Sunday, April 30, 2017



Pliny, Natural History 7.1.1-5 (tr. Horace Rackham):
[1] The first place will rightly be assigned to man, for whose sake great Nature appears to have created all other things—though she asks a cruel price for all her generous gifts, making it hardly possible to judge whether she has been more a kind parent to man or more a harsh stepmother.
[2] First of all, man alone of all animals she drapes with borrowed resources. On all the rest in various wise she bestows coverings—shells, bark, spines, hides, fur, bristles, hair, down, feathers, scales, fleeces; even the trunks of trees she has protected against cold and heat by bark, sometimes in two layers: but man alone on the day of his birth she casts away naked on the naked ground, to burst at once into wailing and weeping, and none other among all the animals is more prone to tears, and that immediately at the very beginning of life; whereas, I vow, the much-talked-of smile of infancy even at the earliest is bestowed on no child less than six weeks old.
[3] This initiation into the light is followed by a period of bondage such as befalls not even the animals bred in our midst, fettering all his limbs; and thus when successfully born he lies with hands and feet in shackles, weeping—the animal that is to lord it over all the rest, and he initiates his life with punishment because of one fault only, the offence of being born. Alas the madness of those who think that from these beginnings they were bred to proud estate!
[4] His earliest promise of strength and first grant of time makes him like a four-footed animal. When does man begin to walk? when to speak? when is his mouth firm enough to take food? how long does his skull throb, a mark of his being the weakest among all animals? Then his diseases, and all the cures contrived against his ills—these cures also subsequently defeated by new disorders! And the fact that all other creatures are aware of their own nature, some using speed, others swift flight, others swimming, whereas man alone knows nothing save by education—neither how to speak nor how to walk nor how to eat; in short the only thing he can do by natural instinct is to weep! Consequently there have been many who believed that it were best not to be born, or to be put away as soon as possible.
[5] On man alone of living creatures is bestowed grief, on him alone luxury, and that in countless forms and reaching every separate part of his frame; he alone has ambition, avarice, immeasurable appetite for life, superstition, anxiety about burial and even about what will happen after he is no more. No creature's life is more precarious, none has a greater lust for all enjoyments, a more confused timidity, a fiercer rage. In fine, all other living creatures pass their time worthily among their own species: we see them herd together and stand firm against other kinds of animals—fierce lions do not fight among themselves, the serpent's bite attacks not serpents, even the monsters of the sea and the fishes are only cruel against different species; whereas to man, I vow, most of his evils come from his fellow-man.

[1] principium iure tribuetur homini, cuius causa videtur cuncta alia genuisse natura magna, saeva mercede contra tanta sua munera, ut non sit satis aestimare, parens melior homini an tristior noverca fuerit.
[2] ante omnia unum animantium cunctorum alienis velat opibus, ceteris varie tegimenta tribuit, testas, cortices, spinas, coria, villos, saetas, pilos, plumam, pinnas, squamas, vellera; truncos etiam arboresque cortice, interdum gemino, a frigoribus et calore tutata est: hominem tantum nudum et in nuda humo natali die abicit ad vagitus statim et ploratum, nullumque tot animalium aliud pronius ad lacrimas, et has protinus vitae principio; at Hercule risus praecox ille et celerrimus ante XL diem nulli datur.
[3] ab hoc lucis rudimento quae ne feras quidem inter nos genitas vincula excipiunt et omnium membrorum nexus; itaque feliciter natus iacet manibus pedibusque devinctis flens, animal ceteris imperaturum, et a suppliciis vitam auspicatur unam tantum ob culpam, quia natum est. heu dementiam ab his initiis existimantium ad superbiam se genitos!
[4] prima roboris spes primumque temporis munus quadripedi similem facit. quando homini incessus! quando vox! quando firmum cibis os! quam diu palpitans vertex, summae inter cuncta animalia inbecillitatis indicium! iam morbi, totque medicinae contra mala excogitatae, et hae quoque subinde novitatibus victae! et cetera sentire naturam suam. alia pernicitatem usurpare, alia praepetes volatus, alia nare: hominem nihil scire nisi doctrina, non fari, non ingredi, non vesci, breviterque non aliud naturae sponte quam flere! itaque multi extitere qui non nasci optimum censerent aut quam ocissime aboleri.
[5] uni animantium luctus est datus, uni luxuria et quidem innumerabilibus modis ac per singula membra, uni ambitio, uni avaritia, uni inmensa vivendi cupido, uni superstitio, uni sepulturae cura atque etiam post se de futuro. nulli vita fragilior, nulli rerum omnium libido maior, nulli pavor confusior, nulli rabies acrior. denique cetera animantia in suo genere probe degunt: congregari videmus et stare contra dissimilia—leonum feritas inter se non dimicat, serpentium morsus non petit serpentis, ne maris quidem beluae ac pisces nisi in diversa genera saeviunt: at Hercule homini plurima ex homine sunt mala.
I corrected "who to eat" to "how to eat" in section 4. The mistake persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library.

Commentary in Mary Beagon, The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal: Natural History, Book 7 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp. 108-116.


Saturday, April 29, 2017


Uplifters and Reformers

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 84, § 113:
Uplifters of all sorts spend their time cadging money from A to save the so-called underprivileged B. Once they settle down to their business the cadging of this money becomes an end in itself, and they'd keep on doing it even if all the underprivileged were succored. Even setting aside considerations of their private profit, it must be manifest that they are moved largely by mere professional zeal. Every quack always ends by convincing himself that his quackery is a boon to humanity. It is impossible to convince any given uplifter that the world would still go on if his graft were abolished.
Id., pp. 113-115, § 156:
Of all varieties of men, the one who is least comprehensible to me is the fellow who immolates himself upon the altar of what he conceives to be the public interest—in other words, the reformer, the uplifter, the man, so-called, of public spirit. What I am chiefly unable to understand is his oafish certainty that he is right—his almost pathological inability to grasp the notion that, after all, he may be wrong. As for me, I am never absolutely certain that I am right, and for the plain reason that I am never absolutely certain that anything is true. It may seem to me to be true, and I may be quite unable to imagine any proof of its falsity—but that is simply saying that my imagination is limited, not that the proposition itself is immovably sound. Some other man, better born than I was or drinking better liquor, may disprove it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then day after tomorrow, or maybe next week, or next year. I know of no so-called truth that quite escapes this possibility. Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one.

But even if the truth were not wobbly I should still hesitate a long while before sacrificing any of my comfort or security to it. The man who does so seems to me to be one who deceives himself doubly. First, as I have noted, he convinces himself that he cannot be wrong, which is nonsense. And then he convinces himself that he is disinterested, which is also nonsense. Actually altruism simply does not exist on earth, at least in our present glorious age. Even the most devoted nun, laboring all her life in the hospitals, is sustained by the promise of a stupendous reward—in brief, billions of centuries of undescribable bliss for a few years of unpleasant but certainly not unendurable drudgery and privation. What passes for altruism among lesser practitioners is even less praiseworthy; in most cases, indeed, it is only too obviously selfish and even hoggish. In the case of the American reformer, in his average incarnation, the motive seldom gets beyond the yearning for power, the desire to boss things, the itch to annoy his neighbors. If they really wanted to be saved from their iniquities he would let them alone; if they bawled to give up their money he would not press them for it; if they did not flee him he would not pursue them. Well, this happens to be a motive that burns in my own breast very feebly, so I am not a reformer. Like all other men, of course, I pant for power—but not the power to afflict and dominate a rabble of my inferiors. I have had the job, in the past, of bossing them, but it gave me no joy, and I got rid of it as soon as possible. Thus I lack altogether the messianic hankering, and to that extent must remain a bad American. When people seem to me to be immersed in error and sin, I can discover no impulse to save them, but only a gentle hope that their follies will soon translate them to bliss eternal, and I'll be rid of the nuisance of their presence.



Xenophon, Hellenica 4.1.35 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
And being free is worth, in my opinion, as much as all manner of possessions.

καίτοι ἐλεύθερον εἶναι ἐγὼ μὲν οἶμαι ἀντάξιον εἶναι τῶν πάντων χρημάτων.
Xenophon, Anabasis 1.7.3 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
For you may be certain that freedom is the thing I should choose in preference to all that I have and many times more.

εὖ γὰρ ἴστε ὅτι τὴν ἐλευθερίαν ἑλοίμην ἂν ἀντὶ ὧν ἔχω πάντων καὶ ἄλλων πολλαπλασίων.
Cf. H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 123, § 170:
The thirst for liberty does not seem to be natural to man. Most people want security in this world, not liberty. Liberty puts them on their own, and so exposes them to the natural consequences of their congenital stupidity and incompetence. Historically, it has always been forced upon the masses from above. Whenever they have formulated demands of their own, it has been demands for privileges, not for liberty.


Grounds for Hope

Xenophon, Hellenica 3.4.18 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
For where men reverence the gods, train themselves in deeds of war, and practise obedience to authority, may we not reasonably suppose that such a place abounds in high hopes?

ὅπου γὰρ ἄνδρες θεοὺς μὲν σέβοιντο, τὰ δὲ πολεμικὰ ἀσκοῖεν, πειθαρχεῖν δὲ μελετῷεν, πῶς οὐκ εἰκὸς ἐνταῦθα πάντα μεστὰ ἐλπίδων ἀγαθῶν εἶναι;

Friday, April 28, 2017


Dedication of a Grammar Book

Rev. John B. Tabb (1845-1909), Bone Rules; or, Skeleton of English Grammar (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1901):

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Adam's Library

Isaac Disraeli (1766-1848), Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1824), p. 17:
The Irish antiquaries mention public libraries that were before the flood; and Paul Christian Ilsker, with profounder erudition, has given an exact catalogue of Adam's.
Paul Christian Ilsker is really Paul Christian Hilscher (1666-1730), and the work is De Bibliotheca Adami Schediasma (Dresden: Johann Michael Funcke, 1703), which is not a serious catalogue of Adam's books, but rather a list of what various scholars claimed to be books owned, read, or written by Adam. Hilscher's own low opinion of these scholars is evident throughout and especially when (on p. 12) he quotes Horace, Satires 1.5.100 (Credat Iudaeus Apella).

Related post: Books and Felicity.



David Whitehead, The Ideology of the Athenian Metic (Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1977), p. 7:
At all events, while an adequate translation of metoikos may elude us, its flavour is better captured by 'immigrant' than by such tired translationese as 'resident alien', which makes no attempt to come to grips with the word itself.


Libera Nos, Domine

Owen Hatteras (i.e. H.L. Mencken), "Petition," The Smart Set 36.2 (April, 1912) 157:
From pale parsons with translucent ears and from little girls who speak pieces; from the scent of tuberoses and from medicated lingerie; from dinner invitations from friends who have wives who have sisters who have no living husbands; from tight collars and from "No Smoking" signs; from elderly ladies who have sure cures for toothache, and from barbers with perfumed fingers; from the nocturnes of Chopin, and from the New Thought; from persons who pasture their children in the hallways of hotels, and from postage-due stamps; from the harsh cacophony of liquorish snoring, and from imitation mahogany furniture; from professional G.A.R. men, and from squeaky piano pedals; from adult males who wear diamonds, and from all high functionaries in fraternal orders; from bier-fisch, and from loose rugs on hardwood floors; from obscene novels by lady novelists, and from eczema; from grass butter, and from detachable cuffs; from fat women who loll grotesquely in automobiles, and from theater orchestras; from female bachelors of arts and from drizzly Sundays; from Fletcherism and from actors who speak of their "art;" from transcendentalism and from delirium tremens; from the Declaration of Independence and from cold dinner plates; from the key of B flat minor and from the struggle for existence; from pedants who denounce split infinitives, and from chemical purity; from canned book reviews and from German adverbs; from basso-profundos with prominent Adam's apples, and from platitudes; from Asiatic cholera and from the Harvardocentric theory of the universe—good Lord, deliver us!
Compose your own petition to fit the present day.


Call for an End to Civil Strife

Alcaeus, fragment 70, lines 9-12 (tr. David A. Campbell, with his Greek text and apparatus):
... and may we forget this anger; and let us relax from the heart-eating strife and civil warring, which one of the Olympians has aroused among us, leading the people to ruin ...

... ἐκ δὲ χόλω τῶδε λαθοίμεθ . . [·
χαλάσσομεν δὲ τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας
ἐμφύλω τε μάχας, τάν τις Ὀλυμπίων
ἔνωρσε, δᾶμον μὲν εἰς ἀυάταν ἄγων ...

9 λαθώμεθ᾿ Wilamowitz fort. -μεθ᾿ αὖ Lobel
The same, tr. M.L. West:
                          Let's put rage out of mind,
and let's wind down this spirit-gnawing strife
of kith and kin that some Olympian's roused,
bringing the people to calamity ...
Elementary notes to aid my feeble understanding (I don't have access to a commentary):
ἐκ ... λαθοίμεθ: tmesis for middle optative of ἐκλανθάνω (forget utterly, with genitive)
χόλω τῶδε: Aeolic for Attic χόλου τοῦδε
τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας: Aeolic for Attic τῆς θυμοβόρου λύης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν (LSJ s.v. χαλάω, sense II: have a remission of)
ἐμφύλω ... μάχας: Aeolic for Attic ἐμφύλου ... μάχης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν
ἀυάταν: Aeolic for Attic ἄτην

Wednesday, April 26, 2017



[Lucian,] Loves 27 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
For, generally speaking, unlike irrational animals we do not find solitary existences acceptable, but we are linked by a sociable fellowship and consider blessings sweeter and hardships lighter when shared. Hence was instituted the table that is shared, and, setting before us the board that is the mediator of friendship, we mete out to our bellies the enjoyment due to them, not drinking Thasian wine, for example, by ourselves, or stuffing ourselves with expensive dishes on our own, but each man thinks pleasant what he enjoys along with another, and in sharing our pleasures we find greater enjoyment.

σχεδὸν γὰρ οὐ κατὰ ταὐτὰ τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις τὰς μονήρεις διατριβὰς ἀσμενίζομεν, ἀλλά πως φιλεταίρῳ κοινωνίᾳ συζυγέντες ἡδίω τά τε ἀγαθὰ σὺν ἀλλήλοις ἡγούμεθα καὶ τὰ δυσχερῆ κουφότερα μετ᾿ ἀλλήλων. ὅθεν εὑρέθη τράπεζα κοινή· καὶ φιλίας μεσῖτιν ἑστίαν παραθέμενοι γαστρὶ τὴν ὀφειλομένην ἀπομετροῦμεν ἀπόλαυσιν, οὐ μόνοι τὸν Θάσιον, εἰ τύχοι, πίνοντες οἶνον οὐδὲ καθ᾿ αὑτοὺς τῶν πολυτελῶν πιμπλάμενοι σιτίων, ἀλλὰ δοκεῖ περπνὸν ἑκάστῳ τὸ μετ᾿ ἄλλου, καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς κοινωσάμενοι μᾶλλον εὐφραινόμεθα.
Related posts:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Inferiority Complex

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Ralph the Heir, chapter XVI:
With all his scorn for gentry, Ontario Moggs in his heart feared a gentleman. He thought that he could make an effort to punch Ralph Newton's head if they two were ever to be brought together in a spot convenient for such an operation; but of the man's standing in the world, he was afraid. It seemed to him to be impossible that Polly should prefer him, or any one of his class, to a suitor whose hands were always clean, whose shirt was always white, whose words were soft and well-chosen, who carried with him none of the stain of work. Moggs was as true as steel in his genuine love of Labour,—of Labour with a great L,—of the People with a great P,—of Trade with a great T,—of Commerce with a great C; but of himself individually,—of himself, who was a man of the people, and a tradesman, he thought very little when he compared himself to a gentleman. He could not speak as they spoke; he could not walk as they walked; he could not eat as they ate. There was a divinity about a gentleman which he envied and hated.



Solon, fragment 23 West = Theognis 1253-1254 (tr. Ivan M. Linforth):
Happy is he who hath children dear and horses of uncloven hoof
and dogs for the chase and a friend to receive him in a foreign land.

ὄλβιος, ᾧ παῖδές τε φίλοι καὶ μώνυχες ἵπποι
    καὶ κύνες ἀγρευταὶ καὶ ξένος ἀλλοδαπός.
Others interpret παῖδες sensu erotico as boys. See Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1919), pp. 175-178, and Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi, Solon the Athenian, the Poetic Fragments (Leiden; Brill, 2010), pp. 343-346. A friend in a foreign land is useful in case one is exiled.

Related post: Recipes for Happiness.


Superior to Any Commentary

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, tr. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. x:
I have chosen to quote the Meditations abundantly. I hate those monographs which, instead of letting the author speak and staying close to the text, engage in obscure elucubrations which claim to carry out an act of decoding and reveal the "unsaid" of the thinker, without the reader's having the slightest idea of what that thinker really "said." Such a method unfortunately permits all kinds of deformations, distortions, and sleight of hand. Our era is captivating for all kinds of reasons: too often, however, from the philosophical and literary point of view, it could be defined as the era of the misinterpretation, if not of the pun: people can, it seems, say anything about anything. When I quote Marcus Aurelius, I want my reader to make contact with the text itself, which is superior to any commentary. I would like him to see how my interpretation tries to base itself on the text, and that he can verify my affirmations directly and immediately.


How Can Man Die Better?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), "Horatius. A Lay Made about the Year of the City CCCLX," stanza 28, Lays of Ancient Rome:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods...
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), "Last Words On Translating Homer":
But Lord Macaulay's
Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The captain of the gate:
'To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.' ...
(and here, since I have been reproached with undervaluing Lord Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, let me frankly say that, to my mind, a man's power to detect the ring of false metal in those Lays is a good measure of his fitness to give an opinion about poetical matters at all)—I say, Lord Macaulay's
To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late,
it is hard to read without a cry of pain.
Cf. Arnold's "On Translating Homer," Lecture II: continual falsetto, like the pinchbeck Roman Ballads of Lord Macaulay...
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), Studies in Literature: Third Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p. 191
Or we may take Macaulay's Lays. Matthew Arnold was utterly wrong in suggesting that these encourage bad taste, or that a liking for them supposes bad taste. So far as they go the Lays are sound, sane, clean as a whistle; and it is a poor game, anyhow, to discourage a boy's thrill over Horatius at the bridgehead and teach him to feel like a little prig...

Monday, April 24, 2017


All the Necessary Ingredients for a Political Career

Aristophanes, Knights 217-219 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You've got everything else a demagogue needs:
a repulsive voice, low birth, marketplace morals—
you've got all the ingredients for a political career.

τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα σοι πρόσεστι δημαγωγικά,
φωνὴ μιαρά, γέγονας κακῶς, ἀγοραῖος εἶ·
ἔχεις ἅπαντα πρὸς πολιτείαν ἃ δεῖ.


If I Could Only Read

H.L. Mencken, after suffering a stroke, to his brother, quoted in Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 320:
"If I could only read," he would say to August. "The rest of it doesn't matter. But if I could just read I'd be the happiest man in the world."
The source (from p. 386) is Robert Allen Durr, "The Last Days of H.L. Mencken," Yale Review (Autumn, 1958), which is unavailable to me.


Philosophy and the Teaching of Philosophy

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, tr. Michael Chase (1995; rpt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), pp. 278-279:
The idea of a conflict between philosophy and the teaching of philosophy goes back to my youth. I think I came across it in Charles Péguy, who said: "Philosophy doesn't go to philosophy classes," and certainly in Jacques Maritain, who wrote: "Thomist metaphysics is called 'Scholastic' after its most severe trial. Scholastic pedagogy is its own worst enemy: it always has to triumph over its intimate adversary, the professor." Ever since I started doing philosophy, I've always believed that philosophy was a concrete act, which changed our perception of the world, and our life: not the construction of a system. It is a life, not a discourse.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


So-Called News

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), pp. 73-74, § 94:
Much more than half of the matter the American newspapers print every day is interesting only to relatively small minorities, and it is thus no wonder that the average reader reads only a small part, and falls into the mental habit of taking that small part lightly. The more reflective reader goes further: he reads next to nothing, and believes the same amount precisely. Why should he read or believe more? Every time he alights upon anything that impinges upon his own field of knowledge he discovers at once that it is inaccurate and puerile. The essential difficulty here is that journalism, to be intellectually respectable, requires a kind of equipment in its practitioner that is necessarily rare in the world, and especially rare in a country given over to the superficial. He should have the widest conceivable range of knowledge, and he should be the sort of man who is not easily deluded by the specious and the fraudulent. Obviously, there are not enough such men to go round. The best newspaper, if it is lucky, may be able to muster half a dozen at a given moment, but the average newspaper seldom has even one. Thus American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominantly paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous, but its achievements are insignificant.

Even at its fundamental business of ascertaining and reporting what has happened in the world it fails miserably. Four-fifths of the so-called news it prints is dubious, and a very large proportion is downright false. Whenever a fraud with something to sell is afoot, whether in war or in peace, the great majority of journalists succumb to his blather very easily, for second- and third-rate men are always willing to follow anyone who has a loud voice, a cocksure manner, and a resilient conscience.


An Old Chinese Custom

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VI (tr. Richard Howard):
In ancient China, women suffering from anger or grief would climb onto platforms specially constructed for them in the street, and there would give free rein to their fury or their lamentations. Such confessionals should be revived and adopted the world over, if only to replace the obsolete ones of the Church, or the ineffectual ones of various therapeutics.

Dans l'ancienne Chine, les femmes, lorsqu'elles étaient en proie à la colère ou au chagrin, montaient sur de petites estrades, dressées spécialement pour elles dans la rue, et y donnaient libre cours à leur fureur ou à leurs lamentations. Ce genre de confessionnal devrait être ressuscité et adopté un peu partout, ne fût-ce que pour remplacer celui, désuet, de l'Église, ou celui, inopérant, de telle ou telle thérapeutique.
Not just for women, but for men, too.


Stop Bickering

[Lucian,] Loves 17 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
This occasioned much snarling argument, till I put an end to the confusion and uproar by saying, "Friends, you must keep to orderly enquiry, as is the proper habit of educated people. You must therefore make an end of this disorderly, inconclusive contentiousness and each in turn exert yourself to defend your own opinion..."

πολλῶν οὖν ἀκρίτων ἀφυλακτουμένων λόγων τὸν συμμιγῆ καταπαύσας ἐγὼ θόρυβον, Ἄνδρες, εἶπον, ἑταῖροι, τῆς κατὰ κόσμον ἔχεσθε ζητήσεως, ὡς εὐπρεπὴς νόμος ἐστὶν παιδείας. ἀπαλλαγέντες οὖν τῆς ἀτάκτου καὶ πέρας οὐδὲν ἐχούσης φιλονεικίας ἐν μέρει ὑπὲρ τῆς αὐτὸς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἑκάτερος ἀποτείνασθε...


A Pervasive Despair

Mary R. Lefkowitz, The Victory Ode: An Introduction (Park Ridge: Noyes Press, 1976), "Preface" (no page number):
Anyone who tries to read the odes of Pindar and Bacchylides in the original Greek experiences at first a pervasive despair. Memorable words and phrases strike the ear; the narration of a myth intrigues; but the satisfaction of being able to understand another language and another's process of thought that draws us to the study of antiquity remains tantalizingly unattainable.

Much of the trouble derives from the way we go about reading this difficult literature, armed with dictionaries, surrounded by commentaries and translations.
Id., p. 3:
[N]ot even experienced classicists can comfortably read Pindar and Bacchylides at "sight"...
Related post: Difficulty of Pindar.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


The Desire to Know

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Écartèlement (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning how to play a new tune on the flute. "What will be the use of that?" he was asked. "To know this tune before dying."

If I dare repeat this reply long since trivialized by the handbooks, it is because it seems to me the sole serious justification of any desire to know, whether exercised on the brink of death or at any other moment of existence.

Alors qu'on préparait la ciguë, Socrate était en train d'apprendre un air de flûte. "À quoi bon cela te servira-t-il?" lui demande-t-on. — "À savoir cet air avant de mourir."

Si j'ose rappeler cette réponse trivialisée par les manuels, c'est parce qu'elle me paraît l'unique justification sérieuse de toute volonté de connaître, qu'elle s'exerce au seuil de la mort ou à n'importe quel autre moment.


Reading the Gospels

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Antichrist § 44 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
One cannot read these Gospels too warily; there are difficulties behind every word.

Diese Evangelien kann man nicht behutsam genug lesen; sie haben ihre Schwierigkeiten hinter jedem Wort.


Friends Don't Let Friends Make Grammatical Errors

Lucian, The Sham Sophist, or The Solecist 9 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
For one should not let a friend make a grammatical error, but instruct him how to avoid it.

οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρεπτέον σολοικίζοντι τῷ φίλῳ, ἀλλὰ διδακτέον ὅπως τοῦτο μὴ πείσεται.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Translation as Exercise

John Peale Bishop (1892-1944), "On Translating Poets," Poetry 62.2 (May, 1943) 111-115, rpt. in his Collected Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), pp. 334-338 (at 334-335):
What is the excuse for translating a poem? Is not a poem by definition something that cannot be translated? Every word is immutable; every sound, once it has been brought into a poetic order, is immovable. Every language, like every land, has its own genius. I recall Elinor Wylie's words on turning Latin into English:
Alembics turn to stranger things
Strange things, but never while we live
Shall magic turn this bronze that sings
To singing water in a sieve.
Elinor Wylie, as I recall it, wrote those lines only after spending some time trying to do what she had to admit in the end could not be done. And I have spent some time, over a period of twenty years, trying to turn, now Latin lines, now lines written in some speech derived from the Latin, into an English that could be read without displeasure and without distrust. I ought to have some excuse for an activity whose aim I have felt impelled to put down in these negative terms.

The positive gain for the translator is that he keeps his pencil sharp. There are times with all of us when we are dull, when there is nothing within which wants to come out, and yet when, uneasy with idleness, we need to write, if only to keep the hand in. Translation is an excellent exercise; it is a test, I believe, which tries less the knowledge of the foreign speech than of our own. The limits of English cannot be accurately determined until we have ventured beyond its borders. We can compute our wealth at home the better for having been abroad.


Two Books

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Will to Power § 187 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
How little the subject matters! It is the spirit that gives life! What stuffy and sickroom air arises from all that excited chatter about "redemption," love, blessedness, faith, truth, "eternal life"! Take, on the other hand, a really pagan book, e.g., Petronius, where fundamentally nothing is done, said, desired and valued but what by peevish Christian standards is sin, mortal sin even. And yet how pleasant is the purer air, the superior spirituality of its quicker pace, the liberated and overflowing strength that feels sure of the future! In the entire New Testament there is not one single bouffonnerie: but that fact refutes a book—

Wie wenig liegt am Gegenstand! Der Geist ist es, der lebendig macht! Welche kranke und verstockte Luft mitten aus all dem aufgeregten Gerede von »Erlösung«, Liebe, »Seligkeit«, Glaube, Wahrheit, »ewigem Leben«! Man nehme einmal ein eigentlich heidnisches Buch dagegen, z. B. Petronius, wo im Grunde nichts gethan, gesagt, gewollt und geschätzt wird, was nicht, nach einem christlich-muckerischen Wertmaaß, Sünde, selbst Todsünde ist. Und trotzdem: welches Wohlgefühl in der reineren Luft, der überlegenen Geistigkeit des schnelleren Schrittes, der freigewordenen und überschüssigen zukunftsgewissen Kraft! Im ganzen Neuen Testament kommt keine einzige Bouffonnerie vor: aber damit ist ein Buch widerlegt...



Euripides, Andromache 476-477 (tr. David Kovacs, with his Greek text and apparatus):
When two poets produce a hymn,
the Muses are wont to work strife between them.

τεκόντοιν θ᾿ ὕμνον ἐργάταιν δυοῖν
ἔριν Μοῦσαι φιλοῦσι κραίνειν.

476 τεκόντοιν θ᾿ ὕμνον Goram: τεκτόνοιν θ᾿ ὕμνοιν (vel -οι vel -οις) fere C

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Tests of a Civilization

John Peale Bishop (1892-1944), "The South and Tradition," Virginia Quarterly Review (April, 1933), rpt. in his Collected Essays (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), pp. 3-13 (at 4):
For the South, whatever may be said, had at least passed those two tests which the French have devised for a civilization and to which they admit only themselves and the Chinese. It had devised a code of etiquette and created a native cookery.
Id., p. 5:
For it is to be noted that the Confederacy, for all the brevity of its formal existence, achieved more surely the qualities of a nation than the enduring Republic has been able to do. There were more emotions shared; its soldiers knew how to speak to one another or without speaking to arrive at a common understanding. Their attitude toward life was alike, and when they faced death it was in the same way.
Id., p. 6:
For when all is said and done, a myth is far more exciting to the mind than most discoveries of mere things.
Id., p. 7:
But what distinguishes an aristocracy is that the government is directed in the interests of a class which acts together and whose individuals do not, as plutocrats do, destroy one another—and eventually the state—in a mean competition for privileges. It is this which gives it stability. A government by businessmen, as we have seen, not only corrupts government, but, being a cut-throat affair, frequently ends by destroying business.
Id., p. 8:
What is necessary, if a tradition is to be carried on, is that it should be inculcated in children before they have acquired minds of their own. It is too late to teach a child morality at seven. And in modern America, where the parents have given up all hope of controlling their progeny and have thrust the moral task on the school—which, in the more modern classes, is now passing it on to the children themselves—we have not only a great number of unmannerly brats, but a constantly increasing host of youthful criminals.
Id., p. 9:
The assumption commonly made in America is that the machine has so altered the present from the past that nothing our parents knew is of any use to us. The answer to that, which may be a futile one, is that had we retained our integrity as men, we should never have allowed mechanization to proceed so rapidly as to destroy all that accumulated wisdom. How meagre life is without it, needs no demonstration by me.


Political Leadership Today

Aristophanes, Knights 191-193 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
No, political leadership's no longer a job for a man of education and good character, but for the ignorant and disgusting.

ἡ δημαγωγία γὰρ οὐ πρὸς μουσικοῦ
ἔτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἀνδρὸς οὐδὲ χρηστοῦ τοὺς τρόπους,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς ἀμαθῆ καὶ βδελυρόν.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


The Difference Between Irregular and Regular Verbs

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Ideas, or the Book Le Grand, chapter VII (tr. Charles G. Leland, rev. Havelock Ellis):
But as for the Latin, Madame, you can really have no idea how muddled it is. The Romans would never have found time to conquer the world if they had been obliged first to learn Latin. Those happy people knew in their cradles the nouns with an accusative in -im. I, on the contrary, had to learn them by heart, in the sweat of my brow, but still it is well that I knew them. For if, for example, when I publicly disputed in Latin, in the College Hall of Göttingen, on the 20th of July 1825—Madame, it was well worth while to hear it—if, I say, I had said sinapem instead of sinapim, the blunder would have been evident to the Freshmen, and an endless shame for me. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis—these words, which have attracted so much attention in the world, effected this, because they belonged to a determined class, and yet were exceptions; on that account I value them highly, and the fact that I have them ready at my finger's ends when I perhaps need them in a hurry affords me in many dark hours of life much internal tranquillity and consolation. But, Madame, the verba irregularia—they are distinguished from the verbis regularibus by the fact that in learning them one gets more whippings—are terribly difficult. In the damp arches of the Franciscan cloister near our school-room there hung a large crucified Christ of grey wood, a dismal image, that even yet at times marches through my dreams and gazes sorrowfully on me with fixed bleeding eyes—before this image I often stood and prayed, "Oh thou poor and equally tormented God, if it be possible for thee, see that I get by heart the irregular verbs!"

I will say nothing of Greek; I should irritate myself too much. The monks of the Middle Ages were not so very much in the wrong when they asserted that Greek was an invention of the devil. Lord knows what I suffered through it.

Was abei das Lateinische betrifft, so haben Sie gar keine Idee davon, Madame, wie das verwickelt ist. Den Römern würde gewiß nicht Zeit genug übrig geblieben sein, die Welt zu erobern, wenn sie das Latein erst hätten lernen sollen. Diese glücklichen Leute wußten schon in der Wiege, welche Nomina den Akkusativ auf -im haben. Ich hingegen mußte sie im Schweiße meines Angesichts auswendig lernen; aber es ist doch immer gut, daß ich sie weiß. Denn hätte ich z.B. den 20. Juli 1825, als ich öffentlich in der Aula zu Göttingen lateinisch disputierte — Madame, es war der Mühe wert, zuzuhören—hätte ich da sinapem statt sinapim gesagt, so würden es vielleicht die anwesenden Füchse gemerkt haben, und das wäre für mich eine ewige Schande gewesen. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis—diese Wörter, die soviel Aufsehen in der Welt gemacht haben, bewirken dieses, indem sie sich zu einer bestimmten Klasse schlugen und dennoch eine Ausnahme blieben; deshalb achte ich sie sehr, und daß ich sie bei der Hand habe, wenn ich sie etwa plötzlich brauchen sollte, das gibt mir in manchen trüben Stunden des Lebens viel innere Beruhigung und Trost. Aber, Madame, die verba irregularia—sie unterscheiden sich von den verbis regularibus dadurch, daß man bei ihnen noch mehr Prügel bekömmt—, sie sind gar entsetzlich schwer. In den dumpfen Bogengängen des Franziskanerklosters, unfern der Schulstube, hing damals ein großer, gekreuzigter Christus von grauem Holze, ein wüstes Bild, das noch jetzt zuweilen des Nachts durch meine Träume schreitet und mich traurig ansieht mit starren, blutigen Augen—vor diesem Bilde stand ich oft und betete: »O du armer, ebenfalls gequälter Gott, wenn es dir nur irgend möglich ist, so sieh doch zu, daß ich die verba irregularia im Kopfe behalte.«

Vom Griechischen will ich gar nicht sprechen; ich ärgere mich sonst zuviel. Die Mönche im Mittelalter hatten so ganz unrecht nicht, wenn sie behaupteten, daß das Griechische eine Erfindung des Teufels sei. Gott kennt die Leiden, die ich dabei ausgestanden.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Rooted to the Land

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Lord Jim, chapter XXI:
I think it is the lonely, without a fireside or an affection they may call their own, those who return not to a dwelling but to the land itself, to meet its disembodied, eternal, and unchangeable spirit — it is those who understand best its severity, its saving power, the grace of its secular right to our fidelity, to our obedience. Yes! few of us understand, but we all feel it though, and I say all without exception, because those who do not feel do not count. Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.


Let Us Drink

Ion of Chios, elegaic fragment 27 West (tr. David A. Campbell, with his notes):
Greetings to our king, our saviour and father1; and for us let the wine-pouring attendants mix the bowl from silver pitchers; and let him who holds in his hands the golden jug wash our hands on to the floor.2 Let us make holy libation to Heracles and Alcmena, to Procles and Perseus' descendants,3 beginning with Zeus, and let us drink and play; let the singing last all night, let there be dancing; begin the jollity with a will; and if any one has a shapely woman waiting to share his bed, he will drink more confidently than the rest.

1 Dionysus or wine (cf. 'king wine' in 26.16) rather than the Spartan king.
2 Text of this sentence very insecure.
3 Ion lists the ancestors of the Spartan king Archidamus: Perseus was great-grandfather of Heracles (son of Alcmena), whose descendants, the Heracleidae, carried out the Dorian invasion of the Peloponnese; Procles established the Eurypontid line of kings. Jacoby, C.Q. 41 (1947) 9 dated the poem to 463/2, when Cimon led Athenian troops to help Archidamus against the Messenians; West, B.I.C.S. 32 (1985) 74 to c. 450, when Cimon was in Sparta to negotiate the 5-year truce.

χαιρέτω ἡμέτερος βασιλεὺς σωτήρ τε πατήρ τε·
    ἡμῖν δὲ κρητῆρ᾿ οἰνοχόοι θέραπες
κιρνάντων προχύταισιν ἐν ἀργυρέοις· †ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς
    οἶνον ἔχων χειρῶν νιζέτω εἰς ἔδαφος.†
σπένδοντες δ᾿ ἁγνῶς Ἡρακλεῖ τ᾿ Ἀλκμήνῃ τε,        5
    Προκλεῖ Περσείδαις τ᾿ ἐκ Διὸς ἀρχόμενοι
πίνωμεν, παίζωμεν· ἴτω διὰ νυκτὸς ἀοιδή,
    ὀρχείσθω τις· ἑκὼν δ᾿ ἄρχε φιλοφροσύνης.
ὅντινα δ᾿ εὐειδὴς μίμνει θήλεια πάρευνος,
    κεῖνος τῶν ἄλλων κυδρότερον πίεται.        10
Gentili and Prato, edd., Poetae Elegiaci, 2nd ed., Vol. II (2002; rpt. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), pp. 65-66:

See Edmund Stewart, "Ion of Chios: The Case of a Foreign Poet in Classical Sparta."



George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), "Clinical Notes," The American Mercury 1 (January, 1924) 75:
The older I grow, the more I am persuaded that hedonism is the only sound and practical doctrine of faith for the intelligent man.

Sunday, April 16, 2017



Kilvert's Diary, 1870-1879. Selections from the Diary of The Rev. Francis Kilvert. Chosen, Edited & Introduced by William Plomer (1944; rpt. London: Jonathan Cape, 1964), pp. 28-29 (April 17, 1870):
The happiest, brightest, most beautiful Easter I have ever spent. I woke early and looked out. As I had hoped the day was cloudless, a glorious morning. My first thought was 'Christ is Risen'. It is not well to lie in bed on Easter morning, indeed it is thought very unlucky. I got up between five and six and was out soon after six. There had been a frost and the air was rimy with a heavy thick white dew on hedge, bank and turf, but the morning was not cold. There was a heavy white dew with a touch of hoar frost on the meadows, and as I leaned over the wicket gate by the mill pond looking to see if there were any primroses in the banks but not liking to venture into the dripping grass suddenly I heard the cuckoo for the first time this year. He was near Peter's Pool and he called three times quickly one after another. It is very well to hear the cuckoo for the first time on Easter Sunday morning. I loitered up the lane again gathering primroses.

The village lay quiet and peaceful in the morning sunshine, but by the time I came back from primrosing there was some little stir and people were beginning to open their doors and look out into the fresh fragrant splendid morning.

There was a very large congregation at morning church, the largest I have seen for some time, attracted by Easter and the splendour of the day, for they have here an immense reverence for Easter Sunday. The anthem went very well and Mr. Baskerville complimented Mr. Evans after church about it, saying that it was sung in good tune and time and had been a great treat. There were more communicants than usual: 29. This is the fifth time I have received the Sacrament within four days. After morning service I took Mr. V. round the churchyard and showed him the crosses on his mother's, wife's, and brother's graves. He was quite taken by surprise and very much gratified. I am glad to see that our primrose crosses seem to be having some effect for I think I notice this Easter some attempt to copy them and an advance towards the form of the cross in some of the decorations of the graves. I wish we could get the people to adopt some little design in the disposition of the flowers upon the graves instead of sticking sprigs into the turf aimlessly anywhere, anyhow and with no meaning at all. But one does not like to interfere too much with their artless, natural way of showing their respect and love for the dead. I am thankful to find this beautiful custom on the increase, and observed more and more every year. Some years ago it was on the decline and nearly discontinued. On Easter Day all the young people come out in something new and bright like butterflies. It is almost part of their religion to wear something new on this day. It was an old saying that if you don't wear something new on Easter Day, the crows will spoil everything you have on.

Between the services a great many people were in the churchyard looking at the graves. I went to Bettws Chapel in the afternoon. It was burning hot and as I climbed the hill the perspiration rolled off my forehead from under my hat and fell in drops on the dusty road. Lucretia Wall was in chapel looking pale and pretty after her illness. Coming down the hill it was delightful, cool and pleasant. The sweet suspicion of spring strengthens, deepens, and grows more sweet every day. Mrs. Pring gave us lamb and asparagus at dinner.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


The Educational Establishment

Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, II.xxi (Ueber Gelehrsamkeit und Gelehrte), § 250 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
When you see the many and manifold institutions for teaching and learning and the great crowd of pupils and masters which throngs them you might think the human race was much occupied with wisdom and insight. But here too appearance is deceptive. The latter teach to earn money, and strive not for wisdom but for the appearance of it and to be credited with it; the former learn, not to achieve knowledge and insight, but so as to be able to chatter about them and give themselves airs. Every thirty years a new generation appears which knows nothing and then sets about trying to gulp down summarily and as fast as possible all the human knowledge assembled over the millennia, after which it would like to think it knows more than all the past put together. To this end it resorts to universities and reaches out for books, and for the most recent ones too, as being its own contemporaries and fellows of its own age. Everything quick and everything new! as new as it itself is. And then off it goes, loud with its own opinions!

Wenn man die vielen und mannigfaltigen Anstalten zum Lehren und Lernen und das so große Gedränge von Schülern und Meistern sieht, könnte man glauben, daß es dem Menschengeschlechte gar sehr um Einsicht und Wahrheit zu thun sei. Aber auch hier trügt der Schein. Jene lehren, um Geld zu verdienen und streben nicht nach Weisheit, sondern nach dem Schein und Kredit derselben: und diese lernen nicht, um Kenntniß und Einsicht zu erlangen, sondern um schwätzen zu können und sich ein Ansehn zu geben. Alle dreißig Jahre nämlich tritt so ein neues Geschlecht auf, ein Kuck in die Welt, der von nichts weiß und nun die Resultate des durch die Jahrtausende angesammelten menschlichen Wissens, summarisch, in aller Geschwindigkeiten sich fressen und dann klüger als alle Vergangenheit seyn will. Zu diesem Zweck bezieht er Universitäten und greist nach den Büchern, und zwar nach den neuesten, als seinen Zeit- und Altersgenossen. Nur Alles kurz und neu! wie er selbst neu ist. Dann urtheilt er darauf los.


Why I Blog

Montaigne, "To the Reader," Essais (tr. Donald M. Frame):
This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one. I have had no thought of serving either you or my own glory. My powers are inadequate for such a purpose. I have dedicated it to the private convenience of my relatives and friends, so that when they have lost me (as soon they must), they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive.

book Montaigne: blog Gilleland
Si licet parvum (me) componere magno (Montano).


The King Dupe of the Cosmos

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices, Third Series, V: "Ad Imaginem Dei Creavit Illum," § 3: "Meditation on Meditation":
Man's natural instinct, in fact, is never toward what is sound and true; it is toward what is specious and false. Let any great nation of modern times be confronted by two conflicting propositions, the one grounded upon the utmost probability and reasonableness and the other upon the most glaring error, and it will almost invariably embrace the latter. It is so in politics, which consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all. It is so in religion, which, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities. It is so in nearly every field of thought. The ideas that conquer the race most rapidly and arouse the wildest enthusiasm and are held most tenaciously are precisely the ideas that are most insane. This has been true since the first "advanced" gorilla put on underwear, cultivated a frown and began his first lecture tour in the first chautauqua, and it will be so until the high gods, tired of the farce at last, obliterate the race with one great, final blast of fire, mustard gas and streptococci.


Man is the yokel par excellence, the booby unmatchable, the king dupe of the cosmos. He is chronically and inescapably deceived, not only by the other animals and by the delusive face of nature herself, but also and more particularly by himself—by his incomparable talent for searching out and embracing what is false, and for overlooking and denying what is true.


But if truth thus has hard sledding, error is given a loving welcome. The man who invents a new imbecility is hailed gladly, and bidden to make himself at home; he is, to the great masses of men, the beau idéal of mankind. Go back through the history of the past thousand years and you will find that nine-tenths of the popular idols of the world—not the heroes of small sects, but the heroes of mankind in the mass—have been merchants of palpable nonsense. It has been so in politics, it has been so in religion, and it has been so in every other department of human thought. Every such hawker of the not-true has been opposed, in his time, by critics who denounced and refuted him; his contention has been disposed of immediately it was uttered. But on the side of every one there has been the titanic force of human credulity, and it has sufficed in every case to destroy his foes and establish his immortality.



Ion of Chios, elegaic fragment 26 West, lines 13-16 (preserved by Athenaeus 10.447 f; tr. S. Douglas Olson):
Therefore, Father Dionysus, you who please garland-loving
men, president of cheerful drinking parties—
hail to you! Grant us the time, assistant in good deeds,
to drink, and to play, and to have just thoughts!

τῷ σύ πάτερ Διόνυσε, φιλοστεφάνοισιν ἀρέσκων
        ἀνδράσιν, εὐθύμων συμποσίων πρύτανι,
χαῖρε· δίδου δ᾿ αἰῶνα, καλῶν ἐπιήρανε ἔργων,                15
        πίνειν καὶ παίζειν καὶ τὰ δίκαια φρονεῖν.

13 τοῦ A, deest epit.: corr. Bergk
15 δ' ἄρ' Ἴωνα Hecker       ἐπιήρανον Schneidewin

Friday, April 14, 2017


We Forget

Elroy L. Bundy (1920-1975), Studia Pindarica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 47-48 (II: The First Isthmian Ode):
We forget that this is an oral, public, epideictic literature dedicated to the single purpose of eulogizing men and communities; that these eulogies are concentrated upon athletic achievement; that the environment thus created is hostile to an allusiveness that would strain the powers of a listening audience, hostile to personal, religious, political, philosophical and historical references that might interest the poet but do nothing to enhance the glory of a given patron, hostile to abruptness in transitions, to gross irrelevance, to lengthy sermonizing, to literary scandals and embarrassments, hostile in short to all the characteristics of style and temper that we ascribe to Pindar.


Pity the Poor Viking

Allen J. Frantzen, "Viking," Anglo-Saxon Keywords (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 274-277 (at 274):
Pity the Viking. Modern scholarship, relentless dismantler of stereotypes, has trimmed his blond hair, disputed the blueness of his eyes, and taken away his horned helmet (Loyn 1977:10; Frank 2000).

Thursday, April 13, 2017



Annotation in a copy of Il Petrarca, con l'espositione d'Alessandro Vellutello (Venice: Giolito de Ferrari, 1530):
To buy this book I sold a sleeved pullover, Edmund Parsons, 1913.
Erasmus, letter 160 (to Nicholas Bensrott; July 18, 1501; tr. Francis Morgan Nichols):
If there is any fresh Greek to be bought, I would rather pawn my coat than not get it.

Si quid est nouae Graecanitatis, vestem citius oppignerauerimus quam non potiamur.
Related posts:
Hat tip: Andrew Rickard.


A Feeling of Superiority

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), L'Éducation sentimentale, I.v (tr. Robert Baldick):
The crowds made him dizzy, especially on Sundays, when, from the Bastille to the Madeleine, there was a vast torrent of humanity surging over the asphalt, in the midst of clouds of dust and a continuous din. He felt utterly nauseated by the vulgarity of their faces, the stupidity of their talk, and the imbecile satisfaction glistening on their sweating brows. However, the knowledge that he was worth more than these men lessened the fatigue of looking at them.

La foule l'étourdissait, — le dimanche surtout, — quand, depuis la Bastille jusqu'à la Madeleine, c'était un immense flot ondulant sur l'asphalte, au milieu de la poussière, dans une rumeur continue; il se sentait tout écoeuré par la bassesse des figures, la niaiserie des propos, la satisfaction imbécile transpirant sur les fronts en sueur! Cependant, la conscience de mieux valoir que ces hommes atténuait la fatigue de les regarder.


Avoid Intellectual Junk Food

Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), De Studiis et Litteris Liber ad Baptistam de Malatestis 5 (tr. Craig W. Kallendorf):
The most important rule of study is to see to it that we study only those works that are written by the best and most approved authors, and avoid the crude and ignorant writings which only ruin and degrade our natural abilities. The reading of clumsy and corrupt writers imbues the reader with their own vices and infests his mind with a similar corruption. Study is, so to speak, the pabulum of the mind by which the intellect is trained and nourished. For this reason, just as gastronomes are careful in the choice of what they put in their stomachs, so those who wish to preserve purity of taste will only allow certain readings to enter their minds.

Caput vero huius diligentiae ruerit videre primum, ut in eorum tantum librorum, qui ab optimis probatissimisque latinae linguae auctoribus scripti sunt, lectione versemur, ab imperite vero ineleganterque scriptis ita caveamus, quasi a calamitate quadam et labe ingenii nostri. Inquinate enim inepteque scriptorum lectio vitia sua lectori affigit et mentem simili coinquinat tabe. Est enim veluti pabulum animi, quo mens imbuitur atque nutritur. Quam ob rem, ut ii, qui stomachi curam habent, non quemvis cibum illi infundunt, ita, qui sinceritatem animi conservare volet, non quamvis lectionem illi permittet.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Muscular Christianity

Robert Bridges (1844-1930), letter to Lionel Muirhead, in The Selected Letters of Robert Bridges, Vol. I (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983), p. 531:
I dreamed last night that I saw Keble—he was a bishop, and quite naked except for a pair of gaiters. He had the most enormous leg muscles, which I felt and examined, and wondered how a man with such muscles could ever have died: for he was dead.
Keble = John Keble, author of The Christian Year. I owe the quotation and the title of this post to Ian Jackson, "Preface," The Imperfect Correspondent in Historical Perspective (Berkeley, 2005), p. 12, n. 20.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


One of the Greatest Things That Ever Happened

Alexander Stille, "Latin Fanatic: A Profile of Father Reginald Foster," American Scholar 63.4 (Autumn, 1994) 497-526 (at 499):
"You don't have to be all that intelligent, but Latin takes a little bit of toughness," he growls. "I hope you are all here voluntarily. I don't like the idea that some of you have been pushed into this classroom by some requirement," a word he pronounces with the utmost scorn and distaste. "Because if that's the case, I'd like to push you right back out. If you have to take Latin and don't want to, there is a list here, and you can just put your name on it and leave. And I will give you a passing grade for the year. I'm interested in teaching Latin to people who want to learn. So, if you don't like me or you don't like Latin, then you can leave and that will be that. Got it? If you want to learn Latin, we'll learn Latin. I don't care if you are registered. You can sit here for five years and not be registered. I don't know how much they're charging downstairs — I think it's too much."
"Why do you want to study Latin? The question is, Why don't people want to study Latin?" he asks the class in a loud rhetorical shout, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard. "If you don't know Latin, you know nothing! I had my first experience of Latin forty years ago, and I have not been bored by Latin for ten minutes in these forty years. Latin is one of the greatest things that ever happened in human history."

When Foster begins to shift into high gear, he picks up in speed and volume, like a high-performance car moving into overdrive. "If you don't know Latin, you're sitting out there on the sidelines — don't worry, most of the world is out there with you. But if you want to see what's going on in this whole stream of two thousand years' worth of gorgeous literature, then you need Latin."
Id. (at 500):
"People are not told what Latin is all about," Foster says. "They are just told to memorize all the forms, the conjugations and declensions. Latin has nothing to do with memorization. Every bum and prostitute in ancient Rome spoke Latin and they didn't learn it by memorization. Got it?"

Monday, April 10, 2017


A Very Present Help in Trouble

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
In the crucial ordeals, a cigarette is more effective help than the Gospels.

Dans les épreuves cruciales, la cigarette nous est d'une aide plus efficace que les Évangiles.
A.E. Housman (1859-1936), A Shropshire Lad, LXII, lines 21-22:
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.



Apuleius, Apology 24 (tr. H.E. Butler):
Has there ever been a time or place in which a race has not produced a variety of intellects, although some races seem stupider and some wiser than others? The Scythians are the stupidest of men, and yet the wise Anacharsis was a Scyth. The Athenians are shrewd, and yet the Athenian Meletides was a fool.

quando non in omnibus gentibus varia ingenia provenere? quanquam videantur quaedam stultitia vel sollertia insigniores, apud socordissimos Scythas Anacharsis sapiens natus est, apud Athenienses catos Meletides fatuus.
Commentary by H.E. Butler and A.S. Owen:


Both Sides of the Story

Aeschylus, Eumenides 428 (Athena speaking; tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
Two parties are present: I have had only half the story.

δυοῖν παρόντοιν ἥμισυς λόγου πάρα.
Sommerstein in his commentary ad loc.:
'Though two <parties> are here, <only> half of the argument is before me.' The scholia aptly cite the maxim μηδὲ δίκην δικάσηις πρὶν ἂν ἀμφοῖν μῦθον ἀκούσηις ([Hes.] fr. 338 M-W; cf. Ar. V. 725-6).
Translation of the maxim (by Glenn W. Most):
Do not pass judgment before you hear the speech of both.

Sunday, April 09, 2017


A Nation of Unbelievers

Walther Kranz (1884-1960), Stasimon: Untersuchungen zu Form und Gehalt der griechischen Tragödie (1933; rpt. Hildesheim: Weidmann, 1988), pp. 37-38, tr. D.L. Page in Aeschylus, Agamemnon (1957; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. xiv:
In our land there dwell no more immortals, such as were adored on the heights and in the caverns of Aeschylean Attica. Unlike that people to whom the poet belonged, we have no faith in the thousand various phantom powers above and below the earth, gods and goddesses, heroes and demons and holy serpents. We build them no temples to house their images, celebrate no festivals at which they are our invited guests. Their sublime portraits are not everywhere before our eyes in cult-statue or temple-frieze. We do not encounter in the streets their priests and priestesses, processions and sacrificial trains. We have no trust in oracles, mysteries, soothsayings and dreams; we do not pray at sunrise and sunset, before we drink, at departure and home-coming. We make no libation of bread and wine, no sacrifice to the souls of our dead; we do not give the god his share at each success in battle, in the games, in the theatre, in the work of our hands.

In unserem Lande wohnen keine Unsterblichen mehr, wie sie auf den Höhen und in den Höhlen des aischyleischen Attika gläubig verehrt wurden; wir glauben nicht an die tausend verschiedenen Gestalten über- und unterirdischer Macht, an Götter und Göttinnen, an Heroen und Dämonen und heilige Schlangen wie das Volk, dessen Teil auch der Dichter war; wir errichten ihnen keine Tempel als Wohnstätten ihrer Abbilder, feiern keine Feste, zu denen wir sie als Gäste laden, schauen nicht ihre erhabenen Ebenbilder überall in Kultstatue und Tempelgiebel, begegnen nicht in den Strassen ihren Priestern und Priesterinnen, Prozessionen und Opferzügen, vertrauen nicht Orakeln, Mysterien, Weissagungen und Träumen, beten nicht bei Sonnenaufgang und -untergang, vor dem Trunk, bei Abschied und Heimkehr, spenden nicht von Brot und Wein, opfern nicht den Seelen der Verstorbenen, geben nicht dem Gotte nach jedem Erfolge auf dem Schlachtfelde, im Stadion oder Theater oder Handwerk sein Teil.

Saturday, April 08, 2017


Phaeacian Pleasures

M.L. West (1937-2015), The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), p. 414:
Odysseus' supremacy in the athletics arena leads Alcinous to admit that the Phaeacians are no great boxers or wrestlers, though good runners and sailors. He adds:
αἰεὶ δ᾽ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη κίθαρις τε χοροί τε
εἵματά τ᾽ ἐξημοιβὰ λοετρά τε θερμὰ καὶ εΰναί.

What we always like is feasting, the lyre, dances,
clean clothes, hot baths, and bed.
This manifesto strikingly recalls the values that the alewife recommends to Gilgamesh in the Old Babylonian version of the Akkadian epic, especially as the parallel items come in precisely the same order:
'But you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full (δαίς);
day and night keep on enjoying yourself.
Every day establish enjoyment:
day and night dance and sport (χοροί),
let your clothes be kept cleaned (εἵματα ἐξημοιβά),
let your head be washed, be you bathed in water (λοετρά).
Take care of the child who holds your hand;
let your wife keep on enjoying herself in your lap (εΰναί).'33
33 Od. 8.26-9 [sic, should be 8.246-9]; Gilg. Meissner fr. iii 6-13; cf. C.R. Beye in H.D. Evjen (ed.), Mnemai. Studies in Memory of K.K. Hulley, Chico 1984, 17.
J.B. Hainsworth on the lines from the Odyssey (8.248-249):
These lines naturally attracted the animadversions of the censorious, e.g. Heracleides Ponticus (ap. schol. Od. xiii 119) συνειδότας γὰρ ἑαυτοῖς φιληδονίαν καὶ ἀπολαυστικὸν τρόπον ..., Hor. Epp. i 2 28-9 'sponsi Penelopae, nebulones, Alcinoique | in cute curanda plus aequo operata iuventus'. But the lines merely summarize the delights of a society at peace...

Friday, April 07, 2017


The Sacred Way

Henry Miller (1891-1980), The Colossus of Maroussi (London: Secker & Warburg, 1945), pp. 42-44:
Along the Sacred Way, from Daphni to the sea, I was on the point of madness several times. I actually did start running up the hillside only to stop midway, terror-stricken, wondering what had taken possession of me. On one side are stones and shrubs which stand out with microscopic clarity; on the other are trees such as one sees in Japanese prints, trees flooded with light, intoxicated, corybantic trees which must have been planted by the gods in moments of drunken exaltation. One should not race along the Sacred Way in a motor car—it is sacrilege. One should walk, walk as the men of old walked, and allow one's whole being to become flooded with light. This is not a Christian highway: it was made by the feet of devout pagans on their way to initiation at Eleusis. There is no suffering, no martyrdom, no flagellation of the flesh connected with this processional artery. Everything here speaks now, as it did centuries ago, of illumination, of blinding, joyous illumination. Light acquires a transcendental quality: it is not the light of the Mediterranean alone, it is something more, something unfathomable, something holy. Here the light penetrates directly to the soul, opens the doors and windows of the heart, makes one naked, exposed, isolated in a metaphysical bliss which makes everything clear without being known. No analysis can go on in this light: here the neurotic is either instantly healed or goes mad. The rocks themselves are quite mad: they have been lying for centuries exposed to this divine illumination: they lie very still and quiet, nestling amid dancing colored shrubs in a blood-stained soil, but they are mad, I say, and to touch them is to risk losing one’s grip on everything which once seemed firm, solid and unshakeable. One must glide through this gully with extreme caution, naked, alone, and devoid of all Christian humbug. One must throw off two thousand years of ignorance and superstition, of morbid, sickly subterranean living and lying. One must come to Eleusis stripped of the barnacles which have accumulated from centuries of lying in stagnant waters. At Eleusis one realizes, if never before, that there is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy. At Eleusis one becomes adapted to the cosmos. Outwardly Eleusis may seem broken, disintegrated with the crumbled past; actually Eleusis is still intact and it is we who are broken, dispersed, crumbling to dust. Eleusis lives, lives eternally in the midst of a dying world.
Jan N. Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014), pp. 5-8 (footnotes omitted):
On the morning of the 19th Boedromion, after three days rest (a free period of time that had made it possible to intercalate the Epidauria festival for Asclepius), the prospective initiates assembled again in the agora and formed the procession to the sanctuary of Demeter and her daughter Persephone in Eleusis. At the front went the Eleusinian dignitaries, dressed in their full glory, the priestesses carrying sacred objects on their heads in special baskets closed by red ribbons, and, in later times, the ephebes, the Athenian male youth. They were followed by a huge cavalcade of Greeks, each holding a kind of pilgrim's staff consisting of a single branch of myrtle or several held together by rings and accompanied by their donkeys with provisions and torches for the coming days. The procession now left the city, and it would have been quite a few hours before they completed the roughly 15 mile journey, which was repeatedly interrupted by sacred dances, sacrifices, libations, ritual washings, and the singing of hymns accompanied by pipes. It was hot and dusty, but the crowds did not care and rhythmically chanted 'Iakch', o Iakche', invoking the god Iakchos at the head of the procession, who was closely related to and sometimes identified with Dionysos. Later reports told how during the battle of Salamis (480 BC), 'a great light flamed out from Eleusis, and an echoing cry filled the Thriasian plain down to the sea, as of multitudes of men together conducting the mystic Iakchos in procession'. At times, the scene must have resembled that of fervent Catholic or Shi'ite processions.

The participants were now in that transitory stage of betwixt and between, which, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) has taught us, is often characterised by reversals and confusions of the social order. During the journey the young mocked the old, at the bridge over the Athenian river Kephisos a prostitute hurled mockery at the passers by, and the wealthier women who rode in buggies reviled one another. Although some couples must have been initiated together, in general the occasion presented an opportunity for the two sexes to take a close look at one another in a way that would have been unthinkable in normal circumstances. Aristophanes even has one of his male characters peep at a slave girl who had performed a Janet Jackson act with her top. That will have been wishful thinking, but Phaedra, a kind of Athenian desperate housewife, first saw Hippolytus when he came to Athens for, to quote Euripides, 'the viewing of and initiation into the most solemn mysteries' (Hippolytos 25).

At the end of the day, the procession finally reached the sanctuary 'together with Iakchos', and they entered it from the east through the relatively new Propylon that had been constructed around 430 BC. The night fell early, and the flickering of the thousands of torches must have produced a near psychedelic effect among the weary travellers. Recent neurological research has stressed that a good walk can produce euphoric effects. I take it therefore that the 'pilgrims' were already in a state of excitement when they reached their goal, which can only have increased that mood. At the entry to the sanctuary was the Kallichoron Well, literally meaning 'Beautiful dancing', which was the location for dancing during the Mysteries cited by Euripides in his Ion (1074); apparently, the 'pilgrims' danced their way into the sanctuary. Demeter is portrayed several times as seated on the well, so the place clearly had a marked symbolic significance.


The Two Cultures

W.H. Auden (1907-1973), "Cultures, The Two," A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (New York: The Viking Press, 1970), p. 92:
Of course, there is only one. Of course, the natural sciences are just as "humane" as letters. There are, however, two languages, the spoken verbal language of literature, and the written sign language of mathematics, which is the language of science. This puts the scientist at a great advantage, for, since like all of us, he has learned to read and write, he can understand a poem or a novel, whereas there are very few men of letters who can understand a scientific paper once they come to the mathematical parts.

When I was a boy, we were taught the literary languages, like Latin and Greek, extremely well, but mathematics atrociously badly. Beginning with the multiplication table, we learned a series of operations by rote which, if remembered correctly, gave the "right" answer, but about any basic principles, like the concept of number, we were told nothing. Typical of the teaching methods then in vogue is this mnemonic which I had to learn.
Minus times Minus equals Plus:
The reason for this we need not discuss.

Thursday, April 06, 2017



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Demosthenes copied out Thucydides eight times. That is how you learn a language. One ought to have the courage to transcribe all the books one loves.

Démosthène copia de sa main huit fois Thucydide. C'est comme cela qu’on apprend une langue. Il faudrait avoir le courage de transcrire tous les livres qu'on aime.
Lucian, The Ignorant Book Collector 4 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
On that theory, collect and keep all those manuscripts of Demosthenes that the orator wrote with his own hand, and those of Thucydides that were found to have been copied, likewise by Demosthenes, eight times over...

κατὰ δὴ ταῦτα, ἐκεῖνα ἔχε συλλαβὼν τὰ τοῦ Δημοσθένους ὅσα τῇ χειρὶ τῇ αὑτοῦ ὁ ῥήτωρ ἔγραψε, καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θουκυδίδου ὅσα παρὰ τοῦ Δημοσθένους καὶ αὐτὰ ὀκτάκις μεταγεγραμμένα εὑρέθη...


Unseemly Behavior

Goethe, Sprüche in Prosa § 631 (tr. W.B. Rönnfeldt):
It does not become a man of years to follow the fashion either in ideas or in dress.

Es ziemt sich dem Bejahrten, weder in der Denkweise, noch in der Art, sich zu kleiden, der Mode nachzugehen.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Monologue of Crepitus

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), The Temptation of St. Anthony (tr. Kitty Mrosovsky; stage directions italicized):

makes himself heard.

I too was honoured once. Libations were made to me. I was a god!

An Athenian would greet me as a lucky omen, while a devout Roman would curse me with raised fists, and the pontiff of Egypt, abstaining from beans, quailed at my voice and paled at my odour.

When the army vinegar ran down unshaven beards and people tucked into acorns, peas and raw onions, and the goat was chopped up and cooked in shepherds' rancid butter, no one was bothered — never mind your neighbour. Solid foods made for ringing digestions. In the sunlight of the countryside, men relieved themselves at leisure.

So I got by without scandal, like the other natural necessities, like Mena the virgins' affliction and like Rumina, who protects the the nurse's breasts swollen with bluish veins. I was happy. I raised a laugh! And gladly distended on my account, a guest would let all his gaiety out through the apertures of his body.

I had times to boast of. Good Aristophanes put me on the stage, and the Emperor Claudius Drusus had me sitting at his table. In the patricians' laticlaves I moved majestically! Gold pots echoed under me like tympani — and when, full of eels and truffles and paté, the master's intestine noisily disgorged itself, the attentive universe learnt that Caesar had dined!

But now I'm confined to the populace — and people object to my very name!

And Crepitus moves off with a groan.


d'une voix flûtée.

Moi aussi l'on m'honora jadis. On me faisait des libations. Je fus un dieu.

L'Athénien me saluait comme un heureux présage de fortune, tandis que le Romain dévot me maudissait, les poings crispés, et que le pontife d'Égypte, s'abstenant de fèves, tremblait à ma voix et pâlissait à mon odeur.

Quand le vinaigre militaire coulait sur les barbes non rasées, que l'on se régalait de glands, de ciboules et d'oignons crus, et que le bouc en morceaux cuisait dans le beurre rance des pasteurs, sans souci du voisin, personne alors ne se gênait. Les nourritures solides faisaient les digestions retentissantes; au soleil de la campagne, les hommes se soulageaient avec lenteur.

Ainsi, je passais sans scandale, comme tous les autres besoins de la vie, comme Mena tourment des vierges, et la douce Rumina qui protège le sein de la nourrice gonflé de veines bleuâtres. J'étais joyeux! Je faisais rire! et, se dilatant d'aise à cause de moi, le convive exhalait sa gaieté par les ouvertures de son corps.

J'ai eu mes jours d'orgueil! Le bon Aristophane me promena sur la scène et l'empereur Claudius Drusus me fit asseoir à sa table. Dans les laticlaves des patriciens j'ai circulé majestueusement. Les vases d'or, comme des tympanons, résonnaient sous moi, et quand plein de murènes, de truffes et de pâtés, l'intestin du maître se dégorgeait avec fracas, l'univers attentif apprenait que César avait dîné.

Mais à présent on rougit de moi. On me dissimule avec effort. Je suis confiné dans la populace, et l’on se récrie même à mon nom!

Et Crépitus s'éloigne en poussant un gémissement.
Related posts:



Polytheism versus Monotheism

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Le mauvais démiurge (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Polytheism corresponds better to the diversity of our tendencies and our impulses, which it offers the possibility of expressing, of manifesting; each of them being free to tend, according to its nature, toward the god who suits it at the moment. But how deal with a single god? How envisage him, how utilize him? In his presence, we live continually under pressure. Monotheism curbs our sensibility: it deepens us by narrowing us. A system of constraints which affords us an inner dimension at the cost of the flowering of our powers, it constitutes a barrier, it halts our expansion, it throws us out of gear. Surely we were more normal with several gods than we are with only one. If health is a criterion, what a setback monotheism turns out to be!


With all due respect to Tertullian, the soul is naturally pagan. Any god at all, when he answers to our immediate needs, represents for us an increase of vitality, a stimulus, which is not the case if he is imposed upon us or if he corresponds to no necessity.
I couldn't find the French, but Ian Jackson came to the rescue, with a transcription from the Pléiade edition of Cioran's Oeuvres, edited by Nicolas Cavaillès and Aurélien Demars (Gallimard, 2011), pp. 636 & 638:
Le polythéisme correspond mieux à la diversité de nos tendances et de nos impulsions, auxquelles il offre la possibilité de s'exercer, de se manifester, chacune d'elles étant libre de tendre, selon sa nature, vers le dieu qui lui convient sur le moment. Mais qu'entreprendre avec un seul dieu? comment l'envisager, comment l'utiliser? Lui présent, on vit toujours sous pression. Le monothéisme comprime notre sensibilité: il nous approfondit en nous resserrant; système de contraintes qui nous confère une dimension intérieure au détriment de l'épanouissement de nos forces, il constitue une barrière, il arrête notre expansion, il nous détraque. Nous étions assurément plus normaux avec plusieurs dieux que nous ne le sommes avec un seul. Si la santé est un critère, quel recul que le monothéisme!


N'en déplaise à Tertullien, l'âme est naturellement païenne. N'importe quel dieu, quand il répond à des exigences immédiates, pressantes de notre part, représente pour nous un surcroît de vitalité, un "coup de fouet"; il n'en va pas de même s'il nous est imposé ou s'il ne correspond à aucune nécessité.
Cioran is of course reversing Tertullian's expression (Apology 17.6) "O testimonium animae naturaliter Christianae."


Rule Number One

Mary Beard, "The Latin Right," A Don's Life (March 31, 2017):
Rule number one is always, don't quote Latin if you don't know it!
A corollary:
Don't use Google Translate to translate English into Latin. The result is almost always ungrammatical nonsense.

Dear Mike,

More Latinoid expressions emanating from the ever-failing Googoracle:

"Locus in domos" and "loci populum" is what the Googoracle will shortchange you with when you feed in "place of homes" and "local people". If this catches on, we may have another proto-Romance language on our hands.

'Abite!' would have saved a bit of paint, and is after all what the Britunculi would have told their Roman invaders; or perhaps 'hic est locus damnatorum', which would make it scarier for the home-owners.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Tuesday, April 04, 2017


The River Selemnus

Pausanias 7.23.3 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
I heard too another tale about the water, how that it is a useful remedy for both men and women when in love; if they wash in the river they forget their passion. If there is any truth in the story the water of the Selemnus is of more value to mankind than great wealth.

ἤκουσα δὲ καὶ ἄλλον ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ λόγον, τὸ ὕδωρ τοῦ Σελέμνου σύμφορον καὶ ἀνδράσιν εἶναι καὶ γυναιξὶν ἐς ἔρωτος ἴαμα, λουομένοις ἐν τῷ ποταμῷ λήθην ἔρωτος γίνεσθαι. εἰ δὲ μέτεστιν ἀληθείας τῷ λόγῳ, τιμιώτερον χρημάτων πολλῶν ἐστιν ἀνθρώποις τὸ ὕδωρ τοῦ Σελέμνου.

Monday, April 03, 2017


Commendable Greek Prose

Garth Davidson, quoted in Diana Vennis, A Lifetime in English Education: Philip Vennis — From Pupil to Principal in Post-War Britain (Leicester: Matador, 2012), p. 12:
Philip Vellacott had set the Sixth form a passage of English to translate into Greek prose, and one of the boys recognised it as being a direct translation of a passage of one of the Greek orators — Lysias, I think. The boy simply copied out the original Greek, and handed it in as his own work. It came back with a few corrections and suggested improvements in red ink, with a comment something like 'Very commendable!' and given a mark of 8 out of 10!


A Polyglot in His Own Mind

Elias Canetti (1905-1994), Die gerettete Zunge: Geschichte einer Jugend, Part 3 (on his grandfather; tr. Joachim Neugroschel):
He tried to speak to all people in their language, and since he had only learned these languages on the side, while traveling, his knowledge of them, except of the Balkan languages (which included his Ladino), was highly defective. He liked counting his languages off on his fingers, and the droll self-assurance in totting them up—God knows how, sometimes seventeen, sometimes nineteen languages—was irresistible to most people despite his comical accent. I was ashamed of these scenes when they took place in front of me, for his speech was so bristling with mistakes that he would even have been flunked by Herr Tegel in my elementary school, not to mention our home, where Mother corrected our least errors with ruthless derision. On the other hand, we restricted ourselves to four languages in our home, and when I asked Mother if it was possible to speak seventeen languages, she said, without mentioning Grandfather: "No. For then you know none at all!"

Er suchte zu allen Menschen in ihrer Sprache zu sprechen, und da er diese nur nebenher auf seinen Reisen gelernt hatte, waren seine Kenntnisse, mit Ausnahme der Sprachen des Balkans, zu denen auch rein Spanisch gehörte, höchst mangelhaft. Er zählte gern an den Fingern auf, wieviel Sprachen er spreche, und die drollige Sicherheit, mit der er es bei dieser Aufzählung — Gott weiß wie — manchmal auf 17, manchmal auf 19 Sprachen brachte, war trotz seiner komischen Aussprache für die meisten Menschen unwiderstehlich. Ich schämte mich dieser Szenen, wenn sie sich vor mir abspielten, denn was er da von sich gab, war so fehlerhaft, daß er selbst in meiner Volksschule beim Herrn Lehrer Tegel damit durchgefallen wäre, wie erst bei uns zu Hause, wo die Mutter uns mit erbarmungslosem Hohn den kleinsten Fehler verwies. Dafür beschränkten wir uns zu Hause auf bloß vier Sprachen, und wenn ich die Mutter fragte, ob es möglich sei, 17 Sprachen zu sprechen, sagte sie, ohne den Großvater zu nennen: »Nein! Dann kann man keine!«
Hat tip: Jim O'Donnell.

Related posts:

Sunday, April 02, 2017


A Classical Education

Raymond Chandler, letter to Hamish Hamilton (November 10, 1950):
As a mystery writer, I think I am a bit of an anomaly, since most mystery writers of the American school are only semi-literate; and I am not only literate but intellectual, much as I dislike the term. It would seem that a classical education might be rather a poor basis for writing novels in a hard-boiled vernacular. I happen to think otherwise. A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of. In this country the mystery writer is looked down on as sub-literary merely because he is a mystery writer, rather than for instance a writer of social significance twaddle. To a classicist—even a very rusty one—such an attitude is merely a parvenu insecurity.
Chandler was an alumnus of Dulwich College, where the Master was A.H. Gilkes.


National Differences

Julian, Against the Galileans 116a-b (tr. Wilmer C. Wright):
Come, tell me why it is that the Celts and the Germans are fierce, while the Hellenes and Romans are, generally speaking, inclined to political life and humane, though at the same time unyielding and warlike? Why the Egyptians are more intelligent and more given to crafts, and the Syrians unwarlike and effeminate, but at the same time intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn? For if there is anyone who does not discern a reason for these differences among the nations, but rather declares that all this so befell spontaneously, how, I ask, can he still believe that the universe is administered by a providence?

λεγέσθω γάρ μοι, τίς αἰτία τοῦ Κελτοὺς μὲν εἶναι καὶ Γερμανοὺς θρασεῖς, Ἕλληνας δὲ καὶ Ῥωμαίους ὡς ἐπίπαν πολιτικοὺς καὶ φιλανθρώπους μετὰ τοῦ στερροῦ τε καὶ πολεμικοῦ, συνετωτέρους δὲ καὶ τεχνικωτέρους Αἰγυπτίους, ἀπολέμους δὲ καὶ τρυφηλοὺς Σύρους μετὰ τοῦ συνετοῦ καὶ θερμοῦ καὶ κούφου καὶ εὐμαθοῦς. ταύτης γὰρ τῆς ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσι διαφορᾶς εἰ μὲν οὐδεμίαν τις αἰτίαν συνορῴη, μᾶλλον δὲ αὐτά φησι καὶ ἐκ τοῦ αὐτομάτου συμπεσεῖν, πῶς ἔτι προνοίᾳ διοικεῖσθαι τὸν κόσμον οἴεται;

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