Friday, March 31, 2017


Of These I Never Tire

Mark Van Doren (1894-1972), "Good Appetite," Collected and New Poems, 1924-1963 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963), p. 520:
Of breakfast, then of walking to the pond;
Of wind, work, rain, and sleep I never tire.
God of monotony, may you be fond
Of me and these forever, and wood fire.



Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Doctor Thorne, chapter XV ("Courcy"):
Come, my friend, and discourse with me. Let us know what are thy ideas of the inestimable benefits which science has conferred on us in these, our latter days. How dost thou, among others, appreciate railways and the power of steam, telegraphs, telegrams, and our new expresses? But indifferently, you say.

"Time was I've zeed vifteen pair o' 'osses go out of this 'ere yard in vour-and-twenty hour; and now there be'ant vifteen, no, not ten, in vour-and-twenty days! There was the duik,—not this 'un; he be'ant no gude; but this 'un's vather,—why, when he'd come down the road, the cattle did be a-going, vour days an eend. Here'd be the tooter and the young gen'lemen, and the governess and the young leddies, and then the servants,—they'd be al'ays the grandest volk of all,—and then the duik and the doochess, Lord love 'ee, zur; the money did fly in them days! But now,—" and the feeling of scorn and contempt which the lame ostler was enabled by his native talent to throw into that word "now" was quite as eloquent against the power of steam as anything in their favour that has been spoken at dinners, or written in pamphlets by the keenest admirers of latter-day lights.



Things of Value

Homer, Iliad 23.259-261 (my translation):
From the ships he brought out prizes — cauldrons and tripods
and horses and mules and strong heads of oxen
and well-girdled women and grey iron.

νηῶν δ᾽ ἔκφερ᾽ ἄεθλα λέβητάς τε τρίποδάς τε
ἵππους θ᾽ ἡμιόνους τε βοῶν τ᾽ ἴφθιμα κάρηνα,
ἠδὲ γυναῖκας ἐϋζώνους πολιόν τε σίδηρον.
With the periphrasis βοῶν ... κάρηνα cf. English "head of cattle." Related to κάρηνον is κρανίον, whence cranium: see Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, II (Paris: Klincksieck, 1970), s.v. κάρα, p. 496.

Nicholas Richardson ad loc.:

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of Their Country

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 10-20 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
This is the time when every one of you—including both those who have not yet reached the peak of young manhood, and those whom time has carried past it and who are feeding abundant bodily growth—must have a care for your city, as is right and proper, must come to its aid, to the aid of the altars of its native gods so as never to let their rites be obliterated, to the aid of your children, and to the aid of your Motherland, your most loving nurse; for when you were children crawling on her kindly soil, she generously accepted all the toil of your upbringing, and nurtured you to become her shield-bearing inhabitants and be faithful to her in this hour of need.

ὑμᾶς δὲ χρὴ νῦν, καὶ τὸν ἐλλείποντ᾿ ἔτι        10
ἥβης ἀκμαίας καὶ τὸν ἔξηβον χρόνῳ
βλαστημὸν ἀλδαίνοντα σώματος πολύν,
ὤραν ἔχονθ᾿ ἕκαστον, ὥστε συμπρεπές,
πόλει τ᾿ ἀρήγειν καὶ θεῶν ἐγχωρίων
βωμοῖσι, τιμὰς μὴ ᾿ξαλειφθῆναί ποτε,        15
τέκνοις τε γῇ τε μητρί, φιλτάτῃ τρόφῳ·
ἣ γὰρ νέους ἕρποντας εὐμενεῖ πέδῳ,
ἅπαντα πανδοκοῦσα παιδείας ὄτλον,
ἐθρέψατ᾿ οἰκητῆρας ἀσπιδηφόρους
πιστοὺς ὅπως γένοισθε πρὸς χρέος τόδε.        20
Id. 30-35:
So get moving, all of you, to the battlements and gates of the walls—hurry, with your full armour! Man the parapets, take your stand on the platforms of the walls, stand firm at the gate entrances, have good confidence, and don't be too afraid of this horde of foreigners. God will bring success!

ἀλλ᾿ εἴς τ᾿ ἐπάλξεις καὶ πύλας πυργωμάτων        30
ὁρμᾶσθε πάντες, σοῦσθε σὺν παντευχίᾳ·
πληροῦτε θωρακεῖα, κἀπὶ σέλμασιν
πύργων στάθητε, καὶ πυλῶν ἐπ᾿ ἐξόδοις
μίμνοντες εὖ θαρσεῖτε, μηδ᾿ ἐπηλύδων
ταρβεῖτ᾿ ἄγαν ὅμιλον· εὖ τελεῖ θεός.        35
David Grene's translation (rev. Mark Griffith and Glenn W. Most):
You must help her now—both you who still
are short of your full manhood and you who
have bodies grown to greater bulk and strength—
each of you to such duties as befit you:
help the city, help the altars of your country's gods;
save their honors from destruction;
help your children, help Earth your mother.
She reared you, on her kindly surface, crawling
babies, welcomed all the trouble of your nurture,
reared you to live here and to carry a shield
in her defense, loyally, against such needs as this.


All to the battlements, to the gates of the towers!
Haste, in full armor, man the breastworks:
stand on the scaffolding and at the exit gates
be firm, abide, your hearts confident:
fear not that mighty mob of foreigners.
God will dispose all well.


Why Do We Care?

Plato, Crito 44c (tr. H.N. Fowler):
But, my dear Crito, why do we care so much for what most people think?

ἀλλὰ τί ἡμῖν, ὦ μακάριε Κρίτων, οὕτω τῆς τῶν πολλῶν δόξης μέλει;

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Klearchos of Methydrion

Porphyry, On Abstinence from Killing Animals 2.16.145-146 (tr. Gillian Clark):
(1) Theopompus [Fragmente der griechischen Historiker II 1B F344] told a similar story, that a man from Magnesia in Asia came to Delphi: he was very rich and owned many cattle. It was his custom to make, every year, many splendid sacrifices to the gods, both because of his abundance of resources, and because of piety and wanting to please the gods. (2) This being his attitude to the divine power, he came to Delphi, and having brought a hecatomb to the god and honoured Apollo splendidly, he went to the shrine to consult the oracle. Thinking that he worshipped the gods better than anyone, he asked the Pythia to declare who honoured the divine power best and most zealously and who made the most acceptable sacrifices, expecting that the first place would be given to him. But the priestess replied that the man who best worshipped the gods was Klearchos, who lived in Methydrion in Arcadia. (3) The Magnesian was astounded, and wanted to see this man and to find out from him how he offered sacrifices. He soon reached Methydrion, and at first despised it because the place was small and humble in size, reckoning that even the community itself, let alone one of its private citizens, could not honour the gods better or more splendidly than he could. Nevertheless he met the man and asked him to explain in what way he honoured the gods. (4) Klearchos said that he made offerings and sacrificed with care at the proper times: every month at the new moon he garlanded and polished Hermes and Hekate and the other sacred objects that his ancestors had left, and honoured them with incense and ground grain and cakes. (5) Every year he took part in the public sacrifices, omitting no festival, and in those sacrifices he worshipped the gods not by sacrificing cattle or cutting up victims, but by offering what he had available. He was, however, careful to assign to the gods first-fruits of every crop that grew and of fruits of the earth in their season, giving some as offerings and consecrating some; but he kept to his self-sufficiency and did not sacrifice cattle.

(1) τὰ παραπλήσια δὲ καὶ Θεόπομπος ἱστόρηκεν, εἰς Δελφοὺς ἀφικέσθαι ἄνδρα Μάγνητα ἐκ τῆς ᾽Ασίας φάμενος, πλούσιον σφόδρα, κεκτημένον συχνὰ βοσκήματα. τοῦτον δ᾽ εἰθίσθαι τοῖς θεοῖς καθ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν θυσίας ποιεῖσθαι πολλὰς καὶ μεγαλοπρεπεῖς, τὰ μὲν δι᾽ εὐπορίαν τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, τὰ δὲ δι᾽ εὐσέβειαν καὶ τὸ βούλεσθαι τοῖς θεοῖς ἀρέσκειν. (2) οὕτω δὲ διακείμενον πρὸς τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐλθεῖν εἰς Δελφούς, πομπεύσαντα δὲ ἑκατόμβην τῶι θεῶι καὶ τιμήσαντα μεγαλοπρεπῶς τὸν ᾽Απόλλωνα παρελθεῖν εἰς τὸ μαντεῖον χρηστηριασόμενον. οἰόμενον δὲ κάλλιστα πάντων ἀνθρώπων θεραπεύειν τοὺς θεοὺς ἐρέσθαι τὴν Πυθίαν τὸν ἄριστα καὶ προθυμότατα τὸ δαιμόνιον γεραίροντα θεσπίσαι καὶ τὸν ποιοῦντα τὰς θυσίας προσφιλεστάτας, ὑπολαμβάνοντα δοθήσεσθαι αὑτῶι τὸ πρωτεῖον. τὴν δὲ ἱέρειαν ἀποκρίνασθαι πάντων ἄριστα θεραπεύειν τοὺς θεοὺς Κλέαρχον κατοικοῦντα ἐν Μεθυδρίωι τῆς ᾽Αρκαδίας. (3) τὸν δ᾽ ἐκπλαγέντα ἐκτόπως ἐπιθυμῆσαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἰδεῖν καὶ ἐντυχόντα μαθεῖν, τίνα τρόπον τὰς θυσίας ἐπιτελεῖ. ἀφικομένου οὖν ταχέως εἰς τὸ Μεθύδριον πρῶτον μὲν καταφρονῆσαι μικροῦ καὶ ταπεινοῦ ὄντος τὸ μέγεθος τοῦ χωρίου, ἡγούμενον οὐχ ὅπως ἄν τινα τῶν ἰδιωτῶν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἂν αὐτὴν τὴν πόλιν δύνασθαι μεγαλοπρεπέστερον αὑτοῦ καὶ κάλλιον τιμῆσαι τοὺς θεούς. ὅμως δ᾽ οὖν συντυχόντα τῶι ἀνδρὶ ἀξιῶσαι φράσαι αὐτῶι, ὅντινα τρόπον τοὺς θεοὺς τιμᾶι. (4) τὸν δὲ Κλέαρχον φάναι ἐπιτελεῖν καὶ σπουδαίως θύειν ἐν τοῖς προσήκουσι χρόνοις, κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ταῖς νουμηνίαις στεφανοῦντα καὶ φαιδρύνοντα τὸν ῾Ερμῆν καὶ τὴν ῾Εκάτην καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν ἱερῶν, ἃ δὴ τοὺς προγόνους καταλιπεῖν, καὶ τιμᾶν λιβανωτοῖς καὶ ψαιστοῖς καὶ ποπάνοις· (5) κατ᾽ ἐνιαυτὸν δὲ θυσίας δημοτελεῖς ποιεῖσθαι, παραλείποντα οὐδεμίαν ἑορτήν· ἐν αὐταῖς δὲ ταύταις θεραπεύειν τοὺς θεοὺς οὐ βουθυτοῦντα οὐδὲ ἱερεῖα κατακόπτοντα, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι ἄν παρατύχηι ἐπιθύοντα, σπουδάζειν μέντοι ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν περιγιγνομένων καρπῶν καὶ τῶν ὡραίων, ἃ ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαμβάνεται, τοῖς θεοῖς τὰς ἀπαρχὰς ἀπονέμειν· καὶ τὰ μὲν παρατιθέναι, τὰ δὲ καθαγίζειν αὐτοῖς· αὐτὸν δὲ τῆι αὐταρκείαι προσεσχηκότα τὸ θῦσαι βοῦς προεῖσθαι.
Related post: The Widow's Mite.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


An Unmitigated Evil

C. Bradford Welles (1901-1969), "Hesiod's Attitude toward Labor," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967) 5–23 (at 8-9):
For we must acknowledge that when Hesiod winds up his introduction with the order to his brother to tuck up his tunic and start digging, he was proposing something which no Greek (I would almost say, no human being) ever did if he could help it, ever looked on as anything but an unmitigated evil.13 Hesiod repeats the horrid notion four times in one line (v.382), and a lingering, spondaic one at that, so that there can be no doubt about it.
ὧδ᾽ ἔρδειν, καὶ ἔργον ἐπ᾽ ἔργῳ ἐργάζεσθαι.
When he says "work," he means "labor," and our traditional translation of the title should not blind us to it. This is labor as it appears in Old Man River, or in the folk-song of the English farmer digging his turnips in the sleet and rain. Unpleasant and undignified, unintellectual and little rewarding. It may be a way to a poor livelihood, but never to riches. If Hesiod's brother had really wanted wealth and had had the sense he was born with, he would not have taken this advice.

13 For ancient attitudes toward labor, cf P. Waltz, "Les Artisans et leur vie en Grèce," RevHist 117 (1914) 5-41. Self-sacrificing toil for others is a Christian notion (Schmid/Stählin [supra n.1] 277 n.7), as is the idea of doing things unpleasant for the good of one's soul (laborare est orare). Voluntary, amateur, light gardening is, of course, quite a different thing.


Thus Homer Lives On

Henry Miller (1891-1980), The Colossus of Maroussi (London: Secker & Warburg, 1945), p. 12:
It is a kind of ferment which is created by reason of the fact that for a Greek every event, no matter how stale, is always unique. He is always doing the same thing for the first time: he is curious, avidly curious, and experimental. He experiments for the sake of experimenting, not to establish a better or more efficient way of doing things. He likes to do things with his hands, with his whole body, with his soul, I might as well say. Thus Homer lives on. Though I've never read a line of Homer I believe the Greek of to-day is essentially unchanged. If anything he is more Greek than he ever was.

Monday, March 27, 2017



Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Doctor Thorne, chapter XIV ("Sentence of Exile"):
He could be obstinate enough when it so pleased him, and had before now gone so far as to tell his wife that her thrice-noble sister-in-law might remain at home at Courcy Castle—or, at any rate, not come to Greshamsbury—if she could not do so without striving to rule him and everyone else when she got there. This had of course been repeated to the countess, who had merely replied to it by a sisterly whisper, in which she sorrowfully intimated that some men were born brutes, and always would remain so.

"I think they all are," the Lady Arabella had replied...
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator.


Epitaph of Diogenes

Inscriptiones Graecae XII, 9 (Inscriptiones Euboeae Insulae, ed. Erich Ziebarth [Berlin, 1915]) 290 = Werner Peek, Griechische Vers-Inschriften (Berlin, 1955), number 1126 (Eretria, 3rd century B.C.):
[χαῖρ]ε, Διοδώρου Δι[όγε]νες, φὺς δίκαιος καὶ εὐσεβής.
[ε]ἰ θεός ἐσθ' ἡ γῆ, κἀγὼ θεός εἰμι δικαίως·
ἐκ γῆς γὰρ βλαστὼν γενόμην νεκρός, ἐκ δὲ νεκροῦ γῆ.
My translation:
Hail, Diogenes, son of Diodorus. You were just and pious.
— If the earth is a god, I too am rightly a god;
for, sprung from earth, I became a corpse, and from a corpse, earth.
Both Ziebarth and Peek are unavailable to me. I think that in line 1, Ziebarth supplied [κοῦρ]ε, Peek [χαῖρ]ε. I do have access to Werner Peek, Griechische Grabgedichte. Griechisch und Deutsch (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1966), where the Greek (without brackets or apparatus) appears on p. 144 (number 220), and Peek's German translation on p. 145:
Gruß dir, Diogenes, Diodors Sohn. Rechtlich warst du und fromm. —Wenn die Erde eine Gottheit ist, so heiße mit Recht auch ich eine Gottheit. Denn der Erde entsprossen, bin ich ein Leichnam geworden und aus dem Leichnam wieder Erde. — Diogenes.
There are two speakers — the passerby or visitor to the grave in line 1, the dead man in lines 2-3. Earth was a goddess in ancient Greece.

Related post: Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Either Dead or Teaching School

Erasmus, Adagia I x 59, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 32: Adages I vi 1 to I x 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), p. 260, with note on p. 381:
59 Aut mortuus est aut docet litteras
He must be either dead or teaching school

Ἤτοι τέθνηκεν ἢ διδάσκει γράμματα, He must be either dead or teaching school. An iambic line current as a proverb, and used in old days to convey that a man was in great misfortune, though it was not clear what he was doing. This passed into common speech, as Zenodotus tells us, on the following occasion. The Athenians, under command of Nicias, had on one occasion fought and lost a battle against the Sicilians; they suffered heavy casualties, and many prisoners were taken and carried off to Sicily, where they were compelled to teach Sicilian children their elements. And so the few who escaped and returned to Athens, when asked what so-and-so was doing in Sicily, used to reply with the line I have quoted above: 'He must be either dead or teaching school.'

59 Taken from Zenobius ('Zenodotus') 4.17. Thought to be a line from comedy (frag. adesp. 20 Kock). Zen. Ath. 1.43
The Latin:
Ἤτοι τέθνηκεν ἢ διδάσκει γράμματα, id est Aut periit aut profecto literas docet. Senarius prouerbialis, quo significabant olim cuipiam omnino male esse, tametsi parum liqueret, quid rerum ageret. Is autem hac occasione venit in vulgi sermonem autore Zenodoto. Athenienses duce Nicia parum feliciter aliquando pugnauerunt aduersus Siculos permultis occisis, plerisque captiuis in Siciliam abductis, qui Siculorum filios literas docere coacti sunt. Proinde pauci, qui fuga elapsi redierant Athenas, rogati quid hic aut ille faceret in Sicilia, modo memorato versiculo respondebant: Aut periit aut docet literas.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


The Temptation of Faith

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
If from time to time we are tempted by faith, it is because faith proposes an alternative humiliation: it is, after all, preferable to find oneself in a position of inferiority before a god than before a hominid.

Si de temps en temps on est tenté par la foi, c’est parce qu'elle propose une humiliation de rechange: il est tout de même préférable de se trouver en position d'infériorité devant un dieu que devant un hominien.


Take Nothing Seriously

Lucian, Menippus 21 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
So he took me aside, and after he had led me a good way apart from the others, he bent his head slightly toward my ear and said: "The life of the common sort is best, and you will act more wisely if you stop speculating about heavenly bodies and discussing final causes and first causes, spit your scorn at those clever syllogisms, and counting all that sort of thing nonsense, make it always your sole object to put the present to good use and to hasten on your way, laughing a great deal and taking nothing seriously."

ὁ δὲ δή με ἀπαγαγὼν καὶ πολὺ τῶν ἄλλων ἀποσπάσας ἤρεμα προσκύψας πρὸς τὸ οὖς φησίν, "ὁ τῶν ἰδιωτῶν ἄριστος βίος, καὶ σωφρονέστερος παυσάμενος τοῦ μετεωρολογεῖν καὶ τέλη καὶ ἀρχὰς ἐπισκοπεῖν καὶ καταπτύσας τῶν σοφῶν τούτων συλλογισμῶν καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα λῆρον ἡγησάμενος τοῦτο μόνον ἐξ ἅπαντος θηράσῃ, ὅπως τὸ παρὸν εὖ θέμενος παραδράμῃς γελῶν τὰ πολλὰ καὶ περὶ μηδὲν ἐσπουδακώς."

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to David Hume (1711-1776), A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry concerning Human Nature, Book 1, Section 7:
[1] But what have I here said, that reflections very refined and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, invironed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

[2] Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Wasted Effort

Erasmus, Adagia I iv 46, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 31: Adages I i 1 to I v 100, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips, annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 355, with note:
46 Surdo oppedere
To break wind in front of a deaf man

Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, To break wind in the presence of the deaf, is said when an action is useless, or when some fault is committed against stupid people who cannot perceive it, or reproaches are heaped on a person who takes no notice, just as if he had not heard. It is mentioned by Diogenianus and Suidas.

46 Taken, as Erasmus tells us, from the Greek proverb-collections, Diogenianus 7.43 and Suidas Π 371.
The Latin:
Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, id est Apud surdum crepitum aedere, dicitur vbi quid frustra fit aut vbi peccatur apud stupidos, qui non queant sentire. Siue cum conuiciis incessitur is, qui perinde negligit, quasi non audiat. Refertur a Diogeniano et a Suida.
Cf. also Photius Π 251, Hesychius Π 563, Apostolius 13.99, Macarius 6.89, and J. Fr. Boissonade, ed., Anecdota Graeca, Vol. I (Paris, 1829), p. 396. All these additional references are from Photii Patriarchae Lexicon, ed. Christos Theodoridis, Vol. III: Ν-Φ (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 162 (Π 251 = παρὰ κωφὸν ἀποπέρδειν).

Dear Michael Gilleland,

Margaret Mann Philips’ translation of “surdo oppedere” as “to break wind in front of a deaf man” seems to me somewhat over-delicate. Oppedere is in fact to fart at somebody as a way of expressing derision, mockery, contempt, opposition; it is to fart in somebody’s face, as it were. At the beginning of Jonson’s The Alchemist, when Subtle tells Face, “I fart at thee!” it is a calque of the Latin oppedo tibi (Greek: καταπέρδω σου). Jonson was familiar with John Baret’s An Aluearie or Triple Dictionarie, in Englishe, Latin, and French (1574), where oppedo is defined: “To fart against one: and metaphorice, to denie with a lowde voice.” A historical example of this would be the "Great Parliament Fart" of 4 March 1607, when Henry Ludlow, the member for Ludgershall, Wiltshire, loudly broke wind (oppepedit) in response to Sir John Croke’s message from the Lords during a debate on the naturalisation of the Scots. Similar to oppedere, the Greek ἀποπαρδεῖν generally implies volition (deliberately farting, as opposed to πέρδω = crepitat mihi venter), as well as direction (farting toward or at somebody or something), and so παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν/Apud surdum crepitum aedere would more properly be translated “to let fly with a fart in a deaf man’s house” than “to break wind in the presence of the deaf.” The verb oppedere is not infrequent in the works of Erasmus, e.g. in the letter to Grunnius: “Atqui quum istorum status omnis Romanorum Pontificum auctoritate nitatur, cur illi quoties libuit strenue oppedunt?” (And yet, since their [i.e. the monks’] entire condition rests on the authority of the Roman pontiffs, why do they fart against it so vigorously and so relentlessly?).

Yours sincerely,

Alistair Ian Blyth




Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "La Chambre Double," final paragraphs (tr. Francis Scarfe):
Ah, yes! Time has returned: Time now governs like a sovereign: and with that hideous old greybeard has returned the whole demoniacal rout of Memories, Regrets, Fits, Fears, Anguishes, Nightmares, Angers, and Neuroses.

I assure you that the Seconds are now strongly and solemnly stressed, and that each one as it jumps from the clock, says: 'I am Life, unbearable, unrelenting Life!'

There is only one Second in human existence whose mission it is to announce good news, the good news, which arouses an inexplicable fear in every man.

Yes, Time reigns, he has resumed his bullying dictatorship. And he drives me on, as if I were a bullock, with his double goad — 'Along with you, you old hack! Sweat, you slave! Live, though you are damned!'

Oh! oui! Le Temps a reparu; Le Temps règne en souverain maintenant; et avec le hideux vieillard est revenu tout son démoniaque cortége de Souvenirs, de Regrets, de Spasmes, de Peurs, d'Angoisses, de Cauchemars, de Colères et de Névroses.

Je vous assure que les secondes maintenant sont fortement et solennellement accentuées, et chacune, en jaillissant de la pendule, dit: — «Je suis la Vie, l'insupportable, l'implacable Vie!»

Il n'y a qu'une Seconde dans la vie humaine qui ait mission d'annoncer une bonne nouvelle, la bonne nouvelle qui cause à chacun une inexplicable peur.

Oui! le Temps règne; il a repris sa brutale dictature. Et il me pousse, comme si j’étais un boeuf, avec son double aiguillon. — «Et hue donc! bourrique! Sue donc, esclave! Vis donc, damné!»


An Enviable Destiny

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Lucretius: we know nothing specific about his life. Specific? Not even vague. An enviable destiny.

Lucrèce: on ne sait sur sa vie rien de précis. De précis? même pas de vague. Un destin enviable.
Related posts:


Slavery and Freedom

Sitting Bull (1831?-1890), tr. E.H. Allison, quoted in Robert M. Utley, The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993), p. 247, with endnote on p. 386:
White men like to dig in the ground for their food. My people prefer to hunt the buffalo as their fathers did. White men like to stay in one place. My people want to move their tepees here and there to different hunting grounds. The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food, that is as good as the right to move in the open country and live in our own fashion.23

23. James Creelman, On the Great Highway: The Wanderings and Adventures of a Special Correspondent (Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901), 301.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


A Crappy Family

Cyril Mango, "The Christian Inscriptions of Macedonia," a review of Denis Feissel, Recueil des inscriptions chrétiennes de Macédoine du IIIe au VIe siècle (Paris: Boccard, 1983), in Classical Review 34.1 (1984) 119-120 (at 119):
I particularly like the family whose father was called Stercorius and whose daughters were Stercoria and Stercorilla (No. 9).
Here is the inscription (Feissel, p. 31):

Παραμόνα τῷ γλ̣[υ]-
κυτάτῳ ἀνδρὶ
καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ
Στερκορία καὶ Στερ-
κορίλλα καὶ Ἐπινί-
κις καὶ Κερβίων
Στερκορίῳ μνίας
χάριν· ζήσῃς ἐν θεῷ.
Paramona to her most sweet husband, and his children Sterkoria and Sterkorilla and Epinikis and Kerbiōn to Sterkorios in memoriam. May you live in God!
Related posts:

From Eric Thomson:
On the subject of crappy names, don’t forget that eminent Kapellmeister in the chapel-of-ease, Samuel Scheidt (pronounced Shite). I'm quite good at recognizing composers on the radio but have never had the pleasure of declaring "That's definitely a piece of Scheidt". That would be schützpah.



Political Changes

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 380 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
I would be ready enough to labour for changes in a government that I disliked could I hope to effect them by myself alone. But when I remember that I must combine with others, and for the most part with fools or knaves, who neither know how to be silent nor how to act, nothing disgusts me more than to think of changes.

Io sarei pronto a cercare le mutazione degli Stati che non mi piacessino, se potessi sperare mutargli da me solo; ma quando mi ricordo che bisogna fare compagnia con altri, e el piú delle volte con pazzi e con maligni, e quali né sanno tacere, né sanno fare, non è cosa che io aborrisca piú che el pensare a questo.


Love of Neighbor

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
To love one's neighbor is inconceivable. Does one ask a virus to love another virus?

Aimer son prochain est chose inconcevable. Est-ce qu'on demande à un virus d'aimer un autre virus?


Talking Rashly and Without Foresight

Erasmus, Adagia I v 72, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 31: Adages I i 1 to I v 100, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips, annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 447, with note:
72 Quicquid in buccam venerit
Whatever came into his mouth

Whatever came into his mouth. Used whenever we speak of people talking freely and in security, without premeditation, saying whatever comes into their heads. This is what we do in the company of our loyal friends, with whom we can joke and that with confidence. Cicero to Atticus, book 14: 'If there is nothing special, write to me whatever comes into your mouth.' Again in book 12, 'When we are together, and chatter away with whatever comes into our mouths.' This is applicable to those who talk rashly and without forethought, just as if their words were born not in their hearts but in their throats.

72 Taken, it seems, directly from Cicero Ad Atticum 14.7.2; 12.1.2. Otto 273 gives many more examples from Greek as well as Latin. We are more likely to say 'whatever comes into our heads.'
The Latin:
Quicquid in buccam venerit. Quoties libere quospiam ac tuto loqui significamus, incircumspecte et quicquid forte fortuna in animum inciderit. Quemadmodum apud fidos amiculosfacere solemus, apud quos impune quiduis nugamur atque effutimus. M. Tullius ad Atticum libro decimoquarto: Aut si nihil erit, quod in buccam venerit scribes. Idem libro duodecimo: Quid cum coram sumus et garrimus quicquid in buccam venit. Recte torquebitur et in eos, qui temere atque inconsiderate loquuntur, perinde quasi sermo illis non in pectore nascatur, sed in faucibus.
A. Otto, Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1890), p. 59:

I'm reminded of a schoolyard taunt from my childhood: "You have diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


New Enterprises

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 152 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Take heed how you involve yourself in new enterprises or engagements; for once in, you are forced to go on. Whence it results that men are often found labouring through tasks which being embarked in they cannot withdraw from, though had they foreseen a tenth part of their difficulty they would have gone a thousand miles to avoid them. This rule holds most of all in feuds, factions, and wars, before taking part in which, or in anything of a like nature, no amount of careful and cautious consideration will be excessive.

Abbiate grandissima circumspezione innanzi entriate in imprese o faccende nuove, perché doppo el principio bisogna andare per necessità; e però interviene spesso che gli uomini si conducono a camminare per difficultà, che se prima n'avessino immaginato la ottava parte, se ne sarebbono alienati mille miglia; ma come sono imbarcati, non è in potestà loro ritirarsi. Accade questo massime nelle inimicizie, nelle parzialità, nelle guerre; nelle quali cose e in tutte l'altre, innanzi si piglino, non è considerazione o diligenzia sì esatta che sia superflua.


A Musical Instrument

Aristophanes, Clouds 165 (my translation):
The anus is a trumpet...

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν...
Related post: Rectal Music.



Death with Dignity

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
On this estate dedicated, like its manor house, to the crackbrained enterprises of charity, everywhere one looks there are old women kept alive by virtue of surgical operations. There was a time when one died at home, in the dignity of solitude and desertion; now the moribund are collected, crammed, and their indecent throes extended as long as possible.

Dans ce parc affecté, comme le manoir, aux entreprises loufoques de la charité, partout des vieilles qu'on maintient en vie à coup d'opérations. Avant, on agonisait chez soi, dans la dignité de la solitude et de l'abandon, maintenant on rassemble les moribonds, on les gave et on prolonge le plus longtemps possible leur indécente crevaison.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Man's Worst Enemy

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 361 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Man has no worse enemy than himself, for almost all the many troubles, dangers, and afflictions he has to endure have no other source than his own excessive desires.

Non ha maggiore inimico l'uomo che sé medesimo; perché quasi tutti e mali, pericoli e travagli superflui che ha, non procedono da altro che dalla sua troppa cupidità.


An Old Fogey

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 10 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
That is what this man will say, the impostor, the absolute old fogey, the antediluvian, who displays dead men of a bygone age to serve as patterns, and expects you to dig up long-buried speeches as if they were something tremendously helpful...

ὁ μὲν ταῦτα φήσει, ἀλαζὼν καὶ ἀρχαῖος ὡς ἀληθῶς καὶ Κρονικὸς ἄνθρωπος, νεκροὺς εἰς μίμησιν παλαιοὺς προτιθεὶς καὶ ἀνορύττειν ἀξιῶν λόγους πάλαι κατορωρυγμένους ὥς τι μεγιστον ἀγαθόν...
Related posts:

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Youth and Old Age

Mimnermus, fragment 2 (tr. M.L. West):
But we are like the leaves that flowery spring
    puts forth, quick spreading in the sun's warm light:
for a brief span of time we take our joy
    in our youth's bloom, the future, good or ill,
kept from us, while the twin dark Dooms stand by,        5
    one bringing to fulfillment harsh old age,
the other, death. The ripeness of youth's fruit
    is short, short as the sunlight on the earth,
and once this season of perfection's past,
    it's better to be dead than stay alive.        10
All kinds of worry come. One man's estate
    is failing, and there's painful poverty;
another has no sons—the keenest need
    one feels as one goes down below the earth;
sickness wears down another's heart. There's none        15
    Zeus does not give a multitude of ills.

ἡμεῖς δ᾿, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
    ἔαρος, ὅτ᾿ αἶψ᾿ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
    τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ᾿ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,        5
    ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
    καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
    αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·        10
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
    τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
    ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν        15
    ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Our Ignorance

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 141 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
No wonder that we are ignorant of what has happened in past ages, or of what is happening now in distant countries and remote cities. For if you note it well, you will perceive that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town. Nay, often between the palace and the marketplace there lies so dense a mist or is built a wall so thick that no eye can penetrate it; so that the people know as much of what their rulers are doing, or their reasons for doing it, as they know of what is being done in China. And for this reason the world is readily filled with empty and idle beliefs.

Non vi maravigliate che non si sappino le cose delle età passate, non quelle che si fanno nelle provincie o luoghi lontani; perché se considerate bene, non s'ha vera notizia delle presenti, non di quelle che giornalmente si fanno in una medesima città; e spesso tra il palazzo e la piazza è una nebbia sì folta, o uno muro sì grosso, che non vi penetrando l'occhio degli uomini, tanto sa el popolo di quello che fa chi governa, o della ragione per che lo fa, quanto delle cose che fanno in India; e però si empie facilmente el mondo di opinione erronee e vane.
Related post: Difficulty of Ascertaining Historical Truth.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the following via email:
Guicciardini's claim "that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town" reminded me of an anecdote given by Orwell — I have no idea where he got it — in his column 'As I please' in the London Tribune, 4 Feb. 1944:
When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with writing a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about; whereupon, so it is said — and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be — he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.


Offensive Behavior

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999), Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India 1921-1952 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1987), pp. 189-190:
My brothers never made any insulting remarks to me. But I could see how they disapproved of me. I also saw, rightly or wrongly, looks of cold contempt when they met me. What distressed me most then was the alienation from my elder brother, who had led me into jaunts of buying books and pictures. Even late in 1924 we had come triumphantly home with a porter behind us carrying many volumes of the Arden edition of Shakespeare, and though he himself did not read French he had abetted me in buying a very pretty edition of Molière in eight volumes which had once belonged to Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury). But he had become not only wholly unco-operative but also hostile, so much so that after buying a Medici print of the Mona Lisa in 1926 I hid the print for some weeks to avoid giving offence to his eyes.

More distant relatives were vocally abusive. Although they were not supporting me, they were making very insulting remarks, even going to the point of saying that I should be whipped. And these remarks were always brought to me by those to whom they were made. What exasperated them was in the first place my giving up a Government post. That was bad enough, but not satisfied with that offence I went just then on a wild spree of spending on books and pictures. I might say I went berserk. This was not the kind of extravagance which they could disapprove silently. If in my desperation I had begun to visit brothels or taken to drugs or drink, nobody woud have said a word, for in our society it was not decorous to be open about such failings. But what I did was not so clearly immoral as to become unmentionable, but was offensive enough as behaviour to be condemned.
Id., p. 193:
Besides, books were to me mental nourishment, as much as they were material adjuncts of mental life at a civilized level. Therefore I did not think I could give up buying books and artistic objects simply because I had no money or very little money. In any case, though I bought things on credit I finally paid for them with my own money or at its worst with my father's. But, of course, in our society as it had become even spending one's own money on such things was not approved of. An elderly relative of mine said to me one day: 'I do not ask you to give up buying books, but at present you should lay by something, and when you have enough buy books.' I could not tell him to his face that he might as well have told me to put off eating until I had enough in the bank. I might add here that even at the end of my life, I have not gone back on my conviction that our beautiful material possessions are only the outward signs of an inward grace, or in plain words material symbols of a full and active mental life. I have always held the saying 'Plain living and high thinking' in contempt. Plain living (which is not simple living) results in very poor thinking.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Friday, March 17, 2017



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Vacillating instincts, corroded beliefs, obsessions, and anility: everywhere conquerors in retreat, rentiers of heroism confronting the young Alarics who lie in wait for Rome and Athens; everywhere paradoxes of the lymphatic. There was a time when salon sallies traversed whole countries, foiled stupidity or refined it. Europe, coquettish and intractable, was in the flower of her age; — decrepit today, Europe excites no one. Even so, certain barbarians await their chance to inherit the finery, impatient at her long agony.

Instincts vacillants, croyances avariées, marottes et radotages. Partout des conquérants à la retraite, des rentiers de l'héroïsme, en face de jeunes Alaric qui guettent les Rome et les Athènes, partout des paradoxes de lymphatiques. Autrefois les boutades de salon traversaient les pays, déroutaient la sottise ou l'affinaient. L'Europe, coquette et intraitable, était dans la fleur de l'âge; — décrépite aujourd'hui, elle n'excite plus personne. Des barbares cependant attendent d'en hériter les dentelles et s'irritent de sa longue agonie.


We the People

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 140 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
To speak of the people is in truth to speak of a beast, mad, mistaken, perplexed, without taste, discernment, or stability.

Chi disse uno popolo disse veramente uno animale pazzo, pieno di mille errori, di mille confusione, sanza gusto, sanza diletto, sanza stabilità.
Id., number 345:
To speak of the people is to speak of a madman; of a monster stuffed with inconsistencies and errors; whose empty judgments lie as far from truth, as Spain, according to Ptolemy, from India.

Chi disse uno populo, disse veramente uno pazzo; perché è uno mostro pieno di confusione e di errori, e le sue vane opinione sono tanto lontane dalla verità, quanto è, secondo Ptolomeo, la Spagna dalla India.


Glory and Loveliness Have Passed Away

John Keats (1795-1821), "Dedication. To Leigh Hunt, Esq.," Poems (London: C. and J. Ollier, 1817):
Glory and loveliness have passed away;
   For if we wander out in early morn,
   No wreathed incense do we see upborne
Into the east, to meet the smiling day:
No crowd of nymphs soft voic'd and young, and gay,
   In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
   Roses, and pinks, and violets, to adorn
The shrine of Flora in her early May.
But there are left delights as high as these,
   And I shall ever bless my destiny,
That in a time, when under pleasant trees
   Pan is no longer sought, I feel a free
A leafy luxury, seeing I could please
   With these poor offerings, a man like thee.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


The Afterlife

Robert Browning (1812-1889), "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's," lines 80-84:
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!



Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 12 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
The same or similar proverbs, though differently expressed, are found among all nations. And this because these spring from experience or from the observation of things, which are everywhere the same or similar.

Quasi tutti e medesimi proverbi o simili, benché con diverse parole, si truovono in ogni nazione; e la ragione è che e proverbii nascono dalla esperienzia o vero osservazione delle cose, le quali in ogni luogo sono le medesime o simili.


Latin Ash and Greek Dust

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "La Voix," lines 1-4 (tr. Francis Scarfe):
My cradle had its back to the book-case,
a gloomy Babel in which novels, works of science, medieval tales,
everything including Latin ash and Greek dust,
was jumbled together. I was no taller than a folio.

Mon berceau s'adossait à la bibliothèque,
Babel sombre, où roman, science, fabliau,
Tout, la cendre latine et la poussière grecque,
Se mêlaient. J'était haut comme un in-folio.

The contents of the book-case in my parents' house, so far as I can remember:

Monday, March 13, 2017


Historical Recurrence

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 76 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Whatsoever has been in the past or is now will repeat itself in the future; but the names and surfaces of things will be so altered, that he who has not a quick eye will not recognise them, or know to guide himself accordingly, or to form a judgment on what he sees.

Tutto quello che è stato per el passato è al presente, sarà ancora in futuro; ma si mutano e nomi e le superficie delle cose in modo, che chi non ha buono occhio non le ricognosce, né sa pigliare regola, o fare giudicio per mezzo di quella osservazione.
Cf. id., number 336:
Past events throw light on future, because the world has always been the same as it now is, and all that is now, or shall be hereafter, has been in time past. Things accordingly repeat themselves, but under changed names and colours, so that it is not every one who can recognise them, but only he who is discerning and who notes and considers them diligently.

Le cose passate fanno lume alle future, perché el mondo fu sempre di una medesima sorte; e tutto quello che è e sarà, è stato in altro tempo, e le cose medesime ritornano, ma sotto diversi nomi e colori; però ognuno non le ricognosce, ma solo chi è savio, e le osserva e considera diligentemente.


National Differences

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), "An Examination of Certain Abuses, Corruptions, and Enormities in the City of Dublin," Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, Vol. VII: Historical and Political Tracts—Irish (London: George Bell and Sons, 1905), pp. 267-282 (at 270):
But, to proceed to other enormities: Every person who walks the streets, must needs observe the immense number of human excrements at the doors and steps of waste houses, and at the sides of every dead wall; for which the disaffected party have assigned a very false and malicious cause. They would have it, that these heaps were laid there privately by British fundaments, to make the world believe, that our Irish vulgar do daily eat and drink; and, consequently, that the clamour of poverty among us, must be false, proceeding only from Jacobites and Papists. They would confirm this, by pretending to observe, that a British anus being more narrowly perforated than one of our own country; and many of these excrements upon a strict view appearing copple crowned, with a point like a cone or pyramid, are easily distinguished from the Hibernian, which lie much flatter, and with less continuity. I communicated this conjecture to an eminent physician, who is well versed in such profound speculations; and at my request was pleased to make trial with each of his fingers, by thrusting them into the anus of several persons of both nations, and professed he could find no such difference between them as those ill-disposed people allege. On the contrary, he assured me, that much the greater number of narrow cavities were of Hibernian origin. This I only mention to shew how ready the Jacobites are to lay hold of any handle to express their malice against the government. I had almost forgot to add, that my friend the physician could, by smelling each finger, distinguish the Hibernian excrement from the British, and was not above twice mistaken in an hundred experiments; upon which he intends very soon to publish a learned dissertation.
Cf. Umberto Eco, Inventing the Enemy, tr. Richard Dixon (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), p. 5:
The enemy invariably stinks, as the French psychologist Edgar Bérillon wrote at the beginning of the First World War (1915) in La polychésie de la race allemande. In this volume he demonstrated that the average German produced more—and fouler smelling—fecal material than did the Frenchman.



Finger Names in Greek

Erasmus, Adages II iv 91, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 33: Adages II i 1 to II vi 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 234-235, with notes on p. 419:
Plutarch5 in the essay he called 'How a man may become aware of his Progress,' writes that it was an old custom to learn by heart the names of the fingers, and use these when frightened as though they would help. I will copy his actual words: 'Some people get by heart the names of their own fingers and use them as a protection against terrors, quietly repeating each one in turn, as if it were a remedy against ills.' The names of the fingers in Greek are given by Gellius in his Attic Nights.6

5 Plutarch] Moralia 85B. Erasmus has been misled here, as in Parabolae col 583 (CWE 23:188), by an error in the Aldine Plutarch; it should be 'the names,' not 'of one's own fingers' (idiôn daktylôn) but 'of the Idaean Dactyls' (Idaiôn Daktylôn), mythical gnomes who lived on Mount Ida in Crete...

6 The Greek names of the fingers are not in Aulus Gellius; they can be found in Pollux, Gnomasticon 2.145.
Gnomasticon is a misprint for Onomasticon.

Donald C. Swanson, "Modern Greek Corrections to Buck's Dictionary," American Journal of Philology 78.4 (1957) 401-413 (at 403-404):
4.34 (FINGER) Modern Greek shows some dialectal and individual differences in the names of the fingers. A dialect atlas of Greece would have to include these terms on its list. It is unfortunate that Buck did not give the other finger names; he lists only THUMB. A few days' research on this semantic area revealed a preliminary conclusion that in many European languages the 'ring finger' has no name, or no common name, or only an artificial name. Likewise the middle finger, for which French for example has the obviously learned Latinism médius. The little finger seems to be so called in most European languages. There is much complication in this whole area, and very likely a sizable dissertation could be written on the subject. The modern Greek equivalents, so far as I have been able to determine them, are the following:

a. 'forefinger' δείχτης from the verb δείχνω (ancient δείκνυμι) 'point out,' but the ancient noun is λιχανός from the zero grade of the verb λείχω 'lick,' plus suffix. Is the modern word a recent coinage? Unlikely. Andriotis3 does not list the word.

b. 'middle finger' μεσαῖος. The ancient is μέσος, as found in Plato and Aristotle. (See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v.)

c. 'ring finger' παράμεσος, also not listed in Andriotis. It seems to be a post-classical coinage, since it is first found in Apuleius (II A.D.), and in three contemporary Greek technical writers.4

d. 'little finger' μικρό δάχτυλο (as in ancient Gk.: Aristotle has μικρὸς δάκτυλος).

In leaving this subject I should mention that many foreign-language-to-English dictionaries which I have consulted lacked names for several of the fingers, giving chiefly or only thumb and forefinger. Is this because of the apparent triviality of the subject, or were the compilers culture-bound to English, this language using only phrases for the last three fingers? This may be an unexplored lexicographical problem.

3 For this reference and others see bibliographical remarks at end. [pp. 412-413: N.P. Andriotis, Etymologiko Lexiko tis Koinis Neoellinikis (Athens, 1951)]

4 Apuleius, Metam., X, 21 (ed. R. Halm [1913], p. 252 note; Adlington-Gaselee in the Loeb [1915], p. 596). These two editors excise the passage from their texts, but regard it as authentic since two MSS carry it in the margin. The pertinent words are: 'Ac dein digitis, hypate, lichano, mese, paramese, et nete' (sic Gaselee). The passage is defective and difficult but the names of fingers, and/or of tones (of a five-stringed instrument) named from the fingers, are clearly intended.

The Greek references (Liddell-Scott-Jones) are as follows: Pollux, II, 145, Rufus Medicus, Onom., 83, Galen, II, 264. By a curious coincidence all these authors, including Apuleius, are of the 2nd century A.D.
Pollux, Onomasticon, ed. Erich Bethe, Fasc. I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1900), pp. 127-128 (2.145):
ὀνομάζονται δὲ οἱ δάκτυλοι μικρόc, παράμεcοc, μέcοc, λιχανόc, ἀντίχειρ ἢ μέγαc.
All of these are adjectives modifying δάκτυλος (finger) understood.


Sunday, March 12, 2017


A Thousand Follies

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 125 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Philosophers, theologians, and all others who write of things unseen and supernatural, give utterance to a thousand follies. For the fact is that men are in the dark as to such matters, and the search into them has served and serves rather to exercise the intellect than to discover truth.

E filosofi e teologi e tutti gli altri che scrivono le cose sopra natura o che non si veggono, dicono mille pazzie; perché in effetto gli uomini sono al bujo delle cose, e questa indagazione ha servito e serve piú a esercitare gli ingegni che a trovare la verità.


Excerpts from a Library Catalogue

Bibliotheca Fanatica: or, The Phanatique Library: Being a Catalogue of Such Books as have been lately made and by the Authors presented to the Colledge of Bedlam (London, 1660), pp. 3-4:
Lucri bonus est odor ex re qualibet; a Treatise written in defence of his seizing on the Boie's Close-stool-pan, and reserving the contents for his own profit, because the Lad was so profane to carry it on a Sunday; by Alderman Atkins, Shit-breeches.
Id., p. 5:
Animadversions and Corrections of St. Paul's Epistles, and specially of that sentence, Godliness is great gain; whereas it should be, Gain is great Godliness; as is clearly proved by William Kiffin, Broaker of the Word.
Diva Pecunia, a brief Discourse to prove that there neither is, nor can be any other God which should be adored by the Saints, but the omnipotent Lady Money: by Marchamond Needham, the Devil's half Crown News-Monger.
Id., p. 7 (i.e. 6):
The Saints shall possess the Earth; proving, That it is lawful for the brethren to stab, cut the throats of, or any way make an end of the Wicked of this World, if so be there will thereby any profit accrue to themselves. By the Congregations at Pauls and elsewhere.


Man's Fruits

George Gascoigne (1535-1577), "The Droome of Doomes Day," Complete Works, Vol. II, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1910), p. 221:
O vile unworthinesse of mans estate and condicion, & O unworthy estate of mans vilenesse. Search the trees & the herbes of the Earth, they bringe forthe boughes, leaves, flowers, & fruits. A man bringeth forth nitts, lyse & worms. They distill & powre out, Oyle, Wyne, and Balmes, and a man maketh excrements of spettle, pisse, and ordure. They smell & breathe all swetenesse of smell and pleasauntnesse, whereas man belcheth, breaketh wynde and stincketh, for such as the tree is, such fruites it bringeth forth, and an evil tree can not bring out good fruit.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Dive In

Chrysogonus Waddell (1930-2008), "An Old Man's Tale: My Many Years with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux," A Companion to Bernard of Clairvaux, ed. Brian Patrick McGuire (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 347-368 (at 349):
In point of fact, even now when I'm asked how to begin reading Saint Bernard, I usually say something like this: Dive in somewhere and flounder around a bit; and, with perseverance, you just might latch onto a bit of driftwood that will carry you by degrees to terra firma; and then the great adventure with Saint Bernard can begin.



Thesaurus Aenigmaticus: or, A Collection of the Most Ingenious and Diverting Aenigma's or Riddles (London: John Wilford, 1725), p. 35 (Aenigma XXXVIII):
To all around me Mirth I make, tho seldom spend my Pelf;
And whatso'ere I chance to say, I always shame my self.
I'm usher'd into Company of those of best Degree,
Who all congratulating Bow, when'ere they know 'tis me.
Yet whoso'ere me entertains, turns usually a Sneaker,
Tho' of the Commons House ('tis true) I once was Mr. Speaker.
And tho I'm chose no Member now, I often fill the Chair
But very seldom come into't if th' Speaker be not there.
I live to so great length of Age, I die for want of Breath,
And yet when'ere I hap to die, I sing before my Death.
Answer on p. 70:
A F——t.



Prayers for Peace

Euripides, fragment 453, lines 15-26 (from Cresphontes; tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Peace, with your depths of wealth, fairest of the blessed gods, I pine for you, so long you are in coming; I fear old age may overwhelm me with hardships before I can look upon your graceful beauty, your songs adorned with dancing, your garland-loving revels. Come, mistress, to my city! Ban from our homes the hateful Discord, and raging Strife that delights in whetted iron.

Εἰρήνα βαθύπλουτε καὶ        15
καλλίστα μακάρων θεῶν,
ζῆλός μοι σέθεν ὡς χρονίζεις.
δέδοικα δὲ μὴ πρὶν πόνοις
ὑπερβάλῃ με γῆρας,
πρὶν σὰν χαρίεσσαν προσιδεῖν ὥραν        20
καὶ καλλιχόρους ἀοιδὰς
φιλοστεφάνους τε κώμους.
ἴθι μοι, πότνια, πόλιν.
τὰν δ᾿ ἐχθρὰν Στάσιν εἶργ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἴ-
κων τὰν μαινομέναν τ᾿ Ἔριν        25
θηκτῷ τερπομέναν σιδάρῳ.
Commentary in Annette Harder, Euripides' Kresphontes and Archelaos: Introduction, Text, and Commentary (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985), pp. 102-110. Maria Chiara Martinelli, "Osservazioni metrico-testuali sul Fr. 453 N.2 (= 71 Austin) del Cresfonte di Euripide," Studi Classici e Orientali 37 (May 1988) 165-175, is unavailable to me.

Aristophanes, fragment 111 (from Farmers; tr. Jeffrey Henderson)
Peace deep in wealth and little team of oxen, would it were mine to have an end of the war, and delve and dress the vines, and after a bath to take a pull of the new wine, after a meal of fatted bread and cabbage.

Εἰρήνη βαθύπλουτε καὶ ζευγάριον βοεικόν,
εἰ γὰρ ἐμοὶ παυσαμένῳ τοῦ πολέμου γένοιτο
σκάψαι τ᾿ ἀποκλάσαι τε καὶ λουσαμένῳ διελκύσαι
τῆς τρυγός, ἄρτον λιπαρὸν καὶ ῥάφανον φαγόντι.

Friday, March 10, 2017


Philological Method

William M. Calder III, "How Did Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Read a Text?" Classical Journal 86.4 (April-May, 1991) 344-352 (at 350):
In revolt against the stifling methodology of the Ritschl School Wilamowitz was reluctant to discuss method. His student, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, records that in 1919 he once remarked on philological method:26
Then colleagues Harnack and Roethe come to me and say; "You are in good shape; you have the 'Philological Method.'" Why, this prized "philological method"? There simply isn't any—any more than a method to catch fish. The whale is harpooned; the herring caught in a net; flounders are stomped upon; the salmon speared; the trout caught on a fly. Where do you find the method to catch fish? And hunting? I suppose there is something like method there? Why, ladies and gentlemen, there is a difference between hunting lions and catching fleas.
The famous remark was part in fun. He imitates Ovid on the lack of method in love (AA 1.763-64). But he reveals his practical disgust with endless talk on method. Rather, with Aristotle, sit down and get on with it. One may adduce A.E. Housman's famous comparison of philological method to a dog hunting fleas.27

26 See Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Hellas und Hesperien: Gesammelte Schriften zur Antike und zur neueren Literatur in zwei Bänden, edd. Klaus Bartels, Reinhard Thurow and Ernst Zinn II (Zürich 19702) 606-7, with my note at Rheinisches Museum NF 126 (1983) 191. The simile well reveals Wilamowitz' impatience with tiresome blithering about method.

27 The Classical Papers of A.E. Housman: III 1915-1936, collected and edited by J. Diggle and F.R.D. Goodyear (Cambridge 1972) 1059.

Thursday, March 09, 2017



Aristophanes, Birds 685-687 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Now then, ye men by nature just faintly alive, like to the race of leaves,
do-littles, artefacts of clay, tribes shadowy and feeble,
wingless ephemerals, suffering mortals, dreamlike people...

ἄγε δὴ φύσιν ἄνδρες ἀμαυρόβιοι, φύλλων γενεᾷ προσόμοιοι,
ὀλιγοδρανέες, πλάσματα πηλοῦ, σκιοειδέα φῦλ᾿ ἀμενηνά,
ἀπτῆνες ἐφημέριοι, ταλαοὶ βροτοί, ἀνέρες εἰκελόνειροι...
Nan Dunbar's abridged commentary ad loc.:


The Professors

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
We cannot sufficiently blame the nineteenth century for having favored that breed of glossators, those reading machines, that deformation of the mind incarnated by the Professor — symbol of a civilization's decline, of the corruption of taste, of the supremacy of labor over whim.

To see everything from the outside, to systematize the ineffable, to consider nothing straight on, to inventory the views of others! ... All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null.

There was a time when the professors chose to pursue theology. At least they had the excuse then of professing the absolute, of limiting themselves to God, whereas in our century nothing escapes their lethal competence.

On ne saurait trop blâmer le XIXe siècle d'avoir favorisé cette engeance de glossateurs, ces machines à lire, cette malformation de l'esprit qu'incarne le Professeur, — symbole du déclin d'une civilisation, de l'avilissement du goût, de la suprématie du labeur sur le caprice.

Voir tout de l'extérieur, systématiser l'ineffable, ne regarder rien en face, faire l'inventaire des vues des autres! ... Tout commentaire d'une oeuvre est mauvais ou inutile, car tout ce qui n'est pas direct est nul.

Jadis, les professeurs s'acharnaient de préférence sur la théologie. Du moins avaient-ils l'excuse d'enseigner l'absolu, de s'être limités à Dieu, alors qu'à notre époque, rien n'échappe à leur compétence meurtrière.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017


Blessings of Peace

Aristophanes, fragment 402 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You fool, you fool! All of it's in this life of peace:
to live in the country on his small plot of land,
free of the rat-race of the market,
owning his very own yoke of oxen,
and hearing the bleating of his flocks        5
and the sound of new wine being bottled up,
snacking on little finches and thrushes,
no hanging around the market waiting for smallfry
days old, overpriced, weighed out for him
by a crooked fishmonger with a thumb on the scales.        10

ὦ μῶρε, μῶρε, ταῦτα πάντ᾿ ἐν τῇδ᾿ ἔνι·
οἰκεῖν μὲν ἐν ἀγρῷ τοῦτον ἐν τῷ γηδίῳ
ἀπαλλαγέντα τῶν κατ᾿ ἀγορὰν πραγμάτων,
κεκτημένον ζευγάριον οἰκεῖον βοοῖν,
ἔπειτ᾿ ἀκούειν προβατίων βληχωμένων        5
τρυγός τε φωνὴν εἰς λεκάνην ὠθουμένης,
ὄψῳ δὲ χρῆσθαι σπινιδίοις τε καὶ κίχλαις,
καὶ μὴ περιμένειν ἐξ ἀγορᾶς ἰχθύδια
τριταῖα, πολυτίμητα, βεβασανισμένα
ἐπ᾿ ἰχθυοπώλου χειρὶ παρανομωτάτῃ.        10
Thanks to Joel Eidsath for pointing out a mistake in the Digital Loeb Classical Library version of line 7 (πσινιδίοις for σπινιδίοις):

Poetae Comici Graeci, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin, Vol. III 2: Aristophanes, Testimonia et Fragmenta (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), pp. 220-221:


Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Songs Sung by Gods

Homeric Hymn to Apollo 189-193 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
All the Muses together, voice sweetly answering voice, hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy and the sufferings of men, all that they endure at the hands of the deathless gods, and how they live witless and helpless and cannot find healing for death or defence against old age.

Μοῦσαι μέν θ' ἅμα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ
ὑμνεῦσίν ῥα θεῶν δῶρ' ἄμβροτα ἠδ' ἀνθρώπων
τλημοσύνας, ὅσ' ἔχοντες ὑπ' ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
ζώουσ' ἀφραδέες καὶ ἀμήχανοι, οὐδὲ δύνανται
εὑρέμεναι θανάτοιό τ' ἄκος καὶ γήραος ἄλκαρ.
Homeric Hymn to Hermes 420-433 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
And Phoebus Apollo laughed for joy; for the sweet throb of the marvellous music went to his heart, and a soft longing took hold on his soul as he listened. Then the son of Maia, harping sweetly upon his lyre, took courage and stood at the left hand of Phoebus Apollo; and soon, while he played shrilly on his lyre, he lifted up his voice and sang, and lovely was the sound of his voice that followed. He sang the story of the deathless gods and of the dark earth, how at the first they came to be, and how each one received his portion. First among the gods he honored Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following. And next the goodly son of Zeus hymned the rest of the immortals according to their order in age, and told how each was born, mentioning all in order as he struck the lyre upon his arm.

                      γέλασσε δὲ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων        420
γηθήσας, ἐρατὴ δὲ διὰ φρένας ἤλυθ᾽ ἰωὴ
θεσπεσίης ἐνοπῆς, καὶ μιν γλυκὺς ἵμερος ᾕρει
θυμῷ ἀκουάζοντα. λύρῃ δ᾽ ἐρατὸν κιθαρίζων
στῆ ῥ᾽ ὅ γε θαρσήσας ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ Μαιάδος υἱὸς
Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος, τάχα δὲ λιγέως κιθαρίζων        425
γηρύετ᾽ ἀμβολάδην, ἐρατὴ δέ οἱ ἕσπετο φωνή,
κραίνων ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς καὶ γαῖαν ἐρεμνήν,
ὡς τὰ πρῶτα γένοντο καὶ ὡς λάχε μοῖραν ἕκαστος.
Μνημοσύνην μὲν πρῶτα θεῶν ἐγέραιρεν ἀοιδῇ
μητέρα Μουσάων, ἣ γὰρ λάχε Μαιάδος υἱόν·        430
τοὺς δὲ κατὰ πρέσβιν τε καὶ ὡς γεγάασιν ἕκαστος
ἀθανάτους ἐγέραιρε θεοὺς Διὸς ἀγλαὸς υἱός,
πάντ᾽ ἐνέπων κατὰ κόσμον, ἐπωλένιον κιθαρίζων.


The New Völkerwanderung

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Écartèlement (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
In the Métro, one evening, I looked closely around me: everyone had come from somewhere else ... Among us, though, two or three faces from here, embarrassed silhouettes that seemed to be apologizing for their presence. The same spectacle in London.

Today's migrations are no longer made by compact displacements but by successive infiltrations: little by little, individuals insinuate themselves among the "natives," too anemic and too distinguished to stoop to the notion of a "territory." After a thousand years of vigilance, we open the gates ...

When one thinks of the long rivalries between the French and the English, then between the French and the Germans, it seems as if each nation, by weakening one another, had as its task to speed the hour of the common downfall so that other specimens of humanity may relay them. Like its predecessor, the new Völkerwanderung will provoke an ethnic confusion whose phases cannot be distinctly foreseen. Confronted with these disparate profiles, the notion of a community homogeneous to whatever degree is inconceivable. The very possibility of so heteroclite a crowd suggests that in the space it occupies there no longer existed, among the indigenous, any desire to safeguard even the shadow of an identity. At Rome, in the third century of our era, out of a million inhabitants, only sixty thousand were of Latin stock. Once a people has fulfilled the historical idea which was its mission to incarnate, it no longer has any excuse to preserve its difference, to cherish its singularity, to safeguard its features amid a chaos of faces.

Having governed two hemispheres, the West is now becoming their laughingstock: subtle specters, end of the line in the literal sense, doomed to the status of pariahs, of flabby and faltering slaves, a status which perhaps the Russians will escape, those last White Men. Because they still have some pride, that motor, no, that cause of history. When a nation runs out of pride, when it ceases to regard itself as the reason or excuse for the universe, it excludes itself from becoming.

Dans le métro, un soir, je regardais attentivement autour de moi, nous étions tous venus d'ailleurs ... Parmi nous pourtant, deux ou trois figures d'ici, silhouettes embarrassées qui avaient l'air de demander pardon d'être là. Le même spectacle à Londres.

Les migrations, aujourd'hui, ne se font plus par déplacements compacts mais par infiltrations successives: on s'insinue petit à petit parmi les «indigènes», trop exsangues et trop distingués pour s'abaisser à l'idée d'un «territoire». Après mille ans de vigilance, on ouvre les portes ...

Quand on songe aux longues rivalités entre Français et Anglais, puis entre Français et Allemands, on dirait qu'eux tous, en s'affaiblissement réciproquement, n'avaient pour tâche que de hâter l'heure de la déconfiture commune afin que d'autres spécimens d'humanité viennent prendre la relève. De même que l'ancienne, la nouvelle Völkerwanderung suscitera une confusion ethnique dont on ne peut prévoir nettement les phases. Devant ces gueules si disparates, l'idée d'une communauté tant soit peu homogène est inconcevable. La possibilité même d'une multitude si hétéroclite suggère que dans l'espace qu'elle occupe n'existait plus, chez les autochtones, le désir de sauvegarder ne fût-ce que l'ombre d'une identité. A Rome, au IIIeme siècle de notre ère, sur un million d'habitants, soixante mille seulement auraient été des Latins de souche. Dès qu'un peuple a mené à bien l'idée historique qu'il avait la mission d'incarner, il n'a plus aucun motif de préserver sa différence, de soigner sa singularité, de sauvegarder ses traits au milieu d'un chaos de visages.

Après avoir régenté les deux hémisphères, les Occidentaux sont en passe d'en devenir la risée: des spectres subtils, des fin de race au sens propre du terme, voués à une condition de parias, d'esclaves défaillants et flasques, à laquelle échapperont peut-être les Russes, ces derniers Blancs. C'est qu'ils ont encore de l'orgueil, ce moteur, non, cette cause de l'histoire. Quand une nation n'en possède plus, et qu'elle cesse de s'estimer la raison ou l'excuse de l'univers, elle s'exclut elle-même du devenir.



S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon (New York: Scribner, 2010), p. 51:
The Comanche male was thus gloriously, astoundingly free. He was subject to no church, no organized religion, no priest class, no military societies, no state, no police, no public law, no domineering clans or powerful families, no strict rules of personal behavior, nothing telling him he could not leave his band and join another one, nothing even telling him he could not abscond with his friend's wife, though he certainly would end up paying somewhere between one and ten horses for that indulgence, assuming he was caught. He was free to organize his own military raids; free to come and go as he pleased.

Some observations on Comanche naming practices, from the same book, the first on p. 92:
Buffalo Hump had one of those Comanche names—there were a large number of them—that the prudish whites could not quite bring themselves to translate. His Nermernuh name, properly transliterated, was Po-cha-na-quar-hip, which meant "erection that won't go down."
Id., p. 104:
She [the captive Bianca "Banc" Babb] lost control of her bowels while on the back of the horse, and thus acquired her unfortunate Indian name: “Smells Bad When You Walk."

On books used as protection against gunshots (id., p. 175, with endnote on p. 333):
According to [Charles] Goodnight, Comanche shields, made of two layers of the toughest rawhide from the neck of a buffalo and hardened in fire, were almost invulnerable to bullets when stuffed with paper. When Comanches robbed houses, they invariably took all the books they could find.8

8 Marshall Doyle, A Cry Unheard, p. 35; see also Haley, p. 53.
The references are to the following:
Related posts:
These stories of protection against bullets interest me—my uncle was saved by his mess-kit in this way.

Monday, March 06, 2017


The Epoch When Men Hated the Most

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Le mauvais démiurge (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
A man interested in the procession of ideas and of irreducible beliefs will find it worth his while to pause over the spectacle afforded by the first centuries of our era: here he will discover the very model of all the forms of conflict to be met with, in attenuated form, at any moment of history. Quite understandably: this is the epoch when men hated the most. For which the credit goes to the Christians, feverish, intractable, from the start expert in the art of detestation; whereas the pagans could no longer manage anything but scorn. Aggression is a trait common to men and new gods.

If some monster of amenity, ignorant of spleen, nonetheless wanted to become versed in that subject, or at least to learn what it is worth, the simplest method would be for him to read some ecclesiastical authors, beginning with Tertullian, the most brilliant of all, and ending, say, with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, rancorous yet insipid, whose oration against Julian the Apostate makes you feel like converting then and there to paganism. The emperor is conceded no virtues whatever; with unconcealed satisfaction, his heroic death in the Persian War is contested, for Gregory claims he was despatched by "a barbarian who was a buffoon by trade, following the armies in order to divert the soldiers from the hardships of war by his gibes and witticisms." No elegance, no concern to appear worthy of such an adversary. What is unforgivable in the saint's case is that he had known Julian at Athens, in the days when the two young men had frequented the philosophical schools there.

Nothing more odious than the tone of those who are defending a cause, one compromised in appearance, winning in fact; who cannot contain their delight at the idea of their triumph nor help turning their very terrors into so many threats. When Tertullian, sardonic and trembling, describes the Last Judgment, "the greatest of spectacles," as he calls it, he imagines the laugh he will have contemplating so many monarchs and gods "uttering dreadful groans in the depths of the abyss...." This insistence upon reminding the pagans that they were lost, they and their idols, was liable to exasperate even the most temperate. A series of libels camouflaged as treatises, Christian apologetics represents the acme of the bilious genre.

Qui s'intéresse au défilé d'idées et de croyances irréductibles, devrait bien s'arrêter au spectacle qu'offrent les premiers siècles de notre ère: il y trouverait le modèle même de toutes les formes de conflit que l'on rencontre, sous une forme atténuée, à n'importe quel moment de l'histoire. Cela se comprend: c'est l'époque où l'on a haï le plus. Le mérite en revient aux chrétiens, fébriles, intraitables, d'emblée experts dans l'art de la détestation, alors que les païens ne savaient plus manier que le mépris. L'agressivité est un trait commun aux hommes et aux dieux nouveaux.

Si un monstre d'aménité, ignorant la hargne, voulait cependant l'apprendre, ou savoir tout au moins ce qu'elle vaut, le plus simple pour lui serait de lire quelques auteurs ecclésiastiques, en commençant par Tertullien, le plus brillant de tous et en finissant, mettons, par saint Grégoire de Nazianze, fielleux et cependant insipide, et dont le discours contre Julien l'Apostat vous donne l'envie de vous convertir sur-le-champ au paganisme. Aucune qualité n'y est reconnue à l'empereur; avec une satisfaction non dissimulée on y conteste sa mort héroïque dans la guerre contre les Perses, où il aurait été tué par «un barbare qui faisait le métier de bouffon et qui suivait l'armée pour faire oublier aux soldats les fatigues de la guerre par ses saillies et ses bons mots». Nulle élégance, nul souci de paraître digne d'un tel adversaire. Ce qui est impardonnable dans le cas du saint, c'est qu'il avait connu Julien à Athènes, du temps que, jeunes, ils y fréquentaient les écoles philosophiques.

Rien de plus odieux que le ton de ceux qui défendent une cause, compromise en apparence, gagnante en fait, qui ne peuvent contenir leur joie à l'idée de leur triomphe ni s'empêcher de tourner leurs effrois mêmes en autant de menaces. Quand Tertullien, sardonique et tremblant, décrit le Jugement dernier, le plus grand des spectacles, comme il l'appelle, il imagine le rire qu'il aura en contemplant tant de monarques et de dieux «poussant d'affreux gémissements dans le plus profond de l'abîme....» Cette insistance à rappeler aux païens qu'ils étaient perdus, eux et leurs idoles, avait de quoi exaspérer même les esprits les plus modérés. Suite de libelles camouflés en traités, l'apologétique chrétienne représente le summum du genre bilieux.


Investing Trees with Human Attributes

Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp. 220-223 (endnotes omitted):
So close was the relationship of trees to human society that their treatment, like that of horses or children, fluctuated according to changing educational fashion. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries infants were swaddled; and it was widely held that most children would need to be beaten and repressed. Timber trees, correspondingly, were to be pollarded (i.e. beheaded), lopped or shredded (by cutting off the side branches). Hedges had to be regularly laid and trimmed; each county had its own distinctive way of doing so. The trees preserved for ornament were brought severely under human control by gardeners who clipped, pruned and manicured them, even working them into artificial shapes. Yews and privet, particularly in the later seventeenth century, were trimmed into cones, pyramids, birds, animals and human figures. Limes were pleached to form long walls of interlocking branches. In avenues it was customary to lop all the branches off, leaving only a tuft or crown at the top. Fruit trees were splayed out, espalier-fashion, against the garden wall. There were utilitarian reasons for many of these practices, but they were also seen as a kind of moral discipline: 'The luxuriancy and vigour of most healthful trees,' declared John Laurence in 1726, 'is like the extravagant sallies of youth, who are apt to live too fast, if not kept within due bounds and restrained by seasonable corrections.' Regular pruning kept 'all in order, which would otherwise be perfect anarchy and confusion'.

In the eighteenth century, when educational theories became less repressive, the cultivation of trees moved from regimentation to spontaneity. There was a reaction against 'mutilating' trees or carving them into 'unnatural' shapes. Topiary went out of fashion in the reign of Anne. Pollarding was attacked by Moses Cook in 1675: 'I wish there were as strict a law as could be made to punish those that presume to behead an oak, the king of woods, though it be on their own land.' Such mutilation did not merely harm the timber, it was also a distasteful form of violation; and the practice went into decline during the eighteenth century. In the same period the East Anglian habit of shaving trees to leave only a tuft on the top was strongly condemned by Arthur Young, while in 1808 William Mavor denounced the 'vile custom' of lopping or shredding hedgerow elms. In 1790 John Byng attacked what he called the 'savage' Midland practice of barking oaks before they were felled; he compared it to flaying the tree alive. To the aesthete William Gilpin even clipped hedges were unpicturesque. A certain irregularity and wildness of appearance in a hedge, agreed the Scottish poet James Grahame, was more pleasing than a uniform trimness. The tree's free growth symbolized the Englishman's freedom more generally. 'Everyone who has the least pretension to taste,' wrote Alexander Hunter in 1776, 'must always prefer a tree in its natural growth.' In Russia the first action of Catherine II on reading an English book on the 'natural' style of gardening was to forbid any more clipping of trees in the imperial gardens. This was the spirit which would, in due course, lead to the abandonment of swaddling clothes for infants, wigs for men and, for a time, corsets for women, on the grounds that they were unnatural and unspontaneous. In England it even became temporarily unfashionable to remove the bark from felled timber. From the 1750s there was a vogue for the so-called 'rustic' style, with huts, seats and gates made out of undressed branches (like names of modern suburban houses painted on slices of imitation tree-trunk).

Finally, there were people who alleged, as Thomas Tryon reported in 1691, that 'Trees suffer pains when cut down, even as the beasts and animals do when they are killed'. There had always been a good deal of anthropomorphic talk in the gardening books about what conditions trees 'loved' or 'hated'; and in fruit-growing areas it was common to wassail trees by singing, firing guns and offering libations. 'Men must learn to discourse with fruit trees, having learned to understand their language,' thought Ralph Austen, a leading seventeenth-century authority on the subject. In 1653 Margaret Cavendish published a dialogue in which an oak complains to the woodman of being tortured: 'You do peel my bark, and flay my skin, chop off my limbs.' When an oak was felled, reported John Aubrey, it gave 'a kind of shriek or groan that may be heard a mile off, as if it were the genius of the oak lamenting. E. Wyld, Esq., hath heard it several times.' And if that be thought typical of the credulous Aubrey, here, over a hundred years later, is John Constable commenting on a drawing of an ash tree:
"Many of my Hampstead friends may remember this young lady at the entrance to the village. Her fate was distressing, for it is scarcely too much to say that she died of a broken heart. I made this drawing when she was in full health and beauty; on passing some time afterwards, I saw, to my grief, that a wretched board had been nailed to her side, on which was written in large letters, ‘All vagrants and beggars will be dealt with according to law’. The tree seemed to have felt the disgrace, for even then some of the top branches had withered. Two long spike nails had been driven far into her side. In another year one half became paralysed, and not long after the other shared the same fate, and this beautiful creature was cut down into a stump, just high enough to hold the board."
It is not a long step from this to placing conservation orders on trees, in accordance with the view proclaimed by William Morris in 1884 that no one should be allowed 'to cut down for mere profit trees whose loss would spoil a landscape'. Indeed John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, a prominent Scottish landlord (1736-1814), had already declared that 'a noble tree is in some measure a matter of public concern; nor ought its proprietor to be allowed wantonly to strip his country of its fairest ornament.' In 1821 Wordsworth's friend Sir George Beaumont, when travelling in Italy, even bought a pine tree on the skyline at Monte Mario, so as to prevent the local Italians from felling it.

In this now familiar movement to preserve trees, regardless of the economic consequences, we can see many ingredients: planning considerations, a desire for amenity and a feeling that trees were intrinsically beautiful played an obvious part. But people also wanted trees preserved not just for the sake of their appearance, but because of what they stood for. They cherished their associations, their antiquity, their link with the past. A hankering for continuity, a bid for family immortality and a tendency to invest trees with human attributes were all important. Just as men cherished household pets because they were projections of themselves, so they preserved domestic trees, because they represented individuals, families and, in the case of the British oak, the nation itself. Durkheim may have been wrong when he suggested that when men worshipped God they were really worshipping society. But he would have been very near the truth if he had said it about the worship of trees.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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