Wednesday, February 28, 2018



Marc Bloch (1886-1944), The Historian's Craft, tr. Peter Putnam (New York: Vintage Books, 1953), p. 140:
Are we so sure of ourselves and of our age as to divide the company of our forefathers into the just and the damned?

Pour séparer, dans la troupe de nos pères, les justes des damnés, sommes-nous donc si sûrs de nous-mêmes et de notre temps?


Too Many Rules and Dogmas

Erasmus, letter to Jan Šlechta (November 1, 1519; tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
Another thing, it seems to me, which would reconcile many nations to the Roman church, to which all gravitate now as though to some common head, would be a readiness not to define everything over a wide field in the way we should willingly think appropriate for the subject-matter of the faith, but only such things as are clearly laid down in Holy Writ or without which the system of our salvation cannot stand. For this a few truths are enough, and the multitude are more easily persuaded of their truth if they are few. As things are, we make six hundred articles out of one, some of them of such a kind that one can be ignorant of them, or unconvinced, without peril to one's religion.

Quin et illud, mea sententia, complures populos conciliaret Ecclesiae Romanae, in quam nunc velut in caput quoddam colliguntur omnes, si non passim quaelibet sic definiantur vt velimus ad fidei negocium pertinere; sed ea duntaxat quae euidenter expressa sunt in sacris literis, aut sine quibus non constat ratio salutis nostrae. Ad haec pauca sufficiunt, et pauca citius persuadentur pluribus. Nunc ex vnico articulo sexcentos facimus, quorum aliqui tales sunt vt citra periculum pietatis vel nesciri possint vel ambigi.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Bowdlerization of Classical Texts

Thanks to Jaume Ripoll Miralda for drawing my attention to the technique of bowdlerization employed in the series Col·lecció Fundació Bernat Metge. The series is similar to the Loeb Classical Library, in that it presents Greek or Latin texts on the left-hand pages, with a Catalan translation on the right-hand pages, but the critical apparatus and notes appear to be much more extensive than those in the LCL.

Here is an image showing how the series deals with an obscene original, from M. Valeri Marcial, Epigrames, Vol. I: Espectacles: Llibres I-IV (Barcelona: Fundació Bernat Metge, 1949), pp. 28-29 (Martial 1.46):

Note that the epigram appears in full in Latin, but instead of a translation there is a space filled with three asterisks.

For the benefit of the prurient-minded, here is the Latin with D.R. Shackleton Bailey's English translation:
Cum dicis 'propero, fac si facis,' Hedyli, languet
    protinus et cessat debilitata Venus.
expectare iube: velocius ibo retentus.
    Hedyli, si properas, dic mihi ne properem.

1 & 4 Hedyli Bentley: -le γ (deest β)

Hedylis, when you say "I'm in a hurry, do it if you're going to," forthwith my passion languishes; crippled, it subsides. Tell me to wait, and I shall go all the faster for the check. Hedylis, if you are in a hurry, tell me not to be in a hurry.
Not that obscene, really — even Walter C.A. Ker translated it in the original Loeb edition (1919). On the sex of Hedylis or Hedylus see P.T. Eden, "More Observations on Martial," Mnemosyne 52.5 (October, 1999) 578-584 (at 578-579).

Also from Jaume:
But maybe the most outstanding censorship to me was a Spanish edition of the poems by Catullus, which is quite an oddity to find these days. The famous "Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo" was translated into Spanish as "Os demostraré mi hombría": I will show you my manhood.


The Credulity of Mortals

Erasmus, letter to Jan Šlechta (November 1, 1519; tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
It seems to me astonishing that nothing can be thought of so monstrous that it finds no followers.

Illud mihi mirum videri solet, nihil excogitari posse tam prodigiosum, quin suos reperiat sectatores.
So great is the credulity of mortals, and such their infinite fertility of ideas. I believe myself that if anyone arose now and taught that religion required men and women to dance together naked in the market-place, he would not lack followers and patrons for his way of thinking.

Adeo credulum est genus mortalium et tanta est ingeniorum varietas. Equidem opinor, si quis exoriatur nunc qui doceat religiosum esse si viri nudi cum foeminis nudis saltent in foro, non defore sectae suos discipulos ac patronos.
See the entry on Šlechta by J.K. Zeman in Contemporaries of Erasmus, edd. Peter G. Bietenholz and Thomas B. Deutscher, Vol. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), pp. 259-261.


Notes and References

Marc Bloch (1886-1944), The Historian's Craft, tr. Peter Putnam (New York: Vintage Books, 1953), p. 88:
But when certain readers complain that a single note, strutting along by itself at the foot of the page, makes their heads swim, or when certain publishers claim that their customers, doubtless less hypersensitive in reality than they would have us believe, are tortured by the mere sight of a page thus disfigured, these aesthetes merely prove their imperviousness to the most elementary maxims of an intellectual ethic. For, apart from the free play of imagination, we have no right to make any assertion which cannot be verified and a historian who in using a document indicates the source as briefly as possible (that is, the means of finding it again) is only obeying a universal rule of honesty. Corrupted by dogma and myth, current opinion, even when it is least hostile to enlightenment, has lost the very taste for verification. On that day when, having first taken care not to discourage it with useless pedantry, we shall succeed in persuading the public to measure the value of a science in proportion to its willingness to make refutation easy, the forces of reason will achieve one of their most smashing victories. Our humble notes, our finicky little references, currently lampooned by many who do not understand them are working toward that day.

Mais lorsque certains lecteurs se plaignent que la moindre ligne, faisant cavalier seul au bas du texte, leur brouille la cervelle, lorsque certains éditeurs prétendent que leurs chalands, sans doute moins hypersensibles en réalité qu'ils ne veulent bien les peindre, souffrent le martyre à la vue de toute feuille ainsi déshonorée, ces délicats prouvent simplement leur imperméabilité aux plus élémentaires préceptes d’une morale de l'intelligence. Car, hors des libres jeux de la fantaisie, une affirmation n'a le droit de se produire qu'à la condition de pouvoir être vérifiée; et pour un historien, s'il emploie un document, en indiquer le plus brièvement possible la provenance, c'est-à-dire le moyen de le retrouver, équivaut sans plus à se soumettre à une règle universelle de probité. Empoisonnée de dogmes et de mythes, notre opinion, même la moins ennemie des lumières, a perdu jusqu'au goût du contrôle. Le jour où, ayant pris soin d'abord de ne pas la rebuter par un oiseux pédantisme, nous aurons réussi à la persuader de mesurer la valeur d'une connaissance sur son empressement à tendre le cou d'avance à la réfutation, les forces de la raison remporteront une de leurs plus éclatantes victoires. C'est à la préparer que travaillent nos humbles notes, nos petites références tatillonnes que moquent aujourd'hui, sans les comprendre, tant de beaux esprits.
I miss the ironic "tant de beaux esprits" in the translation.

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Monday, February 26, 2018


An Obscenity in Erasmus?

Erasmus, "Additional Formulae," Colloquies, tr. Craig R. Thompson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997 = Complete Works of Erasmus, 39), pp. 118-131 (at 119-120):
Christian What good's a letter without money? Just what purpose does an empty letter serve? What value has it? What good does an empty letter bring, do, serve, afford? Whom does a letter without money please? What good's an idle letter? Of what help is it? For what use? What end does it serve? What does it bring of importance? What do useless, empty letters matter?

Peter Useful, suitable, convenient for cleaning your backside with. They're serviceable for cleaning your buttocks. If you don't know their use, they're good for cleaning your behind. For wiping your buttocks. For cleaning your rear.
The Latin, from Erasmus, "Colloquiorum Familiarum Formulae," Opera Omnia, I.3 = Colloquia, ed. L.-E. Halkin, F. Bierlaire, R. Hoven (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 76-104 (at 81-82, with apparatus):
AVGVSTINVS. Quorsum spectant literae sine pecunia? ad quid tandem inanes conducunt literae? Quorsum valent, ad quid conferunt, faciunt, literae vacuae? Cui gratae, cui acceptae litterae sine nummis, quid emolumenti adferunt literae inanes?

CHRISTIANVS. Podici tergendo vtiles, idoneae, conducunt natibus tergendis. Si vsum nescis earum, ad anum expurgandum valent, ad nates tergendas, ad posticum purgandum.


purgandum B: purgandum. AVGVSTINVS. Equidem noui quendam cuius lingua malim ad hoc abuti. CHRISTIANVS. At ego noui cuius lingua nihilo tutius sit abstergi, quam aconiti foliis. AVGVSTINVS. Iste igitur dignus est, qui aconitum edat ardeleo C
B = ed. Louanii, Th. Martens, Cal. Mart. 1519
C = ed. Louanii, Th. Martens (1519)
Edward Lee, in a letter to Erasmus (February 1, 1520; tr. R.A.B. Mynors), quotes the passage from edition C (apparatus above), which he thought referred to him:
I should by now be ashamed to produce another of your trumped-up charges — it is so foul and disgusting, stinking as it does of the privy — were it not that it provides a second specimen of Erasmus' famous modesty. It runs like this:
AUGUSTINE What useful purpose do these vacuous studies serve?

CHRISTIAN They can be used for wiping the buttocks, and are fit for wrapping mackerel and the like.

AUGUSTINE For my part, I know a man whose tongue I would rather divert to such a task.

CHRISTIAN I on the other hand know someone by whose tongue it would be as risky to be wiped as by aconite leaves.

AUGUSTINE He really deserves then to eat aconite, the rapscalleon.
I ask you, Erasmus, are these words worthy of you? Are they worthy of a man who wishes, like you, to be thought a theologian and the world's great critic? Could one say anything filthier, more revolting, more poisonous? Is there a noisy ruffian, a buffoon, a low comedian, the keeper of a privy who could have voided anything so foul on anyone?
Erasmus defended himself against the charge of obscenity in "An Apologia in Response to the Two Invectives of Edward Lee," tr. Erika Rummel in Erasmus, Controversies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005 = Complete Works of Erasmus, 72), pp. 1-65 (at 52-53):
First of all, I ask you, dear reader, what is obscene about someone who teaches the Latin language giving this example: 'This book is good for nothing except wiping behinds.' Is it so obscene to name that part of the body when a part popularly considered more obscene is named in the Bible: 'vagina'? Tell me, if a schoolteacher threatens his boys with the rod, is he considered to speak obscenely because he names that part of the body which is usually struck? Would it be considered obscene if those who discuss the nature of living creatures named all parts of the human body by their proper names? You will say: They do so for the purpose of instruction. In this case too I give instruction in the Latin language. Would the author of a lexicon be considered obscene when he explains words denoting in Latin what is commonly regarded as filthy? Just as no blame attaches to the surgeon or physician who treats obscene parts of the body, so the person who names them for some useful purpose ought to be free of blame. I should like to ask Lee: Has he never heard the male member mentioned frivolously at social gatherings with his friends, or the word for hinder parts that is used even by respectable people? And how does this agree with his quotation from Jerome in Annotation 31? Jerome says that it is not dishonourable to mention any part of the human body. I shall not defend here the Cynics, who believe that it is not foul to say what is not foul to do. I like modesty of speech, and have always been careful to preserve it, even in books written for sport and entertainment. In this passage I certainly cannot see anything obscene. It is spoken passionately rather than obscenely against a virulent tongue that deserves to be cut out with the sword and given over to the most abject uses.

As a young man, I remember, I once travelled aboard a ship carrying the usual mixed crowd. Among them was a theologian who had made a great name for himself, a member of the Dominican order, whose sermons were popular with the people. He was a corpulent man. A sailor began joking about him for obviously leading a soft life. When he had said many ridiculous things — the kind of jokes common people usually make about prefects of nunneries — the theologian replied that he lacked only one comfort in life, which had not yet been mentioned. When the sailor asked right away what that was, he said: 'Your tongue, to wipe my backside.' Loud laughter ensued, and no one thought that it was spoken indecently, because it was spoken against a slanderous tongue. For this reason I cannot sufficiently express my surprise at Lee, whose eyes would discern a detestable obscenity in my words even though they are not spoken in my own person and are uttered during a drinking bout.
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I Don't Know

Marc Bloch (1886-1944), The Historian's Craft, tr. Peter Putnam (New York: Vintage Books, 1953), pp. 59-60:
It is always disagreeable to say: "I do not know. I cannot know." It must not be said except after an energetic, even a desperate search. But there are times when the sternest duty of the savant, who has first tried every means, is to resign himself to his ignorance and to admit it honestly.

Il est toujours désagréable de dire: «je ne sais pas», «je ne peux pas savoir». Il ne faut le dire qu'après avoir énergiquement, désespérément cherché. Mais il y a des moments où le plus impérieux devoir du savant est, ayant tout tenté, de se résigner à l'ignorance et de l'avouer honnêtement.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


The Virus of the Present

Marc Bloch (1886-1944), The Historian's Craft, tr. Peter Putnam (New York: Vintage Books, 1953), p. 38:
In truth, whoever lacks the strength, while seated at his desk, to rid the mind of the virus of the present may readily permit its poison to infiltrate even a commentary on the Iliad or the Ramayana.

En vérité, qui, une fois devant sa table de travail, n'a pas pas la force de soustraire son cerveau aux virus du moment sera fort capable d'en laisser filtrer les toxines jusque dans un commentaire de L'Iliade ou du Ramayana.


Charms of Zois

Auguste Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae (Paris: Albert Fontemoing, 1904), p. 138, number 86 = Eric Ziebarth, Neue Verfluchungstafeln aus Attika, Boiotien und Euboia, number 22 (from Boeotia, now in Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Inv. 9363), tr. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World, ed. John G. Gager (1992; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 85-86, with footnotes:
(Side A) I assign Zois the Eretrian, wife of Kabeira, to Earth and to Hermes— her food, her drink, her sleep, her laughter, her intercourse,1 her playing of the kithara,2 and her entrance,3 her pleasure, her little buttocks,4 her thinking, her eyes ...
(Side B)5 and to Hermes (I consign) her wretched walk, her words, deeds, and evil talk ...

1. The Greek term sunousia could be used of social or sexual intercourse.
2. A common musical instrument, related to the zither.
3. The Greek term parodos might mean "entrance" or "passage," thus designating a particular way of entering a room. But it was also used as a technical term in Greek theater and could refer to public recitation. Here it may also have sexual overtones.
4. The Greek term pugeón generally referred to the buttocks but might also be used of certain kinds of dancing, which seems to fit well here where other aspects of performance or entertainment are in focus.
5. The writing on Side B is quite fragmentary.
The Greek:
A.1 παρατίθομαι Ζο-
ίδα τὴν Ἐρετρικὴν
τὴν Καβείρα γυναῖκα
[— τ]ῆ Γῆ καὶ τῶ Ἑρμῆ, τὰ βρώ-
ματα αὐτῆς, τὸν ποτᾶ, τὸν ὕ-
πνον αὐτῆς, τὸν γέλωτα,
τὴν συνουσίην, τὸ κιθ{φε}άρισ[μα] {κιθάρισμα}
αὐτῆς κὴ τὴν πάροδον αὐ-
[τῆς], τὴν ἡδον<ὴν>, τὸ πυγίον,
[τὸ] <φρό>νημα, {ν} ὀφθα[λμοὺς]
— —ααπηρη(?) τῆ Γῆ.
B.1 καὶ τῶ Ἑρμῆ τὴν
περιπάτη<σι>ν μοχθη-
ρ[ὰ]ν, ἔπεα [ἔ]ργα, ῥήματα κακὰ
καὶ τὸ — — —
Some discussions:
Who commissioned this curse tablet directed against Zois? Some think it was a romantic rival for her husband Kabeira's affection, others that it was a fellow musician seeking to upstage her and acquire her business clients. Maybe it was just another woman, envious of Zois' charms. Her naughty way of sashaying around (περιπάτησιν μοχθηρὰν) and entering a room (πάροδον) was quite fetching, I imagine, especially with her diminutive derrière (πυγίον). For some reason I'm reminded of Horace's "dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo, / dulce loquentem."

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson (October 27, 1951 - February 18, 2018)

Someone should do for my dear departed friend Ian Jackson, scholar, author, and antiquarian bookseller, what he recently did for one of his friends, namely write a detailed account of his life and achievements — see Bernard M. Rosenthal, 5 May 1920 - 14 January 2017: A Biographical and Bibliographical Account by Ian Jackson in the Style of Pierre Bayle (1646-1706) (Berkeley: The Wednesday Table, 2017). I don't have the knowledge or skill for such a tribute, but now that the initial shock of Ian's passing is starting to wear off, it would be disloyal and ungrateful of me not to say a few words, however inadequate, about this remarkable man. I was going to wait until his obituary appeared in the newspaper before writing anything, but news of his tragic and untimely death has by now already appeared elsewhere.

Ian first swam into my ken (he would have immediately caught the allusion and, I hope, pardoned the cliché) in June of 2011, when I received in the mail a package from him filled with books, articles (by himself and others), and a charming letter of introduction. It was to be the first of many such packages. Everywhere I turn in my house I see gifts given to me by Ian, from pictures on the walls to books (hundreds of them) on the shelves.

It was also in June of 2011 that the acknowledgement "Hat tip: Ian Jackson" first appeared on this blog. Ian, polymath and polyglot that he was, should have had his own corner of the World Wide Web from which to disseminate witty observations and remarks on his extensive reading, but he chose instead to favor me with much of his Lesefrüchte. I still have boxes of unused material which he sent me, and so "Hat tip: Ian Jackson" will continue to appear in this space, despite his death.

Ian Jackson was born in Montreal, the son of physicist John Jackson and Barbara Cook. He attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, in his words "attracted by the fact that it was then still possible to graduate essentially by reading in the library — with the aid of sympathetic professors, chiefly British expatriates with mere M.A.'s, in the twilight years of that Golden Age before the 'Ph.D. incubus' barred many a delightful eccentric from the academic world." In 1973 he received the degree of B.A. in Classics. That might have been the end of his formal education, but he soon became through self-tuition an immensely erudite independent scholar, spending two or three hours a day reading in local academic libraries (primarily at the University of California at Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union).

His knowledge of foreign languages and literatures was exceptional. A native Frenchman said of him, "Ian speaks excellent French — the French of the 18th century." Among his many unpublished works is a wonderfully idiomatic translation of Roland Cailleux's La Religion du Coeur (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1985), in which various minor characters give their version of the Gospel narrative. Ian never studied Italian in school, but picked it up from listening to opera and from his knowledge of other Romance languages. Another unpublished work is Lettres à une Inconnue, an English translation of Leo Spitzer's letters, over a hundred in all, written in Italian to a young woman.

Many of Ian's works appeared in self-published limited editions under the imprint "Ian Jackson Books." With his wife Ann Arnold (artist, book illustrator, and fascinating and attractive figure in her own right), he published such titles as The Chaste Mouse and the Wanton Mouse (Lunenburg: Stinehour Editions, 2016) and Addie & Zika (Berkeley: Ian Jackson Books, 2017). Under the anagrammatic pseudonym Jan Cosinka, he wrote Teach Yourself Malkielese (Berkeley: Ian Jackson, 2006), a study of the idiolect of the Romance philologist Yakov Malkiel. The speech of his own father was the subject of another book, Mathein Pathein: A Thesaurus of the Idiolect of John David Jackson (1925-2016) (Berkeley: Ian Jackson, 2016). His ground-breaking study The Price-Codes of the Book-Trade: A Preliminary Guide (Berkeley: Ian Jackson, 2010) was followed by a 2nd revised and enlarged edition (Narberth: Bruce McKittrick, 2017). These are just a few of his many books.

Ian contributed articles, book reviews, and obituaries (in English, French and Italian) to periodicals such as Landscape, Fine Print, North American Pomona, Garden History, The Bookplate Journal, The Independent, The Book Collector, Bookdealer, Petits Propos Culinaires, Archives of Natural History, Pacific Horticulture, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Conférence, Belfagor, and Taxon. Just to compile a list of his writings would in itself be a worthy act of pietas, but the materials to do so are currently unavailable to me. I have some of his books, and I have started to make a collection, for my own use, of his Belfagor and Taxon articles from the JSTOR repository.

That such a man chose to make me his friend is a high honor, and I will do my best to perpetuate his memory in whatever small way I can. Although we never met in person (he didn't drive, and I rarely leave home), I have several photographs of Ian. Here he is, surrounded by some of his favorite things, shortly after being diagnosed with the cruel disease which took him away from family and friends much too soon:

I would be very glad to receive (megilleland AT and perhaps to publish reminiscences from Ian's other friends.



Peter Gay (1923-2015), My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 44:
In my fond imagination I had thought of rage as a fixed quantity. The more I released, the less would be left. But it soon appeared that my fury was being fed by a subterranean stream that continuously refilled the reservoir I thought I had emptied.

Friday, February 23, 2018


We Are Not Smart Enough

Wendell Berry, What Are People For? (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), p. 209:
For a long time now we have understood ourselves as traveling toward some sort of industrial paradise, some new Eden conceived and constructed entirely by human ingenuity. And we have thought ourselves free to use and abuse nature in any way that might further this enterprise. Now we face overwhelming evidence that we are not smart enough to recover Eden by assault, and that nature does not tolerate or excuse our abuses.


Pater Noster

Erasmus, Complaint of Peace 18 (tr. Betty Radice):
Tell me, how can the soldier during divine worship pray in the words 'Our Father'? What impudence, to dare call on God as Father, when you are making for your brother's throat! 'Hallowed be thy name.' How could the name of God be less hallowed than by your violence towards each other? 'Thy kingdom come.' Is this how you pray, when you are planning so much bloodshed to get a kingdom for yourself? 'Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' But God's will is for peace, and you are preparing for war. Do you ask for daily bread from our common Father when you burn your brother's crops and would prefer them to be lost to you rather than to benefit him? And then, how can you say 'Forgive us the debts we owe, as we forgive those who are indebted to us,' you who are hurrying to murder your kin? You pray to be spared the danger of being put to the test, but you risk danger to yourself so that you can endanger your brother. Do you beg to be delivered from the evil one while you are plotting the worst of evils against your brother at his prompting?

Quaeso, quid in hisce sacris orat miles, Pater noster? Os durum, audes eum appellare Patrem, qui fratris tui iugulum petis? Sanctificetur nomen tuum. Qui magis dehonestari poterat nomen Dei, quam istiusmodi inter vos tumultibus? Adveniat regnum tuum. Sic oras, qui tanto sanguine tyrannidem tuam moliris? Fiat voluntas tua, quemadmodum in coelo, ita et in terra. Pacem vult ille, et tu bellum paras? Panem quotidianum a communi Patre petis, qui fraternas exuris segetes, et tibi quoque mavis perire, quam illi prodesse? Iam quonam ore dices illud? Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris, qui ad parricidium festinas? Deprecaris periculum tentationis, qui tuo periculo fratrem in periculum pertrahis? A malo liberari postulas, cuius instinctu summum malum fratri machinaris?


The Byunskis

Peter Gay (1923-2015), My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 179-180:
My father did his best, in fact, to be a good citizen-to-be. When he encountered complaining refugees, whom he disdainfully called "the Byunskis," he was pitiless with them. This unlovely epithet was loosely based on an invidious comparison popular with a number of German Jews who had not adjusted to the United States: Bei uns in Deutschland war alles besser, they would say, "At home in Germany everything was better." Though not normally a preacher, my father would give little sermons on the text of gratitude. Emigrés ought to be glad to be alive and to have landed in the hospitable, democratic United States.


Odium Theologicum

Erasmus, letter to Leonardus Priccardus (July 1, 1519; tr. R.A.B. Mynors):
I know quite well, my learned friend Leonardus, that men of this kidney are never idle; their chief resource lies in fluent falsehoods and brazen innuendo. For my part, I am already hardened to all that; I can only marvel that persons who are distinguished by their profession of the religious life should feel themselves free to do something which conflicts above all with true religion. They wish it to be thought an unpardonable sin if they eat meat; and yet it is virtuous to rain the poisoned arrows of their hellish language on a fellow Christian, even on one who has done them some service, although no sort of venom could be more utterly abominable.

Sciebam, eruditissime Leonarde, genus hoc hominum nusquam cessare: summum illis praesidium in mendacibus linguis atque impudentissimis sycophantiis positum est. Ego vero iam ad ista occallui: tantum admiror homines professione pietatis insignes id sibi permittere quod omnium maxime cum vera pietate pugnat. Inexpiabile scelus haberi volunt, si carnibus vescantur; et sanctum est fratrem, etiam de ipsis bene merentem, linguae spiculis Tartareo veneno tinctis confodere, cum nullum sit veneficii genus execrabilius.
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Thursday, February 22, 2018


Tante Hede's Motto

Peter Gay (1923-2015), My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 27 (on his maternal aunt):
Her motto was, "Unfortunately, I am always right," and she meant it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


National Divisions

Erasmus (1466-1536), Complaint of Peace 22-23 (tr. Betty Radice):
The English are hostile to the French, for no other reason than that they are French. The Scots are disliked by the British, solely for being Scots. Germans don't agree with French, Spaniards don't agree with either. What perversity — for the mere name of a place to divide people when there is so much which could bring them together! If you are British you are ill-disposed to a Frenchman. Why don't you wish him well as another man and a fellow-Christian? How can something so trivial weigh more with people than so many natural ties, and so many bonds in Christ? Places divide bodies, not minds. In times past the Rhine separated the French from the Germans, but the Rhine does not divide Christian from Christian. The Pyrenees are the mountain-barrier between the Spaniards and the French, but they do not destroy the communion of the church. The English are cut off from the French by the sea, but this does not break up the unity of faith.

Anglus hostis est Gallo, nec ob aliud, nisi quod Gallus est. Scoto Britannus infensus est, nec aliam ob rem, nisi quod Scotus est. Germanus cum Franco dissidet, Hispanus cum utroque. O pravitatem, disiungit inane loci vocabulum. Cur non potius tot res conciliant? Male vis Britannus Gallo, cur non potius bene vis homo homini, Christianus Christiano? Cur res frivola plus apud istos potest, quam tot naturae nexus, tot Christi vincula? Locus corpora dirimit, non animos. Separabat olim Rhenus Gallum a Germano, at Rhenus non separat Christianum a Christiano. Pyrenaei montes Hispanos a Gallis seiungunt, at iidem non dirimunt ecclesiae communionem. Mare dirimit Anglos a Gallis, at non dirimit religionis societatem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Fragrant Belches

Theophrastus, On Odors 12.59 (tr. Arthur Hort):
It is to be expected that perfumes should have medicinal properties in view of the virtues of spices: for these too have such virtues. The effects of plasters and of what some call 'poultices' prove what virtues they display, since they disperse tumours and abscesses and produce a distinct effect on various other parts of the body, on its surface, but also on the interior parts: for instance, if one lays a plaster on his abdomen and breast, the patient forthwith produces fragrant odours along with his eructations.

Εὐλόγως δὲ τὰ μύρα φαρμακώδη διὰ τὴν τῶν ἀρωμάτων δύναμιν· καὶ γὰρ τὰ ἀρώματα τοιαῦτα. δηλοῖ δὲ τά τε καταπλάσματα καὶ ἃ δή τινες μαλάγματα καλοῦσιν οἵας ἀποδείκνυται δυνάμεις τά τε φύματα καὶ τὰ ἀποστήματα διαχέοντα καὶ ἄλλα πλείω τῶν κατὰ τὸ σῶμα διαλλοιοῦντα, ἐπιπολῆς μὲν ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἐν βάθει, οἷον, ἄν τις καταπλάσῃ τὰ ὑποχόνδρια καὶ τὸ στῆθος, εὐθὺς σὺν τοῖς ἐρυγμοῖς ἀποδίδωσιν εὐώδεις τὰς ὀσμάς.


Bar Codes

Ian Jackson, "The aesthetic bane of bar coding," a review of Mécènes et collectionneurs, 2 vols. (Paris: Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1999), in Taxon 49.2 (May, 2000) 355-356 (at 356):
No director of an art museum would dream of attaching a bar code to the blank margin of a Rembrandt etching, however convenient it might be for regulating the supply of study material to art historians in the print room. Yet many an herbarium custodian has done just that, even to historic specimens, so that they may be checked in and out in bulk, like tins of soup at a grocery store. These administrative barbarians have not even the taste to place the discordant label on the backs of sheets, presumably so that they may be copied with all essential data present, like a police mug shot.

This may seem to be a small thing to complain of, but the bar code is insidious. It is perhaps the greatest failure in industrial design of the 20th century. Someday (when the last taxonomist is dead?) expensive teams of archivists may spend years in removing bar codes, as art restorers now remove grotesque over-paintings.


The Greatest Cheat

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.7.5 (tr. ‎Amy L. Bonnette):
And he called no small cheat anyone who would deprive another of money or equipment, taking it by persuasion, but he called by far the greatest cheat the one who, although not worthy, deceives others through persuasion that he is competent to lead the city.

ἀπατεῶνα δ᾽ ἐκάλει οὐ μικρὸν μὲν οὐδ᾽ εἴ τις ἀργύριον ἢ σκεῦος παρά του πειθοῖ λαβὼν ἀποστεροίη, πολὺ δὲ μέγιστον ὅστις μηδενὸς ἄξιος ὢν ἐξηπατήκοι πείθων ὡς ἱκανὸς εἴη τῆς πόλεως ἡγεῖσθαι.

Monday, February 19, 2018


The Two Most Fascinating Subjects in the Universe

Brigid Brophy (1929-1995), New Statesman (November 15, 1963):
The two most fascinating subjects in the universe are sex and the eighteenth century.


Latin Intoxication

André Crépin, "Bede and the Vernacular," in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, ed. Gerald Bonner (London: S.P.C.K., 1976), pp. 170-192 (at 171):
Latin was all the more easily learnt as children entered the monastery quite young—Bede at seven (HE v.24)—and henceforward were submitted to a kind of Latin intoxication. They had to learn Latin by heart, read Latin, chant Latin, speak Latin, write Latin, think Latin, dream Latin.


A Useless Burden on the Earth

Homer, Odyssey 20.377-379 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Here, for one, somebody brought you in this vagabond
who wants his food and his wine, who does not know how to do any
work, who has no strength, but is just a weight on the good land.

οἷον μέν τινα τοῦτον ἔχεις ἐπίμαστον ἀλήτην,
σίτου καὶ οἴνου κεχρημένον, οὐδέ τι ἔργων
ἔμπαιον οὐδὲ βίης, ἀλλ᾽ αὔτως ἄχθος ἀρούρης.
Cf. ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης = a useless burden on the earth (Iliad 18.104), a favorite phrase of mine to describe certain people.


All Flesh

1 Peter 1.24 (KJV):
All flesh is as grass,
    and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth,
    and the flower thereof falleth away.

πᾶσα σὰρξ ὡς χόρτος,
    καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου·
ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος,
    καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν.

αὐτῆς: ἀνθρώπου
Textus Receptus, LXX Isaiah 40.6

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Between the Thighs

[Warning: X-rated.]

Konstantinos Kapparis, Prostitution in the Ancient Greek World (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2018), p. 198:
The absurd concept of intercrural sex initially developed by Dover on the basis of a few vase paintings and scarce references to the term διαμηρίζειν has found an unexpected amount of support.135 It is astonishing that such weak and unsafe evidence has been considered sufficient to declare intercrural sex to be universal practice and the ideal form of Greek homosexual love. At the same time it is noteworthy that the only instance in which "taking apart the thighs" (διαμηρίζειν) appears in classical Greek literature it refers to heterosexual sex, and may simply imply intercourse in the missionary position.136 Several references in a male-to-male context come from authors of later antiquity, and even in those instances "taking the thights [sic, read thighs] apart" does not inevitably indicate intercrural intercourse.137 These scant and problematic references suggest that intercrural contact on occasion might have been one possible hypotonic and somewhat unsatisfactory avenue of sexual gratification, but it certainly would not have been worth a long pursuit, lavish gifts, and the fuss which ancient sources make over same sex relations. If anything, Athenian men were never that desperate for sex, having a large and diverse prostitutional market at their disposal, and slaves to satisfy their whims. Moreover, if intercrural sex had been this universal and morally superior practice in homosexual love, the one associated with the Uranian Aphrodite, as Kenneth Dover, Harald Patzer and others have suggested, we should have expected to hear a lot more about it in classical sources. This forced interpretation of such scanty evidence is fueled by modern taboos about anal intercourse, domination, penetration and shame, which the ancient world obviously did not share.

135 Dover 1978: 100-109; Halperin 88-112.

136 Ar. Av. 1254, where Pisthetairos is threatening to give Iris a demonstration of how stiff his penis can get despite his old age.

137 Some of these references are reported as quotes from classical authors like Zenon and Kleanthes: Zenon fr. 250-252 von Arnim = S.E.M. 190; Kleanthes fr. 613 von Arnim = D.L. 7.172.
Evidence might be scanty, but that is all the more reason to make the most of what little there is. For example, Kapparis' "only instance" of διαμηρίζειν in classical Greek literature actually turns out to be three instances, all in Aristophanes' Birds. Two of the examples refer to girls (669, 1274) and one to boys (706), a fact noticed by Hesychius of Alexandria, who in his Lexicon, s.v. διαμηρίσαι, says τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ παίδων ἀρρένων καὶ θηλείων ἔλεγον, i.e. they used to say this about both boys and girls.

As for Kapparis' contention that intercrural sex would not have been worth "lavish gifts," it so happens that gifts are mentioned in one of the aforementioned passages from Aristophanes' Birds (lines 705-707, the chorus of birds speaking, tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Many are the fair boys who swore they wouldn't, and almost made it to the end of their eligible bloom, but thanks to our power men in love did get between their thighs, one with the gift of a quail, another with a porphyrion, a goose, or a Persian bird.

πολλοὺς δὲ καλοὺς ἀπομωμοκότας παῖδας πρὸς τέρμασιν ὥρας
διὰ τὴν ἰσχὺν τὴν ἡμετέραν διεμήρισαν ἄνδρες ἐρασταί,
ὁ μὲν ὄρτυγα δούς, ὁ δὲ πορφυρίων᾿, ὁ δὲ χῆν᾿, ὁ δὲ Περσικὸν ὄρνιν.
I have read only one page of Kapparis' book, the page quoted above, and my remarks are just nit-picking,

References to most of the relevant ancient linguistic evidence can be found in Diccionario Griego-Español, Vol. V (1997; rpt. Madrid: Instituto de Filología, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2008), p. 1007, col. 3:
διαμηρίδιον, -ου, τό sent. dud., quizá coito intercrural (cf. διαμήριον) o tal vez un tipo de tanga o taparrabos ζῶστρα καὶ διαμηρίδια ἐπὶ τῶν τὰ ἰσχυρὰ (prob. l. τὰ αἰσχρὰ) παιζόντων Hdn.Philet.207.

διαμηρίζω tr. abrir los muslos, abrir de piernas rel. relaciones sexuales ἐγὼ διαμηρίζοιμ' ἂν αὐτὴν ἡδέως Ar.Au.669, cf. 1254, ref. tb. al amor efébico (cf. διαμήριον): πολλοὺς δὲ καλοὺς ... παῖδας διεμήρισαν ἄνδρες ἐρασταί Ar.Au.706, παιδικά Zeno Stoic.1.59, τὸν ἐρώμενον Zeno Stoic.1.59, cf. Phld.Sto.15.8, Hsch.

διαμήριον prob. coito intercrural ἀπόδος τὸ διαμήριον déjame masturbarme entre tus muslos en un vaso, en boca de un hombre que se dirige a un jovencito ABV 664 (arc.).

διαμηρισμός, -οῦ, ὁ práctica del coito intercrural plu., como tema de una parte de la Πολιτεία de Zenón, Zeno Stoic.1.59, σὺ μὲν τοὺς διαμηρισμοὺς ἔχε, μειράκιον Cleanth.Stoic.1.137.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related post: Diogenes Laertius 7.172.


The America of Antiquity

Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1896-1957), The Leopard (tr. Archibald Colquhoun), part 3:
The term "countryside" implies soil transformed by labor; but the scrub clinging to the slopes was still in the very same state of scented tangle in which it had been found by Phoenicians, Dorians, and Ionians when they disembarked in Sicily, that America of antiquity.

Nel termine "campagna" è implicito un senso di terra trasformata dal lavoro: la boscaglia invece, aggrappata alle pendici di un colle, si trovava nell'identico stato d'intrico aromatico nel quale la avevano trovata Fenici, Dori e Ioni quando sbarcarono in Sicilia, quest'America dell'antichità.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Xenocrates, Phryne, and Lais

Diogenes Laertius 4.2.7 (on Xenocrates; tr. R.D. Hicks):
He spent most of his time in the Academy; and whenever he was going to betake himself to the city, it is said that all the noisy rabble and hired porters made way for him as he passed. And that once the notorious Phryne tried to make his acquaintance and, as if she were being chased by some people, took refuge under his roof; that he admitted her out of ordinary humanity and, there being but one small couch in the room, permitted her to share it with him, and at last, after many importunities, she retired without success, telling those who inquired that he whom she quitted was not a man but a statue. Another version of the story is that his pupils induced Lais to invade his couch; and that so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to amputation and cautery.

διῆγέ τ᾿ ἐν Ἀκαδημείᾳ τὰ πλεῖστα· καὶ εἴ ποτε μέλλοι εἰς ἄστυ ἀνιέναι, φασὶ τοὺς θορυβώδεις πάντας καὶ προυνίκους ὑποστέλλειν αὐτοῦ τῇ παρόδῳ. καί ποτε καὶ Φρύνην τὴν ἑταίραν ἐθελῆσαι πειρᾶσαι αὐτόν, καὶ δῆθεν διωκομένην ὑπό τινων καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ οἰκίδιον. τὸν δὲ ἕνεκα τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου εἰσδέξασθαι, καὶ ἑνὸς ὄντος κλινιδίου δεομένῃ μεταδοῦναι τῆς κατακλίσεως· καὶ τέλος πολλὰ ἐκλιπαροῦσαν ἄπρακτον ἀναστῆναι. λέγειν τε πρὸς τοὺς πυνθανομένους ὡς οὐκ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδρός, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἀνδριάντος ἀνασταίη. ἔνιοι δὲ Λαΐδα φασὶ παρακατακλῖναι αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητάς· τὸν δὲ οὕτως εἶναι ἐγκρατῆ, ὥστε καὶ τομὰς καὶ καύσεις πολλάκις ὑπομεῖναι περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον.
Bill Thayer pointed out to me that this translation omits περὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον (around the private parts). Bill also rightly questioned "many times" (πολλάκις) in conjunction with "amputation" (τομὰς). How many times, after all, can someone's private parts be amputated? I wonder if the cuttings might have been far less than amputation, e.g. nicks with a knife in order to subdue the sexual impulse. Of course the story, at least as far as Lais is concerned, is apocryphal, because chronology makes it impossible. I might translate as follows:
... so great was his endurance that he many times submitted to cuttings and burnings around his private parts.
Valerius Maximus 4.3 ext. 3a (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey) tells only the anecdote about Phryne:
We are told that Xenocrates' old age was equally abstemious, and the following story will be no small argument in support of that opinion. Phryne, a celebrated courtesan in Athens, lay at an all-night revel by his side when he was heavy with wine, having made a wager with some young men that she would be able to seduce his temperance. He did not rebuff her either with touch or words, but let her stay in his arms as long as she wished and then let her go foiled of her purpose. An abstemious act of a mind steeped in wisdom, but the little whore's comment too was really amusing. For when the young men jeered at her because for all her beauty and chic she had not been able to cajole a drunken old man with her enticements and demanded the agreed price of their victory, she answered that she had made the bet with them about a man, not a statue. Can anyone put this continence on Xenocrates' part more truly and more aptly on view than the little whore expressed it herself?

aeque abstinentis senectae Xenocraten fuisse accepimus. cuius opinionis non parva fides erit narratio quae sequetur. in pervigilio Phryne, nobile Athenis scortum, iuxta eum vino gravem accubuit, pignore cum quibusdam iuvenibus posito an temperantiam eius corrumpere posset. quam nec tactu nec sermone aspernatus, quoad voluerat in sinu suo moratam, propositi irritam dimisit. factum sapientia imbuti animi abstinens, sed meretriculae quoque dictum perquam facetum: deridentibus enim se adulescentibus, quod tam formosa tamque elegans poti senis animum illecebris pellicere non potuisset, pactumque victoriae pretium flagitantibus, de homine se cum iis, non de statua pignus posuisse respondit. potestne haec Xenocratis continentia a quoquam magis vere magisque proprie demonstrari quam ab ipsa meretricula expressa est?
Here are some artistic representations of Xenocrates resisting temptation:

Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), The Steadfast Philosopher

Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), Phryne Tempting Xenocrates

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Phryne Seduces Xenocrates

Carl Russ (1779-1843), Xenocrates and Phryne

Related posts:


Surveillance by Big Brother

Cicero, Against Catiline 1.1 (tr. C. Macdonald):
Do you think that there is a man among us who does not know what you did last night or the night before last, where you were, whom you summoned to your meeting, what decision you reached?

quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consili ceperis quem nostrum ignorare arbitraris?
Id. 1.6:
Furthermore, although you will not be aware of them, there will be, as there have been in the past, many eyes and ears observing you and keeping watch upon you.

multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentientem, sicut adhuc fecerunt, speculabuntur atque custodient.
Id. 1.8:
Nothing you do, no attempt you make, no plan you form, but I hear of it, see it, and know it all.

nihil agis, nihil moliris, nihil cogitas quod non ego non modo audiam sed etiam videam planeque sentiam.

Related post: The Surveillance State.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Diogenes Laertius 7.172

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. With an English Translation by R.D. Hicks, Vol. II (1925; rpt. London: Heinemann, 1931 = Loeb Classical Library, 185), pp. 276-277 (7.172, on Cleanthes):
φησὶ δ᾿ ὁ Ἑκάτων ἐν ταῖς Χρείαις, εὐμόρφου μειρακίου εἰπόντος, "εἰ ὁ εἰς τὴν γαστέρα τύπτων γαστρίζει, καὶ ὁ εἰς τοὺς μηροὺς τύπτων μηρίζει," ἔφη, "σὺ μέντοι τοὺς διαμηρισμοὺς ἔχε, μειράκιον· αἱ δ᾿ ἀνάλογοι φωναὶ τὰ ἀνάλογα οὐ πάντως σημαίνουσι πράγματα."

Dicit autem Hecato in Sententiis eum, cum adulescens quidam formosus dixisset, Si pulsans ventrem ventrizat, pulsans coxas coxizat, dixisse, Tibi habeas, adulescens, coxizationes: nempe vocabula quae conveniunt analogia non semper etiam significatione conveniunt.
Here Hicks departs from English into the decent obscurity of Latin. The camouflage persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library. Even Liddell-Scott-Jones take refuge in Latin when defining διαμηρίζω (femora diducere, inire) and διαμηρισμός (femorum diductio).

The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius. Literally Translated by C.D. Yonge (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901), p. 324, has the following:
Hecaton tells us in his Apophthegms, that once when a young man said, "If a man who beats his stomach γαστρίζει then a man who slaps his thigh μηρίζει," he replied, "Do you stick to your διαμηρίζει." But analogous words do not always indicate analogous facts.
Here is my attempt at a translation:
According to Hecato in his Apophthegms, when a good-looking young man said, "If a man striking against the stomach stomachizes, so also a man striking against the thighs thighizes," Cleanthes replied, "By all means accept inter-thighizings, young man; but similar words don't always denote similar things."
K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality, updated ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 98 (footnotes omitted), explains the meaning of διαμηρίζω:
When courtship has been successful, the erastes and eromenos stand facing one another; the erastes grasps the eromenos round the torso, bows his head on to or even below the shoulder of the eromenos, bends his knees and thrusts his penis between the eromenos's thighs just below the scrotum. Examples are: B114*, B130, B250*, B482, B486*, B534, R502*, R573*, in all of which the erastes is a man and the eromenos a youth....The original specific word for this type of copulation was almost certainly diamērizein, i.e. 'do ... between the thighs (mēroi) '. When we first encounter the word in Aristophanes' Birds it takes an object of either sex (male in 706, female in 669), and in 1254, where Peisetairos threatens Iris that he will 'stick [her] legs in the air' and diamērizein her, the reference is most naturally to any one of several modes of vaginal copulation from the front (cf. p. 101). The inscription on the bottom of B406, from the richest period of homosexual iconography, says apodos to diamērion, which is to be interpreted as 'grant me' (or 'pay me back') 'the act of diamērizein' (or 'payment for diamērizein') 'which you promised' (or 'which is my due').
For B114 etc. see Dover, "List of Vases," pp. 207-227.

The fragment is number 25 in Heinz Gomoll, Der stoische Philosoph Hekaton. Seine Begriffswelt und Nachwirkung unter Beigaben seiner Fragmente (Leipzig: W. Hoppe, 1933), p. 113 (non vidi), and number XXIV in Harold N. Fowler, Panaetii et Hecatonis Librorum Fragmenta (Bonn, 1885), p. 62. See also Hans von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, Vol. I (1905; rpt. Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1964), p. 137 (number 613).

Hat tip: Bill Thayer.

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018



Theognis 780-781 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
For indeed I am afraid when I look upon the mindless,
people-destroying strife of the Greeks.

    ἦ γὰρ ἔγωγε δέδοικ᾿ ἀφραδίην ἐσορῶν
καὶ στάσιν Ἑλλήνων λαοφθόρον.

781 λαοφθόρον AC: -ων O
Strife here is civil strife, internal dissension (Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. στάσις, sense III.2, citing this passage: "faction, sedition, discord"). According to Liddell-Scott-Jones, λαοφθόρος is a hapax legomenon.

Because the conjunction καὶ joins the nouns ἀφραδίην and στάσιν, a more literal translation would be:
For indeed I am afraid when I look upon the thoughtlessness
and people-destroying strife of the Greeks.


People Who Don't Read

Carlos García Gual, interviewed by José Andrés Rojo in El País (February 12, 2018; my translation):
Today students read very little. Outside of what is required, they know nothing. They spend a lot of time tethered to their mobile phones and have almost no time left to read.


People who don't read are people of very limited understanding: they live in the prison of the present.

Ahora los alumnos leen muy poco. Fuera de lo que es obligatorio, no saben nada. Pasan mucho tiempo dedicados al móvil y no les queda casi nada para leer.


La gente que no lee es gente de mentalidad muy reducida: viven en la prisión del presente.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related post: Reading Books.


Prime Pinister?

Ben Farmer, "Would-be jihadist took out £10,000 bank loan for Islamic State travel plans," Telegraph (February 13, 2018, quoting Barnaby Jameson for the prosecution):
"They are talking across the encrypted messages on Threema about killing the then Prime Pinister and the Queen."
Screen capture:

I confess that the British political system has always mystified me. Is there really an official known as the Prime Pinister? What is his portfolio?


Tuesday, February 13, 2018


The Ideal University Education

J. Enoch Powell (1912-1998), Greek in the University. Inaugural Lecture to the University of Sydney, May 7th, 1938 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938), rpt. in Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell (London: Bellew, 1991), pp. 87-96 (this excerpt on p. 95):
Borrowing and utilising an idea of the Newnham scholar Jane Harrison, I would offer as the ideal university education, apart entirely from any vocational considerations, the following curriculum of study: Latin, and some one modern Romance language, preferably perhaps Italian; Greek, and the modern language of that country which stands in the same relation to Byzantium as we of the West of Europe do to Rome, namely, Russian....Nourished from seventeen to twenty-one upon this fare, our ideal student would be in a position to become a man of true culture and a good European, a 'guter Europäer' in the sense in which Nietzsche coined that term.


Master of My Fate, Captain of My Soul

Robert H. Lowie, The Crow Indians (1935; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), pp. 329-330:
Yet here is a curious fact. Battered by natural forces and surrounded by enemies, the Crow managed to wrest from existence his portion of happiness. Ask an Indian of the old school whether he prefers modern security to the days of his youth: he will brush aside all recent advantages for a whiff of the buffalo-hunting days. If there was starvation then, there were buffalo tongues, too,—supreme among earthly dishes; if you were likely to be killed, you had a chance to gain glory. What is a Crow to look forward to nowadays? Shall he enter unequal competition with white farmers? And his sister aspire to wash the laundry of frontier towns? Under the old régime, harassed as he might be, the Crow was owner of his soul.


Bedtime Reading

T.L. Heath (1861-1940), Introduction to The Elements of Euclid (1933; rpt. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1948 = Everyman's Library, No. 891), p. vi:
I should be surprised if such qualified readers, making the acquaintance of Euclid for the first time, did not find it fascinating, a book to be read in bed or on a holiday, a book as difficult as any detective story to lay down when once begun. I know of one actual case, that of an undergraduate at Cambridge suddenly presented with a copy of Euclid, where this happened.

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Autobiography (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 25:
At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined there was anything so delicious in the world.
and George Sturt (1863-1927), A Small Boy in the Sixties (Horsham, Sussex: Caliban Books, 1982), p. 238:
But I was never a mathematician; and when at last I revelled in Euclid the admiration it excited was of an unexpected kind. It was such clean and agile brain work. Though I could not exercise on the horizontal bar, I liked climbing over the Pons Asinorum; and if I shed tears over the Thirteenth Proposition, it was because its clearness suggested to me that there must be something more in it, which I was missing altogether. I never got far into Third Book; but the Second Book charmed me through and through. It seemed so shapely, so perfect; faultless as the "cuttle-bones" on Bognor beach, or as the sparrow's skull in my museum; or as the cast of Greek sculpture at the School of Art. It had its own finished and unimpeachable beauty.

Monday, February 12, 2018



Peter Green, "Juvenal and His Age," The Shadow of the Parthenon: Studies in Ancient History and Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 216-267 (at 233, footnote omitted):
Juvenal was a bred-in-the-bone rentier, with all the characteristics of his class: contempt for trade, indifference to practical skills, intense political conservatism, with a corresponding fear of change and revolution; abysmal ignorance of, and indifference to, the economic realities governing his existence; a tendency to see all problems, therefore, in over-simplified moral terms, with the application of right conduct to existing authority as a kind of panacea for all ills.
Without being a rentier (Oxford English Dictionary: "A person who derives his or her income from property or investment"), I possess some of the same characteristics.


Dear Zeus

Theognis 373-380 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
Dear Zeus, I'm surprised at you. You are lord over all, you alone have great power and prestige, you know well the mind and heart of every man, and your rule, king, is the highest of all. How then, son of Cronus, does your mind bear to hold sinners and the just man in the same esteem, whether the mind of men is disposed to prudent discretion or to wanton outrage, when they yield to unjust acts?

Ζεῦ φίλε, θαυμάζω σε· σὺ γὰρ πάντεσσιν ἀνάσσεις
    τιμὴν αὐτὸς ἔχων καὶ μεγάλην δύναμιν,
ἀνθρώπων δ᾿ εὖ οἶσθα νόον καὶ θυμὸν ἑκάστου,        375
    σὸν δὲ κράτος πάντων ἔσθ᾿ ὕπατον, βασιλεῦ·
πῶς δή σευ, Κρονίδη, τολμᾷ νόος ἄνδρας ἀλιτροὺς
    ἐν ταὐτῇ μοίρῃ τόν τε δίκαιον ἔχειν,
ἤν τ᾿ ἐπὶ σωφροσύνην τρεφθῇ νόος ἤν τε πρὸς ὕβριν
    ἀνθρώπων, ἀδίκοις ἔργμασι πειθομένων;        380

Sunday, February 11, 2018


A Drug to Ward Off Old Age

Aelian, Characteristics of Animals 6.51 (tr. A.F. Scholfield):
It is said that Prometheus stole fire, and the story goes that Zeus was angered and bestowed upon those who laid information of the theft a drug to ward off old age. So they took it, as I am informed, and placed it upon an ass. The ass proceeded with the load on its back; and it was summer time, and the ass came thirsting to a spring in its need for a drink. Now the snake which was guarding the spring tried to prevent it and force it back, and the ass in torment gave it as the price of the loving-cup the drug that it happened to be carrying. And so there was an exchange of gifts: the ass got his drink and the snake sloughed his old age, receiving in addition, so the story goes, the ass's thirst.

τὸν Προμηθέα κλέψαι τὸ πῦρ ἡ φήμη φησί, καὶ τὸν Δία ἀγανακτῆσαι ὁ μῦθος λέγει καὶ τοῖς καταμηνύσασι τὴν κλοπὴν δοῦναι φάρμακον γήρως ἀμυντήριον. τοῦτο οὖν ἐπὶ ὄνῳ θεῖναι τοὺς λαβόντας πέπυσμαι. καὶ τὸν μὲν προϊέναι τὸ ἄχθος φέροντα, εἶναι δὲ ὥραν θέρειον, καὶ διψῶντα τὸν ὄνον ἐπί τινα κρήνην κατὰ τὴν τοῦ ποτοῦ χρείαν ἐλθεῖν. τὸν οὖν ὄφιν τὸν φυλάττοντα ἀναστέλλειν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀπελαύνειν, καὶ ἐκεῖνον στρεβλούμενον μισθόν οἱ τῆς φιλοτησίας δοῦναι ὅπερ οὖν ἔτυχε φέρων φάρμακον. οὐκοῦν ἀντίδοσις γίνεται, καὶ ὁ μὲν πίνει, ὁ δὲ τὸ γῆρας ἀποδύεται, προσεπιλαβὼν ὡς λόγος τὸ τοῦ ὄνου δίψος.
Nicander, Theriaca 343-358 (tr. A.F. Scholfield):
Now there is a tale of ancient days current among men how, when the first-born seed of Cronus became lord of heaven, he apportioned to his brothers severally their illustrious realms, and in his wisdom bestowed upon mortals Youth, honouring them because they had denounced the Fire-Stealer. The fools, they got no good of their imprudence: for being sluggards and growing weary, they entrusted the gift to an ass for carriage, and the beast, his throat burning with thirst, ran off skittishly, and seeing in its hole the deadly, trailing brute, implored it with fawning speech to aid him in his sore plight. Whereat the snake asked of the foolish creature as a gift the load which he had taken on his back; and the ass refused not its request. Ever since then do trailing reptiles slough their skin in old age, but grievous end attends mortals. The affliction of thirst did the deadly brute receive from the braying ass, and imparts it with its feeble blows.

ὠγύγιος δ' ἄρα μῦθος ἐν αἰζηοῖσι φορεῖται,
ὡς, ὁπότ' οὐρανὸν ἔσχε Κρόνου πρεσβίστατον αἷμα,
Νειμάμενος κασίεσσιν ἑκὰς περικυδέας ἀρχάς        345
Ιδμοσύνῃ, νεότητα γέρας πόρεν ἡμερίοισι
Κυδαίνων· δὴ γάρ ῥα πυρὸς ληίστορ' ἔνιπτον.
Αφρονες· οὐ μὲν τῆς γε κακοφραδίῃς ἀπόνηντο·
Νωθεῖ γὰρ κάμνοντες ἀμορβεύοντο λεπάργῳ
Δῶρα· πολύσκαρθμος δὲ κεκαυμένος αὐχένα δίψῃ        350
Ρώετο, γωλειοῖσι δ' ἰδὼν ὁλκήρεα θῆρα
Οὐλοὸν ἐλλιτάνευε κακῇ ἐπαλαλκέμεν ἄτῃ
Σαίνων· αὐτὰρ ὁ βρῖθος, ὃ δή ῥ' ἀνεδέξατο νώτοις,
ᾔτεεν ἄφρονα δῶρον, ὁ δ' οὐκ ἀπανήνατο χρειώ.
ἐξότε γηραλέον μὲν ἀεὶ φλόον ἑρπετὰ βάλλει        355
ὁλκήρη, θνητοὺς δὲ κακὸν περὶ γῆρας ὀπάζει·
νοῦσον δ' ἀζαλέην βρωμήτορος οὐλομένη θήρ
δέξατο, καί τε τυπῇσιν ἀμυδροτέρῃσιν ἰάπτει.
Note the acrostic showing the poet's name, formed by the letters at the beginning of lines 345-353.

See Malcolm Davies, "The ancient Greeks on why mankind does not live forever," Museum Helveticum 44.2 (1987) 65-75.


Seven Against Thebes

M.L. West (1937-2015), The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 455-456:
Seven champions simultaneously assault the seven gates of the city, where each is faced by a matching champion and laid low. This is obviously an artificial scheme. It is unlikely that any Mycenaean citadel ever had seven gates. The principles of fortification were based on the restriction of access points to the minimum. The hill on which Thebes lies has only three natural approaches. The late Bronze Age city, in the view of archaeological experts, can have had only three or four gates. Even if there had been seven, what general, supposing he happened to have precisely seven heroes at his disposal, would divide his forces equally between the gates instead of concentrating them at the weakest point of the defences?

Saturday, February 10, 2018


A Hard Bed

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 1759 (Z 4104, June 25, 1824):
Someone used to say that coming into this life, we are like a man who lies down on a hard bed. He feels uncomfortable in it, cannot keep still, he tosses and turns a hundred times. In various ways he endeavors to smoothe out, to soften, etc., the bed, always trying and hoping to be able to rest and get to sleep until, not having slept or feeling rested at all, the hour comes when he has to get up. Such and for a similar reason is our restlessness in life, our natural and justified discontent with every state; the efforts and exertions, etc., of a thousand different kinds to make ourselves comfortable and to soften this bed of ours a little; hopes of happiness or at least of some repose, and death which arrives before our hopes come to anything.

Il tale diceva che noi venendo in questa vita, siamo come chi si corica in un letto duro e incomodo, che sentendovisi star male, non vi può star quieto, e però si rivolge cento volte da ogni parte, e proccura in vari modi di appianare, ammollire ec. il letto, cercando pur sempre e sperando di avervi a riposare e prender sonno, finché senz'aver dormito né riposato vien l'ora di alzarsi. Tale e da simil cagione è la nostra inquietudine nella vita, naturale e giusta scontentezza d'ogni stato; cure, studi ec. di mille generi per accomodarci e mitigare un poco questo letto; speranza di felicità o almen di riposo, e morte che previen l'effetto della speranza.


Do You Remember?

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), L'Éducation sentimentale, part 3, chapter 6 (tr. Robert Baldick):
'This isn't how we expected to end up in the old days at Sens, when you wanted to write a critical history of philosophy, and I a great medieval novel about Nogent. I'd found the subject in Froissart: How Messire Brokars de Fénestranges and the Bishop of Troyes attacked Messire Eustache d'Ambrecicourt. Do you remember?'

And as they exhumed their youth, they asked each other after every sentence:

'Do you remember?'

They saw once more the school yard, the chapel, the parlour, the gymnasium at the bottom of the stairs, the faces of masters and boys...

— Ce n'est pas là ce que nous croyions devenir autrefois, à Sens, quand tu voulais faire une histoire critique de la Philosophie, et moi, un grand roman moyen âge sur Nogent, dont j'avais trouvé le sujet dans Froissart: Comment messire Brokars de Fénestranges et l'évêque de Troyes assaillirent messire Eustache d'Ambrecicourt. Te rappelles-tu?

Et, exhumant leur jeunesse, à chaque phrase, ils se disaient:

— Te rappelles-tu?

Ils revoyaient la cour du collège, la chapelle, le parloir, la salle d'armes au bas de l'escalier, des figures de pions et d'élèves...

Friday, February 09, 2018



G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), The Outline of Sanity (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1926), pp. 62-63:
I think the big shop is a bad shop. I think it bad not only in a moral but a mercantile sense; that is, I think shopping there is not only a bad action but a bad bargain. I think the monster emporium is not only vulgar and insolent, but incompetent and uncomfortable; and I deny that its large organization is efficient. Large organization is loose organization. Nay, it would be almost as true to say that organization is always disorganization. The only thing perfectly organic is an organism; like that grotesque and obscure organism called a man. He alone can be quite certain of doing what he wants; beyond him, every extra man may be an extra mistake. As applied to things like shops, the whole thing is an utter fallacy. Some things like armies have to be organized; and therefore do their very best to be well organized. You must have a long rigid line stretched out to guard a frontier; and therefore you stretch it tight. But it is not true that you must have a long rigid line of people trimming hats or tying bouquets, in order that they may be trimmed or tied neatly. The work is much more likely to be neat if it is done by a particular craftsman for a particular customer with particular ribbons and flowers. The person told to trim the hat will never do it quite suitably to the person who wants it trimmed; and the hundredth person told to do it will do it badly; as he does. If we collected all the stories from all the housewives and householders about the big shops sending the wrong goods, smashing the right goods, forgetting to send any sort of goods, we should behold a welter of inefficiency. There are far more blunders in a big shop than ever happen in a small shop, where the individual customer can curse the individual shopkeeper....I have begun these notes with a note on the big shops because they are things near to us and familiar to us all. I need not dwell on other and still more entertaining claims made for the colossal combination of departments. One of the funniest is the statement that it is convenient to get everything in the same shop. That is to stay, it is convenient to walk the length of the street, so long as you walk indoors, or more frequently underground, instead of walking the same distance in the open air from one little shop to another. The truth is that the monopolists' shops are really very convenient—to the monopolist. They have all the advantage of concentrating business as they concentrate wealth, in fewer and fewer of the citizens. Their wealth sometimes permits them to pay tolerable wages; their wealth also permits them to buy up better businesses and advertise worse goods. But that their own goods are better nobody has ever even begun to show; and most of us know any number of concrete cases where they are definitely worse.


Courtship and Marriage Aids

Simon Heffer, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell (London: Faber & Faber, 2014), chapter 5 (page number unknown):
Writing to Strachan — who could not be present — on the morning of his wedding, Powell said he had sat up the previous night 're-reading Ovid's Ars Amatoria. This and Catullus have already stood me in good stead.'124

124 SP: Letter from Powell to Michael Strachan, 2 January 1952.
SP = unpublished papers of Michael Strachan.

Thursday, February 08, 2018


Two Types of People

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 1737 (Z 4068-4069, April 17, 1824):
People who are always used to pouring everything out naturally let out a yell if a fly stings them, or if a vase tips over or breaks, even when they are on their own. Those who are used to their own company and hold everything in do not open their mouths to complain or to ask for help if something happens to them accidentally, even in a crowd.

Le persone avvezze a versarsi sempre al di fuori, esclamano naturalmente anche quando sono solissime, se una mosca le punge, o si versa loro un vaso o si spezza; quelle assuefatte a convivere con se medesime, e ritenersi tutte al di dentro, anche in grande compagnia, se si sentono cogliere da un accidente non aprono bocca per lamentarsi o chiedere aiuto.


Redistribution of Wealth

John Milton (1608-1674), Comus 768-774:
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pamper'd Luxury        770
Now heaps upon som few with vast excess,
Natures full blessings would be well dispenc't
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encomber'd with her store.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


New and Enormous Experiments

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), The Outline of Sanity (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1926), pp. 44-45:
A great nation and civilization has followed for a hundred years or more a form of progress which held itself independent of certain old communications, in the form of ancient traditions about the land, the hearth, or the altar. It has advanced under leaders who were confident, not to say cocksure. They were quite sure that their economic rules were rigid, that their political theory was right, that their commerce was beneficent, that their parliaments were popular, that their press was enlightened, that their science was humane. In this confidence they committed their people to certain new and enormous experiments; to making their own independent nation an eternal debtor to a few rich men; to piling up private property in heaps on the faith of financiers; to covering their land with iron and stone and stripping it of grass and grain; to driving food out of their own country in the hope of buying it back again from the ends of the earth; to loading up their little island with iron and gold till it was weighted like a sinking ship; to letting the rich grow richer and fewer and the poor poorer and more numerous; to letting the whole world be cloven in two with a war of mere masters and mere servants; to losing every type of moderate prosperity and candid patriotism, till there was no independence without luxury and no labour without ugliness; to leaving the millions of mankind dependent on indirect and distant discipline and indirect and distant sustenance, working themselves to death for they knew not whom and taking the means of life from they knew not where; and all hanging on a thread of alien trade which grew thinner and thinner.


Learning by Heart

John Edwin Sandys (1844-1922), A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. III: The Eighteenth Century in Germany, and the Nineteenth Century in Europe and the United States of America (1908; rpt. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1958), p. 152 (on Friedrich Mezger):
It may be added that he was led to his well-known theory of catch-words in Pindar by the practice of learning each ode by heart before commenting on it5.

5 Biogr. Jahrb. 1894, 78-86.
Walter Headlam (1866–1908), introduction to Herodas, The Mimes and Fragments (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1922), p. ix:
The text has been difficult to restore and explain: it is not, when restored and explained, difficult to appreciate. At first critics were all puzzled, and the art is indeed of a new species. Still it is surprising and not encouraging that so many allusions have been left unexplained, considering that somewhere, if we can only find it, there exists the clue to a solution of them all. There is only one way: learn your author by heart—every word, and then set to work to read.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Unlucky Seven

John Edwin Sandys (1844-1922), A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. III: The Eighteenth Century in Germany, and the Nineteenth Century in Europe and the United States of America (1908; rpt. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1958), p. 129 (on Karl Lachmann):
His interest in the Greek poets is exemplified in his able review of Hermann's edition of the Ajax7; a paper on the date and purpose of the Oedipus Coloneüs8; and two Königsberg programs on the Choral Odes and the Dialogue in Greek Tragedy, contending that the total number of lines assigned to each Chorus and each Dialogue, as well as the total number of the lines assigned to each actor, was divisible by seven,—a contention that has not been generally accepted.

Kl. Schr. ii 1 f.
8 Kl. Schr. ii 18.
I think the references are to De choricis systematis tragicorum Graecorum libri quattuor (Berlin: Reimer, 1819) and De mensura tragoediarum liber singularis (Berlin: Reimer, 1822).

I'm reminded of the fantasies concerning the Golden Section ratio in George E. Duckworth, Structural Patterns and Proportions in Vergil's Aeneid (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962).


Motto for an Italian Political Party?

Vergil, Aeneid 7.469 (my translation):
To defend Italy, to thrust the foe from her borders.

tutari Italiam, detrudere finibus hostem.
Italian elections will take place in less than a month, on March 4. Although I'm usually not much interested in politics, so great is my love for Italy that I've been following the news about this particular electoral contest with close attention. I may be misunderstanding the complicated issues, but it occurred to me that the quotation above could well serve as a motto for at least one of the Italian political parties, Lega Nord, which wants not only to restrict migration to Italy but also to deport migrants already in Italy (detrudere finibus hostem):

On second thought, maybe the line from Vergil wouldn't be a good political slogan. It's an example of indirect discourse, spoken by Turnus, and we all know what happened to Turnus and his cause. We should also remember what happened to another politician who quoted Vergil (Aeneid 6.86-87: bella, horrida bella / et Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno) in an incendiary speech — he was immediately removed from office.

Monday, February 05, 2018



Vergil, Aeneid 7.231-233 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. G.P. Goold):
We shall be no shame to the realm, nor shall your renown be lightly told or the grace of such a deed grow faint, nor shall Ausonia repent of having welcomed Troy to her breast.

non erimus regno indecores, nec vestra feretur
fama levis tantique abolescet gratia facti,
nec Troiam Ausonios gremio excepisse pigebit.
Similarly Allen Mandelbaum translates gratia in line 232 as "graciousness."

But I think T.E. Page in his commentary was correct: "gratitude for such a deed." So Frederick Ahl in his translation renders the word as "thanks." The commentaries of R.D. Williams and Nicholas Horsfall (at 7.232) don't discuss the word, but Horsfall in his translation has "gratitude." Cf. Vergil, Aeneid 4.539 (bene apud memores veteris stat gratia facti), where Fairclough and Goold render "gratitude for past kindness stands firm in their mindful hearts."

I know that grace in English can mean gratitude.


Chuck It

A.R.D. Fairburn (1904-1957), "To a Friend in the Wilderness":
[T]he sun is on the sea and the fish are biting,
the garden is full, the fruit begins to fall.
For God's sake chuck it, join me and share my crust,
the world well lost. Make life a long week-end.
I have no wish to circle the globe,
have no desire to travel
beyond my chosen acre: would choose
to live in peace in one place
and make my life one stay:
there is much to unravel, and much to piece together.
I would pick up a shell and scan it for half a day,
wander the paths of childhood, traverse the way
that is lost for ever;
I would think of the living, so restless in their sleep,
I would dream of the dead with their quiet faces,
see in my little room
the world stretched on the great rack of doom.
Philosophers and priests and men of letters
are the Devil's politicians on the stump,
gulling their betters,
history a running sore on Nature's rump,
the world a den of madmen.
Related posts:

Sunday, February 04, 2018


Chief of Sinners

Plautus, Bacchides 612-615 (tr. John Barsby):
Insolent, impudent, angry-tempered, uncontrollable, unreflecting,
Lacking restraint and self-restriction, lacking a sense of right and honour,
Disbelieving and demented, disagreeable and unattractive,
Evil-minded: that's my nature.

petulans, protervo, iracundo animo, indomito, incogitato,
sine modo et modestia sum, sine bono iure atque honore,
incredibilis imposque animi, inamabilis, illepidus vivo,
malevolente ingenio natus.

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