Thursday, October 31, 2019


Refuge in the Past

Anatole France, quoted in Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), p. 97:
My friend, I cannot go to sleep of an evening without an old book, be it good or bad. It is a sort of rite. And then, there are no bad books, any more than there are ugly women. I admit indeed that contemporary books do not interest me. By pondering over this, I have discovered the reason for it: they are not real books. There was a time when, I confess, my taste was ostentatious. My vanity got the better of my appetite. How many books have I not bought for the binding, the frontispiece, or a flower! To-day I make provision against insomnia. Should nightmare come, I take refuge in the past.

Mon ami, je ne puis plus m'endormir le soir, sans un vieux livre, bon ou mauvais. C'est une sorte de cérémonie. Et puis, il n'y a pas de mauvais livres, pas plus qu'il n'y a de femmes laides. Je conviens, toutefois, que les livres contemporains ne m'intéressent pas. A force d'y rêver, j'en ai trouvé la raison: ce ne sont plus des livres. Dans le temps, j'avais un goût un peu ostentatoire. Ma vanité l'emportait sur mon appétit. Que de bouquins ai-je pas achetés pour la reliure, le frontispice, un fleuron! Aujourd'hui, je me pourvois contre les insomnies; je m'approvisionne d'ouvrages du bon temps. Viennent les cauchemars, et je me réfugie dans le passé.
The translator seems to have skipped over "je m'approvisionne d'ouvrages du bon temps." Also, I might have kept "fleuron," which has become naturalized in English.


Idols in Trees

Council of Carthage (September 13, 401), in C. Munier, ed., Concilia Africae A. 345 - A. 525 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1974 = Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, 149), p. 205 (from Registri Ecclesiae Carthaginensis Excerpta):
84. Item placuit ab imperatoribus gloriosissimis peti, ut reliquiae idolatriae non solum in simulacris sed in quibuscumque locis uel lucis uel arboribus omnimodo deleantur.
Translated by Henry R. Percival, in The Seven Ecumenical Councils (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900 = A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd series, vol. XIV), p. 482:
Of extirpating the remains of the idols.
Item, it seemed good to petition the most glorious Emperors that the remains of idolatry not only in images, but in any places whatever or groves or trees, should altogether be taken away.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019


The Example of Simonides

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.22.60 (tr. H. Rackham):
Inquire of me as to the being and nature of god, and I shall follow the example of Simonides, who having the same question put to him by the great Hiero, requested a day's grace for consideration; next day, when Hiero repeated the question, he asked for two days, and so went on several times multiplying the number of days by two; and when Hiero in surprise asked why he did so, he replied, 'Because the longer I deliberate the more obscure the matter seems to me.'

roges me quid aut quale sit deus, auctore utar Simonide, de quo cum quaesivisset hoc idem tyrannus Hiero, deliberandi sibi unum diem postulavit; cum idem ex eo postridie quaereret, biduum petivit; cum saepius duplicaret numerum dierum admiransque Hiero requireret cur ita faceret, 'quia quanto diutius considero,' inquit, 'tanto mihi res videtur obscurior.
Scholars compare Theosophia Tubingensis 2.24:
ὅτι Σιµωνίδης ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος περὶ τοῦ θείου ἐπὶ πολλὰς ἡµέρας ἀνεβάλλετο καὶ αὖθις ἐρωτηθεὶς τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς ὑπερθέσεως· ὅσον, ἔφη, µᾶλλον σκοπῶ περὶ τοῦ θείου, τοσοῦτον ἀπέχω εἰδέναι.
See Pier Franco Beatrice, Anonymi Monophysitae Theosophia: An Attempt at Reconstruction (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 35.


Rule and Corollary

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), Reasoning and the Logic of Things: The Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 178 (note omitted):
Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary, which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy.
Do not block the way of inquiry.


The Ladder of Divine Ascent

James Howell (c. 1594-1666), Epistolae Ho-Elianae: Familiar Letters Domestick & Foreign..., 9th ed. (London: J. Darby, 1726), p. 366 (from Book II, Letter LIV: "To the Rt. Hon. the Lord Cliff," 7 Oct. 1634):
Of this Wine, if of any other, may be verified that merry induction, That good Wine makes good Blood, good Blood causeth good Humours, good Humours cause good Thoughts, good Thoughts bring forth good Works, good Works carry a Man to Heaven; ergo good Wine carrieth a Man to Heaven.

Eduard von Grützner (1846-1925), The Cardinal
(Milwaukee Art Museum, accession number M1962.122)

In describing the ladder of divine ascent, Howell used the rhetorical device known as ladder or climax or gradatio. For other examples see:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019



Paul Anthony Jones, "10 Body Parts Hiding in the Dictionary," Mental Floss (June 27, 2017, updated October 25, 2019):
The word genuine originally referred to things that were natural or innate, rather than acquired or added later. In that sense, one explanation claims that it derives from gignere, a Latin verb meaning to birth or to beget, but a more imaginative (and no less likely) theory is that the word actually comes from genu, the Latin word for knee. According to this theory, a father would acknowledge the paternity of his genuine offspring by placing his child on his knee, and from there, the use of the word to mean authentic or real emerged.
Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, 4th ed. (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 273, accept the derivation of genuinus from genu:

But cf. Norman W. DeWitt, "Semantic Notes to Latin Words," Classical Journal 31.8 (May, 1936) 505-506 (at 505):
Dens genuinus means "wisdom tooth" in our parlance, from a noun corresponding to γένυς, "jaw," literally "jaw tooth" or "cheek tooth," the same root as in gena. Seemingly the influence of folklore accounts for our word "genuine." People can be trusted after they have cut their wisdom teeth.

The same word γένυς sometimes meant the jaw with the beard on it. Hence ingenuus, "unbearded," "innocent," "ingenuous." Both of these words are usually assigned to a supposititious root genu- from gigno. Even so the semantic problem remains unsolved. The above explanations fit both form and meaning.
Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008) accepts the derivation of genuinus from gena (p. 257), but connects ingenuus to gigno (p. 260).

Robert Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1991), pp. 256-257:
genuinus dens. PAUL. FEST. 94 genuini dentes, quod a genis dependent. SCHOL. Pers. 1,115 genuinus proprie dicitur dens, qui sub genis est.
The Oxford Latin Dictionary has two separate entries for genuinus, the first as an adjective "perh. formed fr. INGENVVS on anal. of adulterinus," the second as a noun meaning tooth, derived from gena (cheek).

Hat tip: Jim K.


Monday, October 28, 2019



There is a pair of asyndetic privative adjectives in the Sibylline Oracles 4.120: ἄφαντος ἄπυστος, i.e., unseen unheard. See Johannes Geffcken, ed., Die Oracula Sibyllina (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1902), p. 97.

Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 84-85:
Erasmus called him "the Christian Virgil" not only because both the ancient poet and his modern imitator came from Mantuan, but also because the explicitly Christian content of his eclogues avoided some of the problems that occurred when pagan texts were prescribed to schoolboys.
Read Mantua for Mantuan.

Labels: ,


An Argument of Epicurus

Epicurus, fragment 374 Usener, preserved in Lactantius, On the Anger of God 13.20–21 (tr. Brad Inwood and Lloyd P. Gerson):
"God," he says, "either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak—and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful—which is equally foreign to god's nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?"

deus, inquit, aut uult tollere mala et non potest, aut potest et non uult, aut neque uult neque potest, aut et uult et potest. si uult et non potest, inbecillus est, quod in deum non cadit. si potest et non uult, inuidus, quod aeque alienum est a deo. si neque uult neque potest, et inuidus et inbecillus est. ideo nec deus. si et uult et potest, quod solum deo conuenit, unde ergo sunt mala? aut cur illa non tollit?
See Reinhold Glei, "Et invidus et inbecillus. Das angebliche Epikurfragment bei Laktanz, De ira Dei 13,20-21," Vigiliae Christianae 42.1 (March, 1988) 47-58.


How Marvellous!

Anatole France, quoted in Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), p. 95:
They inspired me with deep admiration. For me fame was spelt by the names of MM. X—— and Y—— of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres or of the Sciences Morales et Politiques. How marvellous it would be to write a learned history or commentary! To be one of those courteous, well-brushed old men, with red or violet or biscuit-coloured ribbons in their button-holes, like hortensias! To live with a hobby apart from one's own century, in another age, to know hardly anything about one's contemporaries, but to be intimate and familiar with Cicero, Corneille or Madame de Sévigné!

Ils m'inspiraient une profonde admiration. Pour moi la gloire c'était eux: MM. X..., Y..., de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, ou des Sciences Morales et Politiques. Écrire, par exemple, une savante histoire, un commentaire; être un de ces vieillards courtois et propets, à la boutonnière fleurie de macarons ou rouges ou violets, pareils à des hortensias. Vivre avec une manie, hors de son siècle, dans un autre temps, ignorer, à peu près, ses contemporains, mais être intime et dans la plus grande familiarité avec Cicéron, Corneille, Mme de Sévigné.



T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), "Dante," Selected Essays, new ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1964), pp. 199-237 (at 212):
The majority of poems one outgrows and outlives, as one outgrows and outlives the majority of human passions: Dante's is one of those which one can only just hope to grow up to at the end of life.

Sunday, October 27, 2019



Donald Knuth on email:
I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.



Epicurus, fragment 469 Usener (tr. Brad Inwood and Lloyd P. Gerson):
I am grateful to blessed Nature, because she made what is necessary easy to acquire and what is hard to acquire unnecessary.

χάρις τῇ μακαρίᾳ Φύσει, ὅτι τὰ ἀναγκαῖα ἐποίησεν εὐπόριστα, τὰ δὲ δυσπόριστα οὐκ ἀναγκαῖα.


The Two Chief Pleasures of My Life

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), The Adventures of Roderick Random, chapter X:
As we exerted ourselves more than usual, I found myself quite spent with fatigue, when we entered a small village in the twilight. We enquired for a publick house, and were directed to one of a very sorry appearance. At our entrance, the landlord, who seemed to be a venerable old man, with long grey hair, rose from a table placed by a large fire in a very neat paved kitchen, and, with a cheerful countenance, accosted us in these words: 'Salvete Pueri—ingredimini.'—I was not a little pleased to hear our host speak Latin, because I was in hope of recommending myself to him by my knowledge in that language; I therefore answered, without hesitation,—Dissolve frigus, ligna super foco—large reponens. I had no sooner pronounced these words, than the old gentleman, running toward me, shook me by the hand, crying, '—Fili mi dilectissime! unde venis!—a superis, ni fallor?'—In short, finding we were both read in the classicks, he did not know how to testify his regard, but ordered his daughter, a jolly rosy-cheeked damsel, who was his sole domestic, to bring us a bottle of his quadrimum,— repeating from Horace at the same time, '—Deprome quadrimum Sabina, O Thaliarche, merum diotâ.' This quadrimum was excellent ale of his own brewing, of which he told us he had always an amphora four years old for the use of himself and friends.—In the course of our conversation, which was interlarded with scraps of Latin, we understood that this facetious person was a school-master, whose income being small, he was fain to keep a glass of good liquor for the entertainment of passengers, by which he made shift to make the two ends of the year meet.—'I am this day, said he, the happiest old fellow in his majesty's dominions. My wife, rest her soul, is in heaven. My daughter is to be married next week;—but the two chief pleasures of my life are these (pointing to the bottle and a large edition of Horace that lay on the table). I am old, 'tis true,—what then? the more reason I should enjoy the small share of life that remains, as my friend Flaccus advises:—Tu ne quaesieris scire (nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint—Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.'

Saturday, October 26, 2019


The Good Period

Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), p. 70:
Scene at an antique dealer's. A work of art is offered to him. He sniffs it over, then hands it back with disgust.

"It is not of the good period," he declares.

I ask: "What is the good period?"

He reflects a little, then answers:

"The good period, my young friend, is every period, except our own. In literature the good period ends with Nodier. In painting with Ingres. As to furniture, nothing decent has been made since the Consulate."

"Then you condemn our epoch at one fell swoop?"

"At one swoop: yes."

Chez l'antiquaire. On lui propose un bibelot. Il le renifle. Il le rend avec dégoût:

— Cela n'est pas du bon temps, déclare-t-il.

Je lui demande:

— Le bon temps, qu'est-ce au juste?

Il rêve un peu. Il répond:

— Le bon temps, mon enfant, c'est tous les temps, hormis le nôtre. En littérature, le bon temps finit avec Nodier. En peinture, avec Ingres. Pour les meubles, on n'en a plus fait un seul de gracieux, depuis le Consulat.

— Vous condamnez en bloc notre époque?

— Oui: en bloc.



G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), "The Patriotic Idea," § II, in Lucian Oldershaw, ed., England, a Nation: Being the Papers of the Patriots' Club (London: R. Brimley Johnson, 1904), pp. 1-43 (at 15-16):
What I am concerned to point out at the moment is the more or less self-evident fact that this Imperial idea or plan for the consolidation and identification of an increasing number of different commonwealths cannot seriously be called patriotism according to any sense that that word has ever actually had among men. If patriotism does not mean a defined and declared preference for certain traditions or surroundings, it means nothing whatever. A thing like an empire, like the Roman Empire, which contained Greeks and Goths and ancient Britons; a thing like the British Empire, which contains Dutchmen and Negroes and Chinamen in Hong Kong, may be a perfectly legitimate object of a certain kind of intellectual esteem, but it is ludicrous to call it patriotism, or invoke the ancient deities of the hearth and the river and the hill.
Id. (at 19):
Spiritually, then, we hold that a healthy man does not demand cosmopolitanism, and does not demand empire. He demands something which is more or less roughly represented by Nationalism. That is to say, he demands a particular relation to some homogeneous community of manageable and imaginable size, large enough to inspire his reverence by its hold on history, small enough to inspire his affection by its hold on himself. If we were gods planning a perfect planet, if we were poets inventing a Utopia, we should divide the world into communities of this unity and moderate size. It is, therefore, not true to say of us that a cosmopolitan humanity is a far-off ideal; it is not an ideal at all for us, but a nightmare.



Livy 7.9.8 (tr. Betty Radice):
It was then that a Gaul of enormous size advanced on to the empty bridge and shouted as loudly as he could: 'Let the bravest man Rome has today come on and fight, so that the two of us can show by the result which race is superior in war!'

tum eximia corporis magnitudine in vacuum pontem Gallus processit et quantum maxima voce potuit "quem nunc" inquit "Roma virum fortissimum habet, procedat agedum ad pugnam, ut noster duorum eventus ostendat utra gens bello sit melior."
Id. 8.7.7 (Geminus Maecius to Titus Manlius):
'Then will you fight me yourself...? The outcome of a duel between you and me will show how much better a Latin cavalryman is than a Roman.'

"visne igitur...tu ipse congredi mecum, ut nostro duorum iam hinc eventu cernatur quantum eques Latinus Romano praestet?"
These taunts recorded by Livy remind me of a challenge I heard during an acrimonious firmware design meeting, when I worked for Paradyne Corporation in the 1980s:
"Let's go out in the parking lot and I'll show you what a hardware guy can do to a software guy."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


The Self-Cleaning City

Wolf Liebeschuetz, "Rubbish Disposal in Greek and Roman Cities," East and West in Late Antiquity: Invasion, Settlement, Ethnogenesis and Conflicts of Religion (Leiden: Brill, 2015), pp. 3-18 (at 9):
But to some extent, as E. Rodríguez-Almeida has explained,11 the ancient city was "self-cleaning". Dogs, pigs and other animals kept in the houses or running wild no doubt consumed what was edible. Whatever waste material could be reused in some way or other was reused. Scavengers and rag-and-bone men (Latin scrutarii) of various kinds no doubt picked up whatever was useful and could be sold, leaving only what was absolutely useless and disgusting.

11 Raventos and Remola, 2000, 123–127.
The reference is to Sordes Urbis, edd. X.D. Raventos and J.-A. Remola (Rome: Breitschneider, 2000 = Monografías de la Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueología en Roma, 24).

Tuesday, October 22, 2019



Montesquieu, Persian Letters 56 (from Rica in Paris to Rhedi in Venice; tr. Margaret Mauldon):
An infinite number of Masters of Languages, Arts, and Science teach what they themselves do not know; this is quite a notable talent, for to teach what one knows requires but little wit, whereas an infinite quantity is needed to teach what one does not know.

Un nombre infini de maîtres de langues, d'arts et de sciences, enseignent ce qu'ils ne savent pas; et ce talent est bien considérable: car il ne faut pas beaucoup d’esprit pour montrer ce qu'on sait; mais il en faut infiniment pour enseigner ce qu'on ignore.


Effects of a Decline in Religious Belief

According to the Pew Research Center, in the United States, the number of people claiming no religious affiliation has grown by nearly 30 million over the past decade.

Lucian, Zeus Tragoedus 3 (tr. Lionel Casson):
Hera, the gods' situation is desperate. We're on the razor's edge, as the saying goes. It's anybody's guess whether we'll continue to be worshiped and respected on earth or be considered nobodies and be completely ignored.

ἐν ἐσχάτοις, ὦ Ἥρα, τὰ θεῶν πράγματα, καὶ τοῦτο δὴ τὸ τοῦ λόγου, ἐπὶ ξυροῦ ἕστηκεν εἴτε χρὴ τιμᾶσθαι ἡμᾶς ἔτι καὶ τὰ γέρα ἔχειν τἀν τῇ γῇ εἴτε καὶ ἠμελῆσθαι παντάπασι καὶ τὸ μηδὲν εἶναι δοκεῖν.
Id. 18:
Fellow gods, this is why I have called you together—no small reason when you consider that our honor, our prestige, and our revenues all depend upon men. If they're convinced that gods don't exist or that, if we do, we take no thought for them, it means the end of sacrifices, gifts, and honors for us from down below. We'll sit around uselessly in heaven and starve, since our traditional holidays, celebrations, games, sacrifices, festivals, and parades will be taken away from us.

ταῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ἐφ᾽ οἷς ὑμᾶς συνεκάλεσα, οὐ μικρά, ὦ θεοί, εἰ λογιεῖσθε ὡς ἡ ἡ πᾶσα μὲν ἡμῖν τιμὴ καὶ δόξα καὶ πρόσοδος οἱ ἄνθρωποὶ εἰσιν εἰ δ᾽ οὗτοι πεισθεῖεν ἢ μηδὲ ὅλως θεοὺς εἶναι ἢ ὄντας ἀπρονοήτους εἶναι σφῶν αὐτῶν, ἄθυτα καὶ ἀγέραστα καὶ ἀτίμητα ἡμῖν ἔσται τὰ ἐκ γῆς καὶ μάτην ἐν οὐρανῷ καθεδούμεθα λιμῷ ἐχόμενοι, ἑορτῶν ἐκείνων καὶ πανηγύρεων καὶ ἀγώνων καὶ θυσιῶν καὶ παννυχίδων καὶ πομπῶν στερούμενοι.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Take Heart

Homer, Iliad 10.383 (Odysseus to Dolon; tr. Peter Green):
Take heart, remove the idea of death from your mind!

θάρσει, μηδέ τί τοι θάνατος καταθύμιος ἔστω.
Bryan Hainsworth ad loc.:
Odysseus' reassurance of the wretched Dolon seems at first reading a pleasant return to the conventions of war that prevailed before the opening of the Iliad, when Akhilleus habitually took prisoners and allowed them to be ransomed (11.104-6, 21.100-2).
But a short time later (10.455-457), Diomedes slaughters Dolon.



Thomas Hardy, quoted in Florence Emily Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy 1840–1928 (1962; rpt. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1983), pp. 405-406 ("Birthday Notes," 1920):
Though my life, like the lives of my contemporaries, covers a period of more material advance in the world than any of the same length can have done in other centuries, I do not find that real civilization has advanced equally. People are not more humane, so far as I can see, then they were in the year of my birth. Disinterested kindness is less.


Math Problem

John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (New York: Hill and Wang, 1988), p. 11:
Compute roughly how many acts of sexual intercourse occur each day in the world.
Id., p. 18:
[A]ssume that Reagan and Thatcher are placed in a large burlap bag.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


What a Difference

Livy 8.33.13 (tr. Betty Radice):
What a difference there was between the self-restraint of the ancients and this new kind of arrogance and cruelty!

quantum interesse inter moderationem antiquorum et novam superbiam crudelitatemque.


Irish Saffron

François Rabelais (1494-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel, tr. J.M. Cohen (1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 597 (Book IV, Chapter 67):
Ha, ha, ha! But, ho! What the devil's this? Do you call it shit, turds, crots, ordure, deposit, fecal matter, excrement, droppings, fumets, motion, dung, stronts, scybale, or spyrathe? It's saffron from Ireland, that's what I think it is. Ho, ho, ho! Saffron from Ireland! It is indeed. Let's have a drink.
The French, from Rabelais, Œuvres complètes, ed. Jacques Boulenger, rev. Lucien Scheler (Paris: Gallimard, 1955), p. 729, with notes:
Ha, ha, ha! Houay! Que diable est cecy? Appellez-vous cecy foyre, bren, crottes, merde, fiant, déjection, matière fécale, excrément, repaire, laisse, esmeut, fumée6, estront, scybale7 ou spyrathe8? C'est, croy je, sapphran d'Hibernie9. Ho, ho, hie! C'est sapphran d'Hibernie! Sela10! Beuvons!

6. Repaire, laisse, fumée, fientes de bêtes fauves ou rousses. Esmeut, fiente d'oiseau de volerie. — 7. « Estront endurcy » (Briefve Déclaration). Tiré du grec σκύβαλον. — 8. « Crotte de chèvre ou de brebis » (Id.) De σπύραθος. — 9. Irlande. — 10. « Certainement (hebrieu) » (Briefve Déclaration).


Friday, October 18, 2019


Politics and Literature

Anatole France (1844-1924), The Opinions of Anatole France. Recorded by Paul Gsell, tr. Ernest Boyd (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922), pp. 59-61:
When bespectacled and hide-bound old pedants at school made us translate some Greek tragedy, ("Oedipus at Colonus," for example) they used to say:

"Note that charming second aorist. Observe the conciseness of that genitive absolute. The dignity of that optative is marvellous."

They used to din hundreds of similar remarks into our ears, until in the end we began to believe that it was the grammatical perfection of Sophocles which had aroused the enthusiasm of his contemporaries. But there was one point which our gerund-grinders overlooked, namely, when Sophocles celebrated the name of Oedipus, the Theban hero whom the Athenians received with open arms when he was hooted by his own countrymen, the Greek dramatist's intention was to glorify Athens at the expense of Thebes, which had been its bitter enemy during the Peloponnesian war.

Bearing that knowledge in mind we can easily imagine what the first performance of "Oedipus at Colonus" was like, shortly after the death of the aged poet: the whole audience on their feet, interrupting every line with cheers, hissing the Thebans and stamping in frantic applause for this eulogy of their city. And thus we discover the real reasons, the political reasons, for this enthusiasm.

When our venerable pedagogues used to comment upon "The Knights" of Aristophanes, they would carefully analyse the parabasis and point out the commutation, the anapests, the macron. And they taught us that this play was a perfect example of the style known as Old Comedy. But you will readily conceive that it had other attractions for the sailors of Piraeus. What delighted them was to see Aristophanes grabbing Comrade Cleon by the seat of the trousers. The performance was punctuated with laughs and shouts and slaps. I suspect things were pretty rough. In a word, it was politics.

You will have to reconcile yourself to this, my dear Haraucourt. More often than not politics and literature merge into one. In Rome did not gentle Virgil do but propaganda for Augustus?


In Our Midst

Cicero, Against Catiline 2.11 (tr. C. Macdonald):
The sole remaining war is on our own soil; the plots, the danger, the enemy are in our own midst.

domesticum bellum manet, intus insidiae sunt, intus inclusum periculum est, intus est hostis.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Our Preference

Livy 8.11.1 (tr. Betty Radice):
These details I have thought it appropriate to repeat, in the very words in which they were formulated and handed down, although the memory of every practice, religious and secular, has been effaced by our preference for all that is new and foreign in place of what is native and traditional.

etsi omnis divini humanique moris memoria abolevit nova peregrinaque omnia priscis ac patriis praeferendo, haud ab re duxi verbis quoque ipsis, ut tradita nuncupataque sunt, referre.


Name Change

Livy 9.27.14 (tr. Betty Radice with her note):
In a short time the Romans began to win all along the line, while the Samnites gave up the fight and were cut down or taken prisoner, except for those who fled to Maleventum, the city now called Beneventum.41 According to tradition some thirty thousand Samnites were killed or captured.

41. Malventum or Maleventum had its name changed, as it sounded ill-omened, when a Roman colony was settled there in 268; but the name was not derived from Latin male but from Greek mēlon or malon, meaning 'sheep' (or possibly 'apple').

tota deinde iam vincere acie Romanus et omisso certamine caedi capique Samnites, nisi qui Maleventum, cui nunc urbi Beneventum nomen est, perfugerunt. ad triginta milia caesa aut capta Samnitium proditum memoriae est.
Robert Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1991), p. 78:
Beneventum, -i n. (oppid. in Samnio). FEST. 340 Segestae praeposita est ... 's' littera, ne obsceno nomine appellaretur, ut factum est in Malvento, quod Beneventum dictum est (cf. LIV. 9,27,14. PLIN. nat. 3,105). PAUL. FEST. 34 Beneventum, colonia cum deduceretur, appellari coeptum est melioris ominis causa. namque eam urbem antea Graeci incolentes Μαλόεντον appellarunt. thes. gloss.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Survival of the Fittest

W.M. Lindsay (1858-1937), Syntax of Plautus (1907; rpt. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2002), p. 3 (§ I.1):
The rules of Latin Syntax which prevailed in the classical period, e.g. that quamquam and temporal quom govern the Ind., quamvis and causal quom the Subj., so often fail us in reading Plautus, that Plautine Latin at first sight appears to be regardless of rules. This appearance is partly due to the fact that Latin Syntax obeys the Darwinian law of the 'survival of the fittest.' Out of a great variety of constructions possible in the time of Plautus, only one or two favoured types have survived to the classical period. While Plautus, for example, puts the Verbal Noun in -tus to a variety of uses, e.g. spectatum eo, spectatu redeo, pulcher spectatui, facile factu, etc., two of these, spectatum eo and facile factu, survived the struggle for existence and became the First and the Second Supine. Again we find in early writers quo Abl. Neut. used with magis in affirmative, with minus in negative sense, and accompanied by the Ind. when a fact is stated, by the Subj. when an intention, e.g. Ter. Phorm. 877 immo etiam dabo quo magis credas, Eun. 737 quo intellexi minus, Andr. 197 fallaciae . . . quo (nuptiae) fiant minus. Out of all this variety emerges in class, Lat. the conjunction quominus governing the Subjunctive and associated with Verbs of hindering.


Kin Folk Kin Tongued

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), "The Pity of It," Collected Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1920), pp. 509-510:
I walked in loamy Wessex lanes, afar
From rail-track and from highway, and I heard
In field and farmstead many an ancient word
Of local lineage like "Thu bist," "Er war,"

"Ich woll," "Er sholl," and by-talk similar,
Nigh as they speak who in this month's moon gird
At England's very loins, thereunto spurred
By gangs whose glory threats and slaughters are.

Then seemed a Heart crying: "Whosoever they be
At root and bottom of this, who flung this flame
Between kin folk kin tongued even as are we,

"Sinister, ugly, lurid, be their fame;
May their familiars grow to shun their name,
And their brood perish everlastingly."

April 1915
F.B. Pinion, A Commentary on the Poems of Thomas Hardy (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1976), p. 158:
Hardy believed that 'the group of oligarchs and munition-makers whose interest is war' had 'stirred' the German people 'up to their purposes' (cf. ORFW. 166, 177). As an example of how the kinship between the Germans and the English was still to be heard in the English language, he drew attention to Grammer Oliver's use of ''Ch woll' (W.xvii).

Monday, October 14, 2019



Anonymous, "On Man," Parnassus Biceps (London: George Eversden, 1656), p. 80:
Ill busied man why shouldst thou take such care
To lenghthen out thy lives short callendar;
Each dropping season, and each flower doth cry
Fool as I fade and wither thou must die.
The beating of thy pulse when thou art well
Is but the towling of thy passing bell:
Night is thy hearse, whose sable Canopy
Covers alike deceased day and thee.
And all those weeping dewes which nightly fall
Are but as tears shed for thy funerall.

Thanks to Kenneth Haynes for drawing my attention to The Poems of Henry King, ed. Margaret Crum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 157-158 (title "My Midd-night Meditation"):
Ill busy'd Man! why should'st thou take such care
To lenghthen out thy Life's short Kalendar?
When e'ry Spectacle Thou look'st upon
Presents and Actes thy Execution.
   Each drooping Season, and each Flower doth cry
   Foole! As I fade and wither, Thou must Dy.
The beating of thy Pulse (when Thou art well)
Is just the Tolling of thy Passing Bell.
Night is thy Hearse, whose sable Canopy
Covers alike Deceased Day and Thee.
   And all those weeping Dewes which nightly fall,
   Are but the Teares shed for thy Funerall.


Happy Columbus Day

Torquato Tasso, Liberation of Jerusalem, Canto XV, Stanzas 31–32 (tr. Max Wickert):
A native of Liguria first will dare
on that uncharted course to risk his life.
Not howling whirlwind threatening from the air,
nor hostile waves, nor dubious climes, nor strife,
nor any menace that may now appear
more grave yet, or with greater dangers rife,
will make this high-souled man's aspiring mind
in Abyla's narrow limits rest confined.

You, O Columbus, toward an unknown pole
will spread your fortunate sails so far away,
that even Fame scarce sees or knows your goal,
whose thousand wings and eyes the world survey.
Let her sing of Alcides, Bacchus, but extol
you by mere hints unto your heirs someday:
such hints suffice to give all future ages
fit themes for poetry's and history's pages.

Un uom della Liguria avrà ardimento
All'incognito corso esporsi in prima,
Nè 'l minaccevol fremito del vento,
Nè l'inospito mar, nè 'l dubbio clima,
Nè s'altro di periglio, o di spavento
Più grave e formidabile or si stima;
Faran che il generoso, entro ai divieti
D'Abila angusti, l'alta mente accheti.

Tu spiegherai, Colombo, a un nuovo polo
Lontane sì le fortunate antenne,
Ch'appena seguirà con gli occhj il volo
La Fama, c'ha mille occhj e mille penne.
Canti ella Alcide e Bacco, e di te solo
Basti a' posteri tuoi ch'alquanto accenne:
Chè quel poco darà lunga memoria
Di poema degnissima e d'istoria.

John Vanderlyn, Landing of Columbus


Always Busy

Montesquieu, Persian Letters 46 (Usbek to Rhedi, in Venice; tr. Margaret Mauldon):
Those who love acquiring knowledge are never idle; although I have no important duties to discharge, I am nevertheless always occupied. I spend my life observing, and in the evening I record what I have noted, and seen, and heard, during the day; I find everything interesting, everything astonishing; I am like a child whose still-tender organs are keenly affected by the most trivial objects.

Ceux qui aiment à s'instruire ne sont jamais oisifs quoique je ne sois chargé d'aucune affaire importante, je suis cependant dans une occupation continuelle. Je passe ma vie à examiner; j'écris le soir ce que j'ai remarqué, ce que j'ai vu, ce que j'ai entendu dans la journée. Tout m'intéresse, tout m'étonne: je suis comme un enfant, dont les organes encore tendres sont vivement frappés par les moindres objets.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Have You Been Freed?

Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), pp. 21-22:
Suddenly he asks me: "Have you been freed?"

I stand perplexed: I do not know precisely what he means. Freed from what? From military service?

He makes himself clear.

"Have you been liberated from religious beliefs? Oh, the question is not in the least indiscreet. I say that to you, just as I would say: 'Have you a good digestion? Is your liver all right?' People are born churchy or unchurchy, just as they are born with a tendency to arterio-sclerosis, cancer, or consumption. Not all the preachings or all the proofs make any difference. Are there more unbelievers to-day than in the fifteenth century, for instance? I do not think so. But then people feigned devotion from fear of the stake. He who is born an unbeliever, remains one all his life, and vice versa: he lacks the organ of superstition. In relation to heaven he is an eunuch. I had that infirmity or, if you like, advantage. That is why I inquire with such sympathetic interest about you. Anatomists will, I trust, one day discover the cause and seat of the religious spirit. I know nothing more terrible directed against its devotees than a saying of La Bruyère in his chapter — a feeble chapter too — in the Esprits forts."

He chooses a La Bruyère from his library. He shows the edition with pride, it is that of ———, the most notable of all. He finds the passage without difficulty, and reads: "'He who is in perfect health doubts the existence of God, but, when he gets a dropsy, leaves his mistress and sends for the priest.' He sends for a doctor at the same moment. Decay of the body induces decay of the mind. Faith and credulity are infirmities, and most often they are congenital. Sometimes a man lives with them without being too much harassed, just as one does with consumption, arterio-sclerosis, or cancer. But the downward turn comes and he gives himself to drugs and the Deity. A few extra grammes of sugar in his urine and the libertine goes to mass."



Homer, Iliad 6.146-149 (tr. Peter Green):
As the generation of leaves, so is that of mankind:
some leaves the wind scatters earthwards, but the fertile
woodland grows others as spring returns in season.
So with men: one generation grows, while another dies.

οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ᾽ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ᾽ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ᾽ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἡ μὲν φύει, ἡ δ᾽ ἀπολήγει.

148 ὥρη: ὥρῃ Aristophanes
149 φύει: φύεθ᾽ Brandreth
Ecclesiasticus 14.18:
As of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall, and some grow; so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh to an end, and another is born.

Saturday, October 12, 2019



Max Leopold Wagner (1880-1962), La vita rustica della Sardegna riflessa nella lingua (Nuoro: Ilisso, 1996) [Das ländliche Leben Sardiniens im Spiegel der Sprache (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1921)], p. 345:
Nei villaggi di pastori dell’Interno, si procura di morire presso il focolare di casa, là dove si é nati. Disteso su una stuoia vicino al fuoco, il malato attende la morte. Appena questa sopraggiunge, i parenti cominciano a lamentarsi ad alta voce; le donne strillano, si battono il petto e si strappano i capelli. Questo lamento attorno al morto si chiama log. téyu, camp. téu = taedium.525

525 taedium occorre gìa in Petron. 137 (itaque taedio fatigatus: Rogo, inquam, expiare manus pretio licet) nel significato ‘cordologlio, afflizione’; così lo spiega Nonio 96 (dividia est taedium), e nella stessa accezione è usato dalla Vulgata e dai padri dalla Chiesa, come traduzione del gr. λύπη, ἀκηδία. Vd. Rönsch Itala und Vulgata, p. 325 e Semas. Beitr. I, p. 69.
Translated by Eric Thomson:
In the shepherd villages of the Interior, they endeavour to die in their homes near the hearth, where they were born. Lying on a mat near the fire, the sick person awaits death. As soon as this occurs, relatives begin to lament loudly; women shriek, beat their breasts and tear their hair. This lamentation over the deceased is called téyu in the Logudorese and téu in the Campidanese dialects = taedium.525

525 taedium occurs already in Petronius 137 (itaque taedio fatigatus: Rogo, inquam, expiare manus pretio licet) with the meaning ‘sorrow, affliction’; Nonius explains it in this way (dividia est taedium) and in the same sense it is used in the Vulgate and the Church Fathers as a translation of Greek λύπη, ἀκηδία. See Rönsch Itala und Vulgata, p. 325 and Semasiologische Beiträge I, p. 69.
Thanks to Stephen Dodson for drawing my attention to a typographical error, which I've corrected.



Phlegon of Tralles, Marvels 3, tr. Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Sourcebook I: The Republic (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), p. 376:
I see bronze-breasted forces, kings united in common purpose, and nations of all sorts crossing from Asia into Europe, the clatter of horses' hoofs, the crashing of spears, bloody slaughter, terrible pillage, toppling towers, razing of walls, and an indescribable desolation of the land.
The Greek, from Otto Keller, ed., Rerum Naturalium Scriptores Graeci Minores, Vol. I: Paradoxographi Antigonus, Apollonius, Phlegon, Anonymus Vaticanus (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1877), pp. 70-71:
ἐκ τῆς ᾿Ασίας ὁρῶ διαβαινούσας δυνάμεις χαλκοστέρνους καὶ βασιλέας ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ συναγομένους καὶ ἔθνη παντοδαπὰ ἐπὶ τὴν Εὐρώπην, ἵππων τε κτύπον δοράτων τε ψόφον καὶ φόνον αἱματόφυρτον λεηλασίαν τε δεινὴν πτώσεις τε πύργων καὶ τειχῶν κατασκαφὰς ἐρημίαν τε χθονὸς ἀμύθητον.


Knock, Knock

Goethe, Faust, Part I, line 1530 (tr. Walter Kaufman):
A knock? Come in! Who comes to plague me now?

Es klopft? Herein! Wer will mich wieder plagen?
This would make a good sign to post on a door.

Related post: A Recluse.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Less of a Traveller than a Saunterer

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Mist, chapter 1 (about his as yet unopened umbrella; tr. Warner Fite):
"It is a misfortune," thought Augusto, "that we need the service of things and have to make use of them. All beauty is marred by use, if not destroyed. The noblest function of things is that of being contemplated. How beautiful is an orange before dinner!"

Es una desgracia esto de tener que servirse uno de las cosas— pensó Augusto—; tener que usarlas. El uso estropea y hasta destruye toda belleza. La función más noble de los objetos es la de ser contemplados. ¡Qué bella es una naranja antes de comida!
For Augusto was less of a traveller through life than a saunterer.

Porque Augusto no era un caminante, sino un paseante de la vida.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


What an Imposture!

Anatole France, "Allocution Delivered at the Inaugural Celebrations of 'L'Émancipation' on the 21st November, 1899," in The Unrisen Dawn: Speeches and Addresses, tr. J. Lewis May (London: John Lane, 1928), pp. 9-14 (at 13):
You will sometimes hear moralists descanting on the vanity of the pleasures of life. Do not heed them. A long religious tradition, the burden of which is still heavy upon us, teaches us that privation, suffering and pain are things to be desired, and that voluntary privation is specially meritorious. What an imposture! It has been by proclaiming to the masses that they must suffer in this world if they would be happy in the next, that an abject acquiescence in all manner of injustice and oppression has been brought about. Let us turn a deaf ear to the priests who would impress upon us that suffering is an excellent thing. It is happiness that is good for us.

Our instincts, our physical and moral nature, our whole being, all alike counsel us to look for our happiness here on earth. Happiness is difficult enough to meet with. Let us not wilfully run away from it. Let us not be afraid of joy; and when an exquisite form or a smiling mood invites us to taste of pleasure, let us not pass it by.
The original French, from Anatole France, Opinions sociales, Vol. I (Paris: Cornély, 1906), pp. 67-72 (at 70-71):
Vous entendez parfois des moralistes vous dire qu'il ne faut rien accorder à l'agrément dans la vie. Ne les écoutez pas. Une longue tradition religieuse, qui pèse encore sur nous, nous enseigne que la privation, la souffrance et la douleur sont des biens désirables et qu'il y a des mérites spéciaux attachés à la privation volontaire. Quelle imposture! C'est en disant aux peuples qu'il faut souffrir en ce monde pour être heureux dans l'autre qu'on a obtenu d'eux une pitoyable résignation à toutes les oppressions et à toutes les iniquités. N'écoutons pas les prêtres qui enseignent que la souffrance est excellente. C'est la joie qui est bonne!

Nos instincts, nos organes, notre nature physique et morale, tout notre être nous conseille de chercher le bonheur sur la terre. Il est difficile de le rencontrer. Ne le fuyons point. Ne craignons pas la joie; et lorsqu'une forme heureuse ou une pensée riante nous offre du plaisir, ne la refusons pas.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


A Fine Fellow

François Rabelais (1494-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book II, Chapter XXXII (tr. J.M. Cohen):
Finally, I decided to go back, and going past his beard I dropped onto his shoulders, and from there I got down to the ground and fell right in front of him. And seeing me, he asked: 'Where are you coming from, Alcofribas?' And I answered him: 'From your throat, sir.' 'And how long have you been down there?' he said. 'Since you marched against the Almyrods,' I said. 'But that,' he said, 'is more than six months. How did you live? What did you drink?' I answered: 'My lord, just as you did, and I took a tax of the freshest morsels that came down your throat.' 'Indeed,' he said. 'But where did you shit?' 'In your throat, sir,' I said. 'Ha, ha, but you're a fine fellow!' he said.
In French:
Finablement vouluz retourner, et, passant par sa barbe, me gettay sus ses epaulles, et de là me devallé en terre et tumbé devant luy.
Quand il me apperceut, il me demanda:
« D'ont viens tu, Alcofribas? »
Je luy responds:
« De vostre gorge, Monsieur.
— Et despuis quand y es tu, dist il?
— Despuis, (dis je), que vous alliez contre les Almyrodes.
— Il y a, (dist il), plus de six moys. Et de quoy vivois tu? Que beuvoys tu? »
Je responds:
« Seigneur, de mesmes vous, et des plus frians morceaulx qui passoient par vostre gorge j'en prenois le barraige.
— Voire mais, (dist il), où chioys tu?
— En vostre gorge, Monsieur, dis je.
— Ha, ha, tu es gentil compaignon, (dist il).... »
John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, Vol. III: Fla. to Hyps. (1893), p. 133:
GERRY GAN, intj. (Old Cant).—A retort forcible. STOW IT! (q.v.). [From GERRY = excrement + GAN = mouth, i.e., literally, Shit in your mouth.] The common form is: Shit (or a turd) in your teeth; as in Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, 1614. Fr., Tais ta gueule ou j'te chie dedans.

1567. HARMAN, Caveat. GERRY GAN, the ruffian cly thee.
Thomas Harman (16th century), A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursetors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds (London: T. Bensley, 1814), p. 68:
Gerry gan the Ruffian clye thee.
   A torde in thy mouth, the deuill take thee.



Long Night

Propertius 2.15.23-24 (tr. G.P. Goold):
While fate permits, let us feast our eyes with love:
a long night is coming for you and day will not return.

dum nos fata sinunt, oculos satiemus amore:
    nox tibi longa venit, nec reditura dies.
The same, in A.E. Watts' translation:
Let's glut our eyes with love, while yet we may:
A long night comes, with no return of day.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


How the Ear of Man Is Tortured!

Thomas Carlyle, quoted in James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London 1834-1881, Vol. I (New York: Harper Brothers, 1885), pp. 159-160:
How the ear of man is tortured in this terrestrial planet! Go where you will the cock's shrill clarion, the dog's harsh watch-note, not to speak of the melody of jackasses, and on streets, of wheelbarrows, wooden clogs, loud-voiced men, perhaps watchmen, break upon the hapless brain; and, as if all was not enough, 'the Piety of the Middle Ages' has founded tremendous bells; and the hollow triviality of the present age—far worse—has everywhere instituted the piano! Why are not at least all those cocks and cockerels boiled into soup, into everlasting silence? Or, if the Devil some good night should take his hammer and smite in shivers all and every piano of our European world, so that in broad Europe there were not one piano left soundable, would the harm be great? Would not, on the contrary, the relief be considerable? For once that you hear any real music from a piano, do you not five hundred times hear mere artistic somersets, distracted jangling, and the hapless pretence of music? Let him who has lodged wall-neighbor to an operatic artist of stringed music say.

This miserable young woman that now in the next house to me spends all her young, bright days, not in learning to darn stockings, sew shirts, bake pastry, or any art, mystery, or business that will profit herself or others; not even in amusing herself or skipping on the grass-plots with laughter of her mates; but simply and solely in raging from dawn to dusk, to night and midnight, on a hapless piano, which it is evident she will never in this world learn to render more musical than a pair of barn-fanners! The miserable young female! The sound of her through the wall is to me an emblem of the whole distracted misery of this age; and her barn-fanners' rhythm becomes all too significant.
Edwin Way Teale, Journey into Summer (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960), pp. 21-22:
Sitting relaxed, aware of all the little sounds around me, enjoying the peaceful calm of these mountain heights, I remembered the young barber who had cut my hair in a small town a few days before. His great ambition, he said, was to work in New York. There was a city! For a good many years, he explained, each summer he had visited his grandfather on his farm in the country. But he couldn't stand it any more. Everything was so quiet! It gave him the creeps. He felt like going out and blowing a trumpet or pounding a drum—anything to make a racket. He represented that new breed, growing in numbers, the Noise Needers.

From the outboard motor to the jet airplane, through the radio and TV, the electric razor and the power lawnmower, almost every mechanical advance has added to the noise of the world. Each successive generation lives in a less quiet environment. In consequence, evolution is at work in massed urban centers. For evolution concerns the present as well as the past, ourselves as well as the dinosaurs. Noise is evolving not only the endurers of noise but the needers of noise.

Those whose nervous systems are disturbed by uproar are handicapped under such conditions. They are less fitted to maintain good health, to endure and to increase their kind than are those who thrive on clamor. What is strain and distraction to one is a stimulant and a tonic to the other. In step with noisier times, the number of Noise Needers is growing. I was told recently of the art editor of a chain of magazines who carries a pocket radio with him all day long and even places it, turned on, under his pillow when he goes to bed at night. Noise is comforting and reassuring to him. He seems in his proper environment when quiet is eliminated. The metallic clangor of rock-and-roll music is, perhaps, symptomatic of the steady rise in the number of Noise Needers. For them, quiet is somehow unnatural, stillness is somehow unfriendly. They feel better, more at home, when they are surrounded by a din—any kind of din. They do not merely tolerate noise. They like noise. They need noise.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019



Logan Pearsall Smith, Introduction to Donne's Sermons. Selected Passages (1919; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), pp. xiv-xv:
[S]ermons themselves, and especially old sermons, have fallen somewhat out of fashion; they are not often read now, and the collected and repubhshed editions of the great seventeenth century divines rest for the most part unopened on our shelves. People read novels, biographies, books of travel, social and political treatises instead of the sermons in which their grandfathers and grandmothers delighted: Hooker, Barrow, South, Tillotson are names indeed, but little more than names to most of us ; and even so great a writer of English prose, so exquisite an artist as Jeremy Taylor, is familiar to us only in extracts and selected passages. For modern theologians this old divinity, with its obsolete learning and forgotten controversies, has little more than an archaeological interest; while to the more secular-minded, the old divines, whose severe brows and square faces meet our eyes when we open their great folios, seem, with their imposed dogmas, their heavy and obsolete methods of exposition and controversy, almost as if they belonged to some remote geological era of human thought. We are reminded of Taine's image of them as giant mastodons or megatheria, slowly winding their scaly backs through the primeval slime, and meeting each other, armed with syllogisms and bristling with texts, in theological battle, to tear the flesh from one another's flanks with their great talons, and cover their opponents with filth in their efforts to destroy them.

And yet these old divines were great men and great writers, their voices enthralled the best and wisest of their own generation, and it is a misfortune for their fame, and a misfortune for our literature, that they put their wisdom and observation and deep feeling, their great gifts of imagination, and their often exquisite mastery of the art of expression into the hortatory and controversial form of the sermon which time has rendered obsolete.


Shrines of the Penates

Percy Bysshe Shelley, letter to Thomas Love Peacock (July 17, 1816):
You must shelter my roofless Penates, dedicate some new temple to them, and perform the functions of a priest in my absence. They are innocent deities, and their worship neither sanguinary nor absurd.

Leave Mammon and Jehovah to those who delight in wickedness and slavery — their altars are stained with blood or polluted with gold, the price of blood. But the shrines of the Penates are good wood fires, or window-frames intertwined with creeping plants; their hymns are the purring of kittens, the hissing of kettles; the long talks over the past and dead, the laugh of children, the warm wind of summer filling the quiet house, and the pelting storm of winter struggling in vain for entrance.


Scene from Olden Times

Propertius 3.13.25-48 (tr. G.P. Goold, with his notes):
Happy and in peace lived the youth of the country in those far off days, whose riches consisted of the harvest and the tree. For them it was a present to give quinces shaken from the bough, to bring panniers laden with crimson bramble-berries, now to pick a handful of violets, now to bring a mixed bouquet of lilies shining through their wicker baskets,40 and to carry grapes clothed in their own leaves and some speckled bird of rainbow plumage.

These were the blandishments that purchased the stealthy kisses that the girls of those days gave their sylvan gallants in the glens. A fawn's pelt would cover the reclining lovers, and the grass grew tall to make them a natural bed, and a pine leaning over curtained them with luxuriant shade; nor was it a sin to see a goddess naked.41

A horned marshal leading his full-fed ewes, the ram came home of his own accord to a fold as yet untenanted by shepherd. Ye gods and goddesses all, who have protection of the fields, your altars offered kindly words: 'Whoever you are who come as a guest, you will hunt the hare along my path or any bird you seek: and whether you pursue your prize with rod or hound, summon me, Pan, from the crag to be your companion.'42

But now shrines suffer neglect in forsaken groves: gold commands the worship of all, with piety trampled underfoot.

40 Cf. Copa 16, lilia vimineis attulit in calathis, one of several echoes of Propertius in this delightful Julio-Claudian poem.
41 As it was for Actaeon.
42 The quatrain translates Leonidas, A.P. 9.337.

felix agrestum quondam pacata iuventus,        25
    divitiae quorum messis et arbor erant!
illis munus erat decussa Cydonia ramo,
    et dare puniceis plena canistra rubis,
nunc violas tondere manu, nunc mixta referre
    lilia vimineos lucida per calathos,        30
et portare suis vestitas frondibus uvas
    aut variam plumae versicoloris avem.

his tum blanditiis furtiva per antra puellae
    oscula silvicolis empta dedere viris.
hinnulei pellis stratos operibat amantes,        35
    altaque nativo creverat herba toro,
pinus et incumbens laetas circumdabat umbras;
    nec fuerat nudas poena videre deas.

corniger atque adeo vacuam pastoris in aulam
    dux aries saturas ipse reduxit oves;        40
dique deaeque omnes, quibus est tutela per agros,
    praebebant vestri verba benigna foci:
'et leporem, quicumque venis, venaberis, hospes,
    et si forte meo tramite quaeris avem:
et me Pana tibi comitem de rupe vocato,        45
    sive petes calamo praemia, sive cane.'

at nunc desertis cessant sacraria lucis:
    aurum omnes victa iam pietate colunt.

25 pacata codd.: pagana Gulielmus: barbata Cornelissen
33 versicoloris ς: viricoloris NFL: vitricoloris Ellis: raricoloris Heinsius
35 hinnulei Scaliger: atque hinuli N: atque humili FL
stratos Baehrens: totos codd.: positos Heinsius: tutos Sterke: lentos Housman: iunctos Shackelton Bailey
37 letas F: lentas NL
39 corniger atque adeo Watt: corniger atque dei NFL: corniger Arcadii Hertzberg: cornigerique dei ς: corniger Idaei Volscus: crinigerique dei Postgate
40 dux codd.: trux Alton
42 vestri ... foci Barber: vestris ... focis NFL (nostris ς: festis Heinsius: iustis Baehrens: dextris Heyworth)
Greek Anthology 9.337 (Leonidas of Tarentum; tr. W.R. Paton):
Good sport! thou who comest to the foot of this two-peaked hill, whether hunting the hare or in pursuit of winged game. Call on me, Pan the ranger of this forest, from the rock, for I help both hounds and limed reeds to capture.

Εὐάγρει, λαγόθηρα, καὶ εἰ πετεεινὰ διώκων
    ἰξευτὴς ἥκεις τοῦθ᾿ ὑπὸ δισσὸν ὄρος,
κἀμὲ τὸν ὑληωρὸν ἀπὸ κρημνοῖο βόασον
    Πᾶνα· συναγρεύω καὶ κυσὶ καὶ καλάμοις.

Monday, October 07, 2019


He Would Rather Die

William Coventry (1628-1686), The Character of a Trimmer (London: James Duncan, 1833), p. 69:
Our Trimmer, is far from idolatry in other things; in one thing only he cometh near it, his country is in some degree his idol. He doth not worship the sun, because it is not peculiar to us, it rambleth about the world, and is less kind to us than others; but, for the earth of England, though perhaps inferior to that of many places abroad, to him there is divinity in it, and he would rather die, than see a piece of English grass trampled on by a foreign trespasser. He thinks there are a great many of his mind, for all plants are apt to taste of the soil in which they grow; and we that grow here, have a root that produceth in us a stalk of English juice, which is not to be changed by grafting, or foreign infusion...


Funeral Wishes of Charles Dickens

John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, Vol. II (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890), pp. 300-301:
I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner; that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial; that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed; and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat-band, or other such revolting absurdity. I DIRECT that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb, without the addition of ' Mr.' or 'Esquire.' I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works, and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experience of me in addition thereto.
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John Donne (1572-1631), Sermon 149:
...the sun is setting to thee, and that for ever; thy houses and furnitures, thy gardens and orchards, thy titles and offices, thy wife and children are departing from thee, and that for ever; a cloud of faintnesse is come over thine eyes, and a cloud of sorrow over all theirs...

Sunday, October 06, 2019


Shoe Size

Aristippus, quoted by Stobaeus 4.31.128, in Ioannis Stobaei Anthologium, Vol. V: Anthologii Libri Quarti Partem Alteram...Continens, ed. Otto Hense (Berlin: Weidmann, 1912), p. 779 (tr. Robin Hard):
If a shoe is too big, it is unusable, but that is not at all the case with an excess of riches; for while the excessive size of the shoe impedes one's movements when one tries to make use of it, it is possible to make use of any amount of riches either in whole or in part according to the circumstances.

οὐκ ὥσπερ ὑπόδημα τὸ μεῖζον δύσχρηστον, οὕτω καὶ ἡ πλείων κτῆσις· τοῦ µὲν γὰρ ἐν τῇ χρήσει τὸ περιττὸν ἐµποδίζει, τῇ δὲ καὶ ὅλῃ χρῆσθαι κατὰ καιρὸν ἔξεστι καὶ μέρει.



Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Little Dorrit, Book II, Chapter 13:
That it is at least as difficult to stay a moral infection as a physical one; that such a disease will spread with the malignity and rapidity of the Plague; that the contagion, when it has once made head, will spare no pursuit or condition, but will lay hold on people in the soundest health, and become developed in the most unlikely constitutions: is a fact as firmly established by experience as that we human creatures breathe an atmosphere. A blessing beyond appreciation would be conferred upon mankind, if the tainted, in whose weakness or wickedness these virulent disorders are bred, could be instantly seized and placed in close confinement (not to say summarily smothered) before the poison is communicable.


What to Say When Someone Passes Gas

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), The Tragedie of Doctor Faustus 2.3.113-114:
But, fie, what a smell is here!

smell B: scent A
Related posts:


Saturday, October 05, 2019


Paper Pushers

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Little Dorrit, Book II, Chapter 8 (on the Circumlocution Office):
[W]ithin the short compass of the last financial half-year, this much-maligned Department (Cheers) had written and received fifteen thousand letters (Loud cheers), had written twenty-four thousand minutes (Louder cheers), and thirty-two thousand five hundred and seventeen memoranda (Vehement cheering). Nay, an ingenious gentleman connected with the Department, and himself a valuable public servant, had done him the favour to make a curious calculation of the amount of stationery consumed in it during the same period. It formed a part of this same short document; and he derived from it the remarkable fact that the sheets of foolscap paper it had devoted to the public service would pave the footways on both sides of Oxford Street from end to end, and leave nearly a quarter of a mile to spare for the park (Immense cheering and laughter); while of tape — red tape — it had used enough to stretch, in graceful festoons, from Hyde Park Corner to the General Post Office.

Friday, October 04, 2019


Here on Earth

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), The Tragedie of Doctor Faustus 3.1.59-60:
Whilst I am here on earth, let me be cloyed
With all things that delight the heart of man.


Many Hands

Homer, Iliad 12.412 (tr. Peter Green):
The more men, the better the work gets done!

πλεόνων δέ τι ἔργον ἄμεινον.
In my experience, the opposite is true.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


The Different Inclinations of Different Men

David Hume (1711-1776), "Essay VIII: The Sceptic," Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Henry D. Aiken (1946; rpt. New York: Haffner Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 338-355 (at 338-339):
Almost every one has a predominant inclination to which his other desires and affections submit, and which governs him, though perhaps with some intervals, through the whole course of his life. It is difficult for him to apprehend, that any thing, which appears totally indifferent to him can ever give enjoyment to any person or can possess charms which altogether escape his observation. His own pursuits are always, in his account, the most engaging, the objects of his passion the most valuable, and the road which he pursues the only one that leads to happiness.

But would these prejudiced reasoners reflect a moment, there are many obvious instances and arguments sufficient to undeceive them and make them enlarge their maxims and principles. Do they not see the vast variety of inclinations and pursuits among our species, where each man seems fully satisfied with his own course of life and would esteem it the greatest unhappiness to be confined to that of his neighbour? Do they not feel in themselves that what pleases at one time displeases at another by the change of inclination, and that it is not in their power, by their utmost efforts, to recall that taste or appetite which formerly bestowed charms on what now appears indifferent or disagreeable? What is the meaning therefore of those general preferences of the town or country life, of a life of action or one of pleasure, of retirement or society, when, besides the different inclinations of different men, every one's experience may convince him that each of these kinds of life is agreeable in its turn, and that their variety or their judicious mixture chiefly contributes to the rendering all of them agreeable?


Pleading for Admittance

Wednesday, October 02, 2019


Yet This Is Reckoned Life

Ben Jonson (1572-1637), Volpone 1.4.144-159:
So many cares, so many maladies,
So many fears attending on old age,        145
Yea, death so often call'd on, as no wish
Can be more frequent with 'em, their limbs faint,
Their senses dull, their seeing, hearing, going,
All dead before them; yea, their very teeth,
Their instruments of eating, failing them:        150
Yet this is reckon'd life! nay, here was one;
Is now gone home, that wishes to live longer!
Feels not his gout, nor palsy; feigns himself
Younger by scores of years, flatters his age
With confident belying it, hopes he may,        155
With charms, like Aeson, have his youth restor'd:
And with these thoughts so battens, as if fate
Would be as easily cheated on, as he,
And all turns air!
148 going: walking

149 before them: before they are

156 Aeson: restored to life and youth by Medea



Beowulf 1383-1389 (tr. Seamus Heaney):
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
"Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark."

Bēowulf maþelode,    bearn Ecgþēowes:
"Ne sorga, snotor guma!    Sēlre bið ǣghwǣm
þæt hē his frēond wrece,    þonne hē fela murne.        1385
Ūre ǣghwylc sceal    ende gebīdan
worolde līfes;    wyrce sē þe mōte
dōmes ǣr dēaþe;    þæt bið driht-guman
unlifgendum    æfter sēlest."
J.R.R. Tolkien's translation:
Beowulf made answer, the son of Ecgtheow: 'Grieve not, O wise one! Better it is for every man that he should avenge his friend than he should much lament. To each one of us shall come in time the end of life in the world; let him who may earn glory ere his death. No better thing can brave knight leave behind when he lies dead.'
E. Talbot Donaldson's translation:
Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow: "Sorrow not, wise warrior. It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn. Each of us must await his end of the world's life. Let him who may get glory before death: that is best for the warrior after he has gone from life."

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