Saturday, February 29, 2020


Plague in the Sixth Century

Agathias, The Histories 2.3.4-8 (554 A.D.; tr. Joseph D. Frendo):
4 But that was not the end of their troubles. Not long after, they were decimated by a sudden outbreak of plague.

5 Some pronounced the air of the region to be contaminated and held it responsible for the disease. Others blamed he abrupt change in their mode of life, because after a routine of forced marches and frequent fighting they had fallen into habits of luxury and indolence. But they failed utterly to perceive what had really caused the disaster and in fact made it inevitable, to wit the ruthless wickedness with which they had flouted the laws of God and man.

6 In the person of their leader the marks of divine punishment were particularly manifest. His mind became unhinged and he began to rave like a madman. He was seized with a violent ague and let out a series of low-pitched groaning noises. One moment he would fall prostrate with his face to the ground, another time he would tumble over backwards foaming at the mouth and with his eyes horribly contorted.

7 In a paroxysm of insane fury the wretched man actually began to eat his own limbs, fastening on to his arms with his teeth and rending and devouring the flesh like a wild beast licking clean a putrifying wound. And so feasting on his own flesh he gradually wasted away and died a most pitiful death.

8 The others too were dying like flies and the pestilence continued to rage until the whole army was wiped out. Most of them, though racked with fever, remained lucid to the very end. Some were struck down by a violent seizure, others fell into a swoon, while others still succumbed to delirium. The malady, in fact, assumed a variety of forms, each one fatal. This then was the disastrous outcome of the expedition of Leutharis and his men.
Id. 5.10.1-7 (562 A.D.):
1 During that year at the beginning of spring a second outbreak of plague swept the capital, destroying a vast number of people. From the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Justinian when the plague first spread to our part of the world it had never really stopped, but had simply moved on from one 2 place to another, giving in this way something of a respite to those who had survived its ravages. It now returned to Constantinople almost as though it had been cheated on the first occasion into a needlessly hasty departure.

3 People died in great numbers as though seized by a violent and sudden attack of apoplexy. Those who stood up to the disease longest barely lasted five days. The form the epidemic took was not unlike that of the earlier outbreak. A swelling in the glands of the groin was accompanied by a high non-intermittent fever which raged night and day with unabated intensity and never left its victim until the moment of death.

4 Some experienced no pain or fever or any of the initial symptoms but simply dropped dead while about dieir normal business at home or in the street or wherever they happened to be. People of all ages were struck down indiscriminately, but the heaviest toll was among the young and vigorous and especially among the men, women being on the whole much less affected.

5 According to the ancient oracles of the Egyptians and to the leading astrologers of present-day Persia there occurs in the course of endless time a succession of lucky and unlucky cycles. These luminaries would have us believe that we are at present passing through one of the most disastrous and inauspicious of such cycles: hence the universal prevalence of war and internal dissension and of frequent and persistent epidemics of plague.

6 Others hold the view that divine anger is responsible for the destruction, exacting just retribution from mankind for its sins and decimating whole populations.

7 It is not for me to set myself up as a judge in these matters or to undertake to demonstrate the truth of one theory rather than the other. Such a task would perhaps be beyond my comprehension, or even if it were not, it would be neither necessary nor relevant to the present narrative. An account, in fact even a summary of events, is all that the rules of historical composition require of me.
Averil Cameron, Agathias (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 62:
But it remains surprising that his plague accounts are free of Thucydidean imitation.7

7 ii.3 ff., v.9. In the first case he is describing rabies, a different disease altogether (B. von Hagen, Lyssa, eine medizingeschichtliche Interpretation (Jena, 1940). But there would be room for imitation in the second account.

Friday, February 28, 2020


More Plurals of Personal Names

In Some Plurals of Personal Names in Greek I collected examples of plurals of personal names in the writings of Lucian. I just came across another example, from his Zeus Tragoedus 22 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Therefore we are getting and shall continue to get no more than we deserve when men gradually begin to crane their necks upward and find out that it does them no good to sacrifice to us and hold processions. Then in a little while you shall see the Epicuruses and Metrodoruses and Damises laughing at us, and our pleaders overpowered and silenced by them.

τοιγαροῦν εἰκότα νῦν πάσχομεν καὶ ἔτι πεισόμεθα, ἐπειδὰν κατ᾿ ὀλίγον οἱ ἄνθρωποι ἀνακύπτοντες εὑρίσκωσιν οὐδὲν ὄφελος αὐτοῖς ὄν, εἰ θύοιεν ἡμῖν καὶ τὰς πομπὰς πέμποιεν. εἶτ᾿ ἐν βραχεῖ ὄψει καταγελῶντας τοὺς Ἐπικούρους καὶ Μητροδώρους καὶ Δάμιδας, κρατουμένους δὲ καὶ ἀποφραττομένους ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν τοὺς ἡμετέρους συνηγόρους.


One Garment

In my former life as a corporate drone, I once shared a cubicle with a fellow who wore what looked like the same suit of clothes every day. Some other co-workers spread the rumor that he never changed his clothes, but in fact he had five identical outfits, one for each day of the work week.

I thought of my old cubicle mate when I read J.N. Bremmer, "Symbols of Marginality from Early Pythagoreans to Late Antique Monks," Greece & Rome 39.2 (October, 1992) 205-214 (at 206-207, with notes on 213):
We may begin with physical appearance, limiting ourselves to a discussion of the custom of wearing only a single garment or cloak. This manner of dressing is first attested in 428 B.C., when the Athenians forced the inhabitants of Potidaea to leave their city thus scantily dressed (Diodorus Siculus 12.46.6). Here it serves to mark humiliation. We first find wearing a single garment as a mark of poverty with Antisthenes (c.446-366), precursor of the Cynics, who folded his τρίβων double rather than wear two garments. Antisthenes' precedence, however, was disputed, and the name of Diodoros of Aspendos, a Pythagorean living in the first half of the fourth century, was mentioned as well.6 Since Antisthenes was not yet really a Cynic, we note here an interesting influence of Pythagoreans on Cynics. Both schools propagated a particular lifestyle which contrasted with that of ordinary citizens. It is not surprising, therefore, that the famous Cynic Diogenes and his followers, we are told, went about in a single garment as well. Zeno and Chrysippus, the Stoics, were interested in aspects of Pythagoras too, and again it is no cause for surprise that we find Cleanthes and Cato Minor wearing only a single garment — the latter, moreover, not wearing shoes, not even when performing his duties as praetor.7

In the New Testament, when Jesus sends forth his disciples to preach, he instructs them to wear no more than a single garment.8 In the third century A.D., we then find mention of wearing a single garment in Christian circles as well. Eusebius (H.E. 6.3.9-13) relates that Origen used to live in great austerity and thereby attracted many pupils; wearing a single garment was part of his 'philosophic way of life' (φιλοσόφου βίος). In the Acts of Thomas it is said of the apostle that 'he fasts and prays continually, and eats only bread with salt, and drinks nothing but water [a detail to which we shall return] and wears only a single garment, both when it is hot and in winter' (c. 20). In the second half of the fourth century, we hear of Abba Apollo who dressed in a single sleeveless garment, and around 400 A.D. the hermit Isidore dons only a sort of towel — quite apart from the fact that he never washed or ate meat.9 In the mid-fifth century we hear that Abba Gelasius (152) never had two garments; c. 500 A.D. it is said that brother Aphrodisius, who had joined Abba Sabas, never had two garments; and in the first half of the seventh century, the same comment is made with regard to St. John the Almsgiver.10 The symbolism of the single garment thus kept its force in the ancient world for a millennium and more. We should not, though, conclude our discussion of this point without mentioning the illustrious duo Prohaeresius and Hephaestion. These two sophists of the fourth century A.D. took their poverty to the point of sharing the single garment. When the one appeared in public, the other stayed behind under a few blankets (Eunapius VS 487). Even in poverty and humility there is always someone who goes one better!

6. Antisthenes: Diocles and Neanthes (FGH 84 F 24) in Diog. Laert. 6.13. Diodoros: Sosicrates in Diog. Laert. 6.13, who probably uses Aristoxenus here, cp. Burkert (see n. 2), p. 165 n. 249, and pp. 202 ff., with an enlightening discussion of the relation between Pythagoreans and Cynics in this respect.

7. Diogenes and the Cynics: Diog. Laert. 6.22.104; see also Courtney on Juvenal 13.122. Zeno, Chrysippus, and Pythagoras: Burkert (see n. 2), p. 202. Cleanthes: Diog. Laert. 7.169. Cato Minor: Plutarch Cat. Min. 6.3; 44.1.

8. Matthew 10.10; Mark 6.9 (many thanks to Prof. J.C.M. van Winden). I hope to return to this passage elsewhere, because the versions and commentaries consulted by me claim mistakenly that Jesus encourages going without two undergarments.

9. Apollo: H. Mon. 8.5, cp. A.-J. Festugière, Les moines d'Orient IV/1 (Paris, 1961), p. 48 n. 45. Isidore: Palladius H. Laus. 1.2 Bartelink.

10. Cyril of Scythopolis Vita Sabae 44 (Aphrodisius); Leontius of Neapolis Life of St. John the Almsgiver 21.
Burkert (note 6) is Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972). I don't know if Bremmer ever fulfilled his promise in note 8 ("I hope to return to this passage elsewhere").

Thursday, February 27, 2020


Bountiful Pan

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), "Pan," Under the Moon: The Unpublished Early Poetry. Edited by George Bornstein (New York: Scribner, 1995), p. 74:
I sing of Pan and his piping sweet,
    King of the shade and the sunlight
That dance amongst the flames of wheat,
    I sing too of the dew bounding
From the impress of the steeds' feet.
    I sing of solitude,
Temple decked to Pan by that race
    Of mysterious priests
Who've seen the great god face to face,
    Who of Pan their melodious king
Have heard hushed talk among the leaves,
    Who have heard the brooks the story sing
How an angel race once lived on earth
    With bountiful Pan as their King.
A new god rose who hated man;
    They died, their shades possess the earth,
And to the woods fled the bountiful Pan.


A Restaurant in a Former Church

Many restaurants today are housed in former churches. For an ancient example, see Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa. Translated with notes and introduction by Mureen A. Tilley (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996), p. 55 (Anonymous, A Sermon on the Passion of Saints Donatus and Advocatus §4, aka Passio Sancti Donati):
How swiftly and completely did the situation change! The basilica, shameful to say, was turned into a fast-food restaurant. What grief to see such a crime in the house of the Lord, this place accustomed to pious prayers, now profaned by impure deeds and illegitimate incantations!
The Latin, from François Dolbeau, "La Passio Sancti Donati (BHL 2303 b): une tentative d'édition critique," in Memoriam sanctorum venerantes: Miscellanea in onore di Monsignor Victor Saxer (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1992 = Studi di Antichità Cristiana, 48), pp. 251–267 (at 259):
Quanta repente rerum mutatio! Basilica in popinam, ne turpius dicam, conuersa est. Qui dolor uidere in domo Dei quantum piaculum, locum illum castis precibus et uotis assuetum incestis operibus et spurcis uocibus profanari!
Tilley seems to translate spuriis from Patrologia Latina, vol. 8, col. 754, rather than spurcis.

On the sermon as a whole see Brent D. Shaw, Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 187-193 (on this passage pp. 189-190).

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


A Distinction

Jan N. Bremmer, Maidens, Magic and Martyrs in Early Christianity = his Collected Essays, I (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), p. 5:
Schematically we could say, using a favourite distinction of modern French historiography, that early Christian apologetic, theological and fictional literature shows Christianity conçu, whereas the Acta martyrum illustrate more how it was vécu.


Against Theodicy

Lucian, Vol. II. With an English Translation by A.M. Harmon (1915; rpt. London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1960 = Loeb Classical Library, 54), pp. 119, 121 (Zeus Rants 19; Momus speaking):
And I vow by Themis that it is not right to be angry either at Epicurus or at his associates and successors in doctrine if they have formed such an idea of us. Why, what could one expect them to think when they see so much confusion in life, and see that the good men among them are neglected and waste away in poverty and illness and bondage while scoundrelly, pestilential fellows are highly honoured and have enormous wealth and lord it over their betters, and that temple-robbers are not punished but escape, while men who are guiltless of all wrong-doing sometimes die by the cross or the scourge?
The Greek (id., pp. 118, 120):
καὶ μὰ τὴν Θέμιν οὔτε τῷ Ἐπικούρῳ ἄξιον ὀργίζεσθαι οὔτε τοῖς ὁμιληταῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ διαδόχοις τῶν λόγων, εἰ τοιαῦτα περὶ ἡμῶν ὑπειλήφασιν. ἢ τί γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἀξιώσειέ τις ἂν φρονεῖν, ὁπόταν ὁρῶσι τοσαύτην ἐν τῷ βίῳ τὴν ταραχήν, καὶ τοὺς μὲν χρηστοὺς αὐτῶν ἀμελουμένους, ἐν πενίᾳ καὶ νόσοις καὶ δουλείᾳ καταφθειρομένους, παμπονήρους δὲ καὶ μιαροὺς ἀνθρώπους προτιμωμένους καὶ ὑπερπλουτοῦντας καὶ ἐπιτάττοντας τοῖς κρείττοσι, καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἱεροσύλους οὐ κολαζομένους ἀλλὰ διαλανθάνοντας, ἀνασκολοπιζομένους δὲ καὶ τυμπανιζομένους ἐνίοτε τοὺς οὐδὲν ἀδικοῦντας;
I added accents to τὴν ταραχήν — the accents are missing in the printed edition (p. 118) as well as in the Digital Loeb Classical Library, as the following images show:




Juvenal 6.292-293 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
These days, we are suffering the calamities of long peace. Luxury has settled down on us, crueller than fighting, avenging the world we've conquered.

nunc patimur longae pacis mala. saevior armis
luxuria incubuit victumque ulciscitur orbem.
Edward Courtney ad loc.:
LONGAE PACIS MALA The view of Tacitus too (Syme1 218 n. 6, Ogilvie–Richmond on Agr. 11.4), cf. Sen. Ep. 73.6, Vell. Pat. 2.110.2 Pannonia insolens longae pacis bonis (ironically reversed by Juvenal's MALA). It is pointless to look for historical precision in these commonplaces and enquire when Juvenal envisaged Roman decline as beginning; τὴν πολυχρόνιον εἰρήνην in a similar context Polyb. 32.13.6 B-W means about 35 years.
Ronald Syme, Tacitus, Vol. I (1958; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 218:
Peace might be murderous—'saeva pax'. At the best, it was depressing and sterile. Such was the nemesis of the imperial peace. As it endured through the slow years, 'longa pax' issued in neglect and stagnation. Buildings crumbled, and ramparts; the army decayed, and rot was everywhere.6

6 The phrase 'longa pax', alluding detrimentally to the results of the imperial peace, is frequent in Tacitus—Agr. 11.5; Hist. I.67.2; 88.2; II.17.1; IV.22.1; V.16.3; Ann. XIII.35.1. Note also Juvenal VI.292: 'nunc patimur longae pacis mala.' The phrase 'longa pace cuncta refovente' (Quintus Curtius IV.4.21) could help to date its author: certainly not Augustan.

Thomas Couture (1815-1879), Romains de la décadence
(Paris, Musée d'Orsay, inv. 3451)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


A New Flood of Unreason

Francis G. Allinson (1856-1931), Lucian, Satirist and Artist (London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1926), pp. 8-9:
A parallel drawn between the Age of the Antonines and the present Age of Science may seem irrelevant. Human reason, equipped with the dazzling gifts, beneficent and maleficent, of applied science, seems to rest secure above the flood. Pessimistic prophecies of a return of the Dark Ages seem sufficiently negligible. The flow of disciplined reason from Democritus and Aristotle to Darwin, from Hippocrates and Galen to Pasteur has been, for long intervals, retarded or turned backward, but not dried up. None the less the intelligentsia of today, as in the Age of the Antonines, finds itself unexpectedly isolated by a new flood of unreason. Spiritists and fundamentalists, communists and commercialists, quack "educators" and litterateurs, even "casters of horoscopes" threaten the dear-bought progress of the disciplined mind in matters ethical, political, artistic and intellectual; some by undisguised obscurantism, others, who confuse motion with "progress," by laying their uncharted courses back from accredited discipline, back towards the caveman. For many, or all, of these phenomena illuminating illustration may be drawn from Lucian's satires. Applied with due attention to perspective, his mordant strictures may prove a useful corrective in the bewildering complex of uncorrelated ideas and desires that run riot in our suddenly dislocated civilization.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


The Behavior of a Tourist

C. Marchetti, "Anthropological Invariants in Travel Behavior," Technological Forecasting and Social Change 47.1 (September 1994) 75–88 (at 84-85):
Trips of longer periods are the ones made by tourists (historically preceded by pilgrims) about once a year. Coming from a tourist attractor (Florence), I have always been curious about the driving forces behind tourist wanderings, and being familiar with the species I am very skeptical about their rationalizations. My hypothesis is that there is again a basic drive behind this. If I can describe the behavior of a tourist, perhaps a little sarcastically: he chases a target as far away as possible, hopefully unexplored (unpolluted means he is the first to go there). Once the place is reached, he collects material for tales and physical souvenirs. Then he comes back and fills the heads of colleagues, friends, and parents with the tales of the magnificent land he has just discovered. The behavior is very much reminiscent of the dancing bee telling where the blossoming tree is located and the mass and kind of flower (she carries the souvenirs, pollen and the perfume, on herself). Souvenirs then become a tangible testimony that the tales are veridical (man is a born liar). When Moses sent scouts to Palestine, they traveled back loaded with specimens, in particular, a bunch of grapes so large that two men with a pole were needed to carry it. Seen from this systemic point of view, we can perhaps study the tourist phenomenon through a fresh and objective approach.
I suspect that by "parents" Marchetti meant "relatives" or "family" (cf. Italian "parenti").

Saturday, February 22, 2020


German and French

Robert Graves (1895-1985), Goodbye to All That, new ed. (London: Cassell & Company Ltd, 1957), p. 25:
We children did not talk German well, our genders and minor parts of speech were shaky, and we never learned to read Gothic characters or script. Yet we had the sense of German so strongly that I feel I know German far better than French, though able to read French almost as fast as I can read English, and German only very painfully and slowly, with the help of a dictionary. I use different parts of my mind for the two languages. French is a surface acquirement which I could forget quite easily if I had no reason to speak it every now and then.


Then and Now

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Buch der Lieder, XXXIX (tr. Sander L. Gilman):
My heart is sad and filled with longing
I think of the past;
the world was then so comfortable
and everyone lived so peacefully.

And everything is now as if displaced.
Such crowding! such need.
Lord God is dead above,
And below the devil is dead.

And everything looks so peevishly sad,
so confusing, so rotten, so cold,
And if it were not for the bit of love,
there would not be a foothold anywhere.

Das Herz ist mir bedrückt, und sehnlich
Gedenke ich der alten Zeit;
Die Welt war damals noch so wöhnlich,
Und ruhig lebten hin die Leut'.

Doch jetzt ist alles wie verschoben,
Das ist ein Drängen! eine Not!
Gestorben ist der Herrgott oben,
Und unten ist der Teufel tot.

Und Alles schaut so grämlich trübe,
So krausverwirrt und morsch und kalt,
Und wäre nicht das bischen Liebe,
So gäb' es nirgends einen Halt.
The same, tr. Anthony Phelan:
My heart is heavy — sad the present;
I think back to the olden days
When all the world was still so pleasant
And people went their peaceful ways.

Now, helter-skelter, elbows shove us,
Pressure and stress on every side!
Dead is the good Lord God above us,
And down below the devil's died.

Everything goes in churlish fashion,
A rotten, tangled, cold affair;
And but for a little love and passion
There'd be no surcease anywhere.

Friday, February 21, 2020


The Persian Version

Robert Graves (1895-1985), "The Persian Version," Poems 1938-1945 (1946; rpt. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967), p. 46:
Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer's expedition
Not as a mere reconnaissance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece—they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.


A Clash of Wills

Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), The Whig Interpretation of History (1931; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1965), pp. 27-28:
If we use the present as our perpetual touchstone, we can easily divide the men of the 16th century into progressive and reactionary; but we are likely to beg fewer questions, and we are better able to discover the way in which the past was turned into our present, if we adopt the outlook of the 16th century upon itself, or if we view the process of events as it appears to us when we look at the movements of our own generation; and in this case we shall tend to see not so much progressive fighting reactionary but rather two parties differing on the question of what the next step in progress is to be. Instead of seeing the modern world emerge as the victory of the children of light over the children of darkness in any generation, it is at least better to see it emerge as the result of a clash of wills, a result which often neither party wanted or even dreamed of, a result which indeed in some cases both parties would equally have hated, but a result for the achievement of which the existence of both and the clash of both were necessary.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020



Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XVII.21 (tr. Henri van Laun):
Certain people who have never read the fathers or doctors of the Church are frightened at their very names, and declare their writings dull, dry, pious, cold, and perhaps pedantic. But how astonished would all these people be who have formed such an untrue idea of the Fathers, if they found in their writings a better style, more delicacy, polish, and intelligence, a greater warmth of expression and strength of reasoning, sharper traits and more natural charms than are to be met with in most of the modern books read by connoisseurs, which increase the reputation and conceit of their authors. What a satisfaction to love religion and to see men of great talent and solid learning believe in it, assert its truth, and explain it! And whether you consider extent of knowledge, depth and penetration, the principles of pure philosophy, their application and development, the correctness of the conclusions arrived at, nobleness of expression, beauty of morals and sentiments, no profane author can be compared to Saint Augustine, except Plato and Cicero.

«Un Père de l'Eglise, un docteur de l'Eglise, quels noms! quelle tristesse dans leurs écrits! quelle sécheresse, quelle froide dévotion, et peut-être quelle scolastique!» disent ceux qui ne les ont jamais lus. Mais plutôt quel étonnement pour tous ceux qui se sont fait une idée des Pères si éloignée de la vérité, s'ils voyaient dans leurs ouvrages plus de tour et de délicatesse, plus de politesse et d'esprit, plus de richesse d'expression et plus de force de raisonnement, des traits plus vifs et des grâces plus naturelles que l'on n'en remarque dans la plupart des livres de ce temps qui sont lus avec goût, qui donnent du nom et de la vanité à leurs auteurs! Quel plaisir d’aimer la religion, et de la voir crue, soutenue, expliquée par de si beaux génies, et par de si solides esprits! surtout lorsque l'on vient à connaître que pour l'étendue de connaissance, pour la profondeur et la pénétration, pour les principes de la pure philosophie, pour leur application et leur développement, pour la justesse des conclusions, pour la dignité du discours, pour la beauté de la morale et des sentiments, il n’y a rien par exemple que l'on puisse comparer à S. Augustin, que Platon et que Cicéron.
Related post: Leisure Reading.


The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Pensieri, LXIV (tr. W.S. Di Piero):
If an artist, scientist, or intellectual of whatever discipline is in the habit of comparing himself not to other members of his discipline but rather to the discipline itself, then the more intelligent he is the lower will be his opinion of himself. For his sense of his own inferiority grows in direct proportion to his deepening knowledge of his discipline. That is why all great men are modest: they consistently measure themselves not in comparison to other people but to the idea of perfection ever present in their minds, an ideal infinitely clearer and greater than any common people have, and they also realize how far they are from fulfilling their ideal. The masses, on the other hand, readily and perhaps rightly believe that they have not only realized the idea of perfection they have in mind, but that they have surpassed it.

Quell'artefice o scienziato o cultore di qualunque disciplina, che sarà usato paragonarsi, non con altri cultori di essa, ma con essa medesima, più che sarà eccellente, più basso concetto avrà di se: perché meglio conoscendo le profondità di quella, più inferiore si troverà nel paragone. Così quasi tutti gli uomini grandi sono modesti: perché si paragonano continuamente, non cogli altri, ma con quell'idea del perfetto che hanno dinanzi allo spirito, infinitamente più chiara e maggiore di quella che ha il volgo; e considerano quanto sieno lontani dal conseguirla. Dove che i volgari facilmente, e forse alle volte con verità, si credono avere, non solo conseguita, ma superata quell'idea di perfezione che cape negli animi loro.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Confession of a Lawbreaker

Cédric Villani, Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure, tr. Malcolm DeBevoise (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), p. 3:
Behind me, neatly arranged on long shelves, thousands and thousands of pages of articles, lawfully photocopied back in the days when scientific journals were still printed on paper, and a great many mathematical monographs, unlawfully photocopied back in the days when I didn’t make enough money to buy all of the books I wanted.


Literary Rivalry or Political Protest?

Suetonius, Life of Lucan (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
For piqued because Nero had suddenly called a meeting of the senate and gone out when he was giving a reading, with no other motive than to throw cold water on the performance, he afterwards did not refrain from words and acts of hostility to the prince, which are still notorious. Once for example in a public privy, when he relieved his bowels with an uncommonly loud noise, he shouted out this half line of the emperor's, while those who were there for the same purpose took to their heels:
"You might suppose it thundered 'neath the earth."
siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit:
"sub terris tonuisse putes."
strepitu B, crepitu P, trepitu M



It Will Mar Our Comfort

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "The Islanders," lines 31-44:
Then ye returned to your trinkets; then ye contented your souls
With the flannelled fools at the wicket or the muddied oafs at the goals.
Given to strong delusion, wholly believing a lie,
Ye saw that the land lay fenceless, and ye let the months go by
Waiting some easy wonder, hoping some saving sign—
Idle—openly idle—in the lee of the forespent Line.
Idle—except for your boasting—and what is your boasting worth
If ye grudge a year of service to the lordliest life on earth?
Ancient, effortless, ordered, cycle on cycle set,
Life so long untroubled, that ye who inherit forget
It was not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep.
Men, not gods, devised it. Men, not gods, must keep.
Men, not children, servants, or kinsfolk called from afar,
But each man born in the Island broke to the matter of war.
Id., lines 59-70:
But ye say, "It will mar our comfort." Ye say, "It will minish our trade."
Do ye wait for the spattered shrapnel ere ye learn how a gun is laid?
For the low, red glare to southward when the raided coast-towns burn?
(Light ye shall have on that lesson, but little time to learn.)
Will ye pitch some white pavilion, and lustily even the odds,
With nets and hoops and mallets, with rackets and bats and rods?
Will the rabbit war with your foemen—the red deer horn them for hire?
Your kept cock-pheasant keep you?—he is master of many a shire.
Arid, aloof, incurious, unthinking, unthanking, gelt,
Will ye loose your schools to flout them till their brow-beat columns melt?
Will ye pray them or preach them, or print them, or ballot them back from your shore?
Will your workmen issue a mandate to bid them strike no more?

Monday, February 17, 2020


A Dull Life

G.K. Chesterton, radio broadcast (The Listener, January 31, 1934):
Unless we can bring men back to enjoying the daily life which moderns call a dull life, our whole civilisation will be in ruins in about fifteen years. Whenever anybody proposes anything really practical, to solve the economic evil today, the answer always is that the solution would not work, because the modern town populations would think life dull. That is because they are entirely unacquainted with life. They know nothing but distractions from life; dreams which may be found in the cinema; that is, brief oblivions of life. I am not going to talk about the advantages of this or that social solution, but it is true that this is the standing difficulty of all social solutions. Some people, like the late Mr. Galsworthy, think that the English poor should be helped further to colonize the Colonies. Some, of whom I am one, have even dared to dream that the English might be allowed to colonize England. But to both the objection is always essentially this: that they would be six miles from a cinema. It is perhaps true; and another way of putting the same truth is that modern men have utterly lost the joy of life. They have to put up with the miserable substitute of the joy of life. And even these they seem less and less able to enjoy. Unless we can make ordinary men interested in ordinary life, we are under the vulgar despotism of those who cannot interest them, but can at least amuse them. Unless we can make daybreak and daily bread and the creative secrets of labour interesting in themselves, there will fall on our civilization a fatigue, which is the one disease from which civilizations do not recover. So died the great Pagan civilization, of bread and circuses and forgetfulness of the household gods.


Resume the Manners and Customs of Your Fathers

Tacitus, Histories 4.64.3 (ambassadors of the Tencteri speaking to an assembly of the people of Cologne, 69 A.D.; tr. John Jackson):
Even as Nature has always made the light of day free to all mankind, so she has made all lands open to the brave. Resume the manners and customs of your fathers, cutting off those pleasures which give the Romans more power over their subjects than their arms bestow. A people pure, untainted, forgetting your servitude, you will live the equals of any or will rule others.

quo modo lucem diemque omnibus hominibus, ita omnis terras fortibus viris natura aperuit. instituta cultumque patrium resumite, abruptis voluptatibus, quibus Romani plus adversus subiectos quam armis valent. sincerus et integer et servitutis oblitus populus aut ex aequo agetis aut aliis imperitabitis.


Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), "Social Aims," Letters and Social Aims = Complete Works, Vol. VIII (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1904), pp. 79-107 (at 98):
Shun the negative side. Never worry people with your contritions, nor with dismal views of politics or society. Never name sickness: even if you could trust yourself on that perilous topic, beware of unmuzzling a valetudinarian, who will soon give you your fill of it.


Timor Domini

Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), p. 50, with note on p. 412:
"I shall never forget," James wrote in his early twenties, "the dismal hours of apprehension that I have endured in my youth from narrow notions of religion while my tender mind was lacerated with the infernal horror." He would have been required to memorize the Shorter Catechism, which declared that "all mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever." When he had a chance to meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was also raised a Calvinist but adopted a much more generous view of religion, he told him bitterly that he had been taught to fear "the terrible being whom those about me called God."3

3. London Journal, 102; Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechism, First Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster (1717), 217; "Sketch of the Early Life of James Boswell, Written by Himself for Jean-Jacques Rousseau," translated from French by Pottle, 3.

Sunday, February 16, 2020


The Great Receiving Station

Rudyard Kipling, letter to Henry Arthur Jones (September 2, 1925), in The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney, Vol. 5: 1920-30 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), p. 295:
I expect that every man has to work out his creed according to his own wave-length, and the hope is that the Great Receiving Station is tuned to take all wave-lengths.
Rudyard Kipling, "Namgay Doola," Mine Own People (Boston: The Edinburgh Society, 1909), pp. 35-54 (at 40-41):
"But he worships strange gods," said the prime minister, deferentially.

"For that I have no concern," said the king, who was as tolerant as Akbar in matters of belief. "To each man his own god, and the fire or Mother Earth for us all at the last."

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Nescit Vox Missa Reverti

Euripides, fragment 1044 Kannicht = Menander, fragment 1092 Kock (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
Just as it is not possible to stop a heavy stone once released from the hand, so it is not possible to recall a word released from the tongue.

οὔτ' ἐκ χερὸς μεθέντα καρτερὸν λίθον
οἷόν τ᾿ ἐπισχεῖν οὔτ' ἀπὸ γλώσσης λόγον.
Richard Kannicht, ed., Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Vol. 5: Euripides (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), pp. 996-997:

Friday, February 14, 2020


No Reason to Fret

Cicero, Letters to His Brother Quintus 3.9.1-2 (tr. W. Glynn Williams):
The result of the trial, disgraceful and pernicious as it was, I bore with unruffled equanimity. And that was a blessing, which now, when all is done, redounds to my advantage, in that I am not in the least disturbed by these evils of the Republic, and the unbridled excesses of shameless men, which used previously to break my heart. For anything more corrupt than the men and the times of to-day cannot be conceived.

And so, since no pleasure can be got out of politics, I don't see why I should fret myself; I find a joy in literature and my favourite pursuits, in the leisure of my country houses, but most of all in our boys.

exitum iudici foedum et perniciosum levissime tuli. quod quidem bonum mihi nunc denique redundat, ut his malis reipublicae licentiaque audacium, qua ante rumpebar, nunc ne movear quidem. nihil est enim perditius his hominibus, his temporibus.

itaque, ex republica quoniam nihil iam voluptatis capi potest, cur stomacher, nescio. litterae me, et studia nostra et otium villaeque delectant, maximeque pueri nostri.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


The Old School of Classics and the New

Robert Yelverton Tyrrell (1844-1914), "The Old School of Classics and the New. A Dialogue of the Dead," Fortnightly Review, n.s. Vol. XLIII, No. CCLIII (January 1, 1888), pp. 42-59 (at 47-49):
Madvig. In the English universities the tendency of late has been to break away from the lines of scholarship as we understood it. Even those who profess to walk in the old paths of criticism walk with uncertain footsteps. "Why alter the text," we often hear, "if any meaning can be got out of it?" We go to the text and we find that the reading of which we are bidden to be so tenacious is itself a conjecture—a bad conjecture which we must not replace by a good one, because the bad conjecture has become naturalised, as it were. The love of the old mumpsimus still lives. Then another school—and one with some very brilliant disciples—declares that we must practically rewrite the Greek tragic poets to bring them into absolute conformity with an inflexible standard of grammatical usage.

Bentley. Were it not vastly better done to rewrite our grammars, since the grammars should be but the registers of the usus loquendi?

Madvig. Certainly. But why rewrite either? Grammar, like the Sabbath, was made for man, not man for grammar. Our grammars adequately register the broad rules of the language, but when we apply them to the poets we must make allowances for a certain easiness, which, however, never degenerates into licence or caprice. But grammar, indeed, bids fair to lose her place altogether among the subjects of study; and I must be pardoned as a grammarian if I speak with some asperity of such a consummation. She is invaded on every side by archaeology, anthropology, epigraphy, and dilettantism. It is more blessed to gush than to construe. To study the works, for instance, of the Greek dramatists is no longer a road to success as a scholar or as a student. No: you must be ready to liken Aeschylus to an Alpine crevasse, Sophocles to a fair avenue of elms, and Euripides to an amber-weeping Phaethontid, or a town pump in need of repairing, according to the divined proclivity of the examiner or reader. When the student has secured his Fellowship or First Class he will not endeavour to restore or explain the classical masterpieces. He will not even read them. But he will read and write a great deal about them. To do this last, he will fuse together the brilliant but inaccurate French étude and the exhaustive but unreadable German Programm, and the result will be an inorganic congeries of incompatible theories, the one having been forgotten before the other has been—shall I say annexed? A not untried plan is to appropriate the labours of some German specialist, and then throw suspicion off the scent by differing with him on some petty detail, and warning the English reader off so misleading a path. Perhaps the aspirant will best secure the fame of a scholar by taking up some writer of venerable antiquity and pelting him with flouts and jibes. "Flagrant prevarication," "deliberate and gratuitous falsehood," together with a constant tendency to "pilfering" and an incurable "obtuseness" are the chief characteristics of the Father of History according to a recent editor of the first three books of Herodotus.

Bentley. But could he have read the history, and write in so putid a way of Herodotus?

Madvig. To speak candidly I don't think he could read it in the original tongue. Like Merlin, he could not read the text of the book in his hand. It would have been well for him if he could have added with Merlin,
And none could read the comment but himself.
But it is easy to write in this strain without being at all able to construe the Greek. In fact, the absence of the trammels of grammar lightens the burden of the editor's erudition, and enables him more easily to find or overlook in the text whatever suits his purpose. But he speaks as one who knows all about grammar, and sees that there is nothing in it. It has been tried by him in the balance and found wanting. He is a little amused when convicted of an error in elementary accidence or syntax, perhaps just in the slightest degree annoyed, not more than an acrostic solver would be if he had missed an easy light. "The errors of a scientific explorer," he writes, "are often as instructive as his facts, and he who is afraid of making mistakes may be a good reproducer of other men's labours, but will never increase the sum of human knowledge." If scholars of this type have their way, the study of classics will soon be held in England to be about as dignified an occupation as the solving of acrostics. Such mere minutiae as the difference between a present participle and a past, between τά the article, and τά the relative, between πλεῖστα "several" and τὰ πλεῖστα "the most part of," are quite beneath the notice of the New School.
I corrected τά πλεῖστα to τὰ πλεῖστα. The "recent editor of the first three books of Herodotus" was A.H. Sayce. See:

Wednesday, February 12, 2020



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 532 (1863):
School-keeping is a dreary task, only relieved by the pleasure the teacher takes in two or three bright and beautiful pupils. The majority of the children will be brutal, or (to use a milder word) infidels, and the consoler is the appearance of genius and noble nature in one or another.
Related posts:


Greek in the House of Commons

The Examiner, No. 936 (Sunday, Jan. 15, 1826), p. 42:
Lord Belgrave, having clenched a speech in the House of Commons with a long Greek quotation, Sheridan, in reply, admitted the force of the quotation so far as it went, "but," said he, "had the Noble Lord proceeded a little further, and completed the passage, he would have seen that it applied the other way." Sheridan then spouted something, ore rotundo, which had all the ais, ois, ous, kon, and kois, that give the world assurance of a Greek quotation; upon which Lord Belgrave very promptly and handsomely complimented the Hon. Member on his readiness of recollection, and frankly admitted, that the continuation of the passage had the tendency ascribed to it by Mr Sheridan,and that he had overlooked it at the moment when he gave his quotation. On the breaking up of the House, Fox, who piqued himself on having some Greek, went up to Sheridan and asked him, "Sheridan, how came you to be so ready with that passage? It certainly is as you say, but I was not aware of it before you quoted it." It is unnecessary to observe, that there was no Greek at all in Sheridan's impromptu.
The source is given as Westminster Review. Apocryphal, perhaps, but amusing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


A Comedy

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 11:
Human life is basically a comedy. Even its tragedies often seem comic to the spectator, and not infrequently they actually have comic touches to the victim. Happiness probably consists largely in the capacity to detect and relish them. A man who can laugh, if only at himself, is never really miserable.


A Windbag

Menander, fragment 693 Kassel and Austin = 471 Koerte = 682 Kock (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
The one who has no wisdom but who chatters much on every point exhibits his character in his words.

ὁ μὴ φρονῶν μέν, πολλὰ δ' ἐφ' ἑκάστου λαλῶν
δείκνυσιν αὑτοῦ τὸν τρόπον τοῖς ῥήμασι.
Related post: Talking Rashly and Without Foresight.


A Comfortable Life

Paulinus of Pella, Thanksgiving 202-212 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn White):
This was ever too much prized by me, and though at first it was conformable with my nature which then sought but moderate satisfaction, later it became luxurious and estranged from high purpose, only concerned that my house should be equipped with spacious apartments and at all times suited to meet the varying seasons of the year, my table lavish and attractive, my servants many and those young, the furniture abundant and agreeable for various purposes, plate more preeminent in price than poundage, workmen of divers crafts trained promptly to fulfil my behests, my stables filled with well-conditioned beasts and, withal, stately carriages to convey me safe abroad.

quae et mihi cara nimis semper fuit ingenioque
congrua prima meo mediocria desideranti,
proxima deliciis et ab ambitione remota,
ut mihi compta domus spatiosis aedibus esset        205
et diversa anni per tempora iugiter apta,
mensa opulenta nitens, plures iuvenesque ministri
inque usus varios grata et numerosa supellex
argentumque magis pretio quam pondere praestans
et diversae artis cito iussa explere periti        210
artifices stabula et iumentis plena refectis,
tunc et carpentis evectio tuta decoris.

Monday, February 10, 2020


A Second Opinion

Letter from A.E. Housman to Percy Withers (May 11, 1930), in The Letters of A.E. Housman, ed. Henry Maas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 295 (footnote omitted):
I am rejoiced to hear of your return to wine-bibbing. Laurence of this college (I forget if you have met him) has been suffering from gouty eczema, well earned: his doctor has limited him to whisky, and he made no progress. So he called in another doctor, who ordered him a bottle of Burgundy a day: he mended rapidly and is now well.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related post: Medical Advice.

Sunday, February 09, 2020


Original Texts

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XV.72 (tr. Henri van Laun):
The study of the original texts can never be sufificifently recommended; it is the shortest, the safest, and the most pleasant way for all kinds of learning. Take things from the beginning, go to the main spring, read over the text repeatedly, learn it by heart, quote it upon occasions; above all, apply yourself to penetrate the sense of it to its fullest extent and in all its circumstances, reconcile an author's various sentiments, settle his principles, and draw your own conclusions. The early commentators were in the very position I should wish you to be; never borrow their explanations nor adopt their ideas unless your own fail you, for their interpretation is not yours and may easily slip out of your memory; on the contrary, your observations have sprung up in your own mind, will abide with you, and more readily recur in your conversations, consultations, and discussions. You will be delighted to observe that in your reading no insurmountable difficulties will present themselves except those that have nonplussed com- mentators and scholiasts themselves, who, moreover, have at their command such a rich and abundant store of vain and useless learning when passages are sufficiently clear and present no difficulties to themselves nor to others. This system of studying the original texts will convince you that men's laziness has encouraged pedants to increase the bulk of libraries rather than their worth, and to crush the text under a weight of commentaries; by doing this they have injured themselves and acted contrary to their own interests, as those same commentaries have caused an increase of reading, researches, and of that kind of labour which they intended to render useless.

L'étude des textes ne peut jamais être assez recommandée; c'est le chemin le plus court, le plus sûr et le plus agréable pour tout genre d'érudition: ayez les choses de la première main; puisez à la source; maniez, remaniez le texte; apprenez-le de mémoire; citez-le dans les occasions; songez surtout à en pénétrer le sens dans toute son étendue et dans ses circonstances; conciliez un auteur original, ajustez ses principes, tirez vous-même les conclusions. Les premiers commentateurs se sont trouvés dans le cas où je désire que vous soyez: n'empruntez leurs lumières et ne suivez leurs vues qu'où les vôtres seraient trop courtes; leurs explications ne sont pas à vous, et peuvent aisément vous échapper. Vos observations, au contraire, naissent de votre esprit et y demeurent; vous les retrouvez plus ordinairement dans la conversation, dans la consultation et dans la dispute: ayez le plaisir de voir que vous n'êtes arrêté dans la lecture que par les difficultés qui sont invincibles, où les commentateurs et les scoliastes euxmêmes demeurent court, si fertiles d'ailleurs, si abondants et si chargés d'une vaine et fastueuse érudition dans les endroits clairs, et qui ne font de peine ni à eux ni aux autres. Achevez ainsi de vous convaincre, par cette méthode d'étudier, que c'est la paresse des hommes qui a encouragé le pédantisme à grossir plutôt qu'à enrichir les bibliothèques, à faire périr le texte sous le poids des commentaires; et qu'elle a en cela agi contre soi-même et contre ses plus chers intérêts, en multiplant les lectures, les recherches et le travail qu'elle cherchait à éviter.


Gaudeamus Igitur

Ludwig Erk (1807-1883), Deutscher Liederschatz, rev. Max Friedlaender, Bd. I (Leipzig: C.F. Peters, [1928?]), p. 193(click once or twice to enlarge):

The Latin lyrics (from the score above, but with some changes in punctuation):
Gaudeamus igitur
juvenes dum sumus:
post jucundam juventutem,
post molestam senectutem,
|: nos habebit humus. :|

Ubi sunt qui ante nos
in mundo fuere?
Vadite ad superos,
transite in inferos,
|: ubi iam fuere? :|

Vita nostra brevis est,
brevi finietur,
venit mors velociter,
rapit nos atrociter,
|: nemini parcetur. :|

Vivat Academia,
vivant Professores!
Vivat membrum quodlibet,
vivant membra quaelibet,
|: semper sint in flore. :|

Vivant omnes virgines,
faciles, formosae!
Vivant et mulieres,
tenerae, amabiles,
|: bonae, laboriosae! :|

Vivat et Respublica
et qui illam regit!
Vivat nostra Civitas,
Maecenatum caritas
|: quae nos hic protegit! :|

Pereat tristitia,
pereant osores,
pereat diabolus,
quivis antiburschius
|: atque irrisores! :|
English version by John Addington Symonds, Wine, Women, and Song (London: Chatto and Windus, Publishers, 1907), pp. 188-189 (preserving the original meter for singing, but transposing the 5th and 6th stanzas):
Let us live, then, and be glad
    While young life's before us!
        After youthful pastime had,
        After old age hard and sad,
    Earth will slumber o'er us.

Where are they who in this world,
    Ere we kept, were keeping?
        Go ye to the gods above;
        Go to hell; inquire thereof:
    They are not; they're sleeping.

Brief is life, and brevity
    Briefly shall be ended:
Death comes like a whirlwind strong,
Bears us with his blast along;
    None shall be defended.

Live this university,
    Men that learning nourish;
        Live each member of the same,
        Long live all that bear its name;
    Let them ever flourish!

Live the commonwealth also,
    And the men that guide it!
        Live our town in strength and health,
        Founders, patrons, by whose wealth
    We are here provided!

Live all girls! A health to you,
    Melting maids and beauteous!
        Live the wives and women too,
        Gentle, loving, tender, true,
    Good, industrious, duteous!

Perish cares that pule and pine!
    Perish envious blamers!
        Die the Devil, thine and mine!
        Die the starched-necked Philistine!
    Scoffers and defamers!

Georg Mühlberg (1863-1925), Cantus

Saturday, February 08, 2020


Full Moon Rising

My brother sent me this photograph he just took in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, near the Connecticut River:


Language Learning

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XV.71 (tr. Henri van Laun):
Children can scarcely know too many languages, and methinks, all means should be taken to facilitate their acquiring them; there is no condition of life in which they are not useful, for they clear the way for the acquisition of solid learning, as well as for easy and pleasant acquirements. If this somewhat difficult study is put off to that more advanced age which is called youth, people have no longer the strength of mind and the will to follow it up, and if they do, they find it impossible to persevere; for in studying those languages they consume that very time which should be applied in speaking them, and confine themselves to mastering words when they wish to proceed beyond, and require facts; and thus they lose the first and most valuable years of their life. Such a grand foundation can never rightly be laid, unless it be when the soul naturally receives everything, is deeply impressed by it, and when the memory is fresh, quick, and steady; when the mind and the heart are yet void of passions, cares, and desires, and when those who have a right to dispose of us, induce us to labour for a considerable time. I am convinced the small number of true scholars and the great number of superficial ones is owing to the neglect of this rule.

L'on ne peut guère charger l'enfance de la connoissance de trop de langues, et il me semble que l'on devroit mettre toute son application à l'en instruire; elles sont utiles à toutes les conditions des hommes, et elles leur ouvrent également l'entrée ou à une profonde ou à une facile et agréable érudition. Si l'on remet cette étude si pénible à un âge un peu plus avancé, et qu'on appelle la jeunesse, ou l'on n'a pas la force de l'embrasser par choix, ou l'on n'a pas celle d'y persévérer; et, si l'on y persévère, c'est consumer à la recherche des langues le même temps qui est consacré à l'usage que l'on en doit faire; c'est borner à la science des mots un âge qui veut déjà aller plus loin, et qui demande des choses; c'est, au moins, avoir perdu les premières et les plus belles années de sa vie. Un si grand fonds ne se peut bien faire que lorsque tout s'imprime dans l'âme naturellement et profondément ; que la mémoire est neuve, prompte et fidèle; que l'esprit et le cœur sont encore vides de passions, de soins et de désirs, et que l'on est déterminé à de longs travaux par ceux de qui l'on dépend. Je suis persuadé que le petit nombre d'habiles, ou le grand nombre de gens superficiels, vient de l'oubli de cette pratique.

Friday, February 07, 2020


A Fierce Hunger

Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), Autumn Across America (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956), p. 214:
There swept over me a fierce hunger for books, for libraries, for all the worn favorites on my shelves at home, for the commingled smell of old paper and glue and ink that surrounds the stacks of every public library. I longed for Keats and Shakespeare and Conrad and Thoreau and Hudson.


A Hopeless Endeavor

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 33:
The effort to educate the uneducable is hopeless. Schools for adults soon become kindergartens for adults. The pupils are quite unable to take in the education proper to their years. The gogues thus have to provide them with amusement, just as children of four are provided with amusement in kindergartens. The hope is that they will somehow learn to think as an accidental by-product of playing, but that hope is vain.
Gogues = pedagogues.

Thursday, February 06, 2020


Lustration of the Fleet

Appian, Roman History 5.10.96 (tr. Horace White):
When the fleet was ready, Octavian performed a lustration for it in the following manner. The altars are erected on the margin of the sea, and the multitude ranged around them in a circle of ships, observing the most profound silence. The priests who perform the ceremony offer the sacrifice while standing at the water's edge, and carry the expiatory offerings in skiffs three times round the fleet, the generals sailing with them, beseeching the gods to turn the bad omens against the victims instead of the fleet. Then, dividing the entrails, they cast a part of them into the sea, and put the remainder on the altars and burn them, while the multitude chant in unison. In this way the Romans perform lustrations of the fleet.

ἐπεὶ δ' ἕτοιμος ἦν ὁ στόλος, ἐκάθαιρεν αὐτὸν ὁ Καῖσαρ ὧδε. οἱ μὲν βωμοὶ ψαύουσι τῆς θαλάσσης, καὶ ἡ πληθὺς αὐτοὺς περιέστηκε κατὰ ναῦν μετὰ σιωπῆς βαθυτάτης· οἱ δὲ ἱερουργοὶ θύουσι μὲν ἑστῶτες ἐπὶ τῇ θαλάσσῃ καὶ τρὶς ἐπὶ σκαφῶν περιφέρουσιν ἀνὰ τὸν στόλον τὰ καθάρσια, συμπεριπλεόντων αὐτοῖς τῶν στρατηγῶν καὶ ἐπαρωμένων ἐς τάδε τὰ καθάρσια, ἀντὶ τοῦ στόλου, τὰ ἀπαίσια τραπῆναι. νείμαντες δὲ αὐτά, μέρος ἐς τὴν θάλασσαν ἀπορρίπτουσι καὶ μέρος ἐς τοὺς βωμοὺς ἐπιθέντες ἅπτουσι, καὶ ὁ λεὼς ἐπευφημεῖ. οὕτω μὲν Ῥωμαῖοι τὰ ναυτικὰ καθαίρουσιν.
See H.S. Versnel, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion, Vol. II: Transition and Reversal in Myth and Ritual (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993), pp. 300-301.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


Medical Advice

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), p. 223 (1859):
On Wachusett, I sprained my foot. It was slow to heal, and I went to the doctors. Dr. Henry Bigelow said, "Splint and absolute rest." Dr. Russell said, "Rest, yes; but a splint, no." Dr. Bartlett said, "Neither splint nor rest, but go and walk." Dr. Russell said, "Pour water on the foot, but it must be warm." Dr. Jackson said, "Stand in a trout brook all day."


Useless at Languages

Simon Winder, Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History (New York: Farrar, Sreaus and Giroux, 2010), p. 9:
In the dystopic waiting room that is one's forties it is possible to be quite serene on the language issue. I am reconciled to being useless at languages in the same way that I am now reconciled to dying still unable to identify tree species or remember phone numbers. But for many years I charged at language after language in the manner of someone running up against some massively barred and studded fortress door: Italian, Latin, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic (in a moment of lunatic lack of self-knowledge), German, Ancient Greek — a catalogue of complete pointlessness. On a conservative estimate I must have spent over a thousand hours of my childhood in Latin lessons — a magnificent grounding in that tongue and the sort of steady application that takes full advantage of the sponge-like absorbency of the young mind. In an adult spasm of masochism I recently bought Teach Yourself Latin which, to my total dismay, showed that eight years of Latin lessons had actually only got me about twenty-five pages into a three-hundred-page book.



Seneca, On Consolation to his Mother Helvia 7.5 (tr. John W. Basore):
Different peoples have been impelled by different reasons to leave their homes. But at least this is clear—none has stayed in the place where it was born. The human race is constantly rushing to and fro; in this vast world some change takes place every day. The foundations of new cities are laid, the names of new nations arise, while former ones are blotted out or lost by annexation with a stronger.

alios alia causa excivit domibus suis; illud utique manifestum est, nihil eodem loco mansisse, quo genitum est. adsiduus generis humani discursus est; cotidie aliquid in tam magno orbe mutatur. nova urbium fundamenta iaciuntur, nova gentium nomina extinctis prioribus aut in accessionem validioris conversis oriuntur.
Id. 7.10:
In short, you will scarcely find any land in which there dwells to this day a native population; everywhere the inhabitants are of mongrel and ingrafted stock.

vix denique invenies ullam terram, quam etiamnunc indigenae colant; permixta omnia et insiticia sunt.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020



Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Walden, chapter II ("Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"):
And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, — we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.

Monday, February 03, 2020



Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), pp. 140-141:
This is the great problem of packaging, which every experienced chemist knows: and it was well known to God Almighty, who solved it brilliantly, as he is wont to, with cellular membranes, eggshells, the multiple peel of oranges, and our own skins, because after all we too are liquids. Now, at that time, there did not exist polyethylene, which would have suited me perfectly since it is flexible, light, and splendidly impermeable: but it is also a bit too incorruptible, and not by chance God Almighty himself, although he is a master of polymerization, abstained from patenting it: He does not like incorruptible things.

È il grande problema dell'imballaggio, che ogni chimico esperto conosce: e lo conosceva bene il Padre Eterno, che lo ha risolto brillantemente, da par suo, con le membrane cellulari, il guscio delle uova, la buccia multipla degli aranci, e la nostra pelle, perché liquidi infine siamo anche noi. Ora, a quel tempo non esisteva il polietilene, che mi avrebbe fatto comodo perché è flessibile, leggero e splendidamente impermeabile: ma è anche un po' troppo incorruttibile, e non per niente il Padre Eterno medesimo, che pure è maestro in polimerizzazioni, si è astenuto dal brevettarlo: a Lui le cose incorruttibili non piacciono.



Thucydides 2.11.4-5 (speech by Spartan King Archidamus; tr. Martin Hammond):
[4] War is unpredictable. Most attacks are sudden, springing out of anger: and often the smaller force, focused by fear, has worsted superior numbers caught complacently unprepared. [5] In enemy country there is constant need for both confidence and fear — a brave spirit for battle, but also practical precautions inspired by fear. This way lies the greatest courage in attack and the greatest security under attack.

[4] ἄδηλα γὰρ τὰ τῶν πολέμων, καὶ ἐξ ὀλίγου τὰ πολλὰ καὶ δι' ὀργῆς αἱ ἐπιχειρήσεις γίγνονται· πολλάκις τε τὸ ἔλασσον πλῆθος δεδιὸς ἄμεινον ἠμύνατο τοὺς πλέονας διὰ τὸ καταφρονοῦντας ἀπαρασκεύους γενέσθαι. [5] χρὴ δὲ αἰεὶ ἐν τῇ πολεμίᾳ τῇ μὲν γνώμῃ θαρσαλέους στρατεύειν, τῷ δ' ἔργῳ δεδιότας παρεσκευάσθαι· οὕτω γὰρ πρός τε τὸ ἐπιέναι τοῖς ἐναντίοις εὐψυχότατοι ἂν εἶεν πρός τε τὸ ἐπιχειρεῖσθαι ἀσφαλέστατοι.
A.W. Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, Vol. II: Books II-III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), pp. 13-14:



Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Vol. IX: 1856-1863 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), pp. 160-161 (August 2, 1858):
The midges, black flies, and mosquitoes are looked upon as the protectors of this superb solitude from the tourists...

Sunday, February 02, 2020


The Self-Tormentor

Menander, fragment 760 Kassel and Austin = 537 Koerte = 634 Kock (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
The envious man is his own enemy; he is forever grappling with vexation self-imposed.

ὁ φθονερὸς αὑτῷ πολέμιος καθίσταται·
αὐθαιρέτοις γὰρ συνέχεται λύπαις ἀεί.


Everything Is Worth It

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), "Mar Português" (tr. Eric Thomson):
O briny sea, how much of your salt
Are tears of Portugal! How many mothers
Had to weep for us to cross you!
How many sons prayed in vain!
How many brides-to-be never
Wed for you to be ours, sea!

Was it worth it? Everything is worth it
If the soul be not small.
Whoever would go beyond the Cape
Must go beyond sorrow.
God to the sea gave danger and abyss,
But also made it the mirror of bliss.
The original:
Ó mar salgado, quanto do teu sal
São lágrimas de Portugal!
Por te cruzarmos, quantas mães choraram,
Quantos filhos em vão rezaram!
Quantas noivas ficaram por casar
Para que fosses nosso, ó mar!

Valeu a pena? Tudo vale a pena
Se a alma não é pequena.
Quem quer passar além do Bojador
Tem que passar além da dor.
Deus ao mar o perigo e o abismo deu,
Mas nele é que espelhou o céu.
Thanks to Eric Thomson, who also sent this photograph of Cape St. Vincent:


Cherishing Life

Yang Chu (440-360 B.C.), Garden of Pleasure, tr. Anton Forke (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1912), p. 43 (beginning of Chapter VIII):
Yen-Ping-Chung asked Kuan-Yi-Wu as to cherishing life.

Kuan-Yi-Wu replied: "It suffices to give it its free course, neither checking nor obstructing it."

Yen-Ping-Chung said: "And as to details?"

Kuan-Yi-Wu replied: "Allow the ear to hear what it likes, the eye to see what it likes, the nose to smell what it likes, the mouth to say what it likes, the body to enjoy the comforts it likes to have, and the mind to do what it likes."

Saturday, February 01, 2020


A Vision to Dizzy and Appal

John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), pp. 267-268:
To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken, of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truth, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, "having no hope, and without God in the world"—all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.


A World Out of Joint

Juvenal, The Sixteen Satires. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Peter Green, 3rd ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1998), pp. xxxi-xxxii:
Yet though Juvenal regarded enough capital to qualify for Equestrian status as the summum bonum, he never indicates in any way that he would consider working to obtain it. Juvenal was a bred-in-the-bone rentier, with all the characteristics of his class: contempt for trade, indifference to practical skills, intense political conservatism, with a corresponding fear of change and revolution; abysmal ignorance of, and indifference to, the economic realities governing his existence; a tendency to see all problems, therefore, in over-simplifed moral terms, with the application of right conduct to existing authority as a kind of panacea for all ills.

His particular dilemma, like that of many another laudator temporis acti yearning for some mythical Golden Age, is that he is living by a set of moral and social assumptions that were obsolete before he was born. The only occupations he will recognize are those of the army, the law and estate-farming. He is as rigidly and imperceptively snobbish about trade as any nineteenth-century rural squire, and with even less justification. Highet (1954, 136) offers a sharp run-down on his position:
Since his ideal is the farm which supports its owner in modest comfort (or the estates which make a man a knight), he does not realize that Italy now lives by imports. And he will not understand that the Greco-Roman world was built up by the efforts of the shrewd, energetic, competent men who made harbours, highways, aqueducts, drainage-systems, and baths; who cleared the forests and set up the trade-routes; who exchanged the products of the far parts of the globe and ventured on innumerable dangerous voyages.
All he can see in the immense commercial activity of his day is a frantic scrambling after quick profits, stupid luxuries, or wheat to keep the rabble quiet. He is ready to admire Trajan's splendid new harbour at Ostia, but the socially inferior men who built and planned it elicit nothing from him but a quick, dismissive gibe about making money out of privy-contracts — 'These are such men as Fortune, by way of a joke, / will sometimes raise from the gutter and make Top People' (Satire III 39-40). His ideal is not so far from that of Naevolus, the ageing homosexual gigolo (IX 140-46): a small country home bestowed by some wealthy patron; 'A nice little nest-egg at interest / in gilt-edged stock'; a life of cultivated idleness, the Victorian 'genteel sufficiency'. 'What can I do in Rome?' cries Juvenal's friend Umbricius, in a famous and much-quoted section (41 ff.) of Satire III; and the reader is so carried away by the rhetorical brilliance of the passage that it never occurs to him to answer, briefly: 'A useful job of work' (cf. Marache 1989, 17). Nor, indeed, does it occur to Juvenal.
Id., p. xxxix:
Like so many writers who feel that the world they inhabit is out of joint, Juvenal is continually harking back to the distant past: the Golden Age before Saturn's fall, the semi-mythical period that followed Rome's foundation by Romulus, the early Republic of Livy's zealously Imperial propaganda. He never loses an opportunity to contrast the thrift, abstemiousness, simplicity, patriotism and moral rectitude of the good old days with the selfish hedonism and social flux he sees all around him. (The topic is well discussed by Winkler, ch. ii, 'The Good Old Days in Juvenal's Satires', 23-58, though I do not share his conviction that the poet's attitude to the Golden Age was one of total cynical mockery: a clever writer will often subvert what half his mind yearns for.) This well-worn rhetorical device had been done to death by almost every Roman poet since the close of the Republic; but Juvenal's handling of it deserves attention on at least two counts.

To begin with, from his point of view there was a great deal of truth in it. The trouble with literary commonplaces, especially when they are sedulously imitated from one generation to the next, is that we tend to write them off as mere stage-properties. But the two or three centuries before Juvenal's lifetime had radically transformed Roman civilization and mores; a vast and sudden influx of wealth had corrupted former standards of behaviour and promoted reckless ambition; the Republic, however venal and inefficient, had been replaced by a despotism, however benevolent and enlightened; the average Roman citizen had lost effective political power; foreign upstarts had obtained a stranglehold on some of the most influential positions in the Empire; such members of the old aristocracy as had survived the Civil Wars and subsequent Imperial purges were, very often, taking refuge in hell-raking or philosophical quietism. Juvenal, as they say, had a case.
The references are to:

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?