Friday, January 31, 2020



Juvenal 15.70-71 (tr. Peter Green):
Today the earth breeds a race of degenerate
weaklings, who stir high heaven to laughter and loathing.

terra malos homines nunc educat atque pusillos;
ergo deus, quicumque aspexit, ridet et odit.
Edward Courtney ad loc.:
70 MALOS The view of progressive degeneration put forward in Six init. after Hesiod; cf. e.g. Hor. Odes 3.6.45–8, Sen. De Ben. 1.10; hence DEUS ODIT.

PUSILLOS Cf. Pliny NH 7.73–4 (cf. on 65), Gellius 3.10; Empedocles fr. 77 Diels–Kranz, and, perhaps influenced by him, the Epicureans (Lucr. 5.925 sqq. with Bailey p. 976), who attributed it to the exhaustion of the earth (Lucr. 2.1150 sqq.; so also Sen. Ep. 90.44; opposed by Pliny Ep. 6.21.1, where see Sherwin-White); that is probably the point of infantibus magnis 6.9. Their smallness is why DEUS RIDET, cf. 13.170–3. Many instances are recorded of the exhumation of large bones, probably in fact mammoth bones, supposed to be of the heroes (F. Pfister Reliquienkult (1912) 507, Frazer on Paus. 1.35.7).

Thursday, January 30, 2020



Robert H.F. Carver, The Protean Ass: The Metamorphoses of Apuleius from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 164, n. 12 (with studiosus corrected to studiosos, thanks to Kenneth Haynes):
According to Platina (an understandably hostile witness), Paul II 'had such a hatred and contempt for humanistic studies that he applied the collective label of "Heretics" to those who followed that course' (Humanitatis...studia ita oderat & contemnabat: ut eius studiosos uno nomine hæreticos appellaret). See De uita Christi: ac Pontificum omnium (Venice, 1479), fol. [238]r.


Indiscriminate Admiration of Antiquity

Tacitus, Annals 2.88.4 (tr. J.C. Yardley):
We, who praise the deeds of antiquity, have little interest in those of recent times.

vetera extollimus, recentium incuriosi.
The Annals of Tacitus. Edited with Introduction and Notes by Henry Furneaux, 2nd ed. rev. by H.F. Pelham and C.D. Fisher, Vol. I: Books I-VI (1896; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 385:
A similar protest against indiscriminate admiration of antiquity is found in 3.55, 6. The sentiment of Velleius (2.92, 4), 'praesentia invidia praeterita veneratione prosequimur, et his nos obrui illis instrui credimus,' is transferred by Hobbes (Leviathan, conclusion) from the judgement of actions to that of literature: 'The praise of ancient authors, proceeds not from the reverence of the dead, but from the competition and mutual envy of the living': cp. Dial. 18.
Tacitus, Annals 3.55.6 (tr. J.C. Yardley):
And not everything was better in our ancestors' days, either — our own age, too, has produced many instances of excellence and artistic merit deserving to be imitated by posterity.

nec omnia apud priores meliora, sed nostra quoque aetas multa laudis et artium imitanda posteris tulit.


Pound Misquotes Ovid

Ezra Pound (1885-1972), The Spirit of Romance, rev. ed. (1952; rpt. New York: New Directions, 1968), p. 15:
    Ovid—urbane, sceptical, a Roman of the city—writes, not in a florid prose, but in a verse which has the clarity of French scientific prose.
    "Convenit esse deos et ergo esse credemus."
    "It is convenient to have Gods, and therefore we believe they exist"; and with all pretence of scientific accuracy he ushers in his gods, demigods, monsters and transformations.
Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.637:
expedit esse deos, et, ut expedit, esse putemus.
Related post: Poundian Latinity.



Classics and Class

Charlotte Higgins, "Forget Boris Johnson—the classics are for the working classes too," Prospect Magazine (January 28, 2020):
Classics and class have the same root. That is, the verb clamare, to call out. "Classis" meant a group of people "called out," for example by means of a census for military service; and in the late 2nd century AD, the Roman writer Aulus Gellius referred to the greatest authors as scriptores classici, "classic writers"—as opposed to second-rate authors, scriptores proletarii. We now have classic books, classic cars, classic films, and so on—those called out for greatness. But the classics of the classics, the top of the drawer, the best of the best, are always smugly supposed to be "the" classics: Latin and Greek, and the worlds associated with them.
Classics is derived from Latin classicus and class from Latin classis, but are classicus and classis derived from clamare? Apparently not in a direct line. The most that can be said is that classis might be derived from calare and that calare and clamare share a common ancestor.

Robert Maltby, A Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1991), p. 134:

Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, 4th ed. rev. Jacques André (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 125 (classicus, classis):

Id., s.v. clāmō:
Même racine que dans calō...
Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), p. 118 (classis):

de Vaan, p. 117 (clamo):

de Vaan, pp. 84-85 (calo):

Hat tip: Jim K.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020


A City Not Their Own

Seneca, On Consolation to his Mother Helvia 6.2-4 (tr. John W. Basore):
[2] "To be deprived of one's country is intolerable," you say. But come now, behold this concourse of men, for whom the houses of huge Rome scarcely suffice; most of this throng are now deprived of their country. From their towns and colonies, from the whole world, in fact, hither have they flocked. Some have been brought by ambition, some by the obligation of a public trust, some by an envoy's duty having been laid upon them, some, seeking a convenient and rich field for vice, by luxury, some by a desire for the higher studies, some by the public spectacles; some have been drawn by friendship, some, seeing the ample opportunity for displaying energy, by the chance to work; some have presented their beauty for sale, some their eloquence for sale — [3] every class of person has swarmed into the city that offers high prizes for both virtues and vices. Have all of them summoned by name and ask of each: "Whence do you hail?" You will find that there are more than half who have left their homes and come to this city, which is truly a very great and a very beautiful one, but not their own. [4] Then leave this city, which in a sense may be said to belong to all, and travel from one city to another; everyone will have a large proportion of foreign population.

[2] "carere patria intolerabile est." aspice agedum hanc frequentiam, cui vix urbis immensae tecta sufficiunt; maxima pars istius turbae patria caret. ex municipiis et coloniis suis, ex toto denique orbe terrarum confluxerunt. alios adduxit ambitio, alios necessitas officii publici, alios imposita legatio, alios luxuria opportunum et opulentum vitiis locum quaerens, alios liberalium studiorum cupiditas, alios spectacula; quosdam traxit amicitia, quosdam industria laxam ostendendae virtuti nancta materiam; quidam venalem formam attulerunt, quidam venalem eloquentiam — [3] nullum non hominum genus concucurrit in urbem et virtutibus et vitiis magna pretia ponentem. iube istos omnes ad nomen citari et "unde domo" quisque sit quaere. videbis maiorem partem esse, quae relictis sedibus suis venerit in maximam quidem ac pulcherrimam urbem, non tamen suam. [4] deinde ab hac civitate discede, quae veluti communis potest dici, omnes urbes circumi; nulla non magnam partem peregrinae multitudinis habet.
In general see Laurens E. Tacoma, Moving Romans: Migration to Rome in the Principate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).



Hesiod, Works and Days 729-732 (tr. Thomas Cooke):
When you would have your urine pass away,
Stand not upright before the eye of day;
And scatter not your water as you go,
Nor let it, when you're naked, from you flow:
In either case 'tis an unseemly sight:
The gods observe alike by day and night:
The man that we devout and wise may call
Sits in that act, or streams against a wall.

μήτ' ἐν ὁδῷ μήτ' ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ προβάδην οὐρήσῃς
μηδ' ἀπογυμνωθείς· μακάρων τοι νύκτες ἔασιν·        730
ἑζόμενος δ' ὅ γε θεῖος ἀνήρ, πεπνυμένα εἰδώς,
ἢ ὅ γε πρὸς τοῖχον πελάσας ἐυερκέος αὐλῆς.


A Stimulus to Thought

Pliny, Letters 1.6.2-3 (to Tacitus; tr. Betty Radice):
Don't look down on mental activity of this kind, for it is remarkable how one's wits are sharpened by physical exercise; the mere fact of being alone in the depths of the woods in the silence necessary for hunting is a positive stimulus to thought. So next time you hunt yourself, follow my example and take your notebooks along with your lunch-basket and flask; you will find that Minerva walks the hills no less than Diana.

non est quod contemnas hoc studendi genus; mirum est ut animus agitatione motuque corporis excitetur; iam undique silvae et solitudo ipsumque illud silentium quod venationi datur, magna cogitationis incitamenta sunt. proinde cum venabere, licebit auctore me ut panarium et lagunculam sic etiam pugillares feras: experieris non Dianam magis montibus quam Minervam inerrare.
See Judith Hindermann, "Orte der Inspiration in Plinius' Epistulae," Museum Helveticum 66.4 (December, 2009) 223-231 (at 229).

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Almost the Same

Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), p. 60:
I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates, and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad's switch points; the chemist's trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist's trade.

Io pensavo ad un'altra morale, piú terrena e concreta, e credo che ogni chimico militante la potrà confermare: che occorre diffidare del quasiuguale (il sodio è quasi uguale al potassio: ma col sodio non sarebbe successo nulla), del praticamente identico, del pressapoco, dell'oppure, di tutti i surrogati e di tutti i rappezzi. Le differenze possono essere piccole, ma portare a conseguenze radicalmente diverse, come gli aghi degli scambi; il mestiere del chimico consiste in buona parte nel guardarsi da queste differenze, nel conoscerle da vicino, nel prevederne gli effetti. Non solo il mestiere del chimico.


In the Blood

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "The Church that was at Antioch," Limits and Renewals (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1932), pp. 89-114 (at 90):
'It's in the blood. The same with men as horses.'
Charles Darwin (1809-1882), The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd rev. ed. (London: John Murray, 1874), p. 617:
Man scans with scrupulous care the character of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them, but when it comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Ways of Looking at Things

Ben Edwin Perry (1892-1968), "The Early Greek Capacity for Viewing Things Separately," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 68 (1937) 403-427 (at 403):
If modern habits of mind were the same as those of the pre-Socratic Greeks, we should not often err in the interpretation of their literature and thought; but since the psychological differences between them and us are considerable, it frequently happens that modern critics, too much influenced by their own patterns of thought, either find something in early Greek literature that is not there, or else are puzzled and even disappointed by not finding there something which they feel ought to be there. Since this is so, it behooves us as interpreters to keep in view at all times, and in many different connections, those particular characteristics of the early Greek mind which can be recognized as such, and which stand in contrast to modern ways of thinking.
Id. (at 425):
In the matter of drawing inferences and of associating or not associating one idea or image with another, there are, as it seems to me, three distinct ways of looking at things, the first two of which, in the order below mentioned, are especially characteristic of the Greek mind in the fifth century and earlier: 1. Two or more things (or ideas) that might be logically or otherwise connected with each other are each viewed separately, and the beholder or narrator is aware of only one at a time—parataxis in various forms. 2. Two things are viewed in juxtaposition or contrast, each of which in some way denies the other, while the onlooker, though intellectually pleased or even deeply moved by the spectacle, nevertheless remains aloof and impartial in his attitude, being affected for the time being far more by the objective reality of things (θεωρία) than by any sympathy, however natural, for one of the two things in conflict—irony, the antithetic style, the intellectual detachment of Thucydides. 3. The spectator, turned partisan, judges one of two things in terms of the other, or with reference to a preconceived system or sentiment, or by pure logic— philosophy instead of nature as the guide to truth.


Replacement of Liberal Arts by STEM Subjects

Edward Littleton (1698-1733), "A Letter from Cambridge to a young Gentleman at Eton School," lines 35-56, in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands, Vol. VI. (London: Printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763), pp. 290-294 (at 291-292):
No more majestic Virgil's heights,        35
Nor tow'ring Milton's loftier flights,
Nor courtly Flaccus's rebukes,
Who banters vice with friendly jokes,
Nor Congreve's life, nor Cowley's fire,
Nor all the beauties that conspire        40
To place the greenest bays upon
Th' immortal brows of Addison;
Prior's inimitable ease,
Nor Pope's harmonious numbers please;
Homer indeed (for critics shew it)        45
Was both philosopher, and poet,
But tedious philosophic chapters
Quite stifle my poetic raptures,
And I to Phoebus bade adieu
When first I took my leave of you.        50

Now algebra, geometry,
Arithmetic, astronomy,
Optics, chronology, and statics,
All tiresome parts of mathematics;
With twenty harder names than these        55
Disturb my brain, and break my peace.



Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "In the Interests of the Brethren," Debits and Credits (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1926), pp. 57-82 (at 61):
'All Ritual is fortifying. Ritual's a natural necessity for mankind. The more things are upset, the more they fly to it. I abhor slovenly Ritual anywhere.'

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Bookish Ambition

Henry Peacham (c. 1576-c. 1643), The Compleat Gentleman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 54 (from Chapter VI):
Affect not as some doe, that bookish Ambition, to be stored with bookes and have well furnished Libraries, yet keepe their heads empty of knowledge: to desire to have many bookes, and never to use them, is like a child that will have a candle burning by him, all the while he is sleeping.


The Siege of Lisbon

Extract from De Expugnatione Lyxboniensi (On the Siege of Lisbon) (1147), in James A. Brundage, The Crusades. A Documentary Survey (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1962) p. 101:
While we kept watch, meanwhile, under their walls through the days and nights, they [the Moorish defenders of Lisbon] heaped derision and many insults upon us. They considered us worthy of a thousand deaths, especially since they thought that we spurned our own things as vile and lusted after others' goods as precious. Nor did they recall doing us any injury, save that if they had anything of the best quality in their possession we might consider them unworthy of having it and judge it worthy of our possession. They taunted us with the many children who were going to be born at home while we were gone and said that our wives would not be anxious about our deaths, since home was well supplied with little bastards. They promised that any of us who survived would go home miserable and poverty-stricken and they mocked us and gnashed their teeth at us. They also continuously attacked Blessed Mary, the mother of God, with insults and with vile and abusive words, which infuriated us. They said that we venerated the son of a poor woman with a worship equal to that due to God, for we held that he was a God and the Son of God, when it is apparent that there is only one God who began all things that have begun and that he has no one coeval with him and no partaker in his divinity.... They attacked us with these and similar calumnies. They showed to us, moreover, with much derision the symbol of the cross. They spat upon it and wiped the feces from their posteriors with it. At last they urinated on it, as on some despicable thing, and threw our cross at us….
De Expugnatione Lyxboniensi, f.12v:
Dum interim per dies et noctes excubaremus sub eorum muris, derisiones atque improperia multa nobis ingerebant, mille nos mortibus dignos judicantes, quippe qui nostra fastidientes quasi vilia, aliena quasi pretiosa concupisceremus, nec aliam se nobis injuriam fecisse commemorant, nisi quod nos si quid optimi penes eos haberetur, possessione nostra dignum aestimaremus, ipsosque indignos habendi judicaremus, prolemque domi nascituram multiplicem nobis absentibus improperabant, nec ob id de obitu nostro curae uxoribus nostris fore, satis cum sibi domi spuria suppeteret progenies. Sed et si qui ex nobis superforent, miseros et inopes repatriandum promittebant, et subsannantes dentibus in nobis fremebant. Conviciis insuper et verbis contumeliosis et probris Beatam Mariam matrem Domini incessanter afficiebant, indignantes nobis, quod filium paupris muleieris tanto quasi Deum veneraremur obsequio, Ipsum dicentes Deum Deique filium, cum unum Deum solum a quo omnia quae initia habent coepta sunt, constet esse, nec aliquem coaevum et divinitatis Suae habere participem; […] Haec et his similia adversum nos calumniantes obtrectabant, crucis insuper signum cum magna irrisione ostentare nostris, atque in illam exspuentes, foeditatis suae posteriora extergebant ex illa; sicque demum micturientes in illam quasi opprobrium quoddam, crucem nostram nobis projiciunt… .
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also sends this photograph of Lisbon's Praça do Comercio, taken minutes ago:



Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 176-178:
Plato. There is a dialogue of Plato to suit every wine. A fine claret will take you at a leisurely pace through The Republic, while with the Phaedrus a light rosé would be more appropriate, and only a bone-dry Manzanilla would do justice to the Philebus. The Laws would benefit from a robust Burgundy, giving courage and permission to the inevitable desire to skip. When it comes to the sublime Symposium, by contrast, something light and semi-sweet will help you to capture some of the gaiety of the company, and to drink to each of the participants as they rise to speak.


Aristotle. Readers of the Metaphysics will understand when I say that plain water is the only conceivable accompaniment. To swallow the driest book ever written you need plenty of liquid, and an attitude of Spartan detachment as you fight down the words. Before moving on to the Prior Analytics a ginger biscuit might be suitable. Only with the Nicomachean Ethics do things lighten up a bit, and here, because the argument is absolutely vital to the concept of virtuous drinking as I have been advancing it, I would recommend a celebratory glass or two. My best experience of the Ethics came, in fact, with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Beringer Estate in California — one of those original Californian wineries that have been a by-word for craftsmanship both before and after Prohibition.

Cicero. Not exactly a philosopher, though a jolly good bloke, who had much to say about the life of virtue, and whose creative ability to make himself hated ought to serve as an example to us all. His careful sentences, with their burden of dignified thought, are prime claret material, and should be approached after dinner, with a glass or two of Pauillac, where the poet Ausonius once had a villa. The great Ch. Lynch-Bages 1959 could not be better used, by anyone fortunate enough to have a bottle remaining. But while on the subject of Ausonius, how about the equally great 1959 from Ch. Ausone?


Professor P.

Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), pp. 30-31:
I liked P. I liked the sober rigor of his classes; I was amused by the disdainful ostentation with which at the exams he exhibited, instead of the prescribed Fascist shirt, a comic black bib no bigger than the palm of a hand, which at each of his brusque movements would pop out between his jacket's lapels. I valued his two textbooks, clear to the point of obsession, concise, saturated with his surly contempt for humanity in general and for lazy and foolish students in particular: for all students were, by definition, lazy and foolish; anyone who by rare good luck managed to prove that he was not became his peer and was honored by a laconic and precious sentence of praise.

A me P. era simpatico. Mi piaceva il rigore sobrio delle sue lezioni; mi divertiva la sdegnosa ostentazione con cui esibiva agli esami, in luogo della camicia fascista prescritta, un buffo bavaglino nero, grande un palmo, che ad ognuno dei suoi movimenti bruschi gli usciva fuori dei risvolti della giacca. Apprezzavo i suoi due testi, chiari fino all'ossessione, stringati, pregni del suo arcigno disprezzo per l'umanità in generale e per gli studenti pigri e sciocchi in particolare: perché tutti gli studenti, per definizione, erano pigri e sciocchi; chi, per somma ventura, riusciva a dimostrargli di non esserlo, diventava un suo pari, e veniva onorato con una laconica e preziosa frase d'encomio.
Professor P. was Giacomo Ponzio (1870-1945).

Saturday, January 25, 2020


How Long Does it Take to Make a Mummy?

W. Jackson Bate (1918-1999), "The Crisis in English Studies," Harvard Magazine 85.1 (September-October 1982) 46-53 (at 49):
If you took a Ph.D. here in English as late as the 1930s, you were suddenly shoved — with grammars written in German — into Anglo-Saxon, and Middle Scots, plus Old Norse (Icelandic), Gothic, Old French, and so on. I used to sympathize with the Japanese and Chinese students who had come here to study literature struggling with a German grammar to translate Gothic into English! William Allan Neilson, the famous president of Smith College, had been a professor of English here for years. Forgiveably, he stated that the Egyptians took only five weeks to make a mummy, but the Harvard English Department took five years.


The Proposal of Artembares

Herodotus 9.122 (tr. Robin Waterfield):
[1] This Artayctes, the one who was crucified, was the descendant of Artembares, who was the author of a certain proposal which the Persians passed on to Cyrus for ratification. The proposal went like this:

[2] 'Since Zeus has given sovereignty to the Persians and to you in particular, Cyrus, now that you have done away with Astyages, let's emigrate from the country we currently own, which is small and rugged, and take over somewhere better. There are plenty of countries on our borders, and plenty further away too, any one of which, in our hands, will make us even more remarkable to even more people. This is a perfectly reasonable thing for people with power to do. Will we ever have a better opportunity than now, when we rule over so many peoples and the whole of Asia?'

[3] Cyrus was not impressed with the proposal. He told them to go ahead—but he also advised them to be prepared, in that case, to become subjects instead of rulers, on the grounds that soft lands tend to breed soft men. It is impossible, he said, for one and the same country to produce remarkable crops and good fighting men.

[4] So the Persians admitted the truth of his argument and took their leave. Cyrus' point of view had proved more convincing than their own, and they chose to live in a harsh land and rule rather than to cultivate fertile plains and be others' slaves.

[1] τούτου δὲ Ἀρταΰκτεω τοῦ ἀνακρεμασθέντος προπάτωρ Ἀρτεμβάρης ἐστὶ ὁ Πέρσῃσι ἐξηγησάμενος λόγον τὸν ἐκεῖνοι ὑπολαβόντες Κύρῳ προσήνεικαν λέγοντα τάδε.

[2] "ἐπεὶ Ζεὺς Πέρσῃσι ἡγεμονίην διδοῖ, ἀνδρῶν δὲ σοὶ Κῦρε, κατελὼν Ἀστυάγην, φέρε, γῆν γὰρ ἐκτήμεθα ὀλίγην καὶ ταύτην τρηχέαν, μεταναστάντες ἐκ ταύτης ἄλλην σχῶμεν ἀμείνω. εἰσὶ δὲ πολλαὶ μὲν ἀστυγείτονες πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ ἑκαστέρω, τῶν μίαν σχόντες πλέοσι ἐσόμεθα θωμαστότεροι. οἰκὸς δὲ ἄνδρας ἄρχοντας τοιαῦτα ποιέειν· κότε γὰρ δὴ καὶ παρέξει κάλλιον ἢ ὅτε γε ἀνθρώπων τε πολλῶν ἄρχομεν πάσης τε τῆς Ἀσίης;"

[3] Κῦρος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούσας καὶ οὐ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον ἐκέλευε ποιέειν ταῦτα, οὕτω δὲ αὐτοῖσι παραίνεε κελεύων παρασκευάζεσθαι ὡς οὐκέτι ἄρξοντας ἀλλ᾽ ἀρξομένους· φιλέειν γὰρ ἐκ τῶν μαλακῶν χώρων μαλακοὺς γίνεσθαι· οὐ γὰρ τι τῆς αὐτῆς γῆς εἶναι καρπόν τε θωμαστὸν φύειν καὶ ἄνδρας ἀγαθοὺς τὰ πολέμια.

[4] ὥστε συγγνόντες Πέρσαι οἴχοντο ἀποστάντες, ἑσσωθέντες τῇ γνώμῃ πρὸς Κύρου, ἄρχειν τε εἵλοντο λυπρὴν οἰκέοντες μᾶλλον ἢ πεδιάδα σπείροντες ἄλλοισι δουλεύειν.
See Nancy Demand, "Herodotus and Metoikesis in the Persian Wars," American Journal of Philology 109.3 (Autumn, 1988) 416-423 (at 419-420).



Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), p. 24:
What were we able to do with our hands? Nothing, or almost nothing. The women, yes—our mothers and grandmothers had lively, agile hands, they knew how to sew and cook, some even played the piano, painted with watercolors, embroidered, braided their hair. But we, and our fathers?

Our hands were at once coarse and weak, regressive, insensitive: the least trained part of our bodies. Having gone through the first fundamental experiences of play, they had learned to write, and that was all. They knew the convulsive grip around the branches of a tree, which we loved to climb out of a natural desire and also (Enrico and I) out of a groping homage and return to the origins of the species; but they were unfamiliar with the solemn, balanced weight of the hammer, the concentrated power of a blade, too cautiously forbidden us, the wise texture of wood, the similar and diverse pliability of iron, lead, and copper. If man is a maker, we were not men: we knew this and suffered from it.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Obsession with the Past

Peter Green, From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), p. 7:
The deep and instinctive conservatism of all but the most progressive Greek intellectual thinking — τιμιώτατον γὰρ τὸ πρεσβύτατον, said Aristotle, "what's oldest is most valuable" (Met. A3, 983b32) — has often elicited comment,7 but its impact on mythic historiography has not, I think, been fully appreciated. This obsession with the past, above all the heroic past, was ubiquitous and intense. To an overwhelming extent, the past and everything it stood for had been better, and it was not only Homer's heroes8 who thought so. Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle all shared the same outlook: when they attacked witnesses to that lost world, it was for misrepresenting it.9

7. Most strikingly by Van Groningen 1953, 1–12, who surveys our sources from Homer to Aristotle. For the status quo as the economic ideal, cf. A.E. Samuel, From Athens to Alexandria: Hellenism and Social Goals in Ptolemaic Egypt (Louvain, 1983), 123, and Green 1993, 363–67, 374–75.

8. E.g., Il. 1.260–61; 5.302, 447; Od. 8.223.

9. Plat. Phileb. 16C: Socrates speaks of οἱ μὲν παλαιοί, κρείττονες ἡμῶν καὶ ἐγγυτέρω θεῶν οἰκοῦντες. Isocrates, as Van Groningen comments (1953, 7), "places everything which he thinks desirable in the past; the Athens of former days was exemplary; only imitations of the forefathers can bring real prosperity ... with him 'the excellency of the fathers' becomes a synonym of the fathers themselves." For ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετῆ, see Isocr. 12.5, 15.76. For the spirit of emulating the past, cf. 5.113–14; 6.12–13, 98; 7.84; 8.93; 12.137; 15.114; and in general, Orat. 4 and 7. Aristotle believed that "antiquity appears to be a near approach to what is by nature," Rhet. 2.9.9, 1387a16 (trans. Van Groningen).
For ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετῆ read ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετή.

Van Groningen is B.A. Van Groningen, In the Grip of the Past: Essay on an Aspect of Greek Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1953 = Philosophia Antiqua, VI), unavailable to me.



A Short But Distinguished Life (screen capture January 24, 2020):


Learning One Thing Well

Menander, fragment 695 Kassel and Austin (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
It is far better to have come to know one thing thoroughly than to be superficially dressed up with many.

πολὺ κρεῖττόν ἐστιν ἓν καλῶς μεμαθηκέναι
ἢ πολλὰ φαύλως περιβεβλῆσθαι πράγματα.
Related post: Non Multa Sed Multum.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Juvenal's Tenth Satire

Byron, letter to Francis Hodgson (September 9, 1811), in 'Famous in my time': Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, Vol. 2: 1810-1812 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 105, with the editor's note:
I have been a good deal in your company lately, for I have been reading Juvenal & Lady Jane &ca.1 for the first time since my return.—The 10th Sat[ir]e has always been my favourite as I suppose indeed of every body's, it is the finest recipe for making one miserable with this life, & content to walk out of it, in any language.—I should think it might be redde with great effect to a man dying without much pain, in preference to all the stuff that ever was said or sung in churches.

1 Hodgson had published a translation of Juvenal in 1807, and Lady Jane Grey, a Tale; and Other Poems in 1809.


It's Time

Pliny, Letters 1.3.3 (to Caninius Rufus; tr. Betty Radice):
But isn't it really time you handed over those tiresome petty duties to someone else and shut yourself up with your books in the peace and comfort of your retreat? This is what should be both business and pleasure, work and recreation, and should occupy your thoughts awake and asleep!

quin tu (tempus enim) humiles et sordidas curas aliis mandas, et ipse te in alto isto pinguique secessu studiis adseris? hoc sit negotium tuum, hoc otium, hic labor, haec quies; in his vigilia, in his etiam somnus reponatur!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Bloodless Offerings

Calpurnius Siculus 2.64-67 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
I too have been wont to offer first-fruits to the gods who protect my apple-orchard and to mould for Priapus cakes of sacrifice. Dripping combs of trickling honey I present — nor think they shall be less acceptable to heaven than a goat's blood staining the altar.

non quoque pomiferi laribus consuevimus horti
mittere primitias et fingere liba Priapo,
rorantesque favos damus et liquentia mella;
nec fore grata minus, quam si caper imbuat aras.
Cyril Bailey, Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1932 = Sather Classical Lectures, 10), pp. 77-78 (note omitted):
The offerings in the household cult and in the majority of the sacrificia in the fields were in the early days bloodless. They consisted mostly in cereals, and particularly in spelt (far) — the staple crop before wheat was introduced. Often this was made into meal (puls) or cakes (strues, fertum, liba) or, when salt was added, it became the mola salsa, the salt meal, so famous in Roman ritual. These simple offerings were felt to be all that the god needed, and Horace is speaking in the spirit of the old religion, when he says that "if a pure hand has touched the altar, it will not be more persuasive with a rich victim than with the gift of spelt and the little cake leaping in the flame."


Joy, and Plenty, and Contentment

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 36 (Saturday, July 21, 1750):
There is scarcely any species of poetry that has allured more readers, or excited more writers, than the pastoral. It is generally pleasing, because it entertains the mind with representations of scenes familiar to almost every imagination, and of which all can equally judge whether they are well described. It exhibits a life, to which we have been accustomed to associate peace, and leisure, and innocence: and therefore we readily set open the heart for the admission of its images, which contribute to drive away cares and perturbations, and suffer ourselves, without resistance, to be transported to Elysian regions, where we are to meet with nothing but joy, and plenty, and contentment; where every gale whispers pleasure, and every shade promises repose.
Our inclination to stillness and tranquillity is seldom much lessened by long knowledge of the busy and tumultuary part of the world. In childhood we turn our thoughts to the country, as to the region of pleasure; we recur to it in old age as a port of rest, and perhaps with that secondary and adventitious gladness, which every man feels on reviewing those places, or recollecting those occurrences, that contributed to his youthful enjoyments, and bring him back to the prime of life, when the world was gay with the bloom of novelty, when mirth wantoned at his side, and hope sparkled before him.


Motive for Martyrdom?

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XVI:
The assurance of a lasting reputation on earth, a motive so congenial to the vanity of human nature, often served to animate the courage of the martyrs.


Was the World Created for Man?

The Book of Lieh-tzu. A Classic of the Tao translated by A.C. Graham (1960; rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 178-179:
T'ien of Ch'i was going on a journey; he sacrificed in his courtyard to the god of the roads, and banqueted a thousand guests. Someone was serving fish and geese at the seat of honour. T'ien looked at them; then he sighed and said:

How generous heaven is to mankind! It grows the five grains and breeds the fish and birds for the use of man.

All the guests answered like his echo. But a twelve-year-old boy of the Pao family, who had a seat among the guests, came forward and said:

It is not as your lordship says. The myriad things between heaven and earth, born in the same way that we are, do not differ from us in kind. One kind is no nobler than another; it is simply that the stronger and cleverer rule the weaker and sillier. Things take it in turns to eat each other, but they are not bred for each other's sake. Men take the things which are edible and eat them, but how can it be claimed that heaven bred them originally for the sake of man? Besides, mosquitoes and gnats bite our skin, tigers and wolves eat our flesh; did heaven originally breed man for the sake of mosquitoes and gnats, and his flesh for the sake of tigers and wolves?

Monday, January 20, 2020


Our Preoccupied Minds

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 156 (May 20, 1858):
Nature has two ways of hiding her things, by light, and by darkness. We never see mosses, lichens, grasses, birds, or insects, which are near us every day, on account of our preoccupied mind. When our attention is at last called to them, they seem the only things worth minding.
Related post: Seeing Things.



E. Badian, "A Selected List of Greek Authors' Names: A Comment and Some Corrections," Classical Journal 71.1 (October-November, 1975) 58-60 (at 60):
Finally, there are superpedants everywhere. Just as in English we have people showing off by writing "Thoukydides," so in all languages the equivalent occasionally turns up.
Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (1957; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 369, n. 1:
Scholars who, whether in Germany or in Britain, propagate such artificialities as 'Horatius', 'Akhilleus', 'Arkhilokhos' are guilty of widening the gulf between their countrymen and the classics.



Lucilius 1196-1208 Warmington = 1326-1338 Marx = 1342-1354 Krenkel (tr. E.H. Warmington):
Manliness or virtue, my dear Albinus, is being able to pay in full a fair price in our business dealings and in the affairs which life brings us; virtue is knowing what each affair has within it for a man; virtue is knowing what is right and useful and honourable for a man and what things are good and again what are bad, what is shameful, useless, dishonourable; virtue is knowing the means and the end of seeking a thing, virtue is being able to pay in full the price from our store; virtue is giving that which in all truth is due to honour, being an enemy and no friend of bad men and manners, and on the other hand being a defender of good men and manners; prizing greatly the latter, wishing them well and being a life-long friend to them; and besides all this, thinking our country's interests to be foremost of all, our parents' next, and then thirdly and lastly our own.

Virtus, Albine, est pretium persolvere verum,
quis in versamur, quis vivimus rebus potesse;
virtus est homini scire id quod quaeque habeat res;
virtus scire homini rectum utile quid sit honestum,
quae bona quae mala item, quid inutile turpe inhonestum        1200
virtus quaerendae finem re scire modumque;
virtus divitiis pretium persolvere posse;
virtus id dare quod re ipsa debetur honori,
hostem esse atque inimicum hominum morumque malorum
contra defensorem hominum morumque bonorum:        1205
hos magni facere, his bene velle, his vivere amicum;
commoda praeterea patriai prima putare,
deinde parentum, tertia iam postremaque nostra.


A Scots Proverb

Allan Ramsay, A Collection of Scots Proverbs (Edinburgh: J. Wood, 1776), p. 33 (Chap. XIV, Number 130):
He snites his nose in his neighbour's dish to get the brose to himsell.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. snite, v., sense 2.a:
transitive. To clean or clear (the nose) from mucus, esp. by means of the thumb and finger only; to blow.
Id., s.v. brose, n:
A dish made by pouring boiling water (or milk) on oatmeal (or oat-cake) seasoned with salt and butter.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who adds:
How can southron English have retained snout and snot and yet let their cousin 'snite' fall by the wayside? As so often, Scots is the last bastion, a vernacular that Hume and Boswell were brought up speaking but were forced to renege, and now Scots itself has more or less fallen by the wayside. The curmudgeon's chosen path must always be backwards, to rescue everything senselessly tossed aside.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


A Great Cultural Achievement

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 143-144:
In fact the practice of buying rounds in the pub is one of the great cultural achievements of the English. It enables people with little money of their own to make generous gestures, without the risk of being ruined by them. It enables each person to distinguish himself from his neighbours and to portray his individuality in his choice of drink, and it causes affection progressively to mount in the circle of drinkers, by giving each in turn the character of a warm and hospitable friend. In a way it is a moral improvement on the Greek symposium, where the host alone appeared in the character of the giver, and also on the common room and the country house. The round of drinks enables even the speechless and the downtrodden briefly to receive the thanks, the appreciation and the honour of their neighbours. It is a paradigm case of 'social inclusion', to use the jargon of our rulers, and it is hardly surprising that everything is now being done to ensure that the practice dies out.


He Is An Enemy

Boccaccio (1313-1375), De casibus virorum illustrium 2.5 (tr. Louis B. Hall):
I see him rely on the worst of counsels and admire the worst deeds, but regarding the public welfare he is sluggish, torpid, and dull. Shall I call him king? Shall I venerate him as a prince? Shall I keep faith as if he were the Lord? Hardly. He is an enemy. To conspire against this kind of ruler, to take up arms, to deceive, to oppose this man is an act of greatness and, even more, of necessity. Scarcely any offering is more acceptable to God than the blood of a tyrant.

cum videam eum ... in consilium niti pessimum, et pessimis operibus delectari, ac circa salutem publicam segnem torpentem desidemque videro, regem dicam? principem colam? tanquam domino fidem servabo? absit: hostis est. in hunc coniurare, arma capessere, insidias tendere, vires opponere magnanimi est, sanctissimum est et omnino necessarium, cum nulla fere sit Deo acceptior hostia tyranni sanguine.



E. Badian, review of Matthias Gelzer, Kleine Schriften, 3 vols. (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1962-1964), in Journal of Roman Studies 57.1/2 (1967) 216-222 (at 217):
In Ancient History, as in other disciplines, we are being urged, nowadays, to plunge headlong into large and exciting problems, and to leave the dead minutiae of scholarship. Against this (if the demagogue will stay for an answer) it must be firmly pointed out that great advances from within historical studies (as opposed to those brought about by the discovery of major new evidence) have usually come about through patient and methodical attention to the minutiae by a mind capable of seeing their bearing on a major problem.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


Where Angels Fear to Tread

The Enlarged Rule of Chrodegang XII, lines 12-21, in Arthur S. Napier, The Old English Version of the Enlarged Rule of Chrodegang Together with the Latin Original. An Old English Version of the Capitula of Theodulf Together with the Latin Original. An Interlinear Old English Rendering of the Epitome of Benedict of Aniane (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1916), pp. 22-23:
Et tunc omnes sint preparati stantes in loco suo in choro per ordinem, ut cum nouissimum signum cessauerit, cum summa humilitate et honestate referant laudes Deo, in conspectu angelorum eius. Et si alicui frequens tussis aut flegma ex pectore aut naribus excrescit, post dorsum proiciat, aut iuxta latus, caute tamen et curiose, ut infirmis mentibus non uertatur in nausiam; et semper quod proicitur pede conculcetur, ut cum ad orationem curuantur, uestimenta eorum non sordidentur; et infra ecclesiam, et in omni conuentu, seu et in porticu, hoc obseruandum est, ut quod spuitur semper pedibus conculcetur.

⁊ syn ealle gearwe ⁊ standon on chore be endebyrdnysse, þæt swa se(o) æftemyste stund geendige, þæt hi sona mid miclere eadmodnysse ⁊ wynsumnysse herigeon heora Drihten on his engla gesihþe. ⁊ gif heora ænegum for unhæle hraca of breoste oððe snyflung of nosa derige, hræce ⁊ snyte bæftan him oððe adun be his sidan, ⁊ þæt fortrede, þe læs hit seocmodum broþrum ⁊ cisum wyrðe to wlættan; ⁊ wærlice tredon þæt, þe læs heora reaf wurðon þærof fule, þonne hi on gebedum licgeað. ⁊ on cyrcan ⁊ on portice ⁊ on ælcre stowe, swa hwæt swa ma him fram hræce oððe snyte, fortrede hit mid his fotum.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who translates the Old English thus:
Then let them all prepare themselves and stand in the choir in order so that at the last signal they might with humility and delight praise God in the sight of his angels. If any of them is infirm and has phlegm in his chest or is snivelling, let him hawk up or blow his nose behind himself or down by his side, and tread upon it, lest the sight of such things nauseate weak-minded or squeamish brethren. And they should tread upon it carefully so that their clothing is not befouled when they go to prayer. Inside the church, in the porch, and in all places, whatever anyone coughs up or sneezes must be trodden under foot.


A Sea of Red

T. Corey Brennan, "Ernst Badian's Methodological Maxims," in The Legacy of Ernst Badian, ed. Carol G. Thomas (Association of Ancient Historians, 2013), pp. 9-26 (at 12):
One of his teaching techniques was to take the first written work of a student who had newly signed on to his supervision, and then spend many hours checking every single reference, ancient or modern, in addition to offering copious annotations on the thought and style of the paper. I remember sitting at a desk in Harvard’s Smyth Classics Library and quaking in fear as Ernst shuffled around the room's bookcases with my own paper in hand for what seemed to be two full days. You can guess the final result: a sea of red. But Ernst only checked quite so thoroughly on the first occasion. The pedagogical—or one might say psychological—effect was such that he didn't ever need to repeat the process for his students, at least at that excruciating level.
Id. (at 16):
As for the perpetrators of scholarly outrages, Ernst's harshest face-to-face critique was the simple phrase, very rarely employed, and only then when confronted with what seemed to be invincible ignorance, "I pity your students."
Id. (at 20):
The story is perhaps apocryphal, but legend has it that at a Cambridge cocktail party sometime in the 1980s a woman turned to Ernst's Harvard colleague, the great Latinist Dr. Shackleton Bailey, and asked him "so what do you do?" His answer: "I look things up." Whatever the veracity of the anecdote, Ernst certainly put a premium on "looking things up," starting of course with the ancient sources, then Pauly-Wissowa, and proceeding from there. Badian had little time for books written from books, that show (in his words) a "perverse refusal to look at what it is all ultimately derived from."


Useful Knowledge

Thucydides, Book II. Edited by E.C. Marchant (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), pp. x-xi:
To sharpen the intellect, to purify the taste, and to humanise the character — these are the true ends of education. At least, such was the opinion of Milton, beyond doubt the greatest scholar, and probably the greatest man, of his age. For what else did he intend, though he clothed his thought in the language most congenial to him? 'The end of learning,' he says, 'is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.'

To-day quite other views of the end of learning are making way; according to which views, if I understand them, education ought to teach one kind of thing, and one only, that is to say, that kind of thing which will help the learner to make money. The supporters of these views hold that literature may be advantageously neglected, and something called 'useful knowledge' substituted for it. It is unlikely that any one who shares the new views on education will read these pages, because Greek is not placed by the apostles of this New Learning in the category of 'useful knowledge,' the omission seeming to involve the conclusion that the Renaissance, the former revival of learning, and especially of Greek learning, was a great mistake, a delusion of foolish men who did not understand what was 'useful knowledge.' But if any who use this book are drifting about in uncertainty, and asking themselves, 'To what end?' they will do well to ponder those words of Milton.

Friday, January 17, 2020


Etymology of Diversity

Oxford English Dictionary on the etymology of diversity, n.:
< Old French diverseté, diversité (12th cent. in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter) difference, oddness, wickedness, perversity < Latin dīversitāt-em contrariety, disagreement, difference, < dīversus DIVERSE adj.
I'm a firm believer in the etymological fallacy.

But cf. the Mayor of London:
Diversity makes us stronger.
Diversity makes us smarter.
Diversity makes us who we are.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Proboscis Probing

John Allen Paulos, Beyond Numeracy (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p. 108 (discussing Eli Halberstam's novel Rucker: A Life Fractal):
Rucker idly picks his nose while thinking about his theorems, and if the reader chooses to follow up on this, he is directed to a page (on the disk version the alternatives are listed on a menu which appears at the bottom of the monitor) where Rucker's keen interest in proboscis probing is discussed at length. What percentage of people pick their noses? Why do so few people do it in public; yet, in the false privacy of their automobiles why do so many indulge? If you push even further in this direction, there is the memory from a few weeks previous when Rucker, stopped at a red light, saw the elegantly coiffed Mrs. Samaras seated in the BMW across from him, her index finger seemingly deep into her frontal cortex.
Related posts:


How to Be an Imbecile

José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Toward a Philosophy of History, tr. Helene Weyl (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1941), p. 70:
The job of the so-called intellectual is in a certain sense opposed to that of the politician, the former aiming, often in vain, to clarify things a little whereas the politician usually adds to the confusion. Aligning oneself with the left, as with the right, is only one of the numberless ways open to man of being an imbecile: both are forms of moral hemiplegia.


The Divine Right To Be Where You Are

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 85-86:
Wine has become one of the most important products of the Southern hemisphere. Countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Chile which a century ago were importing wine in small quantities from Europe, are now drinking large quantities of the home-grown product, and exporting the surplus around the globe. The reason for this change is less economic than cultural. During the twentieth century these countries have increasingly understood themselves, not as exiles from Europe, but as historic settlements, with a right to the soil and an identity that is shaped by it. The most important way of expressing this sentiment is by planting vines, symbol of the divine right to be where you are and to enjoy the god's protection. That is how the vine is seen in the Old Testament, in the legends of Dionysus, in the Homeric literature and in the literature of Rome. It is why, in the days of Augustus, Italy was called Oenotria — wine land — and why nobody has ever been able to persuade an Italian, however far from the homeland he may have wandered, that he belongs anywhere else than on the vine-clad hillside where his ancestors were born.

Italian culture celebrates family, city and region; village ceremonies and village saints; local virtues, local vices and the local dishes that produce them. The root assumption of this culture is that it is best to be where you are, and hurrying onwards is dangerous. Maybe it all began as a reaction to Roman imperialism. It was Horace who wrote that caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt, which is another way of saying that travel narrows the mind.



Eileen Power (1889-1940), Medieval People, 10th ed. (London: Methuen, 1963; rpt. 1966), pp. 155-156:
It is the greatest error to suppose that history must needs be something written down; for it may just as well be something built up, and churches, houses, bridges, or amphitheatres can tell their story as plainly as print for those who have eyes to read. The Roman villa, excavated after lying lost for centuries beneath the heel of the unwitting ploughboy—that villa with its spacious ground-plan, its floors rich with mosaic patterns, its elaborate heating apparatus, and its shattered vases—brings home more clearly than any textbook the real meaning of the Roman Empire, whose citizens lived like this in a foggy island at the uttermost edge of its world. The Norman castle, with moat and drawbridge, gatehouse and bailey and keep, arrow slits instead of windows, is more eloquent than a hundred chronicles of the perils of life in the twelfth century; not thus dwelt the private gentleman in the days of Rome. The country manor-house of the fourteenth century, with courtyard and chapel and hall and dovecote, speaks of an age of peace once more, when life on a thousand little manors revolved round the lord, and the great mass of Englishmen went unscathed by the Hundred Years' War which seamed the fair face of France. Then begin the merchants' elaborate Perpendicular houses in the towns and villages of the fifteenth century, standing on the road, with gardens behind them, and carved beams, great fire-places, and a general air of comfort; they mark the advent of a new class in English history—the middle class, thrust between lord and peasant and coming to its own. How the spacious days of great Elizabeth are mirrored in the beautiful Elizabethan houses, with their wide wings and large rooms, their chimneys, their glass windows, looking outwards on to open parks and spreading trees, instead of inwards on to the closed courtyard. Or go into a house built or redecorated in the eighteenth century, where you will see Chippendale chairs and lacquer tables and Chinese wall-papers covered with pagodas and mandarins; and surely there will come to your mind the age of the nabobs, the age which John Company had familiarized with the products of the Far East, the age in which tea ousted coffee as the drink for a gentleman of fashion, in which Horace Walpole collected porcelain, Oliver Goldsmith idealized China in 'The Citizen of the World', and Dr Johnson was called the Great Cham of Literature. Look here upon this picture and on this: look at that row of jerry-built houses, a hundred in a row and all exactly alike, of that new-art villa, all roof and hardly any window, with false bottle glass in its panes; here is the twentieth century for you.

Thursday, January 16, 2020



K.J. Dover (1920-2010), Thucydides (1973; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 = Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, 7), p. 3:
In respect of any author we have to begin with the questions, 'What did he say?' and 'What did he mean?' The procedures designed to answer the first question are subsumed under 'textual criticism', those concerned with the second under 'translation' and 'interpretation'. The division of labour is necessarily inexact, since difficulties in translation often make us ask, 'Did he really write that?', and, conversely, suspicion of the text or choice between variants can seldom claim to be rational unless the meaning is treated as the vital consideration. 'Interpretation', taking 'What did he mean?' beyond the point to which the translator has taken it, investigates the associations which words and ideas had for the writer and his audience, and it merges into the question, 'Why did he write that, in that connection, at that time?' In the case of a historian we can ask—indeed, we cannot help asking, unless we are sadly lacking in curiosity—the further, and separate question, 'Is it true?'

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Low Be It Spoken

Eileen Power (1889-1940), Medieval People, 10th ed. (London: Methuen, 1963; rpt. 1966), pp. 74-75:
Every one knows Chaucer's description of the Prioress, Madame Eglentyne, who rode with that very motley and talkative company on the way to Canterbury. There is no portrait in his gallery which has given rise to more diverse comment among critics. One interprets it as a cutting attack on the worldliness of the Church; another thinks that Chaucer meant to draw a charming and sympathetic picture of womanly gentleness; one says that it is a caricature, another an ideal; and an American professor even finds in it a psychological study of thwarted maternal instinct, apparently because Madame Eglentyne was fond of little dogs and told a story about a schoolboy. The mere historian may be excused from following these vagaries. To him Chaucer's Prioress, like Chaucer's monk and Chaucer's friar, will simply be one more instance of the almost photographic accuracy of the poet's observation. The rippling undercurrent of satire is always there; but it is Chaucer’s own peculiar satire — mellow, amused, uncondemning, the most subtle kind of satire, which does not depend upon exaggeration. The literary critic has only Chaucer's words and his own heart, or sometimes (low be it spoken) his own desire to be original, by which to guide his judgment. But the historian knows; he has all sorts of historical sources in which to study nunneries, and there he meets Chaucer's Prioress at every turn. Above all, he has the bishops' registers.

For a long time historians foolishly imagined that kings and wars and parliaments and the jury system alone were history; they liked chronicles and Acts of Parliament, and it did not strike them to go and look in dusty episcopal archives for the big books in which medieval bishops entered up the letters which they wrote and all the complicated business of running their dioceses. But when historians did think of looking there, they found a mine of priceless information about almost every side of social and ecclesiastical life. They had to dig for it of course, for almost all that is worth knowing has to be mined like precious metals out of a rock; and for one nugget the miner often has to grub for days underground in a mass of dullness; and when he has got it he has to grub in his own heart, or else he will not understand it. The historians found fine gold in the bishops' registers, when once they persuaded themselves that it was not beneath their dignity to grub there.


A Waste of Time

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 149 (February 27, 1858):
Felton told of Agassiz, that when some one applied to him to read lectures, or some other paying employment, he answered, "I can't waste my time in earning money." Dr. Holmes told a story of John Hunter, that, being interrupted by a professional call, when he was dissecting a tiger, he said, "Do you think I can leave my work for your damned guinea?"


Fellow Pariahs

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 22-23:
At the end of my first year there arrived among the Fellows another pariah called David Watkin, an architectural historian notorious for his habit of wearing a collar and tie. He had been described to me as an evil reactionary, an enemy of social progress and enlightenment, who would do his best to thwart the ambitions of those Fellows who were striving to meet the educational challenges of the twentieth century. This description so warmed me to the unknown Dr Watkin that I immediately went to call on him in the rooms which he had been assigned in St Peter's Terrace, on the staircase next to mine.


Poverty and Wealth

Menander, fragment 843 Kassel and Austin (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
For 'tis better, if one considers in the light of reason,
not to possess much with discomfort, but little with a relish,
and painless poverty is preferable to embittered wealth.

κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν, ἂν σκοπῇ τις κατὰ λόγον,
μὴ πόλλ' ἀηδῶς, ὀλίγα δ' ἡδέως ἔχειν,
πενίαν <τ'> ἄλυπον μᾶλλον ἢ πλοῦτον πικρόν.

add. Gesner

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


Public Affairs

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (March 23, 1783, aetat. 74):
I mentioned politicks. JOHNSON. "Sir, I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of public affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as bad as they can be."



John Burnet (1863-1928), Ignorance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), pp. 11-12:
When I was at school we certainly thought it 'beastly', as we called it, that we should have to learn such things as irregular verbs by heart. On the other hand, it was not particularly laborious for us at that age, and we could more or less see the use of it. It was clearly the way to get the power of reading Homer and Virgil without constant interruption, and I honestly believe that most of us enjoyed that. Of course we should not have dreamed of confessing it to one another, and still less of admitting it to 'old so-and-so', our master, who was doing the best he could for us with scant hope of reward and no expectation of gratitude. To do so would have violated that mysterious schoolboy code, which is not only a beneficent provision of nature to protect society from juvenile prigs, but springs from a native instinct of the young Soul to preserve the solitude so needful for the growth of its inner life. Of course the time came later when we were ready to admit, very shyly at first, to one another that we did like Homer and Virgil, but at first we were quite content to learn our irregular verbs. There is no great mystery in that. Mere memorizing comes natural to the young, and it does not matter at all whether they understand what they memorize or not. Children have always invented things—counting-out rhymes and the like—the main purpose of which is to be memorized. Think of the undying popularity of The House that Jack Built. We may say, indeed, that they have a passion for rigmarole, and small boys retain a great deal of this. One would think that our educational system would take advantage of that, and so it does in matters of absolute necessity like the multiplication table.
Id., pp. 14-15:
For the grown man, of course, grammar may be one of the most dangerously fascinating studies, but for the boy it is just what I have called the sediment of dead knowledge, to be acquired as speedily as may be for the sake of its results and not for itself. This is quite understood in many other branches of training. It is really a good deal easier to read Homer than it is to play the piano, and yet the proportion of people who learn to play the piano, at least to their own satisfaction, is far greater than that of those who learn to read Homer. In this case every one can see that the first thing to be done is to acquire the necessary automatism, and the methods of acquiring it have been more or less systematized. If you had to think of every chord, you would never play anything. On the other hand, no one imagines that the traditional scales and exercises are music. They are simply practice, directed to the acquisition of automatic power, and that is how grammar should be treated at school. It is an historical fact that, when this method was followed, a large number of people did acquire the power of reading Homer, and that a very considerable number continued to read him all their days.



Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), p. 21:
His attitude to learning was the very opposite of that which has come to dominate the schools and universities today. He did not believe that the purpose of knowledge is to help the student. On the contrary. For Dr Picken, the purpose of the student is to help knowledge. He was throughout his life the willing and self-sacrificing trustee of an intellectual inheritance. Young people mattered to him because they had the brains into which his reservoir of learning could be poured, along with the wine. He looked at us students sceptically, but always with that underlying hope that, in this or that undisciplined young face, there was yet the outward sign of a brain large enough and dispassionate enough to capture some of the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and which could carry that knowledge through life without spilling it, until finding another brain into which it might be discharged.

Monday, January 13, 2020


The Writing of Commentaries

Nicholas Horsfall (1946-2019), Virgil, Aeneid 6: A Commentary (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), vol. II, p. 628:
The writing of commentaries is a natural retreat for intellectual conservatives: those who cannot get their brains round modern theoretical approaches are left pretty much free to devote themselves to their favourite uses of the genitive, and, to be fair, of other cases too.
Id., p. 639:
Of theory I have no love, of new terminology, a positive dislike and of new techniques which seem to enable any young Virgilian to publish bold, bright pages which prove beyond doubt Virgil's debt to, let us say, Petronius (I jest) at some unlikely point, I cannot speak enough ill.
Readers of my commentaries will notice that I cite some younger Virgilians and not others: I like a page largely jargon-free, I admire accuracy, and good English prose, and I love a fat, well-constructed footnote.
Id., p. 643:
You can only begin to become a competent Virgilian by reading more Greek; one of the great benefits of working on Aen. 6 is the need for immersion in the Myth of Er. And of course, German. Norden's Aeneid 6 is mercifully easy, most of the time...


The Right Way to Live

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 4-5:
The right way to live is by enjoying one's faculties, striving to like and if possible to love one's fellows, and also to accept that death is both necessary in itself and a blessed relief to those whom you would otherwise burden. The health fanatics who have poisoned all our natural enjoyments ought, in my view, to be rounded up and locked together in a place where they can bore each other rigid with their futile nostrums for eternal life. The rest of us should live out our days in a chain of linked symposia, in which the catalyst is wine, the means conversation, the goal a serene acceptance of our lot and a determination not to outstay our welcome.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Political Platform

Jacob Burckhardt (1819-1897), The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy, tr. S.G.C. Middlemore (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892), p. 45, with beginning of footnote:
Of him [Federigo of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino] and his two successors, Guidobaldo and Francesco Maria, we read: 'They erected buildings, furthered the cultivation of the land, lived at home, and gave employment to a large number of people: their subjects loved them.'1

1 Franc. Vettori, in the Arch. Stor. Append., tom. vi. p. 821.


Privileged Thieves

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), pp. 121-122 (1857):
Is there no check to this class of privileged thieves that infest our politics? We mark and lock up the petty thief, or we raise the hue and cry in the street, and do not hesitate to draw our revolvers out of the box, when one is in the house. But here are certain well-dressed, well-bred fellows, infinitely more mischievous, who get into the government and rob without stint, and without disgrace. They do it with a high hand, and by the device of having a party to whitewash them, to abet the act, and lie, and vote for them. And often each of the larger rogues has his newspaper, called "his organ," to say that it was not stealing, this which he did; that if there was stealing, it was you who stole, and not he.


Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

Plato, Timaeus 88 B-C (tr. Robin Waterfield):
There's only one way to protect oneself against both these situations, which is not to exercise the soul to the exclusion of the body, nor the body to the exclusion of the soul. Then, evenly balanced and healthy, each is able to resist the other. So the mathematician or the enthusiastic cultivator of any other intellectual pursuit has to pay his debt of physical exercise by attending the gymnasium, and someone concerned with developing his physique has to compensate with exercises for the soul by addressing all kinds of cultural and philosophical pursuits. There's no other way for a man to come to have a genuine claim to both the two epithets 'beautiful' and 'good' at once.

μία δὴ σωτηρία πρὸς ἄμφω, μήτε τὴν ψυχὴν ἄνευ σώματος κινεῖν μήτε σῶμα ἄνευ ψυχῆς, ἵνα ἀμυνομένω γίγνησθον ἰσορρόπω καὶ ὑγιῆ. τὸν δὴ μαθηματικὸν ἤ τινα ἄλλην σφόδρα μελέτην διανοίᾳ κατεργαζόμενον καὶ τὴν τοῦ σώματος ἀποδοτέον κίνησιν, γυμναστικῇ προσομιλοῦντα, τόν τε αὖ σῶμα ἐπιμελῶς πλάττοντα τὰς τῆς ψυχῆς ἀνταποδοτέον κινήσεις, μουσικῇ καὶ πάσῃ φιλοσοφίᾳ προσχρώμενον, εἰ μέλλει δικαίως τις ἅμα μὲν καλός, ἅμα δὲ ἀγαθὸς ὀρθῶς κεκλήσεσθαι.
Velleius Paterculus 1.13.4 (on Scipio Africanus; tr. Frederick W. Shipley):
Ever engaged in the pursuit of arms or his studies, he was either training his body by exposing it to dangers or his mind by learning.

semper inter arma ac studia versatus aut corpus periculis aut animum disciplinis exercuit.

Thanks very much to Clive Bloomfield for correcting a mistake in the Greek and Ed Brandon for correcting a mistake in the Latin.


German Food

Robert Graves (1895-1985), Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1929), pp. 47-48:
The best part of Germany was the food. There was a richness and spiciness about it that we missed in England. We liked the rye bread, the black honey (black, I believe, because it came from the combs of the previous year), the huge ice-cream puddings made with fresh raspberry juice, and the venison, and the honey cakes, and the pastries, and particularly the sauces made with different sorts of mushrooms. And the bretzels, and carrots cooked with sugar, and summer pudding of cranberries and blue-berries. There was an orchard close to the house, and we could eat as many apples, pears, and greengages as we liked. There were rows of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes.
Cf. this passage in the revised edition (London: Cassell & Company Ltd, 1957), p. 22:
Bavarian food had a richness and spiciness that we always missed on our return to England. We liked the rye bread, the dark pine-honey, the huge ice-cream puddings made with fresh raspberry juice and the help of snow stored during the winter in an ice-house, my grandfather’s venison, the honey cakes, the pastries, and particularly the sauces made with different kinds of mushrooms. Also the pretzels, the carrots cooked in sugar, and summer pudding of cranberries and blueberries. In the orchard, close to the house, we could eat as many apples, pears, and greengages as we liked. There were also rows of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes in the garden.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


We Are Superficial and Ill-Read

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 89 (1857):
Because our education is defective, because we are superficial and ill-read, we are forced to make the most of that position, of ignorance. Hence America is a vast know-nothing party, and we disparage books, and cry up intuition. With a few clever men we have made a reputable thing of that, and denouncing libraries and severe culture, and magnifying the mother-wit swagger of bright boys from the country colleges, we have even come so far as to deceive everybody, except ourselves, into an admiration of un-learning and inspiration, forsooth.


Born Too Late

Robert Graves (1895-1985), Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1929), p. 20:
I find it most inconvenient to be born into the age of the internal-combustion engine and the electric dynamo and to have no sympathy with them: a push bicycle, a primus stove, and an army rifle mark the bounds of my mechanical capacity.
Related post: A Gloomy Milestone.


Friday, January 10, 2020


Useful Employments

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 145 (Tuesday, August 6, 1751):
It is allowed that vocations and employments of least dignity are of the most apparent use; that the meanest artizan or manufacturer contributes more to the accommodation of life, than the profound scholar and argumentative theorist; and that the publick would suffer less present inconvenience from the banishment of philosophers than from the extinction of any common trade.



Po Chü-i (772-846), "Arriving at My Old Home on the Wei Again," in Po Chü-i, Selected Poems. Translated by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp. 35-36, with note:
Old home by a bend of the clear Wei,
gate opening on Ts'ai Ford:
ten years and at last I've returned,
could barely remember the road home.
I think back on places I walked in times past,
recall with a pang the old outings.
Willows stuck in the ground have become a tall grove,
peaches I planted are old trees now.
Most startling are the grownups,
all mere boys when I knew them.
And if I ask about older folk,
half now in graves that ring the village.
All alike sojourners in this floating life;
early or late, each in turn passes.
The bright sun is a bouncing ball,
rising, setting, its glow never still.
People and things day by day change and alter;
lift your eyes and you sorrow at all you see.
And when I think what this means for me,
how could I alone not falter and decline?
Minute by minute the flush of youth drains from faces,
white hairs sprout without number.
Only there beyond the temple gate,
three peaks that keep their old color!1

1. Probably the three peaks of Mount Hua, south of the Wei River.
The last lines are also translated by Arthur Waley, The Life and Times of Po Chü-i, 772-846 A.D. (1949; rpt. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1970), p. 77:
And when I turn my thoughts, when I think of myself,
What should I look for but darkness and decay?
The flush of youth will not cease to fade;
Numberless the white hairs will grow.
Only at the gate that opens towards the hills
The Three Peaks will be lovely as of old.


Into the Darkness of the Grave

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), "Dirge Without Music," The Buck in the Snow and Other Poems (London: Harper & Brothers, 1928), pp. 43-44:
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.



Eileen Power (1889-1940), Medieval People, 10th ed. (London: Methuen, 1963; rpt. 1966), p. 15:
But if the gradualness of this process misled the Romans there were other and equally potent reasons for their blindness. Most potent of all was the fact that they mistook entirely the very nature of civilization itself. All of them were making the same mistake. People who thought that Rome could swallow barbarism and absorb it into her life without diluting her own civilization; the people who ran about busily saying that the barbarians were not such bad fellows after all, finding good points in their regime with which to castigate the Romans and crying that except ye become as little barbarians ye shall not attain salvation; the people who did not observe in 476 that one half of the Respublica Romanorum had ceased to exist and nourished themselves on the fiction that the barbarian kings were exercising a power delegated from the Emperor. All these people were deluded by the same error, the belief that Rome (the civilization of their age) was not a mere historical fact with a beginning and an end, but a condition of nature like the air they breathed and the earth they tread. Ave Roma immortalis, most magnificent most disastrous of creeds!
I added a period after "tread."


A Grammarian

Ludwig Bieler (1906-1981), "The Grammarian's Craft," Folia 10.2 (1947) 3-42 (at 4):
If I were to choose a name for my profession as I understand it, I would call myself a grammarian. No other name could be more appropriate for linking up my work with the past. The craft which we grammarians are practicing has behind it a tradition of more than two thousand years. It is the art of preserving literary texts from corruption and oblivion by means of criticism and interpretation.
Id. (at 5, with note at 33):
Varied as may be the grammarian's interests and functions in the wide sphere of human culture, the special abilities required for his profession converge on textual criticism and exegesis: distinguere emendare adnotare, as Suetonius said of Marcus Valerius Probus.4 However greatly the modern grammarian may differ from his colleague of the past, his basic work is still accurately described by the ancient triad. The grammarian's work culminates in editorship — the severest test to which his vocation can be put, and the very core of his craft.

4 De grammaticis, chap. 24.
Id. (at 10):
We must use our rules with discretion — as guides, not as principles. Principiis obsta, "resist principles" — as Ludwig Radermacher, in one of his lighter moods, advised his students.
Id. (at 30):
An apparatus criticus that is really well done can be as fascinating to read as are significant equations to the mathematician.

Thursday, January 09, 2020


A Walk in the Woods

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 61 (August 14, 1856):
But I was taken with the aspects of the forest, and thought that, to Nero advertising for a luxury, a walk in the woods should have been offered. 'T is one of the secrets for dodging old age.
Nero or Xerxes? Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.7.20 (tr. Arthur P. Peabody):
Xerxes, indeed, replete with all the prizes and gifts of fortune, not content with his cavalry, his foot-soldiers, his vast fleet, his boundless supply of gold, offered a reward to him who should have invented a new pleasure, — with which he was not satisfied; for never will desire find an end.

nam Xerxes quidem refertus omnibus praemiis donisque fortunae, non equitatu, non pedestribus copiis, non navium multitudine, non infinito pondere auri contentus, praemium proposuit, qui invenisset novam voluptatem: qua ipsa non fuit contentus; neque enim umquam finem inveniet libido.
Likewise Valerius Maximus 9.1.ext.3 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Then Xerxes. In the extravagant ostentation of royal wealth he so revelled in luxury that he published an edict offering a reward to anyone who discovered a new sort of pleasure. A prisoner to excessive enjoyment, what ruin he brought upon his vast empire!

Age, Xerxes opum regiarum ostentatione eximia eo usque luxuria gaudens ut edicto praemium ei proponeret qui novum voluptatis genus repperisset, quanta, dum deliciis nimiis capitur, amplissimi imperii ruina evasit!
Cf. also Athenaeus 12.539b (tr. S. Douglas Olson, with his note):
Clearchus says in his On Lives (fr. 50 Wehrli), in his discussion of the Darius who was killed by Alexander:190 Although the Persian king established prizes for anyone who provided him with new pleasures, he put it beyond doubt that all this high living brought about the collapse of his kingship, although he failed to realize that he was defeating himself, until others took away his sceptre and were proclaimed the ruler.

190 I.e. Darius III, who was in fact killed not by Alexander, but by his own men in 330 BCE. The fragment is clearly an intrusion into what is otherwise an extended discussion of Alexander in particular.

Κλέαρχος δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς Περὶ Βίων περὶ Δαρείου λέγων τοῦ καθαιρεθέντος ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἀλεξάνδρου φησίν· ὁ Περσῶν βασιλεὺς ἀθλοθετῶν τοῖς τὰς ἡδονὰς αὐτῷ πορίζουσιν ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἡδέων ἡττωμένην ἀπέδειξε τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ καταγωνιζόμενος ἑαυτὸν οὐκ ᾔσθετο πρότερον ἢ τὸ σκῆπτρον ἕτεροι λαβόντες ἀνεκηρύχθησαν.


Superficial Smatterers

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XIV.2 (tr. Henri van Laun):
Some people immoderately thirst after knowledge, and are unwilling to ignore any branch of it, so they study them all and master none; they are fonder of knowing much than of knowing some things well, and had rather be superficial smatterers in several sciences than be well and thoroughly acquainted with one. They everywhere meet with some person who enlightens and corrects them; they are deceived by their idle curiosity, and often, after very long and painful efforts, can but just extricate themselves from the grossest ignorance.

Other people have a master-key to all sciences, but never enter there; they spend their lives in trying to decipher the Eastern and Northern languages, those of both the Indies, of the two poles, nay, the language spoken in the moon itself. The most useless idioms, the oddest and most hieroglyphical-looking characters, are just those which awaken their passion and induce them to study; they pity those persons who ingenuously content themselves with knowing their own language, or, at most, the Greek and Latin tongues. Such men read all historians and know nothing of history; they run through all books, but are not the wiser for any; they are absolutely ignorant of all facts and principles, but they possess as abundant a store and garner-house of words and phrases as can well be imagined, which weighs them down, and with which they overload their memory, whilst their mind remains a blank.

Quelques-uns, par une intempérance de savoir, et par ne pouvoir se résoudre à renoncer à aucune sorte de connaissance, les embrassent toutes et n'en possèdent aucune; ils aiment mieux savoir beaucoup que de savoir bien, et être faibles et superficiels dans diverses sciences que d'être sûrs et profonds dans une seule. Ils trouvent en toutes rencontres celui qui est leur maître et qui les redresse; ils sont les dupes de leur curiosité, et ne peuvent au plus, par de longs et pénibles efforts, que se tirer d'une ignorance crasse.

D'autres ont la clef des sciences, où ils n’entrent jamais; ils passent leur vie à déchiffrer les langues orientales et les langues du nord, celles des deux Indes, celles des deux pôles, et celle qui se parle dans la lune. Les idiomes les plus inutiles, avec les caractères les plus bizarres et les plus magiques, sont précisément ce qui réveille leur passion et qui excite leur travail; ils plaignent ceux qui se bornent ingénument à savoir leur langue, ou tout au plus la grecque et la latine. Ces gens lisent toutes les histoires et ignorent l'histoire; ils parcourent tous les livres, et ne profitent d'aucun; c'est en eux une stérilité de faits et de principes qui ne peut être plus grande, mais, à la vérité, la meilleure récolte et la richesse la plus abondante de mots et de paroles qui puisse s'imaginer: ils plient sous le faix; leur mémoire en est accablée, pendant que leur esprit demeure vide.
Related post: Aimless Incursions into Knowledge.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020


Physician, Heal Thyself

Plutarch, How to Profit by One's Enemies 4 = Moralia 88 D (tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
Enter within the portals of your own soul, look about to see if there be any rottenness there, lest some vice lurking somewhere within whisper to you the words of the tragedian:
Wouldst thou heal others, full of sores thyself?
If you call your enemy uneducated, strive to intensify in yourself the love of learning and industry; if you call him a coward, rouse even more your self-reliance and manliness; if you call him unchaste and licentious, obliterate from your soul whatever trace of devotion to pleasure may be lurking there unperceived. For there is nothing more disgraceful or painful than evil-speaking that recoils upon its author.

ἐνδύου τῇ ψυχῇ, περισκόπει τὰ σαθρά, μή τίς σοί ποθεν ὑποφθέγγηται κακία τὸ τοῦ τραγῳδοῦ
ἄλλων ἰατρὸς αὐτὸς ἕλκεσιν βρύων.
ἂν ἀπαίδευτον εἴπῃς, ἐπίτεινε τὸ φιλομαθὲς ἐν σεαυτῷ καὶ φιλόπονον· ἂν δειλόν, ἔγειρε μᾶλλον τὸ θαρραλέον καὶ ἀνδρῶδες· κἂν ἀσελγῆ καὶ ἀκόλαστον, ἐξάλειφε τῆς ψυχῆς εἴ τι λανθάνον ἐστὶ φιληδονίας ἴχνος. οὐδὲν γὰρ αἴσχιόν ἐστι βλασφημίας παλινδρομούσης οὐδὲ λυπηρότερον.



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 273 (1860):
Plutarch, the elixir of Greece and Rome, that is the book which nations went to compose. If the world's library were burning, I should as soon fly to rescue that, as Shakespeare and Plato, or next afterwards.

Monday, January 06, 2020



A.M. Dale, ed., Euripides, Alcestis (1954; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. xxvii-xxviii:
For in a well-constructed Euripidean tragedy, what controls a succession of situations is not a firmly conceived unity of character but the shape of the whole action, and what determines the development and finesse of each situation is not a desire to paint in the details of a portrait-study but the rhetoric of the situation—what Aristotle calls διάνοια. Rhetoric is a concept which we tend to hold in some suspicion, as if in its nature there must be something bogus; but we shall never properly understand Greek tragedy unless we realize how closely related were the rhetoric of Athenian life, in the assembly and law-courts and on other public occasions, and the rhetoric of the speeches in drama. Nourished on the psychological novel, we tend to assume that the poet had brooded on the story until the characters took shape in his mind, as if he had asked himself: What would X, being such a man, be likely to say in such a situation? whereas we might sometimes get nearer to the meaning by imagining the question: Suppose a man involved in such a situation, how should he best acquit himself? How gain his point? Move his hearers? Prove his thesis? Convey information lucidly and vividly? The aim of rhetoric is Persuasion, Πειθώ, and the poet is, as it were, a kind of λογογράφος who promises to do his best for each of his clients in turn as the situations change and succeed one another. This does not by any means exclude an interest in character; the skilful λογογράφος takes that into account in its proper place. But the dominating consideration is: What points could be made here? The points may be developed in a set speech, a ῥῆσις, or made and countered in stichomythia. Fertility in arguments, a delight in logical analysis—these are the essentials, though they may be skilfully made to produce an effect of spontaneity.

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