Monday, February 29, 2016


An Effect of Fear in Cellini's Autobiography

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), Autobiography 1.33 (tr. George Bull; I changed his Bachaccia to Bachiacca):
After a while my friend Bachiacca appeared on the scene, having either guessed or been told where I was. 'Is that my old crony?' he called out softly — we used to call each other 'crony' for a joke. Then, almost in tears, he began to beg me for the love of God not to hurt the poor girl, as she was entirely blameless.

'If you don't move off this instant,' I said, 'I shall hit you on the head with this sword.'

That poor old crony of mine was so terrified at what I said that his bowels started moving and he was forced to retire a little way off to relieve himself.

Alquanto soprastato, capitò quivi quel mio amico detto il Bachiacca, il quale o sì veramente se l'era immaginato, o gli era stato detto. Sommessamente mi chiamò compare (che così ci chiamavamo per burla); e mi pregò per l'amor di Dio, dicendo queste parole quasi che piangendo: Compar mio, io vi priegò che voi non facciate dispiacere a quella poverina, perchè lei non ha una colpa al mondo.

Al quale io dissi: Se a questa prima parola voi non mi vi levate dinanzi, io vi darò di questa spada in sul capo.

Spaventato questo mio povero compare, subito se gli mosse il corpo, e poco discosto possette andare, che bisogò che gli ubbidissi.
Id. 1.64:
The necromancer implored my help, begging me to stand firm and telling me to have some asafoetida fumes made. So I turned to Vincenzio Romoli and told him to do this straight away. While I was saying this I stared at Agnolo Gaddi, whose eyes were popping out of his head, and who was half-dead with terror.

'Agnolo,' I cried, 'there's no room for fear in a situation like this — you must lend a hand. Throw some of the asafoetida on at once.'

The instant he went to make a move, Agnolo blew off and shat himself so hard that it was more effective than the asafoetida. The tremendous stench and noise made the boy lift his head a little, and when he heard me laughing he plucked up courage and said that the demons were running away like mad.

Il negromante mi si raccomandò, pregandomi che io gli tenessi il fermo, e che io facessi fare profumi di zaffeticha: così voltomi a Vincenzio Romoli, dissi che presto profumassi di zaffetica. In mentre ch'io così diceva, guardando Agnolino Gaddi, il quale si era tanto ispaventato che le luce degli occhi aveva fuor del punto, et era più che mezzo morto, al quale io dissi:

Agnolo, in questi luoghi non bisogna aver paura, ma bisogna darsi da fare ad aiutarsi; sicchè mettete su presto di quella zaffetica.

Il ditto Agnolo, in quello che lui si volse muovere, fece una istrombazzata di coregge con tanta abbundanzia di merda, la qual potette molto più che la zaffetica. Il fanciullo a quel gran puzzo e quel romore alzato un poco il viso, sentendomi ridere alquanto, assicurato un poco la paura, disse che se ne cominciavano andare a gran furia.
On this particular effect of fear see:
On demons fleeing from flatulence and defecation see: A Powerful Weapon in Spiritual Warfare and Valerie Allen, On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages (2007; rpt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 90-94 ("Farting at the Devil").



Love and Curiosity

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), "Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford," in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 16-32 (at 19):
But all fields of study and enquiry, all great Schools, demand human sacrifice. For their primary object is not culture, and their academic uses are not limited to education. Their roots are in the desire for knowledge, and their life is maintained by those who pursue some love or curiosity for its own sake, without reference even to personal improvement. If this individual love and curiosity fails, their tradition becomes sclerotic.

There is no need, therefore, to despise, no need even to feel pity for months or years of life sacrificed in some minimal enquiry: say, the study of some uninspired medieval text and its fumbling dialect; or of some miserable 'modern' poetaster and his life (nasty, dreary, and fortunately short) — NOT IF the sacrifice is voluntary, and IF it is inspired by a genuine curiosity, spontaneous or personally felt.
Also in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984), pp. 224-240 (at 226-227).

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Useful Advice in a Fleabag Hotel

Geoponica 13.15.9 (tr. David Jordan):
If ever you go into a place where there are fleas, say Ôch Ôch, and they will not touch you.

εἴ ποτε δὲ εἰσέρχῃ ἐν τόπῳ ἔνθα εἰσὶ ψύλλαι, λέγε ὢχ ὤχ, καὶ οὐχ ἅψονταί σου.


Old Fogeyism

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), A Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956), p. 211:
I have lately been coming to feel that, as an American, I am more or less in the eighteenth century—or, at any rate, not much later than the early nineteenth. I do not drive a car and rather dislike this form of travel—I have not progressed further than the bicycle. I cannot abide the radio—though I regularly play the phonograph, which gives me, as the radio cannot, exactly what music I want at exactly the moment I want it. I have rarely watched a television program, and I almost never go to the movies (a word that I still detest as I did the first time I heard it)....I make no attempt to keep up with the younger American writers; and I only hope to have the time to get through some of the classics I have never read. Old fogeyism is comfortably closing in.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Some Translations from Greek and Latin

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), Enemies of Promise (1938; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 216-217:
Another field for the Pre-Raphaelite influence was in translating. Homer and Virgil were the pillars of an Eton education; it would be hard to derive more pleasure then or now than we obtained from reading them. But we read them with the help of two official cribs, Butcher and Lang for Homer, Mackail for Virgil. Lang believed that Homer must be translated into the nearest English equivalent which was an Anglo-Saxon prose reminiscent of the Sagas. He tried to manage on a Bronze-Age vocabulary, and the Mediterranean clarity of the Odyssey was blurred by a Wardour Street Nordic fog. Homer, in short, was slightly Wagnerized. Mackail, who had married Burne-Jones's daughter, gave to his Virgil an eightyish air, the lacrimae rerum spilled over and his Christian attitude to paganism, that it was consciously pathetic and incomplete, like an animal that wishes it could talk, infected everything which he translated with a morbid distress. Dido became a bull-throated Mater Dolorosa by Rossetti. His translations from the Greek Anthology, one of the sacred books of the inner culture, the very soil of the Eton lilies, were even more deleterious. They exhaled pessimism and despair, an overripe perfection in which it was always the late afternoon or the last stormy sunset of the ancient world, in which the authentic gloom of Palladas was outdone by that attributed to Simonides, Callimachus, or Plato. Meleager was the typical Pre-Raphaelite lover.
J.D. Denniston (1887-1949), "The Loeb Lysias," Classical Review 45.6 (December, 1931) 221-222 (at 221):
Lysias is the most Gallic of Greek writers, and his peculiar charm can probably best be recaptured in French. But it should not be difficult to convey in an English translation the simplicity and naturalness of his manner. Mr. Lamb has not done so. He has chosen to employ, almost throughout, a rather stilted style, which is often cumbrous and sometimes ugly. While Lysias conspicuously prefers ordinary, everyday expressions, Mr. Lamb sedulously avoids them. He introduces us into a somewhat remote world, whose inhabitants, dressed in 'apparel,' 'mount' and 'descend' the stairs to the 'chamber' (or 'apartment') in their 'dwelling,' commit 'transgressions,' 'recking nought' of the 'public weal,' as a result of which a 'goodly' number of them are 'haled' to prison, though the lucky ones are 'absolved' by the court. 'Cravens' in the field, they 'seek' only to preserve their 'possessions.' And they 'judge' (or 'esteem') it 'meet' not to 'hearken' when their acquaintances, with whom they are frequently 'at feud,' 'apprise' them of what is likely to 'befall.' They will not use such vulgar expressions as 'no,' 'before,' 'except,' 'tell,' 'pretend,' 'inside' and 'near,' when 'nay,' 'ere,' 'save,' 'bid,' 'feign,' 'within' and 'hard by' are to hand: only at rare moments do they break out into slang, and complain that they are 'hard up' for statements.



Antilabe is a word not found in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it shows up fairly often in scholarly writing about Greek drama. Antilabe is a transcription of Greek ἀντιλαβή. Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ἀντιλαβή, sense 4:
Gramm., in dramatic dialogue, division of a line between two speakers, Hsch.
In its English (or rather Roman alphabetic) dress it seems to occur first (as antilabé) in a University of Chicago dissertation by John Leonard Hancock, Studies in Stichomythia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917), p. 11 and passim. The first occurrence I can locate in a scholarly journal is J.D. Denniston, "Pauses in the Tragic Senarius," Classical Quarterly 30.2 (April, 1936) 73-79 (at 73, n. 1). As might be expected, it occurs in German even earlier, e.g. in Gustav Wolff, Sophokles für den Schulgebrauch erklärt, IV: König Oidipus (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1870), p. 101 (on line 1120). In the same book the word in Greek characters occurs on p. 62 (on line 626). In English antilabe is now so common that dictionaries should probably include it.


Friday, February 26, 2016


Harsh Words

Sophocles, Women of Trachis 734-737 (Hyllus to Deianeira; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Mother, I would choose one of three things, that you should no longer be alive, or that you should survive but be called someone else's mother, or that you should somehow acquire a better heart than the one you have!

ὦ μῆτερ, ὡς ἂν ἐκ τριῶν σ᾿ ἓν εἱλόμην,
ἢ μηκέτ᾿ εἶναι ζῶσαν, ἢ σεσωμένην
ἄλλου κεκλῆσθαι μητέρ᾿, ἢ λῴους φρένας
τῶν νῦν παρουσῶν τῶνδ᾿ ἀμείψασθαί ποθεν.
P.E. Easterling ad loc.:
Hyllus begins with a striking formulation of the proverbial 'choice of three evils' (a choice between three modes of death or punishment, cf. fr. 908 P & R with Pearson's note and Radt's app. crit.; Menander fr. 735 K; schol. on Pindar, Ol. 1.60). Hyllus adapts the idea to suit his denunciation of D.: he wishes she were (i) dead or (ii) alive but not his mother or (iii) different from what she is, i.e. not guilty.
Sophocles, fragment 908 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones with his note):
For I shall open it, even if I shall get one of the three things!a

a This is thought to allude to the story that a consulter of the Delphic oracle might be given his response in an envelope, and if he opened it before an appointed day might lose an eye, an arm, or his tongue.

λύσω γάρ, εἰ καὶ τῶν τριῶν ἓν οἴσομαι.
Menander, fragment 735 Kock = 579 Kassel and Austin (my translation):
For he has one evil of those three.

ἓν γάρ τι τούτων τῶν τριῶν ἔχει κακόν.
A.B. Drachmann, ed., Scholia Vetera in Pindari Carmina, Vol. I: Scholia in Olympionicas (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1903), pp. 40-41, which I've merged into a single image without the critical apparatus:

Cf. Aelian, Historical Miscellany 13.36 (tr. N.G. Wilson with his note):
Olympias sent Philip's daughter Eurydice—she was the child of Philip and an Illyrian woman—hemlock, a noose, and a dagger.35 Eurydice chose the noose.

35It was often suggested in antiquity that there were three ways to commit suicide; the idea first appears in Aristophanes, Frogs 118–135, where they are: hanging, hemlock, and throwing oneself from a height. See E. Fraenkel, Philologus 87 (1932): 470–473 (= Kleine Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie I (Rome, 1964), pp. 465–467).

Ὀλυμπιὰς τῇ Φιλίππου θυγατρὶ Εὐρυδίκῃ (ἦν δὲ ἄρα αὐτὴ ἐξ Ἰλλυρίδος γυναικὸς τῷ Φιλίππῳ γενομένη) προσέπεμψε κώνειον καὶ βρόχον καὶ ξίφος· ἡ δὲ αἱρεῖται τὸν βρόχον.
Cf. also Suda τ 154 Adler (tr. Catharine Roth):
[Note] that they used to set three things beside those condemned to death: a sword, a noose, hemlock. [These were called] "the three things for death"; but some [called them] the three things by the courtyard. Those who were being led to death were allowed free speech, so that when they were sated with food and wine, they could say whatever three things they wished; then they were gagged. That which is now called archeion ["town hall"] used to be called aule ["courtyard"], and its servants [were called] courtyard-attendants. Elsewhere: "the three things for death" -- Alexis mentions [them] in Goatherds.[1] [Note] that he who prophesies at Delphi used to receive the oracular responses in hints, and it was declared for him, if he should explain [them], one of the three punishments: for he must be deprived of his eyes, or of his hand, or of his tongue.

[1] Alexis fr. 8 Kock (and K.-A.)

Τὰ τρία τῶν εἰς θάνατον: ὅτι τοῖς εἰς θάνατον κατακριθεῖσι τρία παρετίθουν, ξίφος, βρόχον, κώνειον. τὰ τρία τὰ εἰς τὸν θάνατον: οἱ δὲ τὰ τρία τὰ παρὰ τῇ αὐλῇ. τοῖς ἐπὶ θάνατον ἀγομένοις μετῆν παρρησίας, ὥστε τροφῆς καὶ οἴνου πληρωθεῖσι τρία λέγειν, ἃ βούλονται: μεθ' ὃ ἐφιμοῦντο. τὸ δὲ νῦν ἀρχεῖον καλούμενον αὐλὴ ἐλέγετο, καὶ οἱ ὑπηρετικοὶ αὐλικοί. ἄλλως: τὰ τρία τὰ εἰς τὸν θάνατον: μέμνηται Ἄλεξις ἐν Αἰπόλοις. ὅτι ὁ μαντευόμενος ἐν Δελφοῖς σεσημασμένους ἐλάμβανε τοὺς χρησμούς, καὶ προείρητο αὐτῷ, εἰ λύσει, ζημία μία τῶν τριῶν: ἢ γὰρ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτὸν ἔδει στερηθῆναι ἢ τῆς χειρὸς ἢ τῆς γλώττης.



The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary under cryptozoic, adj.2, is
1889 A. DENDY in Victorian Naturalist 5 131 To these light-abhorring animals, which live concealed under logs and stones and beneath the dead bark of trees, and venture forth from their hiding places, if at all, only at night or under exceptional circumstances, it will be convenient to give a distinct name indicative of their peculiar habitat, and..I can find no more suitable name than 'Cryptozoic', or living hidden.
The citation is incorrect. The quotation appears in Vol. VI, not V, of The Victorian Naturalist, more precisely in Vol. VI, No. 8 (December, 1889), whole No. 72. A fuller quotation is interesting as showing how Arthur Dendy coined the word:
Now to these light-abhorring animals, which live concealed under logs and stones and beneath the dead bark of trees, and venture forth from their hiding places, if at all, only at night or under exceptional circumstances, it will be convenient to give a distinct name indicative of their peculiar habitat, and though I have carefully studied the Greek dictionary I can find no more suitable term than "Cryptozoic," or living hidden, which, though by no means perfect, I think fairly expresses my meaning. By the cryptozoic fauna, then, I mean all that assemblage of animals which is found living habitually under logs and stones and under the rotten bark of trees. I had thought of including under the term also burrowing animals such as the mole and the earthworm, but decided finally that it was better not to do so. The line must be drawn somewhere, and if we draw it as I propose I think we shall circumscribe a fairly distinct and definite group of animals.
English is much more productive of crypto- compounds than Greek ever was.

I know some "light-abhorring" members of the species Homo sapiens who "venture forth from their hiding places, if at all, only at night or under exceptional circumstances."

One could apply Ovid's words (Tristia 3.4.25) to the cryptozoic fauna:
He who hid well, lived well. (bene qui latuit bene vixit.)
Related posts:


Filthy Greek

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), Enemies of Promise (1938; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 184-185:
Godfrey's relaxation was reading Homer; he adored the Odyssey, for the Homeric world was one in which he was at home and the proverbs of "the wily Odysseus", to the disgust of the able but Philistine Highworth, were never off his lips. "Oh, babababarbaba babababarbaba," he would storm; "for God's sake stop spouting Greek—I can't understand a fellow with guts like you Godfrey wanting to quote that filthy Greek all the time—and as for you, Cyril, you're worse,—nine bloody beanrows will I have there and a hive for the honey bloody bee—my God it makes me crap."

Thursday, February 25, 2016


The Neminians

G.G. Coulton (1858-1947), From St. Francis to Dante: Translations from the Chronicle of the Franciscan Salimbene; (1221-1288) with Notes and Illustrations from Other Medieval Sources, 2nd ed. (London: David Nutt, 1907), pp. 407-408 (Appendix A, note 13):
A certain Radulfus, about 1290, got it into his head that whenever the word nemo (no man) occurred in Latin writings, it was no mere negation, but referred to a person of that name, whom he proved to be identical with the Son in the Holy Trinity. His own reading (as may well be believed) was small: but he paid monks and clerks to make a collection of such passages, mainly from the Bible, from which he composed a "Sermon upon Nemo" which he dedicated to Cardinal Benedict Caietan, afterwards Boniface VIII. The sermon still exists in different versions, and an adversary assures us that Radulfus founded a sect of Neminians, among whom he names Peter of Limoges. This adversary, Stephanus de S. Georgio, "must have been as great a fool as Radulfus to think of refuting him," as Denifle truly remarks. Here is the beginning of Radulfus's sermon:—"Beloved, God at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, who preached darkly and with uncertain voice that the Only Begotten Son of God would come to redeem those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; but in these last days He speaketh openly by His Holy Scripture, preaching, setting forth, and testifying the most blessed Noman as His own compeer, born before all ages, (as it is written in the 138th Psalm [v. 16], 'days shall be formed, and Noman in them:' that is, He was before the Prophet David himself), yet hitherto unknown to mankind by reason of their sins. But our Lord and Saviour Himself, whose nature it ever is to spare and show pity, and Who never leaves His own unheard, hath taken pity on the people redeemed by His precious blood; and, having removed the old darkness altogether from our eyes, hath vouchsafed to discover to us the precious treasure of this most glorious Noman; that whereas, to our great loss, he hath hitherto been hidden, we may be able henceforth to behold him with the eye of faith. The blessed Noman, therefore, is found in Holy Scripture to be co-eval with God the Father, and in essence most like unto the Son, as not created nor proceeding, but born: wherein this is plainly said by the Psalmist, 'Days shall be formed, and Noman in them.' Afterwards his authority grew deservedly so great that, as though scorning earthly things, he soared with marvellous flight to the highest heaven, as it is written 'Noman hath ascended into heaven.'" And so on, through, "Noman hath seen God," "Noman knoweth the Father," "Noman knoweth the Son," "Noman can do these signs which thou dost," and a long catalogue of similar quotations. Stephanus, in his treatise addressed to the same Cardinal Caietan, takes these quotations one by one, and explains each painfully away: after which he proceeds to confute Eadulfus by a string of counter-quotations from the Decretals: e.g., "Noman sunk in sin," "to Noman did God give easy occasion of sin," "to Noman doth the Church shut her breast when he would fain return:" and he clenches the matter with the triumphant argument that God, Who would have all men saved, would therefore have Noman damned everlastingly: after which he concludes by calling on the secular and religious authorities present at the Provincial Council of Paris to burn these Neminians and their writings. One might be tempted to take it all for an elaborate hoax but for the abundant medieval evidence of the same sort, and for the fact that Stephen's memoir is solemnly filed among the Vatican archives.
Thanks to Jim O'Donnell, who writes:
The various lives of Saint Nemo in medieval texts are studied by Martha Bayless in Parody in the Middle Ages: The Latin Tradition (Ann Arbor 1996), where he is discussed pp. 57ff and where texts of various lives of him are given pp. 259-310. The frontispiece of the book shows a picture of the Saint from a sixteenth century printed edition, a blank square with the surrounding Latin: "Sermo pauperis Henrici de sancto Nemine: . . . figura neminis quia nemo in ea depictus" -- "sermon of Henry the pauper concerning Saint Nemo: . . . [this is] an image of no one because no one is depicted in it". When the author submitted a thesis with this illustration to the Cambridge University Library, it was at first rejected because "one of the illustrations is blank". She commented that this just proved that a joke that worked in Cambridge four hundred years ago was still working today.



Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (1945; rpt. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955), pp.7-8:
In my religion all believers would stop work at sundown and have a drink together 'pour chasser la honte du jour.' This would be taken in remembrance of the first sunset when man must have thought the oncoming night would prove eternal, and in honour of the gift of wine to Noah as a relief from the abysmal boredom of the brave new world after the flood. Hence the institution of my 'Sundowner' with which all believers, whether acquainted or not, would render holy that moment of nostalgia and evening apprehension. Brevis hic est fructus homullis. In my religion there would be no exclusive doctrine; all would be love, poetry and doubt. Life would be sacred, because it is all we have and death, our common denominator, the fountain of consideration. The Cycle of the Seasons would be rhythmically celebrated together with the Seven Ages of Man, his Identity with all living things, his glorious Reason, and his sacred Instinctual Drives.


Pious Brothers

Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 95-96 (tr. J.O. Burtt):
There is a story that in Sicily,—the tale, though half a legend, will, for the younger ones among you, be well worth the hearing,—a stream of fire burst forth from Etna. This stream, so the story goes, flowing over the countryside, drew near a certain city of the Sicilians. Most men, thinking of their own safety, took to flight; but one of the youths, seeing that his father, now advanced in years, could not escape and was being overtaken by the fire, lifted him up and carried him. Hindered no doubt by the additional weight of his burden, he too was overtaken. And now let us observe the mercy shown by God towards good men. For we are told that the fire spread round that spot in a ring and only those two men were saved, so that the place is still called the Place of the Pious, while those who had fled in haste, leaving their parents to their fate, were all consumed.
Conon, Narratives 43 = Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 26 F 1 (tr. Malcolm Kenneth Brown):
The fiery craters of Aitna once gushed forth flames like a river upon the land, and the Katanians (Katane is a Greek town in Sicily) thought this would be the complete destruction of their town; and while fleeing it as fast as they could some carried gold, others silver, and others whatever they wished to aid their flight. But Anapias and Amphinomos instead of all their possessions lifted their aged parents onto their shoulders and fled. And the flames overtook and destroyed the others, but around them the fire was split and all the area about them became like an island in the flames. For this reason the Sicilians call the place the 'Ground of the Pious Ones' and set up within it stone images of the men, a memorial of deeds at once divine and human.
Strabo 6.2.3 (tr. Horace Leonard Jones):
Now the city of Aetna is situated in the interior about over Catana, and shares most in the devastation caused by the action of the craters; in fact the streams of lava rush down very nearly as far as the territory of Catana; and here is the scene of the act of filial piety, so often recounted, of Amphinomus and Anapias, who lifted their parents on their shoulders and saved them from the doom that was rushing upon them.
Pausanias 10.28.4 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
For the men of old held their parents in the greatest respect, as we may infer, among other instances, from those in Catana called the Pious, who, when the fire flowed down on Catana from Etna, held of no account gold or silver, but when they fled took up, one his mother and another his father. As they struggled on, the fire rushed up and caught them in the flames. Not even so would they put down their parents, and it is said that the stream of lava divided itself in two, and the fire passed on, doing no hurt to either young men or their parents.
Aetna 625-646 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
Two noble sons, Amphinomus and his brother, gallantly facing an equal task, when fire now roared in homes hard by, saw how their lame father and their mother had sunk down (alas!) in the weariness of age upon the threshold. a Forbear, ye avaricious throng, to lift the spoils ye love! For them a mother and a father are the only wealth: this is the spoil they will snatch from the burning. They hasten to escape through the heart of the fire, which grants safe-conduct unasked. O sense of loving duty, greatest of all goods, justly deemed the surest salvation for man among the virtues! The flames held it shame to touch those duteous youths and retired wherever they turned their steps. Blessed is that day: guiltless is that land. Cruel burnings reign to right and left. Flames slant aside as Amphinomus rushes among them and with him his brother in triumph: both hold out safely under the burden which affection laid on them. There—round the couple—the greedy fire restrains itself. Unhurt they go free at last, taking with them their gods in safety. To them the lays of bards do homage: to them under an illustrious name has Ditis allotted a place apart. No mean destiny touches the sacred youths: their lot is a dwelling free from care, and the rightful rewards of the faithful.
Valerius Maximus 5.4 ext 4 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Better known pairs of brothers are Cleobis and Biton, Amphinomus and Anapius: the first because they carried their mother to perform the rites of Juno, the second because they bore their father and mother on their shoulders through the midst of flames. But neither intended to expire for the sake of their parents' breath.
Seneca, On Benefits 3.37.2 (John W. Basore):
Those young Sicilians won the victory; for, when Aetna, aroused to unusual fury, poured forth its fire upon cities, upon fields, upon a great part of the island, they conveyed their parents to safety. The fires parted, so it was believed, and, as the flames retired on either side, a path was opened up for the passage of the youths, who greatly deserved to perform their heroic tasks in safety.
Silius Italicus 14.196-197 (tr. J.D. Duff):
... and Catana, too close to the fire of Typhoeus, and famous for the pair of dutiful sons whom she bore long ago...
Hyginus, Fables 254 (tr. Mary Grant):
In Sicily when Mount Aetna first began to burn, Damon rescued his mother from the fire, and Phintias his father, too.
Solinus 5.15 (my translation):
Between Catania and Syracuse there is a quarrel about the account of the famous brothers, whose names each side selects for itself. If we heed Catania, they were Anapius and Amphinomus; if Syracuse chooses, we'll think they were Emantias and Crito. However, it was the district of Catania that provided the background for the deed. When Aetna poured forth its fires on Catania, two youths, unharmed by the flames, lifted up their parents and carried them away. Posterity has honored their memory, so that their burial place is called the Field of the Pious Ones.
Claudian, Minor Poems 17 (tr. Maurice Platnauer):
See these two brothers toiling beneath a burden piety bade them bear. They deserve the tribute of divine honours at the hands of all men: at the sight of them the respectful flames ceased their ravages and Etna in admiration restrained his flooding lava. Seizing their parents they set them upon their shoulders and, with eyes raised to heaven, hasten their steps. The aged parents, thus carried aloft by their two sons, impede their flight, but dear to the children is that very delay. See, the old man points to the cruel flames; the aged mother’s trembling lips call upon the gods for help. Fear has set their hair on end, the bronze is terror-stricken and a pale shiver runs over all the metal. In the countenances of the sons is seen courage in face of danger, and, if fear, then fear for their burdens, none for themselves. The wind has blown back their cloaks. One raises his right hand; his left is enough to sustain his aged sire. But the other needs must clasp his burden with both arms, taking greater care for that it is his mother, one of the weaker sex, that he bears. This, too, as thou passest by, leave not unnoted, for well the craftsman's dumb hands deserve such regard; both he has moulded with a likeness such as brothers bear, yet the one resembles rather his mother, the other his father. The artist's cunning has succeeded in expressing a difference of age in their faces, though a likeness to either parent is apparent in the features of both the sons; while, to ensure a further dissimilarity in that resemblance, he has varied the tenderness that either countenance expresses.

Faithful were ye to Nature's law, bright example of divine justice, model for youth, fond hope of age! Wealth ye despised, and dashed into the flames to rescue nought save your venerable parents. Not undeservedly, methinks, did such piety quench the fires in Enceladus' jaws. Vulcan himself checked the flow of molten lava from Etna that it should not harm those patterns of filial duty. The very elements were influenced thereby: father air and mother earth did their best to lighten the burden.

If signal piety raised Castor and Pollux to the skies, if Aeneas won immortality by rescuing his sire from burning Troy, if ancient story has rendered famous the names of those Argive brothers, Cleobis and Biton, who harnessed themselves to their mother's car, why does not Sicily dedicate a temple to the ageless memory of Amphinomos and Anapius? Though the three-cornered isle has many titles to fame, let her be sure that she has never given birth to a nobler deed. Let her not weep the destruction wrought by the spreading flames nor lament the houses burned down by the fire's fury. The flames abating had never put affection to the proof; the great disaster purchased immortal fame.
In a fifth century A.D. Greek inscription (Inscriptiones Graecae XIV 502; dedication to Zosymianeides Severus), Catania is called εὐσεβέων κλυτὸν ἄστυ (the famous city of the pious ones).

L'Année épigraphique 1956, number 259 (Catania, fifth or sixth century A.D., statue base, tr. E. Courtney):
The brothers who escaped the flames, a great reward for their filial devotion, were carried off by the enemy, but recovered by Merulus, uir clarissimus et spectabilis, consular governor of the province of Sicily.

Recent discussions include:
Coins from Catania representing the story (Perassi, p. 61; click to enlarge):

Denarius of M. Herennius (late second to early first century B.C.):

Denarius of Pompey (mid first century B.C.):

Wednesday, February 24, 2016



Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus (1945; rpt. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955), p. 2:
What is a masterpiece? Let me name a few. The Odes and Epistles of Horace, the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, the Testament of Villon, the Essays of Montaigne, the Fables of La Fontaine, the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère, the Fleurs du Mal and Intimate Journals of Baudelaire, the Poems of Pope and Leopardi, the Illuminations of Rimbaud, and Byron's Don Juan.

Such a catalogue reveals the maker. What is common in thought to these twelve writers? Love of life and nature; lack of belief in the idea of progress; interest in, mingled with contempt for, humanity.


A Garden of Illiteracy

A.E. Housman (1859-1936), "Prosody and Method," Classical Quarterly 21 (1927) 1-12 (at 3), rpt. The Classical Papers of A.E. Housman, vol. III (1915-1936) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 1116:
Inscriptions are a garden of illiteracy where anyone who relishes violations of metre or accidence or syntax may fill his hands with nosegays of all the horrors dearest to his heart...


Wound Placement

Aelian, On Animals 4.1 (tr. A.F. Scholfield):
Now the Cretans say that the young man did acts of valour in the fight, but when the enemy's massed line pressed him hard, he stumbled over a dead body that lay there and was thrown down. Whereupon one of the enemy who was nearest, in his eagerness was about to strike him in the back. But the man turned and exclaimed 'Do not deal me a shameful and cowardly blow, but strike me in front, in the breast, in order that my loved one may not judge me guilty of cowardice and refrain from laying out my dead body: he could not bear to go near one who so disgraces himself.'

φασιν οἱ Κρῆτες, ἀθρόας δὲ ἐς αὐτὸν ὠθουμένης τῆς τῶν ἐχθρῶν φάλαγγος προσπταῖσαι νεκρῷ κειμένῳ, καὶ περιτραπῆναι λέγουσιν αὐτόν. τῶν οὖν τις πολεμίων, ὁ μάλιστα πλησίον, ἀνατεινάμενος παίειν ἔμελλε κατὰ τῶν μεταφρένων τὸν ἄνδρα· ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς 'μηδαμῶς' εἶπεν 'αἰσχρὰν καὶ ἀναλκῆ πληγὴν ἐπαγάγῃς, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τῶν στέρνων ἀντίαν παῖσον, ἵνα μή μου δειλίαν ὁ ἐρώμενος καταψηφίσηται, καὶ φυλάξηται περιστεῖλαί με νεκρόν, καὶ μάλα γε ἀσχημονοῦντι προσελθεῖν οὐ τολμῶν.'
Related posts:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


A Deserter

Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 8 (tr. J.O. Burtt):
What punishment would suit a man who left his country and refused to guard the temples of his fathers, who abandoned the graves of his ancestors and surrendered the whole country into the hands of the enemy? The greatest and final penalty, death, though the maximum punishment allowed by law, is too small for the crimes of Leocrates.

τί γὰρ χρὴ παθεῖν τὸν ἐκλιπόντα μὲν τὴν πατρίδα, μὴ βοηθήσαντα δὲ τοῖς πατρῴοις ἱεροῖς, ἐγκαταλιπόντα δὲ τὰς τῶν προγόνων θήκας, ἅπασαν δὲ τὴν χώραν ὑποχείριον τοῖς πολεμίοις παραδόντα; τὸ μὲν γὰρ μέγιστον καὶ ἔσχατον τῶν τιμημάτων, θάνατος, ἀναγκαῖον μὲν ἐκ τῶν νόμων ἐπιτίμιον, ἔλαττον δὲ τῶν Λεωκράτους ἀδικημάτων καθέστηκε.
Id. 147:
I believe, gentlemen, that all the greatest and most atrocious crimes are to-day included within the scope of your single verdict; for Leocrates can be shown to have committed them all. He is guilty of treason, since he left the city and surrendered it to the enemy; guilty of overthrowing the democracy, because he did not face the danger which is the price of freedom; guilty of impiety, because he has done all in his power to have the sacred precincts ravaged and the temples destroyed. He is guilty too of injuring his forbears, for he effaced their memorials and deprived them of their rites, and guilty of desertion and refusal to serve, since he did not submit his person to the leaders for enrolment.

ἡγοῦμαι δ᾿, ὦ ἄνδρες, ὑπὲρ ἁπάντων τῶν μεγίστων καὶ δεινοτάτων ἀδικημάτων μίαν ὑμᾶς ψῆφον ἐν τῇ τήμερον ἡμέρᾳ φέρειν, οἷς ἅπασιν ἔνοχον ὄντα Λεωκράτην ἔστιν ἰδεῖν, προδοσίας μὲν ὅτι τὴν πόλιν ἐγκαταλιπὼν τοῖς πολεμίοις ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε, δήμου δὲ καταλύσεως ὅτι οὐχ ὑπέμεινε τὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐλευθερίας κίνδυνον, ἀσεβείας δ᾿ ὅτι τοῦ τὰ τεμένη τέμνεσθαι καὶ τοὺς νεὼς κατασκάπτεσθαι τὸ καθ᾿ ἑαυτὸν γέγονεν αἴτιος, τοκέων δὲ κακώσεως τὰ μνημεῖα αὐτῶν ἀφανίζων καὶ τῶν νομίμων ἀποστερῶν, λιποταξίου δὲ καὶ ἀστρατείας οὐ παρασχὼν τὸ σῶμα τάξαι τοῖς στρατηγοῖς.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Olympians versus Chthonians

W.K.C. Guthrie (1906-1981), The Greeks and Their Gods (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950; rpt. 1956), pp. 221-222:
The forms of cult provide a valuable test. By this test we can detect no sharp line of cleavage within the chthonioi themselves, whereas it throws into high relief the contrast between them and the Olympians. Here are some typical differences, which I offer with the proviso (to forestall captious criticism) that strict logic and the absolute rule have no more place here than in any other phenomena of Greek or any other religion. We are speaking, as Aristotle would say, of what happens "either always or for the most part".1

i. Name for the act of sacrifice: θύειν for the Olympians, ἐναγίζειν for the chthonians.2

ii. Method: animal killed with throat upward for Olympians, downward for chthonians (so that blood may most easily soak into the earth).3

iii. Type of altar: for Olympians the high-built βῶμος, for the chthonians a low altar called ἐσχάρα (hearth), or else no altar at all, but the sacrifice performed into a pit or trench (βόθρος). In either case the purpose is to make the offering immediately accessible to those beneath the earth.4

iv. Choice of victim: (a) Colour—for Olympians white, for chthonians black. So Odysseus to Teiresias in the Odyssey. There certainly seems to have been exceptions to this, but it is what the ancients themselves say, and must have expressed at least a preference.5 (b) Species. The ram is the usual offering to the chthonians, also the pig, which had particular associations with sacrifices of expiation and purification, and was therefore the victim offered to Demeter in the Eleusinian mysteries.6 The ox which was usually offered to Olympians was absent. It may be added that as well as animal victims "bloodless offerings," e.g. of honey or [p. 222] the fruits of the earth, were commonly made to the powers of the earth.

v. Type of shrine: for Olympians the familiar classical temple, above ground and often on a height; for the chthonians a subterranean cave or adyton, which may or may not have represented a tomb.

vi. Time of day: sacrifice to the Olympians was performed in the morning sunshine, to the chthonians in the evening or at dead of night.1

vii. We may add, on the authority of Picard,2 the gesture employed in prayer: the hand raised, palm upward, to the Olympians, and lowered with the palm downward to invoke the powers of the earth.

1 Cf. on this A.D. Nock, "The Cult of Heroes" (Harv. Theol. Rev. xxxvii (1944) 141 ff.).

2 Cf. esp. Hdt. ii, 44 (referring to the unique double aspect of Herakles, as Olympian god and as hero): τῷ μὲν ὡς ἀθανάτῳ Ὀλυμπίῳ δὲ ἐπωνυμίην θύουσι, τῷ δὲ ἑτέρῳ ὡς ἥρωι ἐναγίζουσι.

3 Ch. Picard in Rev. de l'Hist. des Rel. cxiv (1936), 157.

4 Od. xi, 25 ff.; Ap. Rhod. iii, 1032 ff., for sacrifice ἐς βόθρον in the one case to the shades, in the other to Hekate. Archaeological evidence for sacrificial pits is plentiful. See P. Stengel, Griechischen Kultusaltertümer (Munich, 3rd ed., 1920), p. 16, and for ἐσχάραι pp. 15 ff.

5 Stengel, o.c., p. 151.

6 Cf. p. 193 above, and Aristophanes, Peace, 374:
ἐς χοιρίδιόν μοί νυν δάνεισον τρεῖς δραχμάς·
δεῖ γὰρ μυηθῆναί με πρὶν τεθνηκέναι.
[p. 222]

1 Stengel, o.c., p. 150.

2 Ch. Picard, "Le geste de la prière funèraire en Grece et in Étrurie," Rev. Hist. Rel. cxiv (1936), 137 ff.

3 Ap. Rhod. iii, 1029 ff.
Related post: The Thirsty Dead.



[Warning: Some may find this offensive.]

Scholia in Lucianum, ed. Hugo Rabe (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1906), p. 121 (on Lucian, Alexander 4; = Aristophanes, fragment 242; = Cratinus, fragment 160; my translation):
Aristodemus was foul and lewd in the extreme, whence the arsehole is also called Aristodemus.

ὁ Ἀριστόδημος δὲ μιαρὸς καὶ καταπύγων ἐς ὑπερβολήν, ἀφ᾿ οὗ καὶ ὁ πρωκτὸς Ἀριστόδημος καλεῖται.

Hesychius α 7248 ( = Poetae Comici Graeci, Vol. VIII: Adespota, edd. R. Kassell and C. Austin [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995], p. 96, fragment 283; my translation):
The comic poets used to call the arsehole Aristodemus and Theodorus and Timesianax, after male prostitutes.

Ἀριστόδημον οἱ κωμικοὶ τὸν πρωκτόν καὶ Θεόδωρον καὶ Τιμησιάνακτα ἔλεγον, ἀπὸ τῶν ἡταιρηκότων.
Attributed to the Λέξις κωμική of Didymus Chalcenterus by Moritz Schmidt, Didymi Chalcenteri Grammatici Alexandrini Fragmenta Quae Supersunt Omnia (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1854), p. 78, fragment 47.

Hesychius ε 3839 ( = Poetae Comici Graeci, Vol. VIII: Adespota, edd. R. Kassell and C. Austin [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995], p. 107, fragment 337; my translation):
Execestus: a male prostitute, whence they also used to call arseholes by analogy Excestuses.

Ἐξήκεστος· ἡταιρηκώς. ὅθεν καὶ τοὺς πρώκτους ὁμωνύμως Ἐξηκέστους ἔλεγον.

Harpocration, Lexicon in Decem Oratores Atticos, ed. ‎Wilhelm Dindorf, Vol. I (Oxford: E Typographeo Academico, 1853), p. 72 (= Eupolis, fragment 92; my translation):
Eupolis calls the arsehole Batalus.

Εὔπολις δὲ τὸν πρωκτὸν Βάταλον λέγει.
Cf. Scholia in Aeschinem, ed. M.R. Dilts (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1992), p. 45 (on Aeschines 1.126; my translation):
There are those who call the arsehole Batalus.

εἰσὶ δ᾿ οἳ Βάταλον προσηγόρευον τὸν πρωκτὸν.

See Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 203.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


A House Charm

An apotropaic house charm, found in Diogenes Laertius 6.50; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.26.1; Pseudo-Diogenes, Letters 36.1 = Rudolf Hercher, ed., Epistolographi Graeci (Paris: Didot, 1873), p. 249; and in inscriptions from Pompeii, Side in Pamphylia, Mylasa in Caria, etc. (my translation):
The son of Zeus, gloriously victorious Heracles,
dwells here; let nothing evil come in.

ὁ τοῦ Διὸς παῖς καλλίνικος Ἡρακλῆς
ἐνθάδε κατοικεῖ· μηδὲν εἰσίτω κακόν.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Poor Little Chap

Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947), "Fractional Humanity," Prose Fancies (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1894), pp. 28-34 (at 31):
You ask your little boy what he would like to be when he grows up. To your consternation he answers, 'A man!' You hide your face: you cannot tell him how impossible it is now to be that. Poor little chap! He is born centuries too late.


The Country versus the City

Petrarch (1304-1374), Secretum, from Dialogue 2 (Augustine speaking; tr. William H. Draper):
Do you remember with what delight you used to wander in the depth of the country? Sometimes, laying yourself down on a bed of turf, you would listen to the water of a brook murmuring over the stones; at another time, seated on some open hill, you would let your eye wander freely over the plain stretched at your feet; at others, again, you enjoyed a sweet slumber beneath the shady trees of some valley in the noontide heat, and revelled in the delicious silence. Never idle, in your soul you would ponder over some high meditation, with only the Muses for your friends—you were never less alone than when in their company, and then, like the old man in Virgil who reckoned himself
"As rich as kings, when, at the close of day,
Home to his cot he took his happy way,
And on his table spread his simple fare,
Fresh from the meadow without cost or care,"
you would come at sunset back to your humble roof; and, contented with your good things, did you not find yourself the richest and happiest of mortal men?

meministi quanta cum voluptate reposto quondam rure vagabaris, et nunc herbosis pratorum thoris accubans murmur aque luctantis hauriebas, nunc apertis collibus residens subiectam planitiem libero metiebaris intuitu; nunc in aprice vallis umbraculo dulci sopore correptus optato silentio fruebaris; nunquam otiosus, mente aliquid altum semper agitans, et, solis Musis comitantibus, nusquam solus? Denique virgiliani senis exemplo qui
regum equabat opes animo, seraque revertens
nocte domum, dapibus mensas onerabat inemptis
sub occasum solis angustam domum repetens et tuis contentus bonis, nunquid non tibi omnium mortalium longe ditissimus et plane felicissimus videbaris?
Id. (Petrarch speaking):
Who shall find words to utter my daily disgust for this place where I live, in the most melancholy and disorderly of towns, the narrow and obscure sink of the earth, where all the filth of the world is collected? What brush could depict the nauseating spectacle —streets full of disease and infection, dirty pigs and snarling dogs, the noise of cart-wheels grinding against the walls, four-horse chariots coming dashing down at every cross-road, the motley crew of people, swarms of vile beggars side by side with the flaunting luxury of the wealthy, the one crushed down in sordid misery, the others debauched with pleasure and riot; and then the medley of characters—such diverse rôles in life—the endless clamour of their confused voices, as the passers-by jostle one another in the streets? All this destroys the soul accustomed to any better kind of life, banishes all serenity from a generous heart, and quite upsets the student's habit of mind.

quis vite mee tedia et quotidianum fastidium sufficienter exprimat, mestissimam turbulentissimamque urbem terrarum omnium, angustissimam atque ultimam sentinam et totius orbis sordibus exundantem? quis verbis equet que passim nauseam concitant: graveolentes semitas, permixtas rabidis canibus obscenas sues, et rotarum muros quatientium stridorem aut transversas obliquis itineribus quadrigas; tam diversas hominum species, tot horrenda mendicantium spectacula, tot divitum furores: illos mestitia defixos, hos gaudio lasciviaque fluitantes; tam denique discordantes animos, artesque tam varias, tantum confusis vocibus clamorem, et populi inter se arietantis incursum? que omnia et sensus melioribus assuetos conficiunt et generosis animis eripiunt quietem et studia bonarum a contium interpellant.
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Friday, February 19, 2016



Petrarch (1304-1374), Secretum, from Dialogue 2 (Augustine speaking; tr. William H. Draper):
Behold him naked and unformed, born in wailings and tears, comforted with a few drops of milk, trembling and crawling, needing the hand of another, fed and clothed from the beasts of the field, his body feeble, his spirit restless, subject to all kinds of sickness, the prey of passions innumerable, devoid of reason, joyful to-day, to-morrow sorrowful, in both full of agitation, incapable of mastering himself, unable to restrain his appetite, ignorant of what things are useful to him and in what proportion, knowing not how to control himself in meat or drink, forced with great labour to gain the food that other creatures find ready at their need, made dull with sleep, swollen with food, stupefied with drink, emaciated with watching, famished with hunger, parched with thirst, at once greedy and timid, disgusted with what he has, longing after what he has lost, discontented alike with past, present and future, full of pride in his misery, and aware of his frailty, baser than the vilest worms, his life is short, his days uncertain, his fate inevitable, since Death in a thousand forms is waiting for him at last.

aspice nudum et informem inter vagitus et lacrimas nascentem, exiguo lacte solandum, tremulum atque reptantem, opis indigum aliene, quem muta pascunt animalia et vestiunt; caduci corporis, animi inquieti, morbis obsessum variis, subiectum passionibus innumeris, consilii inopem, alterna letitia et tristitia fluctuantem, impotentem arbitrii, appetitus cohibere nescium; quid quantumve sibi expediat, quis cibo potuique modus ignorantem; cui alimenta corporis, ceteris animalibus in aperto posita, multo labore conquerenda sunt; quem somnus inflat, cibus distendit, potus precipitat, vigilie extenuant, fames contrahit, sitis arefacit; avidum timidumque, fastidientem possessa, perdita deplorantem et presentibus simul et preteritis et futuris anxium; superbientem inter miserias suas et fragilitatis sibi conscium; vilissimis vermibus imparem, vite brevis, etatis ambigue, fati inevitabilis, ac mille generibus mortis expositum.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Why Do We Go on Talking?

Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947), "A Conspiracy of Silence," Prose Fancies (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1894), pp. 10-17 (at 10):
Why do we go on talking? It is a serious question, one on which the happiness of thousands depends. For there is no more wearing social demand than that of compulsory conversation. All day long we must either talk, or—dread alternative—listen. Now, that were very well if we had something to say, or our fellow-sufferer something to tell, or, best of all, if either of us possessed the gift of clothing the old commonplaces with charm. But men with that great gift are not to be met with in every railway-carriage, or at every dinner. The man we actually meet is one whose joke, though we have signalled it a mile off, we are powerless to stop, whose opinions come out with a whirr as of clockwork. Besides, it always happens in life that the man—or woman—with whom we would like to talk is at the next table. Those who really have something to say to each other so seldom have a chance of saying it.
Id. (at 17):
Happy monks of La Trappe! One has heard the foolish chattering world take pity upon you. An hour of talk to a year of silence! O heavenly proportion!
Or, if we must talk, let it be in Latin, or in the 'Volapük' of myriad-meaning music; and let no man joke save in Greek—that all may laugh. But, best of all, let us leave off talking altogether, and listen to the morning stars.



Titus 1.5:
Unto the pure all things are pure.
D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places, chapter 1:
To the Puritan all things are impure, as somebody says.


The Worst of the Worst

Sophocles, Philoctetes 65:
ἔσχατ᾽ ἐσχάτων κακά
Seth Schein in his commentary translates "the most extreme of extreme evils," but of course it's actually "the most extreme of most extreme evils," or "evils most extreme of the most extreme," with two superlatives. Schein and other commentators compare Oedipus the King 465 (ἄρρητ' ἀρρήτων) and Oedipus at Colonus 1238 (κακὰ κακῶν), but there the adjectives are in the positive degree. Examples of adjectives with genitives of the same adjective in the positive degree aren't uncommon, but two superlatives, such as Sophocles has in Philoctetes 65, seem rarer. Cf. Plautus, Casina 793 (pessumarum pessuma) and see M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 112, who calls these elative expressions.

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Contra Bibliopolas

George Wither (1588-1667), The Schollers Pvrgatory, in his Miscellaneous Works, Vol. I (Spenser Society, 1872), p. 29:
Good God! how many dung-botes full of fruitles Volumnes doe they yearely foyst vpon his Maiesties subiectes, by lying Titles, insinuations, and disparaging of more profitable Books! how many hundred reames of foolish prophane and sensles Ballads do they quarterly disperse abroade? And howe many thousande poundes doe they yearely picke out of the purses of ignorant people, who refer the Choyce of their books to the discreations and honesties of these men!


A Misprint

From the Digital Loeb Classical Library translation of Euripides, Ion 1614-1615:

Read "approve" for "appove". The same misprint occurs in the physical book — Euripides, Trojan Women. Iphigenia among the Taurians. Ion. Edited and Translated by David Kovacs (Harvard: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 509.



Rare Words

In Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) there is no entry for the adjective ἀπρόσπταιστος, which occurs in Pseudo-Hippocrates, Letters 17.41, modifying κέλευθος (road, path). See Rudolf Hercher, ed., Epistolographi Graeci (Paris: Didot, 1873), p. 303. However, in LSJ there is an entry for ἀσκανδάλιστος, defined as "gloss on ἀπρόσκοπος and ἀπρόσπταιστος, Hsch." So ἀπρόσπταιστος occurs in both Pseudo-Hippocrates and Hesychius. The word is formed from alpha privative (not) plus πρός (against) plus πταίω (cause to stumble or fall), and therefore means "not causing one to stumble against" something.

In chapter 39 of the same letter by Pseudo-Hippocrates, the noun φιλοψευδία (love of falsehood) occurs. The only citation for φιλοψευδία in LSJ is "Hp. Ep.17," or, to be more exact, 17.39. If φιλοψευδία merits an entry in LSJ, the same courtesy should be extended to ἀπρόσπταιστος.


Monday, February 15, 2016


The Text

William N. Eskridge Jr., quoted in "How Antonin Scalia Changed America," Politico (February 14, 2016):
With slight exaggeration, his motto might have been this: The text, the whole text and nothing but the text, so help me God!


The Grass is Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

Horace, Satires 1.1.1-22 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
How comes it, Maecenas, that no man living is content with the lot which either his choice has given him, or chance has thrown in his way, but each has praise for those who follow other paths? "O happy traders!" cries the soldier, as he feels the weight of years, his frame now shattered with hard service. On the other hand, when southern gales toss the ship, the trader cries: "A soldier's life is better. Do you ask why? There is the battle clash, and in a moment of time comes speedy death or joyous victory." One learned in law and statutes has praise for the farmer, when towards cockcrow a client comes knocking at his door. The man yonder, who has given surety and is dragged into town from the country, cries that they only are happy who live in town. The other instances of this kind—so many are they—could tire out the chatterbox Fabius. To be brief with you, hear the conclusion to which I am coming. If some god were to say: "Here I am! I will grant your prayers forthwith. You, who were but now a soldier, shall be a trader; you, but now a lawyer, shall be a farmer. Change parts; away with you—and with you! Well! Why standing still?" They would refuse. And yet 'tis in their power to be happy. What reason is there why Jove should not, quite properly, puff out both cheeks at them in anger, and say that never again will he be so easy-going as to lend ear to their prayers?

Qui fit, Maecenas, ut nemo, quam sibi sortem
seu ratio dederit seu fors obiecerit, illa
contentus vivat, laudet diversa sequentis?
"o fortunati mercatores!" gravis annis
miles ait, multo iam fractus membra labore.        5
contra mercator, navem iactantibus Austris,
"militia est potior. quid enim? concurritur: horae
momento cita mors venit aut victoria laeta."
agricolam laudat iuris legumque peritus,
sub galli cantum consultor ubi ostia pulsat.        10
ille, datis vadibus qui rure extractus in urbem est,
solos felices viventis clamat in urbe.
cetera de genere hoc, adeo sunt multa, loquacem
delassare valent Fabium. ne te morer, audi
quo rem deducam. si quis deus "en ego" dicat,        15
"iam faciam, quod voltis: eris tu, qui modo miles,
mercator; tu, consultus modo, rusticus; hinc vos,
vos hinc mutatis discedite partibus: eia!
quid statis?"—nolint. atqui licet esse beatis.
quid causae est, merito quin illis luppiter ambas        20
iratus buccas inflet neque se fore posthac
tam facilem dicat, votis ut praebeat aurem?
Maximus of Tyre, Dissertations 15.1 (tr. M.B. Trapp; I changed his habituées to habitués):
One sees the farmer voicing his envy of city-dwellers, for the elegant and luxurious lives they lead; but at the same time one also sees habitués of the Assembly and the courts, even the most distinguished among them, bemoaning their lot and longing to live with a hoe and a little plot of land. One hears the soldier's envy for the man of peace, and the admiration of the man of peace for soldiers. If one of the gods were to strip each of these men of his present life and aspect and reclothe him in those of his neighbour, like actors In a play, then once again these same people will be found longing for their previous lives and bemoaning the present. So utterly malcontent a creature is man, so querulous and so terribly peevish, with no love at all for what is his own!

καὶ ἴδοις ἂν τὸν μὲν γεωργικὸν μακαρίζοντα τοὺς ἀστικούς, ὡς συνόντας βίῳ χαρίεντι καὶ ἀνθηρῷ· τοὺς δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν καὶ τῶν δικαστηρίων, καὶ τοὺς πάνυ ἐν αὐτοῖς εὐδοκίμους, ὀδυρομένους τὰ αὑτῶν, καὶ εὐχομένους ἐπὶ σκαπάνῃ βιῶναι καὶ γηδίῳ σμικρῷ. ἀκούσῃ δὲ τοῦ μὲν στρατιωτικοῦ τὸν εἰρηνικὸν εὐδαιμονίζοντος, τοῦ δὲ ἐν εἰρήνῃ τὸν στρατιωτικὸν τεθηπότος. καὶ τὶς θεῶν, ὥσπερ ἐν δράματι ὑποκριτάς, ἀποδύσας ἕκαστον τοῦ παρόντος βίου καὶ σχήματος μεταμφιέσει τὰ τοῦ πλησίον· αὖθις αὖ οἱ αὐτοὶ ἐκεῖνοι ποθήσουσι μὲν τὰ πρότερα, ὀδυροῦνται δὲ τὰ παρόντα. οὕτω δυσάρεστόν τι ἐστὶν ὁ ἄνθρωπος κομιδῇ, καὶ φιλαίτιον, καὶ δεινῶς δύσκολον· καὶ οὐδὲν τὰ αὑτοῦ ἀσπάζεται.
Himerius, Orations 19.10 (tr. Robert J. Penella):
When we live on land, we seek the sea; conversely, when sailing, we look around for fields of grain. The seaman thinks that the farmer is lucky, and the man at the plow has the opposite view: he believes that it is the sailor who is happy.

οἰκοῦντες γῆν ζητοῦμεν θάλατταν, καὶ πλέοντες πάλιν περισκοποῦμεν τὰ λήια. ὁ πλωτὴρ μακαρίζει γηπόνον· καὶ τὸν ναυτίλον ἀρότης ἡγεῖται πάλιν εὐδαίμονα.
Pseudo-Hippocrates, Letters 17.41, my translation from Rudolf Hercher, ed., Epistolographi Graeci (Paris: Didot, 1873), p. 303:
Commanders and kings deem the private citizen happy, but the private citizen yearns for kingship. The man active in politics deems the artisan happy, as free from danger, but the artisan deems the politician happy, as having power over all.

ἡγεμόνες καὶ βασιλέες μακαρίζουσι τὸν ἰδιώτην, ὁ δὲ ἰδιώτης ὀρέγεται βασιλείης. ὁ πολιτευόμενος τὸν χειροτεχνεῦντα ὡς ἀκίνδυνον, ὁ δὲ χειροτέχνης ἐκεῖνον ὡς εὐτονεῦντα κατὰ πάντων.


A Preference for Life Outdoors

Hrafnsmál (Raven's Song), stanza 6 (on Harald Fairhair), tr. Nora Chadwick:
Even in his youth he showed no inclination for the fireside and indoor life, the warm bower or pillows stuffed with down.

Ungr læiddiz elldvelli    oc inni sitja,
varma dyngju    eða vattu dúnsfulla.
Related post: Indoors.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


A Stickler

Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paulus 3.4-5 (on the office of augur; tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
For all the duties of this office were performed by him with skill and care, and he laid aside all other concerns when he was engaged in these, omitting nothing and adding nothing new, but ever contending even with his colleagues about the small details of ceremony, and explaining to them that, although the Deity was held to be good-natured and slow to censure acts of negligence, still, for the city at least it was a grievous thing to overlook and condone them; for no man begins at once with a great deed of lawlessness to disturb the civil polity, but those who remit their strictness in small matters break down also the guard that has been set over greater matters.
On not subtracting or adding (παραλείποντος οὐδὲν οὐδὲ καινοτομοῦντος), cf. Deuteronomy 4.2:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
On strictness in small matters (τὴν ἐν τοῖς μικροῖς ἀκρίβειαν), cf. Luke 16.10:
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
Mary Beard et al., Religions of Rome, vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 52 (footnote omitted):
Roman religion placed a great deal of emphasis on the most meticulous repetition of the correct formulae; supposedly, the slightest error in performance, even a single wrong word, led to the repetition of the whole ritual.
On such repetition (instauratio) of a ceremony because of a defect in previous performance, see Plutarch, Life of Coriolanus 25.3 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
And it is customary for the Romans to renew sacrifices and processions and spectacles, not only for such a reason as the above, but also for trivial reasons. For instance, if one of the horses drawing the sacred chariots called Tensae gives out; or again, if the charioteer takes hold of the reins with his left hand, they decree that the procession be renewed. And in later ages, a single sacrifice has been performed thirty times, because again and again some failure or offence was thought to occur. Such is the reverent care of the Romans in religious matters.


Gifts Differing According to the Grace That is Given to Us

Homer, Odyssey 8.166-177 (Odysseus speaking to Euryalus; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Friend, that was not well-spoken; you seem like one who is reckless.
So it is that the gods do not bestow graces in all ways
on men, neither in stature nor yet in brains or eloquence;
for there is a certain kind of man, less noted for beauty,
but the god puts comeliness on his words, and they who look toward him
are filled with joy at the sight, and he speaks to them without faltering
in winning modesty, and shines among those who are gathered,
and people look on him as on a god when he walks in the city.
Another again in his appearance is like the immortals,
but upon his words there is not grace distilled, as in your case
the appearance is conspicuous, and not a god even
would make it otherwise, and yet the mind there is worthless.

ξεῖν᾽, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες· ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ᾽ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ᾽ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γάρ τ᾽ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει, οἱ δέ τ᾽ ἐς αὐτὸν        170
τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν· ὁ δ᾽ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ᾽ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
ἄλλος δ᾽ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ἀλλ᾽ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφιπεριστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,        175
ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ᾽ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.

167 πάντεσσι codd.: πάντ' ἶσα Stanford
In line 168 there is a good example of triple correlative conjunctions (οὔτε x 3). For more examples see:



Joachim Latacz, Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery, tr. Kevin Windle and Rosh Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004), p. 43, with note on p. 292:
These are questions that for the time being we can only ask. The answers must await further excavations. In the meantime, however, we can put forward theories. It would be wrong to baulk at the word 'theory'. Theories often guide our searches, which would otherwise of necessity be blind. In the sixth century bc the Greek thinker Heraclitus pointed the way for the whole of European science when he formulated one of his cryptic aphorisms: 'He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored.'54

54. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus, an edition of the fragments with translation and commentary by Charles H. Kahn (Cambridge, 1979), Fragment VII, 31.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


A Prayer for Rain

Inscription from Dorylaion (Eskişehir) in Phrygia, 175 A.D., first published by Alfred Körte, "Kleinasiatische Studien, VI: Inschriften aus Phrygien," Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts. Athenische Abteilung 25 (1900) 398-447 (at 421-422, no. 33), also in Inscriptiones Graecae ad Res Romanas Pertinentes, vol. IV, ed. G. Lafaye (Paris: Librarie Ernest Leroux, 1927), p. 197, no. 521, translated by Mary Depew, "Reading Greek Prayers," Classical Antiquity 16.2 (October, 1997) 229-258 (at 245):
[Zeus ... wet the ea]rth, that she become heavy with fruit and flower with ears of corn. This I, Metreodoros, beg of you, Zeus son of Kronos, as I perform delightful sacrifice on your altars.

[.................................................................βρέχε γαῖ]αν,
    καρπῷ [ὅπ]ως βρί[θῃ καὶ ἐν]ὶ σταχύεσσι τεθήλῃ.
τ[αῦτ]ά [σε] Μητρεόδωρος ἐγὼ λίτομαι, Κρονίδα Ζεῦ,
    ἀμφὶ τεοῖς βωμοῖσιν ἐπήρρατα θύματα ῥέζων.
In line 4, ἐπήρρατα = ἐπήρατα (lovely, delightful).

I wonder if evidence like this is ever used in climate studies. Maybe there was a drought at Dorylaion in 175 A.D. The inscription can be dated exactly from the subscription Σαλβίῳ Ἰουλιανῷ καὶ Καλπουρνιανῷ Πείσωνι ὑπάτοις, i.e. when Salvius Julianus and Calpurnius (not Calpurnianus) Piso were consuls. See Prosopographia Imperii Romani Saec I.II.III, Pars I, ed. Elimar Klebs (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1897), p. 285, no. 242.


An Offering to Artemis

Inscriptiones Graecae XII.5 215 = Carmina Epigraphica Graeca 414 (from Paros, on a statue base, ca. 500; tr. Matthew Dillon and Lynda Garland):
Demokydes and Telestodike having made a vow in common
Erected this offering to virgin Artemis
On her sacred ground, the daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus.
To their offspring and livelihood give increase in safety.

Δημοκύδης τόδ' ἄγαλμα Τελεστοδίκη τ' ἀπο κοινῶν
    εὐχσάμενοι στῆσαν παρθένῳ Ἀρτέμιδι
σεμνῷ ἐνὶ ζαπέδῳ κο(ύ)ρῃ Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο.
    τῶν γενεὴν βίοτόν τ' αὖχσ' ἐν ἀπημοσύνῃ.
-χσ- in lines 2 and 4 = -ξ-; ζαπέδῳ in line 3 = δαπέδῳ.

Friday, February 12, 2016


A Tragic Periphrasis for the First Person Singular Personal Pronoun

In Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus I noticed three examples of ἀνήρ plus the demonstrative pronoun ὅδε used as a periphrasis for the first person singular personal pronoun ἐγώ, at lines 649, 1472, and 1618, all three in oblique cases. The first two aren't listed in Ellendt's Lexicon Sophocleum, s.v. ἀνήρ, category "Cum pronomine demonstrativo addito articulo." In Hugh Lloyd-Jones' translation for the Loeb Classical Library, the first example is translated "me," the others "this man."

The usage is recognized by Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ἀνήρ, sense VI.3 ("ἀ. ὅδε, ὅδ' ἀ., in Trag., = ἐγώ, S.Aj.78, E.Alc.690, etc."), and by Diccionario Griego–Español, s.v. ἀνήρ, sense IV.4 ("usos deícticos ἀνὴρ ὅδε en trág., igual ἐγώ: ἀνδρὸς τοῦδε S.Ant.1034 ἐχθρός γε τῷδε τἀνδρί S.Ai.78, μὴ θνῇσχ' ὑπὲρ τοῦδ' ἀνδρός E.Alc.690"). Probably it's common, but I'd never noticed it before.

P.S. Maybe the usage isn't confined to tragedy. See J. Enoch Powell, A Lexicon to Herodotus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 27, col. 2, who translates an example at Herodotus 1.108.5 (dative case) as "yours truly."

Thursday, February 11, 2016


An Irritable Carcass

Llywarch (attrib.), "Song of the Old Man" ("Can yr Henwr"), tr. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991), A Celtic Miscellany (London: Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 257-258:
Before I was bent-backed, I was eloquent of speech, my wonderful deeds were admired; the men of Argoed always supported me.

Before I was bent-backed, I was bold; I was welcomed in the drinking-hall of Powys, the paradise of Wales.

Before I was bent-backed, I was handsome, my spear was in the van, it drew first blood — I am crooked, I am sad, I am wretched.

Wooden staff, it is Autumn, the bracken is red, the stubble is yellow; I have given up what I love.

Wooden staff, it is Winter, men are talkative over the drink; no one visits my bedside.

Wooden staff, it is Spring, the cuckoos are brown, there is light at the evening meal; no girl loves me.

Wooden staff, it is early Summer, the furrow is red, the young corn is curly; it grieves me to look at your crook.

Wooden staff, knotty stick, support the yearning old man, Llywarch, the perpetual babbler...

Boisterous is the wind, white is the hue of the edge of the wood; the stag is emboldened, the hill is bleak; feeble is the old one, slowly he moves.

This leaf, the wind drives it, alas for its fate! It is old — this year it was born.

What I have loved from boyhood I now hate — a girl, a stranger, and a grey horse; indeed I am not fit for them.

The four things I have most hated ever have met together in one place; coughing and old age, sickness and sorrow.

I am old, I am lonely, I am shapeless and cold after my honoured couch; I am wretched, I am bent in three.

I am bent in three and old, I am peevish and giddy, I am silly, I am cantankerous; those who loved me love me not.

Girls do not love me, no one visits me, I cannot move about; ah, Death, why does it not come for me!

Neither sleep nor joy come to me after the slaying of Llawr and Gwen; I am an irritable carcass, I am old.

A wretched fate was fated for Llywarch ever since the night he was born — long toil without relief from weariness.
For the original and another translation, see Sarah Lynn Higle, Between Languages: The Uncooperative Text in Early Welsh and Old English Nature Poetry (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), pp. 268-271.

Eastman Johnson, Old Man Seated
Related posts:


Girls Running

Homeric Hymn to Demeter 174-178 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, slightly modified):
As deer or heifers in spring time,
when sated with feeding, bound about a meadow,
so they, holding up the folds of their lovely garments,
darted down the hollow path, and their flowing hair
like a crocus flower streamed about their shoulders.

αἳ δ᾿ ὥς τ᾿ ἠ᾿ ἔλαφοι ἢ πόρτιες εἴαρος ὥρῃ
ἅλλοντ᾿ ἂν λειμῶνα κορεσσάμεναι φρένα φορβῆς,
ὣς αἳ ἐπισχόμεναι ἑανῶν πτύχας ἱμεροέντων
ἤϊξαν κοίλην κατ᾿ ἀμαξιτόν, ἀμφὶ δὲ χαῖται
ὤμοις ἀΐσσοντο κροκηΐῳ ἄνθει ὁμοῖαι.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.527-529 (Daphne running from Apollo, tr. Frank Justus Miller, rev. G.P. Goold):
                                            The winds bared her limbs,
the opposing breezes set her garments a-flutter as she ran,
and a light air flung her locks streaming behind her.

                               nudabant corpora venti,
obviaque adversas vibrabant flamina vestes,
et levis inpulsos retro dabat aura capillos.

Βronze statuette of a girl running, from Dodona
(Athens, National Archaeological Museum)


Carpenter's Theorem

Rhys Carpenter (1889-1980), Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics (1946; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 31-32:
It is this direct borrowing from the poet's own experience and from his own surrounding material world that I am terming Fiction. It is this which makes his re-creation of the heroic past seem so immediately present and so vivid. Indeed, since it is fiction which imparts verisimilitude to his scenes, we may say without fear of paradox that the more real they seem the more fictional they are. We may even make of this a theorem to assert that the more an oral poet seems to know about a distant event the less he really knows about it and the more certainly he is inventing. The Greek historian Ephoros understood and formulated this principle very satisfactorily when he declared,
In the case of contemporary happenings we think those witnesses the most reliable who give the greatest detail, whereas in the case of events long ago we hold that those who thus go into detail are the least to be believed, since we consider it highly improbable that the actions and words of men should be remembered at such length.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Appreciation of Ancient Religion

Ernest Renan (1823-1892), Studies of Religious History and Criticism, tr. O.B. Frothingham (New York: Carleton, 1864), pp. 63-64:
Religions strike so deeply into the inmost fibres of the human consciousness, that a scientific explanation of them becomes, from a distance, almost impossible. No efforts of the most subtle criticism can correct the false position in which we find ourselves placed with regard to these primitive works. Full of life, of feeling, of truth for the people who have animated them with their breath, they are but dead letters, sealed hieroglyphics to us; created by the simultaneous effort of all the faculties acting in perfect harmony, they are for us but objects of curious analysis. To construct the history of a religion, one need not believe it now, but one must needs have believed it once. We rightly comprehend no worship save that which has stirred in us the first impulse towards the ideal. Who can be just to Catholicism if he has not been cradled in that wondrous legend—if, in the music of its hymns, the ceilings of its temples, the symbols of its devotion, he does not revive the first sensation of his religious life? The most essential condition of a fair appreciation of ancient religion will for ever therefore be missing with us, for one must have lived in the bosom of those religions, or at least be able to reproduce the sentiment they convey, with a depth that the most privileged historical genius can scarcely attain. With all our efforts, we shall never so frankly renounce our modern ideas as to find the tissue of fables which is commonly offered as the belief of Greece and Rome, anything but an absurdity unworthy the attention of a serious man. For persons unfamiliar with historical science, it is an endless subject of astonishment to see men who are presented to them as masters of the human mind, adoring gods, drunken and adulterous, and admitting extravagant stories, and scandalous adventures among their religious dogmas. The simplest thinks he has a right to shrug his shoulders at such prodigious infatuation. We must, however, start from this principle, that the human mind is never absurd on purpose, and that whenever the spontaneous creations of the mind appear to us senseless, it is because we do not understand them.

Les religions tiennent si profondément aux fibres intimes de la conscience humaine, que l'interprétation scientifique en devient à distance presque impossible. Les efforts de la critique la plus subtile ne sauraient redresser la position fausse où nous nous trouvons vis-àvis de ces œuvres primitives. Pleines de vie, de sens, de vérité pour les peuples qui les ont animées de leur souffle, elles ne sont plus à nos yeux que des lettres mortes, des hiéroglyphes scellés; créées par l'effort simultané de toutes les facultés agissant dans la plus parfaite harmonie, elles ne sont plus pour nous qu'un objet de curieuse analyse. Pour faire l'histoire d'une religion, il faut ne plus y croire, mais il faut y avoir cru : on ne comprend bien que le culte qui a provoqué en nous le premier élan vers l'idéal. Qui peut être juste envers le catholicisme s'il n'a été bercé de cette légende admirable, si dans les accents de ses hymnes, dans les voûtes de ses temples, dans les symboles de son culte, il ne retrouve les premières sensations de sa vie religieuse? La condition la plus essentielle pour bien apprécier les religions de l'antiquité nous manquera donc à jamais; car il faudrait avoir vécu dans le sein de ces religions, ou du moins en faire renaître en soi le sentiment avec une profondeur dont le génie historique le plus privilégié serait à peine capable. Quelque effort que nous fassions, nous ne renoncerons jamais assez franchement à toutes nos idées modernes pour ne pas trouver absurde et indigne d'occuper un homme sérieux l'ensemble des fables que l'on présente d'ordinaire comme la croyance de la Grèce et de Rome. C'est pour les personnes peu versées dans les sciences historiques un éternel sujet d'étonnement de voir les peuples qu'on leur présente comme les maîtres de l'esprit humain adorer des dieux ivrognes et adultères, et admettre parmi leurs dogmes religieux des récits extravagants, de scandaleuses aventures. Le plus simple se croit en droit de hausser les épaules sur un aussi prodigieux aveuglement. Il faudrait cependant partir de ce principe, que l'esprit humain n'est jamais absurde à plaisir, et que toutes les fois que les œuvres spontanées de la conscience nous apparaissent comme dénuées de raison, c'est qu'on ne sait pas les comprendre.

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