Friday, May 31, 2019



Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book II, Chapter 7 (The Canvassing):
An election, whether managed directly by ballot-box on public hustings, or indirectly by force of public opinion, or were it even by open alehouses, landlords' coercion, popular club-law, or whatever electoral methods, is always an interesting phenomenon. A mountain tumbling in great travail, throwing up dust-clouds and absurd noises, is visibly there; uncertain yet what mouse or monster it will give birth to.

Besides, it is a most important social act; nay, at bottom, the one important social act. Given the men a People choose, the People itself, in its exact worth and worthlessness, is given. A heroic people chooses heroes, and is happy; a valet or flunky people chooses sham-heroes, what are called quacks, thinking them heroes, and is not happy. The grand summary of a man's spiritual condition, what brings out all his herohood and insight, or all his flunkyhood and horn-eyed dimness, is this question put to him. What man dost thou honour? Which is thy ideal of a man; or nearest that? So too of a People: for a People too, every People, speaks its choice, — were it only by silently obeying, and not revolting, — in the course of a century or so.


A Crap Shoot

Terence, The Brothers 739-741 (tr. John Sargeaunt):
Human life is like a game with dice; if you don't get the throw you most want, you must show your skill in making the best of the throw which you do get.

ita vitast hominum quasi quom ludas tesseris.
si illud quod maxume opus est iactu non cadit,
illud quod cecidit forte, id arte ut corrigas.
Alexis, fragment 35 (tr. W.G. Arnott):
That's what life is like; just as dice don't always fall in the same way, the same pattern doesn't last in our daily life either, it undergoes changes.

τοιοῦτο τὸ ζῆν ἐστίν· ὥσπερ οἱ κύβοι
οὐ ταὔτ' ἀεὶ πίπτουσιν, οὐδὲ τῷ βίῳ
ταὐτὸν διαµένει σχῆµα, µεταβολὰς δ' ἔχει.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Grass and Hay

John Gower (1330-1408), Confessio Amantis 8.2436-2439:
That which was whilom grene gras,
Is welked hey at time now.
Forthi mi conseil is that thou
Remembre wel hou thou art old.
whilom = formerly; welked = withered.


Long, Long Ago

Aristophanes, Wasps 1060-1070 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson with his note):
Ah, once upon a time we were valiant in choruses,
and valiant in battle,
and above all most valiant where this is concerned.64
But that's long, long ago,
all gone now, and these locks of mine
bloom whiter than a swan.
But even from these ruins we must
summon up youthful strength,
for I think that my
old age outdoes the ringlets, the getups, and the wide-arsedness
of today's young men.

64 Indicating their phalli.

ὦ πάλαι ποτ᾽ ὄντες ἡμεῖς ἄλκιμοι μὲν ἐν χοροῖς,        1060
ἄλκιμοι δ᾽ ἐν μάχαις,
καὶ κατ᾽ αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο μόνον
ἄνδρες ἀλκιμώτατοι·
πρίν ποτ᾽ ἦν πρὶν ταῦτα, νῦν δ᾽
οἴχεται, κύκνου τ᾽ πολι-
ώτεραι δὴ αἵδ᾽ ἐπανθοῦσιν τρίχες.        1065
ἀλλὰ κἀκ τῶν λειψάνων δεῖ τῶνδε ῥώμην
νεανικὴν σχεῖν· ὡς ἐγὼ τοὐμὸν νομίζω
γῆρας εἶναι κρεῖττον ἢ πολλῶν κικίννους
νεανιῶν καὶ σχῆμα κεὐρυπρωκτίαν.        1070

1063 ἀλκιμώτατοι Bentley: μαχιμώτατοι codd.
1067 σχεῖν Reisig: ἔχειν codd.
1070 κεὐρυπρωκτίαν Kuster: κηὐρυπρωκτίαν codd.
See Martin Revermann, Comic Business: Theatricality, Dramatic Technique, and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 156-157, on whether the chorus actually wore phalli as part of their costume.

I wonder if χοροῖς (1060) could be simply dances.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Haunts of Pan

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932), "The Rural Pan," Pagan Papers, 7th ed. (London: John Lane, 1900), pp. 65-71 (at 67):
Meanwhile, nor launches nor lawns tempt him that pursueth the rural Pan. In the hushed recesses of Hurley backwater, where the canoe may be paddled almost under the tumbling comb of the weir, he is to be looked for; there the god pipes with freest abandonment. Or under the great shadow of Streatley Hill, "annihilating all that's made to a green thought in a green shade"; or better yet, pushing an explorer's prow up the remote untravelled Thame, till Dorchester's stately roof broods over the quiet fields. In solitudes such as these Pan sits and dabbles, and all the air is full of the music of his piping.

Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), Pan im Schilf
(Munich, Neue Pinakothek, Inv. Nr. WAF 67)


A Nest of Friars

Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Summoner's Prologue," Canterbury Tales III.1689-1706 (tr. Nevill Coghill):
"Hold up thy tail, thou Satan!" then said he,
"Show forth thine arse and let the friar see
The nest ordained for friars in this place!"
Ere the tail rose a furlong into space
From underneath it there began to drive,
Much as if bees were swarming from a hive,
Some twenty thousand friars in a rout
And swarmed all over Hell and round about,
And then came back as fast as they could run
And crept into his arse again, each one.
He clapped his tail on them and then lay still.
And after when the friar had looked his fill
On all the torments in that sorry place
His spirit was restored by Heaven's grace
Back to his body again and he awoke.
But all the same the terror made him choke.
So much the devil's arse was in his mind,
The natural heritage of all his kind.

"Hold up thy tail, thow Sathanas!" quod he,
"Shewe forth thin ers, and lat the frere se        1690
Where is the nest of freres in this place."
And er that half a furlong wey of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen from an hive,
Out of the develes ers ther gonne drive
Twenty thousand freres on a route,        1695
And thurghout helle swarmeden aboute,
And comen again as faste as they may gon
And in his ers they crepten everychon;
He clapte his tail again and lay ful stille.
This frere, whan he looked hadde his fille        1700
Upon the tormentz of this sory place,
His spirit God restored, of his grace,
Unto his body agayn, and he awook.
But natheles for fere yet he quook,
So was the develes ers ay in his minde;        1705
That is his heritage of verray kinde.
Jill Mann ad loc.:
The story about the friars hidden in the devil's tail may be a parody of medieval legends in which a monk or friar, vouchsafed a vision of heaven, laments that he sees none of his own order there; he is then shown a multitude of them beneath the Virgin Mary's mantle, as a sign of her special favour to them (see J.V. Fleming, ChauR, 2 (1967), 95-107).
The reference is to John V. Fleming, "The Summoner's Prologue: An Iconographic Adjustment," Chaucer Review 2.2 (Fall, 1967) 95-107.



The Lure of the Forbidden

Ovid, Amores 3.4.17 (tr. Grant Showerman, rev. G.P. Goold):
We ever strive for what is forbid, and ever covet what is denied.

nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata.
This line is increasingly meaningful to me, in matters intellectual, not sexual. Whenever I hear that someone wants to ban, censor, or bowdlerize some piece of literature, art, or music, I defiantly seek out and eat the forbidden fruit.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Men of Flesh and Blood

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book II, Chapter 2 (St. Edmundsbury):
Alas, what mountains of dead ashes, wreck and burnt bones, does assiduous Pedantry dig up from the Past Time...
Another world, truly: and this present poor distressed world might get some profit by looking wisely into it, instead of foolishly. But at lowest, O dilettante friend, let us know always that it was a world, and not a void infinite of grey haze with phantasms swimming in it. These old St. Edmundsbury walls, I say, were not peopled with phantasms; but with men of flesh and blood, made altogether as we are. Had thou and I then been, who knows but we ourselves had taken refuge from an evil Time, and fled to dwell here, and meditate on an Eternity, in such fashion as we could? Alas, how like an old osseous fragment, a broken blackened shin-bone of the old dead Ages, this black ruin looks out, not yet covered by the soil; still indicating what a once gigantic Life lies buried there! It is dead now, and dumb; but was alive once, and spake.
How silent now; all departed, clean gone. The World-Dramaturgist has written: Exeunt. The devouring Time-Demons have made away with it all: and in its stead, there is either nothing; or what is worse, offensive universal dust-clouds, and grey eclipse of Earth and Heaven, from 'dry rubbish shot here!'


Buying and Selling Books

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932), "Non Libri Sed Liberi," Pagan Papers, 7th ed. (London: John Lane, 1900), pp. 31-39 (at 32-34):
The process of the purchase is always much the same, therein resembling the familiar but inferior passion of love. There is the first sight of the Object, accompanied of a catching of the breath, a trembling in the limbs, loss of appetite, ungovernable desire, and a habit of melanholy in secret places. But once possessed, once toyed with amorously for an hour or two, the Object (as in the inferior passion aforesaid) takes its destined place on the shelf — where it stays. And this, saith the scoffer, is all; but even he does not fail to remark with a certain awe that the owner goeth thereafter as one possessing a happy secret and radiating an inner glow. Moreover, he is insufferably conceited, and his conceit waxeth as his coat, now condemned to a fresh term of servitude, groweth shabbier. And shabby though his coat may be, yet will he never stoop to renew its pristine youth and gloss by the price of any book. No man — no human, masculine, natural man — ever sells a book. Men have been known in moments of thoughtlessness, or compelled by temporary necessity, to rob, to equivocate, to do murder, to commit what they should not, to "wince and relent and refrain" from what they should: these things, howbeit regrettable, are common to humanity, and may happen to any of us. But amateur bookselling is foul and unnatural; and it is noteworthy that our language, so capable of particularity, contains no distinctive name for the crime. Fortunately it is hardly known to exist: the face of the public being set against it as a flint — and the trade giving such wretched prices.


Ignorant Interference

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), The Pilot, preface:
It is seldom, indeed, that any institution, practice or system is improved by the blind interference of those who know nothing about it.


Plea for Civility

Aristophanes, Wasps 471-472 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Might we enter into discussion and compromise without this fighting and shrill screaming?

ἔσθ᾿ ὅπως ἄνευ μάχης καὶ τῆς κατοξείας βοῆς
ἐς λόγους ἔλθοιμεν ἀλλήλοισι καὶ διαλλαγάς;

471 ἄνευ codd.: ἂν ἐκ Hermann
I don't see ἀλλήλοισι explicitly rendered, although maybe it's implicit in "discussion" (cf. Herodotus 1.86.4: τυράννοισι ... ἐς λόγους ἐλθεῖν). I might modify the translation slightly to read:
Might we enter into discussion with one another and compromise without this fighting and shrill screaming?

Monday, May 27, 2019


Stars, Moon, and Sun

Robert Burns (1759-1796), "Then Guidewife, Count the Lawin," The Canongate Burns (Edinburgh: Canongate Books Limited, 2003), p. 363:
Gane is the day, and mirk's the night,
But we'll ne'er stray for faute o' light,
For ale and brandy's stars and moon,
And blude-red wine's the rysin Sun.

Then, guidewife, count the lawin, the lawin, the lawin,
Then guidewife count the lawin, and bring a coggie mair.

There's wealth and ease for gentlemen,
And semple-folk maun fecht and fen';
But here we're a' in ae accord,
For ilka man that's drunk 's a lord.
    Then, guidewife, count the lawin, &c.

My coggie is a haly pool
That heals the wounds o' care and dool;
And pleasure is a wanton trout,
An ye drink it a', ye'll find him out.
    Then, guidewife, count the lawin, &c.
A coggie (diminutive of cog) is a drinking cup; fecht = fight, and fen' = fend; dool = dole, sorrow, grief.

Note (op. cit.):
The chorus of this is old but the verses are from Burns. The 'lawin' refers to the reckoning, or bill, an account paid at the end of the night's drinking — in modern colloquial Scots, the 'damage'.



An Exception to God's Omnipresence?

Peter Abelard, Theologia Summi Boni 3.79 (tr. Martha Bayless):
Hence although we believe and instruct that God is everywhere, nevertheless no one should presume to say that he is in an unclean place, either designating that place a latrine or defining it by any other term of filth.

Vnde cum deum ubique esse et credamus et predicemus, nemo tamen dicere presumat eum in inmundo loco esse, ita ut locum ipsum aut latrinam nominet aut alioquo nomine alio determinate spurcitie ipsum assignet.


Sunday, May 26, 2019


The English Faculty

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), The American Language, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937), p. 60:
In the American colleges and high-schools there is no faculty so weak as the English faculty. It is the common catch-all for aspirants to the birch who are too lazy or too feeble in intelligence to acquire any sort of exact knowledge, and the professional incompetence of its typical ornament is matched only by his hollow cocksureness.
I have known some exceptions.


Beautiful and Romantic

G.G. Coulton (1858-1947), Chaucer and His England (1908; rpt. London: Methuen, 1963), pp. 105-106:
That which seems most beautiful and romantic to us was not necessarily so five hundred years ago. The literature of Chivalry, for instance, seems to have touched Chaucer comparatively little: he scarcely mentions it but in more or less open derision. Again, while Ruskin and William Morris seem at times almost tempted to wish themselves back to the 14th century for the sake of its Gothic architecture, Chaucer in his retrospective mood is not ashamed to yearn for a Golden Age as yet uncorrupted by architects of any description whatever—
No trumpes for the warrës folk ne knew,
Nor towers high and wallës round or square . . .
Yet were no palace chambers, nor no halls;
In cavës and in woodës soft and sweet
Slepten this blessed folk withouten walls.*
* Aetas Prima, l. 23 ff.


An Old Man's Reminiscences

Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), An Old Man's Reminiscences
(Albany Institute of History and Art, accession number 1900.5.3

From Eric Thomson:
According to Durand's son, his father's "reading at this time [early 1820s] consisted mainly of the English poets, of whom Goldsmith and Thomson were his favorites. Goldsmith's rural scenes and personages . . . together with the descriptions of the seasons by Thomson, vividly presenting the life of the woods and the charm of lonely haunts, answered to the longings of his imagination. In after years, many of the subjects of his landscapes were prompted by these poetic souvenirs."

A quick survey of Durand's locus amoenus yields Goldsmith's labouring swains, a sheltered cot, seats beneath the shade, whispering lovers, the young contending (as the old surveyed), a never-failing brook and decent church that topt the neighbouring hill.


The Search for the Faultless Woman (or Man)

Terence, Hecyra 662-663 (tr. John Sargeaunt):
You don't think you can find any woman quite free from blame, do you? or any men that don't sin at times?

censen te posse reperire ullam mulierem,
quae careat culpa? an qui non delincunt viri?

663 qui Fleckeisen: quia codd.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Rich in Nothing Else

Harriet Beecher Stowe, letter to Eliza Cabot Follen (February 16, 1853):
I was married when I was 25 years old to a man rich in Greek & Hebrew, Latin & Arabic, & alas! rich in nothing else.


Quacks and Dupes

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book I, Chapter 4 (Morrison's Pill):
Will not that be a thing worthy of 'doing'; to deliver ourselves from quacks, sham-heroes; to deliver the whole world more and more from such? They are the one bane of the world. Once clear the world of them, it ceases to be a Devil's-world, in all fibres of it wretched, accursed; and begins to be a God's-world, blessed, and working hourly towards blessedness. Thou for one wilt not again vote for any quack, do honour to any edge-gilt vacuity in man's shape: cant shall be known to thee by the sound of it;—thou wilt fly from cant with a shudder never felt before; as from the opened litany of Sorcerers' Sabbaths, the true Devil-worship of this age, more horrible than any other blasphemy, profanity or genuine blackguardism elsewhere audible among men. It is alarming to witness,—in its present completed state! And Quack and Dupe, as we must ever keep in mind, are upper-side and under of the selfsame substance; convertible personages: turn up your dupe into the proper fostering element, and he himself can become a quack; there is in him the due prurient insincerity, open voracity for profit, and closed sense for truth, whereof quacks too, in all their kinds, are made.


Robin Eggs

From my brother:

"The nest is just a few steps inside the barn. When I need something inside, Mom flies out through the back window until I'm done. So far we're coexisting OK."



Philip McFarland, Hawthorne in Concord (New York: Grove Press, 2004), p. 50:
For himself, Hawthorne (so his son reported) was increasingly disposed as he grew older to doubt the effectiveness of expressing truth in the abstract. His own versions of truth came in the form of stories with people doing specific things, whereas the general truths of his neighbor Emerson appeared to be spun too much from cloudland to suit even a romancer's taste—vaporous thoughts, as Hawthorne stated rather brusquely, from "an everlasting rejecter of all that is and seeker for he knows not what."

Friday, May 24, 2019


Handing on the Torch

F.L. Lucas (1894-1967), Style (London: Cassell & Co Ltd, 1955), p. 35:
It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward; who guard and maintain the ancient values, even if they do not conquer new; whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we can hand on the torch, and not let it down; content to win the affection, if it may be, of a few who know us, and to be forgotten when they in their turn have vanished. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its 'stars'.

Part of our heritage — you are now coming into it — is the English tongue. You may not be among the few in whose hands it becomes an Excalibur; but you can do your part to pass it on, clean, unrusted, undefiled.


The Everlasting Right of Man

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book I, Chapter 3 (Manchester Insurrection):
'A fair day's-wages for a fair day's-work': it is as just a demand as Governed men ever made of Governing. It is the everlasting right of man. Indisputable as Gospels, as arithmetical multiplication-tables: it must and will have itself fulfilled;—and yet, in these times of ours, with what enormous difficulty, next-door to impossibility!


An Agreeable Way of Life

A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 425:
It is difficult for me to conceive of any more agreeable way of life than that of the Victorian country parson. If I had to choose my ideal span of life, I should choose to have been born in the 1830s, the son of a parson with the genetic inheritance of strong teeth. (Improvements in dentistry are surely among the few unambiguous benefits brought to the human race by the twentieth century.) I should avoid a public school education through being 'delicate', and arrive at Balliol with a good knowledge of Greek to be taught by Benjamin Jowett. (The Tractarians would pass me by, but after my ordination, upon being elected to a fellowship, I should take a bemused and tolerant interest in the Ritualist churches while having no wish to imitate their liturgical customs.) After a short spell — say, five years — teaching undergraduates at the Varsity, one of them would introduce me to his pretty, bookish sister, and we should be married. I should resign my fellowship and be presented with a college living, preferably a medieval church, a large draughty Georgian rectory and glebe enough to provide the family with 'subsistence'. By now it would be, let us say, the 1860s, and I should remain here for the next forty years, a faithful friend to generations of villagers to whom I would act as teacher, amateur doctor and social worker, as well as priest. My wife, cleverer than I, would read French, German and Italian with our innumerable children and be pleased when the daughters entered St Hugh's or Somerville. Whether any of the sons — keen cyclists, antiquarians, butterfly-collectors and botanists all, like their father, all good at Latin and all admirers of William Morris and George Bernard Shaw — would follow me into a clergyman's career is unlikely, for we should all have Doubts, and the children, as they grew up, would be more honest than their father about expressing them. Perhaps as the country parson, approaching fifty by the time of Disraeli's death, I would instinctively feel that I had entered upon a drama which was coming to an end; that the Age of Faith, embodied in the old medieval building where, every day, I read aloud from the Book of Common Prayer, had irrevocably been destroyed — whether by Capitalism, or Darwin, or Railways, or Imperialism, or a nebulous Zeitgeist, who could say?
Related post: I Wasn't Born for an Age Like This.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Deadly Doom

Homer, Odyssey 24.28-29 (Achilles to Agamemnon; tr. A.T. Murray):
But verily on thee too was deadly doom to come all too early, the doom that not one avoids of those who are born.

ἦ τ' ἄρα καὶ σοὶ πρῶϊ παραστήσεσθαι ἔμελλεν
μοῖρ' ὀλοή, τὴν οὔ τις ἀλεύεται ὅς κε γένηται.


Faith of Our Fathers

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Lecture I:
I think Scandinavian Paganism, to us here, is more interesting than any other. It is, for one thing, the latest; it continued in these regions of Europe till the eleventh century: eight-hundred years ago the Norwegians were still worshippers of Odin. It is interesting also as the creed of our fathers; the men whose blood still runs in our veins, whom doubtless we still resemble in so many ways.


Bad and Immoral Men

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), On Liberty (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1865), p. 31:
The worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but themselves feels much interest in seeing justice done them...


Our Memories Are Sieves

F.L. Lucas (1894-1967), Style (London: Cassell & Co Ltd, 1955), p. 23:
Sooner or later, most of us find that our memories are sieves.

The Danaïds in Hell filled sieves for eternity; we do the same through our lives on earth. Even through Cambridge Lethe flows, as well as Cam.

There are, if I may cite my own experience, minor plays by Webster, or partly by Webster, that I have read and re-read two dozen times, written about, annotated, corrected and recorrected in proof — and yet today I have forgotten even their plots. I had in the First War to memorize the organization of the German Army — yet today that knowledge has vanished from my brain almost as completely as that German Army faded from the earth. Such acquisitions may survive in the Unconscious; no doubt they could quickly be revived; but meanwhile they are gone. And perhaps better so.
Related post: Remembering and Forgetting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Any Good?

A.N. Wilson, "VJ Day and the Virginia Woolf Burger Bar," The Spectator (August 15, 2015):
I once lived next door to Barbara Strachey — daughter of Lytton's brother, the cryptographer Oliver, and of his wife Ray Costello, a painter, who wrote a good history of feminism called The Cause. These liberal-minded parents, filled with all the Bloomsbury/G.E. Moore notions, let their nippers read any book on their groaning shelves, from Marie Stopes to D.H. Lawrence. One day, Barbara's little brother came into the dining room waving a moth-eaten volume and asked with the piping ten-year-old confidence of one who'd found a recondite book: 'It's called Holly Bibble — any good?'


Moving Day

Geoffrey Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," Canterbury Tales I.2809-2814 (on the death of Arcite; tr. Nevill Coghill):
His spirit changed its house and went away
Where I came never — where I cannot say,
And so am silent. I am no divine.
Souls are not mentioned in this tale of mine,
I offer no opinion, I can tell
You nothing, though some have written where they dwell.

His spirit chaunged hous and wente ther,
As I cam nevere, I kan nat tellen wher.
Therfor I stinte, I nam no divinistre.
Of soules finde I nat in this registre,
Ne me ne list thilke opinions to telle
Of hem, though that they writen wher they dwelle.


What Will Thy Success Amount To?

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book I, Chapter 2 (The Sphinx):
Thy 'success'? Poor devil, what will thy success amount to? If the thing is unjust, thou hast not succeeded; no, not though bonfires blazed from North to South, and bells rang, and editors wrote leading-articles, and the just thing lay trampled out of sight, to all mortal eyes an abolished and annihilated thing. Success? In few years thou wilt be dead and dark,—all cold, eyeless, deaf; no blaze of bonfires, ding-dong of bells or leading-articles visible or audible to thee again at all forever: What kind of success is that!


An Athenian Potsherd

Eva C. Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens (1985; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 75, fig. 59:

Id., p. 442:
59. Athens, Acropolis Museum, sherd from the Acropolis (after Botha, Die antiken Vasen von der Akropolis in Athen, vol. II, pl. 83, # 1073).
Is Botha a misprint or error for Botho Graef? The source is Die antiken Vasen von der Akropolis zu Athen. Unter Mitwirkung von Paul Hartwig, Paul Wolters, Robert Zahn. Veröffentlich von Botho Graef und Ernst Langlotz. Band II: Tafeln (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1933). Here is the original plate:


Tuesday, May 21, 2019


What Increase of Blessedness Is There?

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present, Book I, Chapter 1 (Midas):
Many men eat finer cookery, drink dearer liquors, — with what advantage they can report, and their Doctors can: but in the heart of them, if we go out of the dyspeptic stomach, what increase of blessedness is there? Are they better, beautifuller, stronger, braver? Are they even what they call 'happier'? Do they look with satisfaction on more things and human faces in this God's-Earth; do more things and human faces look with satisfaction on them? Not so. Human faces gloom discordantly, disloyally on one another.


All the Right Views

A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 152:
Sometimes we can learn more of a past generation by reading the authors who were popular at the time and have now sunk without trace, rather than reperusing the immortals.


Wordy, authoritative, cliché-ridden, Miss Martineau had the know-all tone which so often wins journalism wide readership and short-term respect. Like many of her modern equivalents, she had all the right views — that is the views espoused by the metropolitan intelligentsia.


A Tiny Backwater

Robert Paul Wolff, "Literary Musings," The Philosopher's Stone (May 12, 2019):
This blog occupies a tiny backwater off a trickle of a stream that never quite makes it as far as even a secondary waterway. For some years now, if Google metrics are accurate, it has been attracting between 1000 and 1500 views a day....Now, 1000-1500 a day is fabulous if you are standing in front of a classroom, but in the Blogosphere it is pathetic. The serious blogs record daily visits in the scores of thousands or even millions. My total viewership would be within the margin of error of a real blog.


This World

Geoffrey Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," Canterbury Tales I.2847-2848:
This world nis but a thurghfare ful of wo,
And we been pilgrimes passinge to and fro.

Monday, May 20, 2019



Euripides, Children of Heracles 892-895 (tr. Mark Griffith):
To me, dances are a delight,
and the clear-toned beauty of pipes at a feast;
a delight too is beautiful Aphrodite.

ἐμοὶ χορὸς μὲν ἡδὺ καὶ
λίγεια λωτοῦ χάρις ἀμφὶ δαῖτα·
ἡδεῖα δ᾿ εὔχαρις Ἀφροδί-

892 ἡδὺ καὶ Bothe: ἡδὺς εἰ L
893 ἀμφὶ δαῖτα Willink: ἐνὶ δαΐ L
894 ἡδεῖα Madvig: εἴη L
See James Diggle, "Notes on the Heraclidae of Euripides," Classical Quarterly 22.2 (November, 1972) 241-245 (at 243-244).


The Holy Land

A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 172:
Ever since the 'Holy Land' was invented as a pilgrimage-centre by the Empress Helena in the fourth century, it had been the scene of acrimony and violence among the rival religious groups. Indeed a visitor from another culture, or planet, who did not know what the function of the 'Holy Land' was, could be forgiven for supposing that it had been devised specifically as a battleground, where worshippers of supposedly the same all-loving deity came to denounce, abuse and murder one another.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


A Filthy, Disgusting Politician

Aristophanes, Knights 303-310 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You filthy disgusting shout-downer, your brazenness
fills the whole land, the whole Assembly,
the taxes, the indictments and lawcourts,
you muckraker, you who have thrown our whole city
into a sea of troubles...

ὦ μιαρὲ καὶ βδελυρὲ καὶ κατακεκρᾶκτα, τοῦ σοῦ θράσους
πᾶσα μὲν γῆ πλέα, πᾶσα δ᾿ ἐκκλησία,
καὶ τέλη καὶ γραφαὶ καὶ δικαστήρι᾿, ὦ
βορβοροτάραξι καὶ τὴν πόλιν ἅπασαν ἡ-
μῶν ἀνατετυρβακώς...

304 καὶ κατακεκρᾶκτα Hermann: καὶ κέκρακτα vel καὶ κρᾶκτα codd.: κρᾶκτα Meineke (vid. L.P.E. Parker, The Songs of Aristophanes [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997], p. 163)
Cf. id. 287:
κατακεκράξομαί σε κράζων.
W.C. Green on τέλη καὶ γραφαὶ:
'Tolls and public suits,' put for the places where such things were.


I Am Old

Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Reeve's Prologue," Canterbury Tales I.3867-3898 (tr. Nevill Coghill):
But I am old. Dirt doesn't go with doddering.
Grass-time is done and I'm for winter foddering.
My hoary top-knot writes me down for old;
Same as my hair, my heart is full of mould,
Unless I be like them there medlar-fruit,
Them that gets rottener as they ripen to't,
Till they be rotted down in straw and dung.
That's how we get to be, no longer young.
Till we be rotten we can never ripe.
We hop along, as long as world will pipe;
Our will is always catching on the nail,
Wanting a hoary head and a green tail,
Like leeks have got; the strength to play that game
Is gone, though we love foolishness the same.
What we can't do no more we talk about
And rake the ashes when the fire is out.

Yet we have four live coals, as I can show;
Lies, boasting, greed and rage will always glow.
Those are the sparks among the ancient embers
Though we be nigh unwelded in our members.
Desire never fails, and that's the truth,
For even now I have a coltish tooth,
Many as be the years now dead and done
Before my tap of life began to run.
Certain, when I was born, so long ago,
Death drew the tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task,
And now there's little but an empty cask.
My stream of life's but drops upon the rim.
An old fool's tongue will run away with him
To chime and chatter of monkey-tricks that's past;
There's nothing left but dotage at the last!
The original:
But ik am oold; me list no pleye for age,
Gras time is doon; my fodder is now forage,
This white top writeth mine olde yeris;
Min herte is also mowled as mine heris,        3870
But if I fare as dooth an openers —
That ilke fruit is ever lenger the wers
Til it be roten, in mullok or in stree.
We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be roten kan we nat be ripe.        3875
We hoppe alwey whil that the world wol pipe;
For in oure wil ther stiketh evere a nail,
To have an hoor heed and a grene tail,
As hath a leek; for thogh oure might be goon,
Oure wil desireth folye evere in oon.        3880
For whan we may nat doon, than wol we speke,
Yet in oure asshen olde is fir yreke.

Foure gleedes have we, whiche I shal devise:
Avaunting, liyng, anger, coveitise;
Thise foure sparkles longen unto eelde.        3885
Oure olde limes mowe wel been unweelde,
But wil ne shal nat faillen; that is sooth.
And yet ik have alwey a coltes tooth,
As many a yeer as it is passed henne,
Sin that my tappe of lif bigan to renne.        3890
For sikerlik, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lif and leet it goon;
And evere sith hath so the tappe yronne
Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lif now droppeth on the chimbe;        3895
The sely tonge may wel ringe and chimbe
Of wrecchednesse that passed is ful yoore!
With olde folk, save dotage, is namoore.
Some discussions:



Batman vppon Bartholome, his Booke De Proprietatibus Rerum, Newly corrected, enlarged and amended (London: Thomas East, [1582]), p. 216 (15.14):
Therefore one describeth the Englysh land in metre, as it followeth.
Anglia terra ferox, & fertilis, angulus orbis.
Insula praediues, quae toto vix eget orbe.
Et cuius totus indiget orbis ope.
Anglia plena iocis, gens libera, apta iocari.
Libera gens, cui libera mens, & libera lingua.
Sed lingua melior liberiorque manus.
These verses shew, that England is a strong land and sturdie, and the plenteoust corner of the worlde, so rich a land that vnneth it needeth helpe of any land, and euery other land needeth helpe of England. England is full of mirthe and of game, and men oft times able to mirth and game, free men of heart and with tongue, but the hand is more better, and more free than the tongue.
Ferox was originally ferax, I suspect.

Unneth = scarcely (Latin vix).

Batman is Stephen Batman or Bateman (16th century), and Bartholome is Bartholomaeus Anglicus (13th century).

Saturday, May 18, 2019


The Wisdom of Our Ancestors

Leon Litvack, "Dickens's Lifetime Reading," in The Oxford Handbook of Charles Dickens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 25-42 (at 41, footnote omitted):
One could also add to this impressive list those book titles that were never intended as reading material, but only as fictitious (often satirical) volumes that Dickens invented for the dummy book backs he had constructed to line the Gad's Hill library walls (Figure 2.1); these included Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep (many volumes); Noah's Arkitecture [sic], 2 vols; Malthus's Nursery Songs; and The Wisdom of our Ancestors. I.—Ignorance; II.—Superstition. II.—The Block. IV.—The Stake. V.—The Rack. VI.—Dirt. VII.—Disease.
Id., Figure 2.1:


Looking Out for Number One

Geoffrey Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," Canterbury Tales I.1182:
Ech man for himself; ther is noon oother.


Short and Plain

Geoffrey Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," Canterbury Tales I.1091:
We mote endure; that is the short and plain.
Mote = must.

Friday, May 17, 2019


I Smell False Latine, Part 2

Mick O'Reilly, "Newsmaker: Matteo Salvini — The legions of Rome," Gulf News (May 17, 2019):
Many years ago, when I spent five years having Latin, the language of ancient Rome beaten into me by a combination of Christian Brothers and Oblate Fathers, one of the sentences that stuck in my mind was from the works of Julius Caesar, the emperor of Rome between 49 and 44BC, and it went: Omnes Gall in tres partes divida est.
Screen capture:

I see three mistakes in seven Latin words, besides alteration of the original word order. The opening of Caesar's Gallic War should read:
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres...

Hat tip: Jim K.

Related post: I Smell False Latine.




Robert Irwin, ed., Night & Horses & The Desert: An Anthology of Classic Arabic Literature (Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000), p. 13:
Some of the similes are peculiar to their time and place and it may well be difficult for an English reader to imagine the beauty of fingers which are like 'sand-worms of Zaby, or tooth-sticks of ishil-wood'...


Criticism of Dickens

A.N. Wilson, The Victorians (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 28 (note omitted):
When Queen Victoria asked Lord Melbourne if he could recommend the newly published novel Oliver Twist (serialized 1837-8), which was attracting much fame, he replied that he did not want her to read it. 'It's all among workhouses and Coffin Makers and Pickpockets...I don't like these things; I wish to avoid them; I don't like them in reality, and therefore I don't wish to see them represented.'


Paralyzed in an Embarrassing Position

Patrick J. Geary, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 105:
The story immediately preceding it tells of a girl who had gone to play with her friends in the churchyard where, unknown to them, Appianus had recently been buried. When the girl had to answer a call of nature, she unfortunately went to do so next to the saint's tomb. For her disrespect she was paralyzed in this embarrassing position until the bishop, clergy, and laity of the town came to the site and prayed for Appianus's pardon.
Acta Sanctorum ... Martii Tomus Primus (Paris: Victor Palmé, 1865), p. 320 (March 4; Vita S. Apiani Monachi II.8):
Ibi pueri et puellae frequenter conveniebant, non caussa reverendi cultus, sed voluntate exercendi lusus, aut etiam pro colligendis herbis. Tunc vero contigit, quod quaedam puella, quae cum ceteris puellis, suis scilicet sodalibus, advenerat, juxta arcam S. Apiani se ignoranter poneret, ut solutionis suae necessitatem vel humanae naturae vellet explere, et cum coeptae rei jam operam daret, subitum totum puerulae corpusculum tantus dolor invasit, et sic eam per omnia membra contraxit, quod de loco misellula se movere non potuit. Pueri autem et puellae, qui cum ipsa venerant exanimes et stupefacti velut mortui, eam deserentes solam, fugiendo Comiaclum reversi sunt, et Comiacliensibus intimaverunt, quae puellulae contigerant. Audito hoc Episcopus est valde attonitus, et Clerus ac populus nimis est commotus. Tunc discalceatis pedibus se praeparaverunt cum crucibus et lampadibus, atque thymiamatibus, et cum reliquo sacro apparatu, venientes ad mausoleum S. Apiani, ut peterent auxilium ejus pro salute puellae, et pro sui omnium incolumitate. Cumque illi ad sepulchrum S. Apiani diu persisteterent, et flebiles orando effunderent; mox infantula a paralysis morbo soluta est et pristinae reddita sanitati: unde fit omnibus immensa laetitia, et multae lacrymae propter gaudium universis exuberant.
No translations, please. I can read it as easily as this morning's newspaper (didn't even have to look up thymiamatibus), but I'm too lazy to make a translation myself or to correct or edit someone else's version.

Thursday, May 16, 2019



Geoffrey Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," Canterbury Tales I.3017-3034 (tr. Nevill Coghill):
Look at the oak; how slow a tree to nourish
From when it springs until it comes to flourish!
It has so long a life, and yet we see
That in the end it falls, a wasted tree.

Consider too how hard the stone we tread
Under our feet! That very rock and bed
On which we walk is wasting as it lies.
Time will be when the broadest river dries
And the great cities wane and last descend
Into the dust, for all things have an end.

For man and woman we can plainly see
Two terms appointed; so it needs must be
— That is to say, the terms of youth and age.
For every man will perish, king and page.
Some in their beds and some in the deep sea.
And some upon the battle-field, maybe.
There is no help for it, all take the track.
For all must die and there is none comes back.
The original (not very difficult to understand):
Lo, the ook, that hath so long a norisshinge,
From time that it first biginneth springe,
And hath so long a lif, as we may see,
Yet at the laste wasted is the tree.        3020

Considereth eek how that the harde stoon,
Under oure feet on which we ride and goon,
Yit wasteth it as it lith by the weye.
The brode river somtime wexeth dreye;
The grete townes see we wane and wende.        3025
Than may ye see that al this thing hath ende.

Of man and womman se we wel also,
That nedes in oon of thise termes twon —
This is to seyn, in youthe or elles age —
He moot be deed, the king as shal a page.        3030
Som in his bed, som in the depe see,
Som in the large feeld, as men may se.
Ther helpeth noght — al goth that ilke weye.
Thanne may I seyn that al this thing moot deye.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019



Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), "Ionic" (tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou):
Even though we have broken their statues,
even though we drove them out of their temples,
in no wise did the gods die for all that.
O land of Ionia, it is you they love still,
it is you their souls still remember.
When upon you dawns an August morn,
some vigour of their life pervades your atmosphere,
and once in a while, an ethereal, youthful form,
indistinct, in rapid stride,
passes above your hills.

Γιατί τα σπάσαμε τ' αγάλματά των,
γιατί τους διώξαμε απ' τους ναούς των,
διόλου δεν πέθαναν γι' αυτό οι θεοί.
Ω γη της Ιωνίας, σένα αγαπούν ακόμη,
σένα η ψυχές των ενθυμούνται ακόμη.
Σαν ξημερώνει επάνω σου πρωί αυγουστιάτικο
την ατμοσφαίρα σου περνά σφρίγος απ' την ζωή των·
και κάποτ' αιθέρια εφηβική μορφή,
αόριστη, με διάβα γρήγορο,
επάνω από τους λόφους σου περνά.
Related posts:


A Craving

Homer, Odyssey 3.47-48 (tr. Peter Green):
                                               He, too, I take it, prays
to the immortals: all humans stand in need of the gods.

                          καὶ τοῦτον ὀίομαι ἀθανάτοισιν
εὔχεσθαι· πάντες δὲ θεῶν χατέουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019



Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), Jane Eyre, chapter 4:
"Come here," he said.

I stepped across the rug; he placed me square and straight before him. What a face he had, now that it was almost on a level with mine! what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!

"No sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began, "especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?"

"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer.

"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?"

"A pit full of fire."

"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"

"No, sir."

"What must you do to avoid it?"

I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: "I must keep in good health, and not die."


Nescit Vox Missa Reverti

Geoffrey Chaucer, "Manciple's Tale," Canterbury Tales IX.353-356:
But he that hath misseid, I dar wel sayn,
He may by no wey clepe his word again.
Thing that is seid, is seid, and forth it gooth,
Thogh him repente, or be him leef or looth.
In Nevill Coghill's modern English version:
Whereas a wicked word, I tell you plain,
Once said can never be recalled again.
What's said is said and goes upon its way,
Like it or not, repent it as you may.

Monday, May 13, 2019


Planting Cabbages

Montaigne, Essays 1.20 (tr. John Florio):
Cum moriar, medium solvar et inter opus.
                            OVID. Am. ii. El. x, 36.

When dying I my selfe shall spend,
Ere half my businesse come to end.
I would have a man to be doing, and to prolong his lives offices, as much as lieth in him, and let death seize upon me, whilst I am setting my cabiges, carelesse of her dart, but more of my unperfect garden.
Cum moriar, medium solvar et inter opus.
Je veulx qu'on agisse et qu'on allonge les offices de la vie tant qu'on peult; et que la mort me trouve plantant mes choulx, mais nonchanlant d'elle et encore plus de mon jardin imparfait.
M.A. Screech, in his translation of Montaigne's Essays (1991; "reprinted with corrections" London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 99, misquotes the Latin as:
Cum moriar, medium solvare inter opus.

The opus that Ovid is talking about is actually the sexual act—he wants to die the way Nelson Rockefeller did. See the quotation in context, Amores 2.10.35-38 (tr. Grant Showerman):
But for me—may it be my lot when I die to languish in Venus' embrace, and be dissolved in the midst of its delight; and may one, dropping tears at my funeral, say: "Thine was a death accorded with thy life!"

at mihi contingat Veneris languescere motu,
    cum moriar, medium solvar et inter opus;
atque aliquis nostro lacrimans in funere dicat:
    "conveniens vitae mors fuit ista tuae!"
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



What a Father Should Teach His Son

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Catriona, chapter X:
"But what was your father that he could not learn you to draw the sword? It is most ungentle; I have not heard the match of that in anyone."

"It is most misconvenient at least," said I; "and I think my father (honest man!) must have been woolgathering to learn me Latin in the place of it."


A Bean Chewer

Aristophanes, Knights 41 (Demos described by one of his slaves; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
...with a farmer's temperament, a bean chewer, prickly in the extreme...

...ἄγροικος ὀργήν, κυαμοτρώξ, ἀκράχολος...
Alan H. Sommerstein ad loc.:
a bean-chewer: it is not quite certain what this epithet implies, but most probably it denotes a peasant: Greeks chewed beans to stay awake and concentrate when doing monotonous work (Lys. 537 with schol.) and bean-chewing may well have had associations with rusticity, low social status, and/or low intellect, much as gum-chewing or tobacco-chewing may today. Compare the line of an unknown comedy cited by the Suda (κ 2578, "No bean-chewing Attic will judge between these men", i.e. the judge will, on the contrary, be one who has the intelligence to come to the right decision. These is no reason to believe that the epithet has anything to do with the one-time use of beans as lottery-tokens in Athenian elections.
Liddell-Scott-Jones favor the explanation related to elections.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Pur Remenbrer des Ancessurs

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mardi, chapter 180:
So on the grass we lounged; and King Abrazza, who loved his antique ancestors; and loved old times; and would not talk of moderns;—bade Yoomy sing old songs; bade Mohi rehearse old histories; bade Babbalanja tell of old ontologies; and commanded all, meanwhile, to drink his old, old wine.

So, all round we quaffed and quoted.
We are full of ghosts and spirits; we are as grave-yards full of buried dead, that start to life before us. And all our dead sires, verily, are in us; that is their immortality. From sire to son, we go on multiplying corpses in ourselves; for all of which, are resurrections. Every thought's a soul of some past poet, hero, sage. We are fuller than a city.
Related post: Remembering.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Holy Hair and Nails

Patrick J. Geary, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 31, with note on p. 160:
The sources of relics did not even have to be dead. The famous incident in the late eighth century involving Aldebertus, the peripatetic Gaul who attracted a great following and even gave away bits of his hair and nails for the veneration of his followers, is proof that people were eager to focus their attention on some physical reminder of the persons whose power they sought.9

9. On Aldebertus see MGH Concil. II, Concilium Romanum 745, pp. 39-43. He is discussed at length in the valuable article of Leo Mikoletzky, "Sinn und Art der Heiligung im frühen Mittelalter," MIÖG, vol. 57 (1949) pp. 83-122.
MGH Concil. II, Concilium Romanum 745, p. 39:
Ungulas suas et capillos dedit ad honorificandum et portandum cum reliquiis sancti Petri principis apostolorum.
Related posts:


Moving Backward

Mary Norris, Greek to Me (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), page number unknown (from the first chapter):
A few other trends actually seem to be moving backward in the new millennium. For instance, audiobooks are a return to the oral tradition, and podcasts—talks, interviews, radio series—dispense with the written record completely. The codex—the book with turnable pages sewn between covers—was a great improvement over the scroll, but now, with publication online, we are back to scrolling again, which makes it hard to refer back to things.


A Fine Thing Indeed

Euripides, fragment 737 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Honest and direct plain speaking is a fine thing indeed.

καλόν γ᾿ ἀληθὴς κἀτενὴς παρρησία.
Except when it gets you fired from your job, deplatformed, censored, banned, ostracized, shunned, vilified, blacklisted, etc.

See Free Speech in Classical Antiquity, edd. Ineke Sluiter and Ralph M. Rosen (Leiden: Brill, 2004), where this fragment is quoted on p. 6, n. 10, and Arlene W. Saxonhouse, Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Friday, May 10, 2019


Imperfect Reverence

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs, ed. S.T. Joshi (New York: The Library of America, 2011), pp. 527-528 (from The Devil's Dictionary):
INFIDEL, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See GIAOUR.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbés, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, curés, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
Surely mutifs is a misprint for muftis, spelled correctly s.v. SACRED (id., p. 609):
Dedicated to some religious purpose; having a divine character; inspiring solemn thoughts or emotions; as, the Dalai Lama of Thibet; the Moogum of M'bwango; the temple of Apes in Ceylon; the Cow in India; the Crocodile, the Cat and the Onion of ancient Egypt; the Mufti of Moosh; the hair of the dog that bit Noah, etc.
I suspect that bonezs is a misprint for bonzes as well.

By the second part of Bierce's definition ("A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent...") I stand convicted as an infidel.

I own a dozen or so volumes of The Library of America. To me (not an adept or cognoscente by any means), they seem to be well-designed books. See Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design: The Practice of an Industrial Craft (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 374:
A book is to be laid open, held, and carried. All but a few books are held while being read, and most books are carried about to some extent before and after reading. No book can be considered legible unless it lies flat when open; it should not have to be held open. The printed part of the pages at which the book is opened should be nearly level, not curving inwards towards the spine. Bulk should be proportionate to format, as far as possible; the very squat, stout book is as inconvenient to hold as the very large thin book. Every book should be designed to withstand whatever handling it may receive without unduly rapid deterioration.
I especially like the useful ribbon bookmarks.

Thanks to Andrew Rickard for the quotation from Williamson.

Update, from Kenneth Haynes:
Bierce's “INFIDEL" makes a fine catalogue. The two typos in that passage from the LOA volume were (carelessly) inherited from The Devil’s Dictionary in the 1911 version of the text (vol. 7 of the Collected Works). In The Cynic’s Word Book (1906), “bonzes” and “muftis” were spelled correctly. Despite the typos and the period spellings, most of the words can be deciphered or looked up pretty easily. The one that stumped me was “pumpums.” This must be a reference to the “Pom Pom" religion, a revivalist faith that emerged among Plateau Indians with Smohalla (d. 1895).



Quot Homines, Tot Sententiae

Geoffrey Chaucer, Squire's Tale 202-203 (with Nevill Coghill's modern English version):
Diverse folk diversely they demed;
As many heddes, as many wittes ther been.

Various men gave various opinions.
As many heads, so many fallacies.
Id. 220-224:
Of sondry doutes thus they jangle and trete,
As lewed peple demeth comunly
Of thinges that ben maad moore subtilly
Than they kan in her lewednesse comprehende;
They demen gladly to the badder ende.

Thus they kept up the jangle of debate
As the illiterate are wont to do
When subtler things are offered to their view
Than their unletteredness can comprehend;
They reach the wrong conclusions in the end.


Body and Soul

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mardi, chapter 155 (Babbalanja to Media):
Our souls belong to our bodies, not our bodies to our souls. For which has the care of the other? which keeps house? which looks after the replenishing of the aorta and auricles, and stores away the secretions? Which toils and ticks while the other sleeps? Which is ever giving timely hints, and elderly warnings? Which is the most authoritative? — Our bodies, surely. At a hint, you must move; at a notice to quit, you depart. Simpletons show us, that a body can get along almost without a soul; but of a soul getting along without a body, we have no tangible and indisputable proof. My lord, the wisest of us breathe involuntarily. And how many millions there are who live from day to day by the incessant operation of subtle processes in them, of which they know nothing, and care less? Little ween they, of vessels lacteal and lymphatic, of arteries femoral and temporal; of pericranium or pericardium; lymph, chyle, fibrin, albumen, iron in the blood, and pudding in the head; they live by the charity of their bodies, to which they are but butlers. I say, my lord, our bodies are our betters. A soul so simple, that it prefers evil to good, is lodged in a frame, whose minutest action is full of unsearchable wisdom.


Fifteen Years

I started Laudator Temporis Acti on this day fifteen years ago. I had planned to shut it down today, but a friend asked me to keep it going. I will, for a while at least.

Thursday, May 09, 2019


True Works of Christian Virtue

Patrick J. Geary, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. xii:
From the reign of Charles the Great until the age of the crusades, we have nearly one hundred relic theft accounts, many quite similar to that of Teodaudus, others describing thefts by various other sorts of thieves. These stories are, at first reading, bizarre: monks creeping into a neighboring church to force open a tomb and flee with the body of a long dead saint; merchants landing on distant shores fully armed to capture a church and force its guardians to divulge the resting place of its patron; professional relic-mongers systematically despoiling the Roman catacombs for the benefit of Frankish ecclesiastics. But even more bizarre for modern readers is the almost universal approval of contemporaries who heard of these thefts. Far from condemning them as aberrations or as sins against the fellow Christians from whom the saints were stolen, most people apparently praised them as true works of Christian virtue, and communities such as Bèze boasted of their successful thefts.
Hat tip: Jim O'Donnell.



Geoffrey Chaucer, Man of Law's Tale 421-427:
O sodein wo, that evere art successour
To worldly blisse, spreind with bitternesse!
Th'ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
Wo occupieth the fin of oure gladnesse.
Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse:
'Upon thy glade day have in thy minde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihinde.'
Nevill Coghill's modern English version:
O sudden grief that ever art near neighbour
To worldly bliss! Sprinkled with bitterness
The ends of joy in all our earthly labour!
Grief occupies the goal to which we press.
For your own safety think it is no less.
And in your day of gladness bear in mind
The unknown evil forging on behind!
Robert M. Correale, in Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, Vol. II (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005), pp. 294-295, cites Lotario Dei Segni (Pope Innocent III), De Miseria Condicionis Humane 1.21.1-5, 13-14 (tr. Robert Enzer Lewis):
Sudden woe always follows worldly joy, and what begins with gladness ends in sorrow. Worldly happiness is indeed sprinkled with many bitternesses. He knew this who said: "Laughter shall be mingled with sorrow, and mourning takes hold of the ends of joy." ... Sound counsel: "In the day of good things be not unmindful of evils."

Semper mundane letitie tristicia repentina succedit, et quod incipit a gaudio desinit in merore. Mundana quippe felicitas multis amaritudinibus est respersa. Noverat hoc ille qui dixerat: "Risus dolore miscebitur, et extrema gaudii luctus occupat." ... Salubre consilium: "In die bonorum ne immemor sis malorum."

Wednesday, May 08, 2019


Poundian Latinity

Ezra Pound (1885-1972), The Spirit of Romance, rev. ed. (1952; rpt. New York: New Directions, 1968), p. 14:
Neither are witches and magical fountains the peculiar hall-mark of the "romantic": the following lines from Ovid are as haunted as anything in Ossian.
Stat vetus et multos incadua silva per annos.
Credibile est illi numen inesse luco.
Fons sacer in medio speluncaque pumice pendens,
Et latere ex omni dulce querunter aves.
Ancient the wood stands
      unhewn for many a season
It seems some presence dwells
      within the grove.
Image of the passage:

For querunter read queruntur. The mistake also occurs in the original edition (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1910), p. 4. The lines are from the beginning of Amores 3.1.

Related post: Dr. Syntax and Mr. Pound.



Views from My Brother's Front Porch




Punishment for Theft or Robbery

Lantfred of Winchester, Translatio et Miracula S. Swithuni 26, tr. Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 310–313 (I've placed the English translation before the Latin original, reversing the order in the book):
At the aforesaid time and at the command of the glorious King Edgar, a law of great severity was promulgated throughout England to serve as a deterrent against all sorts of crime by means of a dreadful punishment: that, if any thief or robber were found anywhere in the country, he would be tortured at length by having his eyes put out, his hands cut off, his ears torn off, his nostrils carved open and his feet removed; and finally, with the skin and hair of his head flayed off, he would be abandoned in the open fields, dead in respect of nearly all his limbs, to be devoured by wild beasts and birds and hounds of the night.

Prenotato denique tempore, glorioso Eadgaro precipiente, ad deterrendos quosque malos horribili poena talis lex est constituta in Anglorum prouincia: ut si quispiam cleptes in tota uel praedo inueniretur patria, caecatis luminibus, truncatis manibus, auulsis auribus, incisis naribus, et subtractis pedibus excruciaretur diutius; et sic demum decoriata pelle capitis cum crinibus, per omnia pene membra mortuus relinqueretur in agris, deuorandus a feris et auibus atque nocturnicanibus.
On nocturnicanibus see Lapidge, p. 305, n. 217:
Lantfred dearly intended this as one word, not two, for elsewhere he declines it in the ablative as nocturnicanibus (c. 26). It does not appear to be attested elsewhere in classical or medieval Latin, according to the databases. Presumably it refers to the sort of supernatural, nocturnal creature referred to in Old English as a hellehund (there is an interesting and near-contemporary occurrence of the OE word in a charter of King Æthelred dated 1001 for 1006 (S 914 = KCD 715), where the curse of the Latin text—'dentibus Cerberi infernalis sine termino cum daemonibus omnibus Stigia palude corrodetur'—is rendered in Old English as 'sy he toren of hellehundes toðum on ðam egeslicum hellewitum, mid eallum deoflum butan ælcum ende'); cf. J. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 4th ed. rev. E.H. Meyer, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1875-8), ii. 832-3, on OHG hellehunt). It could also conceivably mean 'wolves', who often figure in the Anglo-Saxon imagination as creatures of the night.


Reading Old Books

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mardi, chapter 119:
In me, many worthies recline, and converse. I list to St. Paul who argues the doubts of Montaigne; Julian the Apostate cross-questions Augustine; and Thomas-a-Kempis unrolls his old black letters for all to decipher. Zeno murmurs maxims beneath the hoarse shout of Democritus; and though Democritus laugh loud and long, and the sneer of Pyrrho be seen; yet, divine Plato, and Proclus, and Verulam are of my counsel; and Zoroaster whispered me before I was born. I walk a world that is mine; and enter many nations, as Mungo Park rested in African cots; I am served like Bajazet: Bacchus my butler, Virgil my minstrel, Philip Sidney my page. My memory is a life beyond birth; my memory, my library of the Vatican, its alcoves all endless perspectives, eve-tinted by cross-lights from Middle–Age oriels.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


Three Periods of History

Gustave Flaubert, letter to George Sand (March 11, 1871; tr. Francis Steegmuller):
Ah! What kind of world are we going to inhabit? Paganism, Christianism, Boorism: such are the three great evolutions of mankind. It's sad to find oneself at the beginning of the third.

Ah! Dans quel monde nous allons entrer! Paganisme, christianisme, muflisme: voilà les trois grandes évolutions de l'humanité. Il est triste de se trouver au début de la troisième.
Flaubert apparently coined muflisme (from mufle = muzzle, boor). He used it in three more letters.

To Marie Régnier (March 11, 1871):
Paganisme, christianisme, muflisme. Telles sont les trois grandes évolutions de l'humanité. Il est désagréable de se trouver dans la dernière.
To Edmond de Goncourt (March 16, 1871):
Nous allons entrer dans un ordre de choses hideux, où toute délicatesse d'esprit sera impossible. Paganisme, christianisme, muflisme, voilà les trois grandes évolutions de l'humanité. Nous touchons à la dernière.
To Ernest Feydeau (April 30, 1871):
Au paganisme a succédé le christianisme, nous entrons maintenant dans le muflisme.
Cf. the variant panmuflisme in another letter to George Sand (June 4, 1872):
Le maire de Vendôme m'a invité a «honorer de ma présence» l'inauguration de la statue de Ronsard, qui aura lieu le 23 de ce mois; j'irai. Et je voudrais même y prononcer un discours qui serait une protestation contre le Panmuflisme moderne. Le prétexte est bon. Mais pour écrire congrûment un vrai morceau, la vigousse et l'alacrité me manquent.

Monday, May 06, 2019


A Swamp of Trivia

Roberta Frank, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Philologist," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 96 (1997) 486–513 (at 499-500):
Philology has always seemed to its critics to delight overmuch in piling up facts—and to end up bogged down in a swamp of trivia. A parody written in 1908 has the professor of Greek making this response to a scene in Plato's Protagoras: "As you see, gentlemen, the porter shut the gate [on Socrates and his companions]. At this passage anyone would be struck by the question of how this gate was constructed, and also by the important still unresolved problem of door-shutting in antiquity."44 A tolerance for pedantry, for the obscure, esoteric, and devious, characterizes Philology still. Doors are not shut until the last, tiniest fragments of a text's preceding and surrounding world are fully extracted, listed, restored, and conserved.

44. Grafton, Defenders of the Text, p. 214; cited in Patterson, "The Return to Philology," p. 244.
Related post: Door-Shutting in Antiquity.


From 1081 to 1527

Matthew Kneale, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), pp. 181-183:
A visitor from 1081 would have found that in many respects the city had been far more comfortable to live in during the eleventh century. Certainly, its infrastructure had been in a far better state. Many of Renaissance Rome's sewers, which had been one of the city's first achievements, had become blocked and, as the street level rose thanks to fires and floods, were all but unreachable to repair. A stinking open sewer, the Chiavica di San Silvestro, ran right across the city, from the Trevi area to the Tiber. The aqueducts were no better. In the 1520s, when Rome had far more inhabitants than it had done for a thousand years, only a single aqueduct still worked — the Acqua Vergine — and it produced a feeble flow of water. Attempts to repair it were hampered by the fact that the Romans appeared to have to have forgotten where its underground course began.

As Rome's aqueducts declined, so did Romans' drinking habits. Though a couple of springs supplied water to the Leonine City and a few lucky Romans had wells, in 1527 most Romans washed with, cooked with and drank Tiber water. It was decanted for a week to allow sediment to fall away and was then considered clean. Visitors from elsewhere in Italy were appalled, and rightly so. The Tiber was Rome's main sewer, rubbish dump and morgue and classical Romans would never have dreamed of drinking its water. Yet Renaissance Romans not only drank it but claimed to enjoy its taste. Clement VII, when he paid a visit to Marseilles in 1533, insisted on taking several barrels of it with him so he would not have to risk drinking the local supply.

Then there was the question of hygiene. To put it simply, Renaissance Romans stank. Classical Romans would have been disgusted, as even their household slaves smelt far sweeter. By 1527 it was standard practice for most Romans — like most Europeans — to enjoy a full body wash only during major life events: in other words, when they were born, before their wedding night, and when they died. For all other occasions a quick dab at appropriate areas would do. Romans' clothes were cleaned hardly more often than their owners and their outer garments were given a thorough wash only once a year. Romans in 1527 would have itched and scratched as constantly as they had in 1081, if not more so.

Renaissance Romans also lived less long than their eleventh-century predecessors. As well as measles, typhus and tuberculosis, early sixteenth-century Romans had a constant fear of plague, while malaria was as lethal as ever, especially — as always — to poor Romans who could not escape the city in late summer. Romans' love of Tiber water would have afflicted them with waterborne diseases. Finally, if this were not already enough, there was a wholly new health threat: the French Disease, also known as the Great Pox, the French Pox and — by the French — the Neapolitan Disease. Today we call it syphilis. It seems to have originated in the Americas and first became known in Europe in 1495 when it was contracted by French troops besieging Naples. Within months it was causing alarm and intense discomfort across Italy. It produced rubbery growths on the genitals that could grow as large as a bread roll, as well as the pustules that devoured skin and bone, and purple rashes to the face that marked out sufferers. As well as Pope Julius II, celebrity victims included Cesare Borgia, three sons of the duke of Ferrara, Charles V's grandfather, Emperor Maximilian, and a good number of cardinals. Observers at the time noted that it seemed especially fond of priests.

Sunday, May 05, 2019



Roberta Frank, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Philologist," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 96 (1997) 486–513 (at 491-492):
Besides, studying old languages and materials was fun. So was learning from solemn editors that Old Norse húnn was either the name of a mysterious game-piece, a six-month-old bear, the knob at the top of a ship's mast, or an interjection signaling intense disgust. This was the company I wanted to keep.


Proposal for the Great Seal of the United States

Committee of the Continental Congress, Report on a Seal for the United States (August 20, 1776):
The great Seal should on one side have the arms of the United States of America which arms should be as follows. The Shield has six Quarters, parti one, coupe two. The 1st. Or, a Rose enammelled gules and argent for England: the 2d Argent, a Thistle proper, for Scotland: the 3d. Verd, a Harp Or, for Ireland: the 4th. Azure a Flower de Luce Or for France: the 5th. Or the Imperial Eagle Sable for Germany: and the 6th. Or the Belgic Lion Gules for Holland, pointing out the Countries from which the States have been peopled. The Shield within a Border Gules entwind of thirteen Scutcheons Argent linked together by a Chain Or, each charged with initial Letters Sable as follows: 1st. NH. 2d M.B. 3d RI. 4th C. 5th NY. 6th NJ. 7th P. 8th DC. 9 M. 10th V. 11th NC. 12th. SC. 13 G. for each of the thirteen independent States of America.

Supporters, dexter the Goddess Liberty in a corselet of Armour alluding to the present Times, holding in her right Hand the Spear and Cap and with her left supporting the Shield of the States; sinister, the Goddess Justice bearing a Sword in her right hand, and in her left a Balance.

Crest. The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures.


Legend round the whole Atchievement. Seal of the United States of America MDCCLXXVI.

On the other side of the said Great Seal should be the following Device. Pharoah sitting in an open Chariot a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Comman[d] beaming on Moses who stands on the Shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhe[lm] Pharoah.

Motto Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.
M.B. = Massachusetts Bay, DC = Delaware Colony.


What to Say After Passing Gas

Sophocles, fragment 697 (from Philoctetes at Troy; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
Only do not be distressed by the smell of me!

                                  ὀσμῆς μόνον
ὅπως . . . μὴ βαρυνθήσεσθέ μου.
Said by Philoctetes about his infected foot, probably, but it also works in the situation I described.

Related posts:


Saturday, May 04, 2019


Not a Good Idea

Roberta Frank, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Philologist," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 96 (1997) 486–513 (at 491):
In general, it is still not a good idea to describe yourself to hiring committees as a philologist, lest they think you "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" (as Lady Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron). Even this quotation is too flattering, alas: department chairs tend to be less worried about our powers of seduction than our capacity to bore.


The Wasteland

The Wanderer, lines 73-110 (tr. Constance B. Hieatt):
The clear-sighted man will know how terrible it will be when all the wealth of this world stands waste, as now in many places everywhere on earth there stand walls beaten by the wind and covered with frost, snow-swept buildings. The wine-hall falls in ruins and its ruler lies cut off from joy; the band of proud retainers has all fallen by the wall. War took off some, sweeping them away; this one was carried over the high seas by a bird of prey, and the gray wolf shared another one with death; that one was buried in a grave by a dreary-­faced warrior. The Creator of men laid waste to this stronghold until the clamor of the citizens died away and the work of giants of old stood quite empty. He who considered wisely the foundations of these walls and deeply pondered over this dark life with a discerning mind often recalled many combats long ago and spoke these words:

"Where is the horse now, and where is the young rider? Where is the ruler, the giver of treasure? Where are the seats at the banquet and the joys of the hall? Alas for the bright cup, and the warrior in his mail! Alas for the glory of the lord! How their time has departed, vanished under shades of night as if it had never been! Now there stands no trace of the band of comrades except a wall, wonderfully high, decorated with serpentine marks. Strong spears, weapons greedy for slaughter, destroyed the warriors—that was their glorious destiny. Now storms beat at the stony slopes and falling frost binds the earth. When darkness comes, the black shadow of night, wintry tumult sends bitter hail from the north in spite against mankind. All is wretched in the realms of earth. Here reward is fleeting; here friends are fleeting; here man is fleeting; here woman is fleeting. All the foundations of the earth grow useless."
The same (tr. Craig Williamson):
The wise warrior knows how ghostly it will be
When all this world's wealth is a wasteland,
As middle-earth is now in many places—
Wall fragments stand, blasted by winds,
Covered by frost—ruined hallways in snow.
Wine-halls decay, lords lie dead,
Deprived of joys—the proud troop
Has fallen by the wall. War took some
On a long death-road; a bird bore one
Over the deep sea; the gray wolf shared
One with death; a sad-faced earl
Hid one in an earth-hole, a bleak barrow.
So the Maker of men laid waste to the world,
Until the old works of giants stood idle
And empty of the hall-joys of men.
The wise man who ponders this ruin of a life—
The hall that crumbles into a broken wall,
The hall-guest now only memory's ghost—
Remembers slaughter and strife, crying out:

Where has the horse gone? Where is the rider?
Where is the giver of gifts?
Where is the seat of feasting? Where is the hall-joy?
Gone is the bright cup. Gone is the mailed warrior.
Gone is the glory of the prince. How the time has slipped
Down under the night-helmet as if it never was.
The only thing left is traces of the tribe,
A strange, high wall with serpentine shapes,
Worm-like strokes, what's left of runes.
The strength of spears has borne off earls,
Weapons greedy for slaughter. Some glorious fate!
Raging storms crash against stone-cliffs;
Swirling snow blankets and binds the earth.
Winter howls as the pale night-shadow darkens,
Sending rough hail-storms from the north,
Bringing savagery and strife to the children of men.
Hardship and suffering descend on the land;
The shape of fate is twisted under heaven.
Life is on loan: Here goods are fleeting,
Here friends are fleeting, here man is fleeting,
Here kith and kin are fleeting. Everything passes—
All this earthly foundation stands empty and idle.
Old English here.


Gods Everywhere

Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mardi, chapter 110:
Said Mohi, "These gods of wood and of stone are nothing in number to the gods in the air. You breathe not a breath without inhaling, you touch not a leaf without ruffling a spirit. There are gods of heaven, and gods of earth; gods of sea and of land; gods of peace and of war; gods of rock and of fell; gods of ghosts and of thieves; of singers and dancers; of lean men and of house-thatchers. Gods glance in the eyes of birds, and sparkle in the crests of the waves; gods merrily swing in the boughs of the trees, and merrily sing in the brook. Gods are here, and there, and every where; you are never alone for them."
Lactantius, Divine Institutes 1.16.6:
...deorum innumerabilium plena sunt omnia...


Freedoms Under Attack

John Adams (1735-1826), "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law," Works, Vol. III (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), pp. 446-464 (at 457):
[T]he jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.

Friday, May 03, 2019


Inscription for a Classroom

Sophocles, fragment 694 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
You are young; you have much to learn
and much to listen to, and need long schooling.

νέος πέφυκας· πολλὰ καὶ μαθεῖν σε δεῖ
καὶ πόλλ᾿ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ διδάσκεσθαι μακρά.
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