Second Series) to "correct all such errors whenever the opportunity offers. Nothing looks worse than a dirty book. The English reviewers, in particular, are very waspish about typographical errors."
I like this definition of a dirty book—one disfigured by typographical errors. Unfortunately, Rodgers' own "Note on the Texts" contains just such a blot (ibid.):
[F]or a more detailed account of the periodical publication history of individual pieces in the Prejudices, see S.T. Joshi, H.L. Mencken: An Anotated Bibliography (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2009).
For Anotated read Annotated.

Thanks to Eric Thomson for correcting a typographical error of mine in this blog post!


Monday, January 12, 2015



In a recent essay Theodore Dalrymple quoted Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972) as follows:
Most people do not read; those who read do not understand; those who understand forget.
The original seems to be:
Au fond, la plupart des gens ne lisent pas; ou, s'ils lisent, ils ne comprennent pas; quant à ceux qui comprennent, ils oublient.
I don't know in what work by Montherlant this occurs. I confess I've never read any of his books.


One Sure Way to Recognize a Sinner

Frederick Turner, John Muir: Rediscovering America (1985; rpt. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2000), p. 69:
Old-time Scots Calvinism had held that one sure way to recognize a sinner was that he delighted in looking at natural objects, for such objects were fated for eventual destruction, and so to delight in them was an offense against the Lord.
Id., p. 129:
The two had fought on and off through the summer, the elder man regarding the younger's nature studies as a species of sin; the son retorting that in the fields and woods he was a good deal closer to God than his father was, however much the latter might read his Scriptures and Foxe's Book of Martyrs.


Explain and Discuss

John Southworth, Shakespeare the Player: A Life in the Theatre (Stroud: Sutton, 2000), pp. 12-13:
How deeply alienating it can be to those who are brought to approach his plays for the first time in preparing for school examinations, when the incomparable music of his verses is reduced to numbered, chopped-up parcels of dead learning. 'Explain and discuss'!

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Personal Salvation

Frederick Turner, John Muir: Rediscovering America (1985; rpt. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2000), p. 26:
Whatever the route, whatever the consequences for a late return home, for John Muir the disobedience was creative and absolutely essential. Considering the ways in which his father's severity compounded the confining regimen of the Dunbar schools, these long runs and rambles into the heart of that landscape were mental and spiritual escapes as much as they were physical ones. Here the boy developed the intuitive ability to take instruction, comfort, and deep pleasure from the natural world, an ability that did so much to convert his childhood in Dunbar and in Wisconsin from blight to lasting spiritual treasure. The runs began, as he would later recognize, a lifelong pattern of personal salvation. Whenever the deadening or seductive routines of settled life threatened his inmost nature; whenever he felt the shadows of traditional obligations and ways of thought spreading into his mind, then John Muir would contrive some escape as now he did on the days of spring and summer when with brother and friends he raced on out of the old town.


The Education of the Young

Dear Mike,

Your latest (on "an old fogey") reminds me of the "rum-soaked club men" of my favorite letter by John Jay Chapman, from M.A. DeWolfe Howe's edition of John Jay Chapman and his letters (Houghton Mifflin 1937). The Rev. Samuel Drury was headmaster of St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H., where Chapman's sons were students.

As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

To S. S. Drury
                                                                                                                      BARRYTOWN, N.Y.
                                                                                                                      Nov. 26: 1916

Do you really think that if I had any ideas on the parent and child question I'd waste them on you? But just now I am taking a loaf and trying to forget the whole subject. Is the education of the young the whole of life? I hate the young — I'm worn out with them. They absorb you and suck you dry and are vampires and selfish brutes at best. Give me some good old rumsoaked club men — who can't be improved and make no moral claims — and let me play chequers with them and look out of the Club window and think about what I'll have for dinner.
                                                                                         Yours faithfully
                                                                                                                     JOHN JAY CHAPMAN

Related posts:

Saturday, January 10, 2015


An Old Fogey

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), Unforgotten Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1939), pp. 295-296:
Having thus survived a generation which cared for the things I care for, I find that I now prefer the company of idlers and ne'er-do-wells and scalawags. I like the people who look on at life rather than those who take an active part in its business and affairs. They have plenty of leisure, and no axes to grind, which is pleasant. They don't preach at me, which is still more pleasant; and if they read at all, they read mostly old-fashioned books of the kind I like.

A Protestant controversialist of the seventeenth century once reproved the Catholics for their love of venial sins; they liked, he said, to warm themselves at fantastic fires and to dance in the light of glowworms.

This taste I share with the unreformed, at least in the idle sin of reading. I too like to dance in the light of glowworms, and the earnest and hastily written books of our modern authors are of no interest to me. So I suppose I am an old fogey, after all.


Who is Responsible?

Denys L. Page (1908-1978), History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 301-302:
In most of the transactions of his life Homeric man felt no need to philosophize about causes and effects. It was only in exceptional circumstances, and especially when things went wrong, that questions of responsibility arose; and the question was answered in uncommonly clear and consistent terms. There were obvious reasons why man could not be held accountable for unwise actions, for conduct contrary to his own interest, such as might involve breach of the code of honour or law. Such things are done under the influence of emotions which take possession of the mind, destroying the judgement; and if you ask, who put the madness into the mind, who created those emotions, the answer must be that it was not man who was the creator of his mind. Thoughts and emotions come into the mind, whether suddenly or slowly, as if from outside; man does not acknowledge, because he does not feel, any personal responsibility for their coming. There is therefore no choice but to assign to supernatural agency what cannot be explained in rational terms. There are in the world so many things which man did not create and does not control: in the sphere of human conduct, for example, the results of an action often turn out to be different from what the action was designed to achieve; responsibility for the actual results, in such a case, cannot be assigned to the human agent, whose intention has been frustrated. What no man has done must be ascribed to superman. Man does not create his own madness: nor can he foresee the consequences of what he does, however sane. The creator and foreseer must be outside and beyond him: in the last resort, they are embodied in the supreme power of the universe, in the will of Zeus. It is only Zeus who can foresee the results of all or any actions; and foreknowledge of course implies prearrangement. This is the heart and soul of Homeric thought: that the life of man proceeds in conformity with a prearranged plan; each has his Moira, his share in the scheme of things, his allotted portion. He can only do what destiny has predetermined for him; and only Zeus knows what that is, or whither it will lead. The ultimate responsibility for all actions lies not with man but with the agency which assigned his destiny to him; and the workings of his destiny within the individual may be uncomfortable and inconsistent,—even the wisest is exposed to the sudden access of supernatural passions which invade his understanding and take possession of it.


True or False?

Denys L. Page (1908-1978), History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), p. 300:
Now I have learnt by long experience that what appears feeble and false to me may bear to others the aspect of great and prevalent truth.

Friday, January 09, 2015


The Remotely Conceivable Alternative

Denys L. Page (1908-1978), History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), p. 57:
I do not see how this suggestion could be positively refuted. It enjoys a status well known in academic circles and doubtless elsewhere,—that of the Remotely Conceivable Alternative, contrary to the obvious implication of the facts, incapable of proof or disproof.


The Human Condition

Simonides, fragment 520 (tr. David A. Campbell):
Men's strength is slight, their plans impossible; within their brief lifetime toil upon toil; and death hangs inescapable over all alike: of death an equal portion is allotted to good men and to bad.

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ᾿ ἐν παύρῳ πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνῳ·
ὁ δ᾿ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ᾿ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.

Thursday, January 08, 2015



Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), "The Man with the Twisted Lip," Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:
It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.


114th United States Congress

Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 34.29 (tr. J.W. Cohoon and H. Lamar Crosby):
For sometimes men without any ability to perceive what is needful, men who have never given heed to their own welfare in the past, incompetent to manage even a village as it should be managed, but recommended only by wealth or family, undertake the task of government; still others undertake that task in the belief that they are displaying diligence if they merely heap up phrases and string them together in any way at all with greater speed than most men can, although in all else they are in no way superior to anybody else. And what is most serious is that these men, not for the sake of what is truly best and in the interest of their country itself, but for the sake of reputation and honours and the possession of greater power than their neighbours, in the pursuit of crowns and precedence and purple robes, fixing their gaze upon these things and staking all upon their attainment, do and say such things as will enhance their own reputations.

Οἱ μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲν δυνάμενοι τῶν δεόντων ἰδεῖν οὐδ᾿ ἐπιμεληθέντες αὑτῶν πρότερον, μηδὲ κώμην ὄντες ἱκανοὶ διοικῆσαι κατὰ τρόπον, ἄλλως δὲ ὑπὸ χρημάτων ἢ γένους συνιστάμενοι προσέρχονται τῷ πολιτεύεσθαι· τινὲς δὲ ταύτην ἐπιμέλειαν εἶναι νομίζοντες, ἂν ῥήματα συμφορῶσι καὶ ταῦτα τῶν πολλῶν ὁπωσδὴ θᾶττον συνείρωσι, μηδενὸς τἄλλα ἀμείνους ὄντες. τὸ δὲ μέγιστον, διὰ μὲν τὸ βέλτιστον καὶ τῆς πατρίδος αὐτῆς ἕνεκεν οὔ, λοιπὸν δὲ διὰ δόξας καὶ τιμὰς καὶ τὸ δύνασθαι πλέον ἑτέρου καὶ στεφάνους καὶ προεδρίας καὶ πορφύρας διώκοντες, πρὸς ταῦτα ἀποβλέποντες καὶ τούτων ἐξηρτημένοι τοιαῦτα πράττουσι καὶ λέγουσιν, ἐξ ὧν αὐτοί τινες εἶναι δόξουσιν.


Divine Inspiration

Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 36.34 (tr. J.W. Cohoon and H. Lamar Crosby):
So, as I was saying, it is reasonable to suppose that not only do those who busy themselves near some ritual, hard by the entrance to the sanctuary, gain some inkling of what is going on within, when either a lone mystic phrase rings out loudly, or fire appears above the enclosure, but also that there comes sometimes to the poets—I mean the very ancient poets—some utterance from the Muses, however brief, some inspiration of divine nature and of divine truth, like a flash of fire from the invisible.

οὐκοῦν, ὡς ἔφην, τούς τε πλησίον ἀναστρεφομένους τελετῆς τινος πρὸς ταῖς εἰσόδοις εἰκὸς τό γε τοσοῦτον τῶν ἔνδοθεν αἰσθάνεσθαί τινος, ἤτοι ῥήματος ἐκβοηθέντος ἑνὸς μυστικοῦ ἢ πυρὸς ὑπερφανέντος, καὶ τοῖς ποιηταῖς ἐνίοτε, λέγω δὲ τοῖς πάνυ ἀρχαίοις, φωνή τις ἐκ Μουσῶν ἀφίκετο βραχεῖα καί πού τις ἐπίπνοια θείας φύσεώς τε καὶ ἀληθείας, καθάπερ αὐγὴ πυρὸς ἐξ ἀφανοῦς λάμψαντος.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Wassailing the Trees

"About Cider," All the Year Round: A Weekly Journal, 3rd Series, No. 87 (August 30, 1890) 198-202 (at 200):
There is an old superstition in some parts of the country still, that, if the sun shines on the apple-trees on Christmas Day, there will be a good crop next season.

There is an old custom in the West of England of blessing, or "wassailing," the apple-trees, a custom said to have its origin in the superstition referred to by Herrick in his "Hesperides":
Wassaile the trees that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare;
For more or lesse fruits they will bring
As you do give them wassailing.
The process of "wassailing" consists of the people singing round the tree such verses as these:
Health to thee, great apple-tree!
Well to bear hats full, caps full.
Three-bushel bags full.
Then three cheers are given for the tree, and guns are often fired.
I should try this to improve the health of the scraggly apple-trees on my land.

Hat tip: John Bergmayer.

Update from Alan Knell:
The Mellstock Band is a small group specialising in traditional English songs and music.

Their album "The Leaves of Life" includes the apple Tree Wassail. The notes with the disk say this.
The custom of "wassailing" apple trees was widespread in the south of England, especially in Somerset, where it persists to the present day.

A group of villagers would go into the orchard at night in wintertime, usually at New Year or Twelfth Night, choose the oldest or best tree to represent the orchard, and drink a formal toast to it, as if it were a living person.

In different places cider might be poured on the roots, the branches decked with sheep's wool or toasted bread dipped in cider, and shotguns fired through the branches while tin trays and buckets were beaten.

Often a ceremonial toast was spoken, and a special song sung.

Cecil Sharp collected this song from William Crockford of Bratten, Somerset, on September 12th, 1906. The toast ran:
Bud, blossom, bloom and bear, ready to tear,
So that we shall have apples and cider next year.
Hat-fulls, cap-fulls, three-bushel-bag-fulls,
Little heap under the stairs,
Cider running out gutter-holes.
Hip, Hip, Hurrah!

A cider-apple orchard is a beautiful sight. The trees are relatively small, but blossom in spring is abundant, and in autumn the trees are loaded with small dark red apples, too hard and sour to eat. They say that the varieties of cider-apple numbered well into three figures, but most are now rare or extinct.

There was a time in England when you could tell your place by looking at the varieties of live-stock and crops.

Laudamus tempora acta!


Learning by Play

St. Jerome, letter 107.4 (to Laeta; tr. F.A. Wright):
Have a set of letters made for her, of boxwood or of ivory, and tell her their names. Let her play with them, making play a road to learning, and let her not only grasp the right order of the letters and remember their names in a simple song, but also frequently upset their order and mix the last letters with the middle ones, the middle with the first. Thus she will know them all by sight as well as by sound. When she begins with uncertain hand to use the pen, either let another hand be put over hers to guide her baby fingers, or else have the letters marked on the tablet so that her writing may follow their outlines and keep to their limits without straying away. Offer her prizes for spelling, tempting her with such trifling gifts as please young children. Let her have companions too in her lessons, so that she may seek to rival them and be stimulated by any praise they win. You must not scold her if she is somewhat slow; praise is the best sharpener of wits. Let her be glad when she is first and sorry when she falls behind. Above all take care not to make her lessons distasteful; a childish dislike often lasts longer than childhood.

Fiant ei litterae vel buxeae vel eburneae et suis nominibus appellentur. Ludat in eis, ut et lusus eius eruditio sit, et non solum ordinem teneat litterarum, ut memoria nominum in canticum transeat, sed ipse inter se crebro ordo turbetur et mediis ultima, primis media misceantur, ut eas non sonu tantum, sed et visu noverit. Cum vero coeperit trementi manu stilum in cera ducere, vel alterius superposita manu teneri regantur articuli vel in tabella sculpantur elementa, ut per eosdem sulcos inclusa marginibus trahantur vestigia et foras non queant evagari. Syllabas iungat ad praemium, et, quibus illa aetas delectari potest, munusculis invitetur. Habeat et in discendo socias, quibus invideat, quarum laudibus mordeatur. Non est obiurganda, si tardior sit, sed laudibus excitandum ingenium; et vicisse se gaudeat et victam doleat. Cavendum in primis, ne oderit studia, ne amaritudo eorum percepta in infantia ultra rudes annos transeat.
Quintilian 1.1.26-27 (tr. Donald A. Russell):
Nor do I rule out the well-known practice of giving ivory letter-shapes to play with, so as to stimulate little children to learn—or indeed anything else one can think of to give them more pleasure, and which they enjoy handling, looking at, or naming.

Once the child has begun to trace the outlines, it will be useful to have these inscribed as neatly as possible on a tablet, so that the stilus is guided by the grooves. In this way, the child will not make mistakes as on wax (for he will be constrained by the edges on both sides, and will not be able to stray beyond the marks), and, by following these well-defined traces so quickly and often, he will strengthen his fingers, and not need the help of a guiding hand placed over his own.

Non excludo autem (id quod est notum) irritandae ad discendum infantiae gratia eburneas etiam litterarum formas in lusum offerre, vel si quid aliud quo magis illa aetas gaudeat inveniri potest quod tractare intueri nominare iucundum sit.

Cum vero iam ductus sequi coeperit, non inutile erit eos tabellae quam optime insculpi, ut per illos velut sulcos ducatur stilus. Nam neque errabit quemadmodum in ceris (continebitur enim utrimque marginibus neque extra praescriptum egredi poterit) et celerius ac saepius sequendo certa vestigia firmabit articulos neque egebit adiutorio manum suam manu super imposita regentis.



The OED Online Word of the Day for today is nuppence, defined as "No money; nothing." The earliest citations are both from Andrew Lang, dated 1883 and 1886, which might lead one to conclude that Lang coined the word. But it can be found in print nearly twenty years earlier. See D'Arcy W. Thompson (1829-1902), Day Dreams of a Schoolmaster, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1864), p. 199:
What could a man do with no pennies or nuppence?
Lang was one of Thompson's pupils. He might have heard the word from his schoolmaster's lips, or read it in this book, or both.


Monday, January 05, 2015



Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), Unforgotten Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1939), pp. 151-152:
I never meet a rich, successful business American without some slight speculation about the bones he has crushed and the wretches he has eaten. These experiences have given me a certain dislike for the whole iron economic system upon which our civilization is founded—a dislike, however, which I must admit is by no means strong enough to make me forgo any of the pecuniary advantages which I derive from it.


Read Without Ceasing

St. Jerome, letter 22.17 (to Eustochium; tr. F.A. Wright):
Read often and learn all you can.

Crebrius lege et disce quam plurima.
Id., letter 125.11 (to Rusticus):
Always have a book in your hand and before your eyes.

Numquam de manu et oculis tuis recedat liber.

Alfred Eisenstaedt, Marilyn Monroe Reading at Home


Not an Ancient Latin Proverb

Dear Mr Gilleland,

'Ne tu aliis faciendam trade, factam si quam rem cupis' is not an ancient Latin proverb, but Lindsay's own translation of 'If you want a thing done, do it yourself', which he quotes as 'that golden rule of scientific research' in the preface to Notae Latinae. He seems to have forgotten that an injunction to the world at large, rather than a particular person, should be cast in the present subjunctive: 'tradas' and 'uelis' (since 'cupias' won't scan).

Best wishes

Leofranc Holford-Strevens

Sunday, January 04, 2015


Rushing into Print

St. Jerome, letter 125.18 (to Rusticus; tr. F.A. Wright):
Do not rashly leap into authorship, and be led by light-headed madness. Spend years in learning what you are to teach.

Ne ad scribendum cito prosilias et levi ducaris insania. Multo tempore disce, quod doceas.
Related post: Publish or Perish.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


Xerxes Wept

Herodotus 8.45-46 (tr. A.D. Godley):
45. But when he saw the whole Hellespont hidden by his ships, and all the shores and plains of Abydos thronged with men, Xerxes first declared himself happy, and presently he fell a-weeping.

46. Perceiving that, his uncle Artabanus, who in the beginning had spoken his mind freely and counselled Xerxes not to march against Hellas—Artabanus, I say, marking how Xerxes wept, questioned him and said, "What a distance is there, O king, between your acts of this present and a little while ago! Then you declared your happiness, and now you weep." "Ay verily," said Xerxes; "for I was moved to compassion, when I considered the shortness of all human life, seeing that of all this multitude of men not one will be alive a hundred years hence."

45. Ὡς δὲ ὥρα πάντα μὲν τὸν Ἑλλήσποντον ὑπὸ τῶν νεῶν ἀποκεκρυμμένον, πάσας δὲ τὰς ἀκτὰς καὶ τὰ Ἀβυδηνῶν πεδία ἐπίπλεα ἀνθρώπων, ἐνθαῦτα ὁ Ξέρξης ἑωυτὸν ἐμακάρισε, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἐδάκρυσε.

46. Μαθὼν δέ μιν Ἀρτάβανος ὁ πάτρως, ὃς τὸ πρῶτον γνώμην ἀπεδέξατο ἐλευθέρως οὐ συμβουλεύων Ξέρξῃ στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ τὴν Ἑλλάδα, οὗτος ὡνὴρ φρασθεὶς Ξέρξην δακρύσαντα εἴρετο τάδε. "Ὦ βασιλεῦ, ὡς πολλὸν ἀλλήλων κεχωρισμένα ἐργάσαο νῦν τε καὶ ὀλίγῳ πρότερον· μακαρίσας γὰρ σεωυτὸν δακρύεις." ὃ δὲ εἶπε "Ἐσῆλθε γάρ με λογισάμενον κατοικτεῖραι ὡς βραχὺς εἴη ὁ πᾶς ἀνθρώπινος βίος, εἰ τούτων γε ἐόντων τοσούτων οὐδεὶς ἐς ἑκατοστὸν ἔτος περιέσται."
St. Jerome, letter 60.18 (to Heliodorus; tr. F.A. Wright):
That mighty king Xerxes, who overthrew mountains and turned the sea into solid ground, when from his high place he looked upon his infinite multitudes and his countless host of men, is said to have wept at the thought that not one of those whom he saw would in a hundred years be alive. Oh, if we could ascend into such a watch-tower as would give us a view of the whole world spread beneath our feet! Then I would show you a universe in ruins, peoples warring against peoples, and kingdoms shattered on kingdoms. You would see some men being tortured, some killed, others drowned at sea, others dragged off to slavery; here a wedding, there lamentation; some being born, others dying; some living in affluence, others begging their bread; not merely Xerxes’ army, but the inhabitants of the whole world now alive destined soon to pass away. Words fail; for language is inadequate to the greatness of this theme.

Xerxes, ille rex potentissimus, qui subvertit montes, maria constravit, cum de sublimi loco infinitam hominum multitudinem et innumerabilem vidisset exercitum, flesse dicitur, quod post centum annos nullus eorum, quos tunc cernebat, superfuturus esset. O si possemus in talem ascendere speculam, de qua universam terram sub nostris pedibus cerneremus! Iam tibi ostenderem totius mundi ruinas, gentes gentibus et regnis regna conlisa; alios torqueri, alios necari, alios obrui fluctibus, alios ad servitutem trahi; hic nuptias, ibi planctum; illos nasci, istos mori; alios affluere divitiis, alios mendicare; et non Xerxis tantum exercitum, sed totius mundi homines, qui nunc vivunt, in brevi spatio defuturos. Vincitur sermo rei magnitudine et minus est omne quod dicimus.

Friday, January 02, 2015



Democritus, fragment 286 Diels (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
He is fortunate who is happy with moderate means, unfortunate who is unhappy with great possessions.

εὐτυχὴς ὁ ἐπὶ μετρίοισι χρήμασιν εὐθυμεόμενος, δυστυχὴς δὲ ὁ ἐπὶ πολλοῖσι δυσθυμεόμενος.



Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), Unforgotten Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1939), pp. 190-191:
If you would save your soul, the voice seemed to whisper, if you would discover that personal and peculiar sense of life which is your most precious endowment, you must practise and perfect a habit of discrimination; amid all you hear and see you must choose whatever is relevant and significant to you, and only that, rejecting with equal sincerity everything that is not really yours—all the interests you catch from others, all the standards and beliefs and feelings which are imposed on you by the society and the age you live in. Watch above all, the voice admonished me in its grave accents, for those special moments of illumination within, or of visible delight from the world around you, which seem to set free the spirit for a moment. Not to discriminate these visitations of beauty, not thus to respond to them, is, the voice admonished me, on this short day of frost and sunshine, to sleep before evening.


Joy on Receiving a Letter

St. Jerome, letter 7.2 (to Chromatius, Jovinus, and Eusebius; tr. F.A. Wright):
Now I talk to your letter, I embrace it, it carries on a conversation with me, it is the only thing here that knows Latin. In this place an old man has either to learn a barbarous jargon, or else to hold his tongue. The handwriting I know so well brings your dear faces before my eyes; and then either I am no longer here or else you are here with me. Believe love when it tells you the truth: as I write this letter I see you before me.

Nunc cum vestris litteris fabulor, illas amplexor, illae mecum loquuntur, illae hic tantum Latine sciunt. Hic enim aut barbarus seni sermo discendus est aut tacendum est. Quotiensque carissimos mihi vultus notae manus referunt inpressa vestigia, totiens aut ego hic non sum aut vos hic estis. Credite amori vera dicenti: et cum has scriberem, vos videbam.
J.N.D. Kelly (1909-1997), Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975), p. 49, n. 15:
The older reading 'barbarus semi-sermo' ( = 'the barbarous gibberish'), which has good MS support, seems preferable to 'barbarus seni sermo' ('at my advanced years I must learn a barbarous speech'), which Hilberg adopted.

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