Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Hymn to Hygeia

Orphic Hymns 68, tr. Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow, The Orphic Hymns (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 54-55:
Charming queen of all,
    lovely and blooming,
blessed Hygeia, mother of all,
    bringer of bliss, hear me.
Through you vanish        3
    the illnesses that afflict man,
through you every house
    blossoms to the fullness of joy.
The arts thrive when the world
    desires you, O queen,
loathed by Hades,        6
    the destroyer of souls.
Apart from you all is
    without profit for men:
wealth, the sweet giver of abundance
    for those who feast, fails,
and man never reaches        9
    the many pains of old age.
Goddess, come, ever-helpful
    to the initiates,
keep away the evil distress
    of unbearable diseases.
The Greek, from Gabriella Ricciardelli, ed., Inni orfici (Rome: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2000), p. 174:
Ἱμερόεσσ', ἐρατή, πολυθάλμιε, παμβασίλεια,
κλῦθι, μάκαιρ' Ὑγίεια, φερόλβιε, μῆτερ ἁπάντων·
ἐκ σέο γὰρ νοῦσοι μὲν ἀποφθινύθουσι βροτοῖσι,
πᾶς δὲ δόμος θάλλει πολυγηθὴς εἵνεκα σεῖο,
καὶ τέχναι βρίθουσι· ποθεῖ δέ σε κόσμος, ἄνασσα,        5
μοῦνος δὲ στυγέει σ' Ἀίδης ψυχοφθόρος αἰεί,
ἀιθαλής, εὐκταιοτάτη, θνητῶν ἀνάπαυμα·
σοῦ γὰρ ἄτερ πάντ' ἐστὶν ἀνωφελῆ ἀνθρώποισιν·
οὔτε γὰρ ὀλβοδότης πλοῦτος γλυκερὸς θαλίῃσιν,
οὔτε γέρων πολύμοχθος ἄτερ σέο γίγνεται ἀνήρ·        10
πάντων γὰρ κρατέεις μούνη καὶ πᾶσιν ἀνάσσεις.
ἀλλά, θεά, μόλε μυστιπόλοις ἐπιτάρροθος αἰεὶ
ῥυομένη νούσων χαλεπῶν κακόποτμον ἀνίην.
For a commentary see Ricciardelli, pp. 485-487.

Related post: Hymn to Health.

Monday, March 30, 2020



Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson, Vol. I (London: George Allen Unwin Ltd., 1926), p. 83:
Home, for Classical man, is what he can see from the citadel of his native town and no more. All that lay beyond the visual range of this political atom was alien, and hostile to boot; beyond that narrow range, fear set in at once, and hence the appalling bitterness with which these petty towns strove to destroy one another.


Morrison's Pill

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Past and Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927), pp. 23-24:
How it is to be cured? Brothers, I am sorry I have got no Morrison's Pill for curing the maladies of Society. It were infinitely handier if we had a Morrison's Pill, Act of Parliament, or remedial measure, which men could swallow, one good time, and then go on in their old courses, cleared from all miseries and mischiefs! Unluckily we have none such; unluckily the Heavens themselves, in their rich pharmacopoeia, contain none such. There will no 'thing' be done that will cure you. There will a radical universal alteration of your regimen and way of life take place; there will a most agonising divorce between you and your chimeras, luxuries and falsities, take place; a most toilsome, all but 'impossible' return to Nature, and her veracities, and her integrities, take place: that so the inner fountains of life may again begin, like eternal Light-fountains, to irradiate and purify your bloated, swollen, foul existence, drawing nigh, as at present, to nameless death! Either death or else all this will take place. Judge if, with such diagnosis, any Morrison's Pill is like to be discoverable!


Prayers to Artemis

Greek Anthology 6.240 (by Philippus; tr. W.R. Paton):
Archer daughter of Zeus and Leo, Artemis, watcher of wild creatures, who dwellest in the recesses of the hills, this very day send the hated sickness from our best of emperors forth even unto the Hyperboreans. For Philippus will offer o'er thy altars smoke of frankincense, sacrificing a mountain boar.

Ζηνὸς καὶ Λητοῦς θηροσκόπε τοξότι κούρη,
    Ἄρτεμις, ἣ θαλάμους τοὺς ὀρέων ἔλαχες,
νοῦσον τὴν στυγερὴν αὐθημερὸν ἐκ βασιλῆος
    ἐσθλοτατου πέμψαις ἄχρις Ὑπερβορέων·
σοὶ γὰρ ὑπὲρ βωμῶν ἀτμὸν λιβάνοιο Φίλιππος
    ῥέξει, καλλιθυτῶν κάπρον ὀρειονόμον.
Orphic Hymns 36.14-17 (to Artemis; tr. Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow):
Come, dear goddess,
as savior to all the initiates,
accessible to all, bringing forth
the beautiful fruit of the earth,
lovely peace,
and fair-tressed health.
May you dispatch diseases and pain
to the peaks of the mountains.

ἐλθέ, θεὰ σώτειρα, φίλη, μύστῃσιν ἅπασιν
εὐάντητος, ἄγουσα καλοὺς καρποὺς ἀπὸ γαίης
εἰρήνην τ' ἐρατὴν καλλιπλόκαμον θ' ὑγίειαν·
πέμποις δ' εἰς ὀρέων κεφαλὰς νούσους τε καὶ ἄλγη.
Richard Wünsch (1869-1915) first used the terms apopompē (ἀποπομπή) and epipompē (ἐπιπομπή) to describe two different ways of banishing evil. See his "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13/14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else or to some other specific location. The two prayers to Artemis quoted above are examples of epipompē.

Sunday, March 29, 2020



Lucian, Icaromenippus 30 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
They lick the filth off pennies.

περιλείχουσι τῶν ὀβολῶν τὸν ῥύπον.



Beth Greenfield, "Coronavirus sends city dwellers fleeing to second homes, inflaming tensions in towns across the nation," Yahoo! Lifestyle (March 24, 2020):
Meanwhile, the Maine island of North Haven voted to immediately ban visitors and seasonal residents to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Outer Banks of North Carolina have closed to non-residents, the mayor of the tiny Village of Ruidoso in New Mexico issued an executive order asking visitors and second homeowners to stay away and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts has urged second homeowners to nix plans to hunker down on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
John Reinan, "Minnesotans hunker down at cabins to escape coronavirus," Minneapolis Star Tribune (March 28, 2020):
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads and social distancing becomes the norm, many urban residents are taking flight to their quieter digs in cabin country, hunkering down with books, board games and movies. While their presence may be unpopular with some year-round residents hoping to keep COVID-19 from spreading, the urban evacuees say it makes sense to hibernate.
Genesis 19.20 (KJV):
See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.
The little city is Zoar.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


The Safety of the Fatherland

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Discourses on Livy 3.41 (tr. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov):
[T]he fatherland is well defended in whatever mode one defends it, whether with ignominy or with glory....That advice deserves to be noted and observed by any citizen who finds himself counseling his fatherland, for where one deliberates entirely on the safety of his fatherland, there ought not to enter any consideration of either just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or ignominious; indeed every other concern put aside, one ought to follow entirely the policy that saves its life and maintains its liberty.

[L]a patria è bene difesa in qualunque modo la si difende, o con ignominia o con gloria....La quale cosa merita di essere notata ed osservata da qualunque cittadino si truova a consigliare la patria sua: perché dove si dilibera al tutto della salute della patria, non vi debbe cadere alcuna considerazione né di giusto né d'ingiusto, né di piatoso né di crudele, né di laudabile né d'ignominioso; anzi, posposto ogni altro rispetto, seguire al tutto quel partito che le salvi la vita e mantenghile la libertà.



Heraclitus, fragment 53 Diels-Kranz (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
War is the father of all and the king of all;
some he has marked out to be gods and some to be men,
some he has made slaves and some free.

πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς,
καὶ τοὺς μὲν θεοὺς ἔδειξε τοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους,
τοὺς μὲν δούλους ἐποίησε τοὺς δὲ ἐλευθέρους.

Friday, March 27, 2020


Obstacles to Truth

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books E.195 (tr. Norman Alliston):
Truth has a thousand obstacles to overcome in order to reach paper safe and sound, and a thousand more to travel back from paper to head. Liars are its feeblest enemies. The gushing writer who talks of everything under the sun, and views that everything like other honest people who happen to be slightly off their heads; the superfine, affected student of human nature, who, like angels in a monad, sees and intends to see his whole life reflected in every human action; the worthy, pious man, who believes everything out of respect, examines nothing that he learnt before his fifteenth year, and builds on unexamined ground the little that he has examined,—these are truth's dangerous enemies.

Die Wahrheit hat tausend Hindernisse zu überwinden, um unbeschädigt zu Papier zu kommen, und von Papier wieder zu Kopf. Die Lügner sind ihre schwächsten Feinde. Der enthusiastische Schriftsteller, der von allen Dingen spricht und alle Dinge ansieht, wie andere ehrliche Leute, wenn sie einen Hieb haben, ferner der superfeine erkünstelte Menschenkenner, der in jeder Handlung eines Mannes, wie Engel in einer Monade, sein ganzes Leben sich abspiegeln sieht, und sehen will, der gute fromme Mann, der überall aus Respekt glaubt, nichts untersucht, was er vor dem 15. Jahr gelernt hat, und sein bißgen Untersuchtes auf [un]untersuchten Grund baut, dieses sind Feinde der Wahrheit.


Castles In the Air

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), "The Counter-Enlightenment," Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: The Viking Press, 1980), pp. 1-24 (at 8):
Hamann took little interest in theories or speculations about the external world; he cared only for the inner personal life of the individual, and therefore only for art, religious experience, the senses, personal relationships, which the analytic truths of scientific reason seemed to him to reduce to meaningless ciphers. 'God is a poet, not a mathematician', and it is men who, like Kant, suffer from a 'gnostic hatred of matter' that provide us with endless verbal constructions — words that are taken for concepts, and worse still, concepts that are taken for real things. Scientists invent systems, philosophers rearrange reality into artificial patterns, shut their eyes to reality, and build castles in the air. 'When data are given you, why do you seek for ficta?' Systems are mere prisons of the spirit, and they lead not only to distortion in the sphere of knowledge, but to the erection of monstrous bureaucratic machines, built in accordance with the rules that ignore the teeming variety of the living world, the untidy and asymmetrical inner lives of men, and crush them into conformity for the sake of some ideological chimera unrelated to the union of spirit and flesh that constitutes the real world.
Id., p. 12 (on Herder):
To belong to a given community, to be connected with its members by indissoluble and impalpable ties of common language, historical memory, habit, tradition and feeling, is a basic human need no less natural than that for food or drink or security or procreation. One nation can understand and sympathise with the institutions of another only because it knows how much its own mean to itself. Cosmopolitanism is the shedding of all that makes one most human, most oneself.
Id., p. 22:
The philosophes proposed to rationalise communication by inventing a universal language free from the irrational survivals, the idiosyncratic twists and turns, the capricious peculiarities of existing tongues; if they were to succeed, this would be disastrous, for it is precisely the individual historical development of a language that belongs to a people that absorbs, enshrines and encapsulates a vast wealth of half-conscious, half-remembered collective experience. What men call superstition and prejudice are but the crust of custom which by sheer survival has shown itself proof against the ravages and vicissitudes of its long life; to lose it is to lose the shield that protects men's national existence, their spirit, the habits, memories, faith that have made them what they are.



Lucian, Icaromenippus 30 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Worst of all, though they themselves do no good either in public or in private life but are useless and superfluous,
'Neither in war nor in council of any account,'1
nevertheless they accuse everyone else; they amass biting phrases and school themselves in novel terms of abuse, and then they censure and reproach their fellow-men; and whoever of them is the most noisy and impudent and reckless in calling names is held to be the champion.

1 Iliad 2, 202.

τὸ δὲ πάντων δεινότατον, ὅτι μηδὲν αὐτοὶ μήτε κοινὸν μήτε ἴδιον ἐπιτελοῦντες, ἀλλ᾽ ἀχρεῖοι καὶ περιττοὶ καθεστῶτες
οὔτε ποτ᾽ ἐν πολέμῳ ἐναρίθμιοι οὔτ᾽ ἐνὶ βουλῇ,
ὅμως τῶν ἄλλων κατηγοροῦσι καὶ λόγους τινὰς πικροὺς συμφορήσαντες καὶ λοιδορίας καινὰς ἐκμεμελετηκότες ἐπιτιμῶσι καὶ ὀνειδίζουσι τοῖς πλησίον, καὶ οὗτος αὐτῶν τὰ πρῶτα φέρεσθαι δοκεῖ ὃς ἂν μεγαλοφωνότατός τε ᾖ καὶ ἰταμώτατος καὶ πρὸς τὰς βλασφημίας θρασύτατος.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


The Veronese Riddle

Giulio Lepschy, "History of the Italian Language," in Gaetana Marrone, Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, Vol. 1: A-J (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 967-970 (at 967):
Frequently collections of Early Italian texts begin with documents for which it is difficult to say if they are in Latin or in Italian, such as the Indovinello veronese (Veronese Riddle), penned at the beginning of the ninth century (or possibly earlier) on a page of a prayer book prepared in the seventh or eighth century and now preserved in the Chapter Library at Verona. The text says: "se pareba boves alba pratalia araba & albo versorio teneba & negro semen seminaba" (He was driving oxen, ploughing white meadows and holding a white plough and sowing black seed. This is one of the many possible interpretations).

The riddle is apparently about oxen and ploughing and sowing, and the solution is the quill used for writing, leaving ink traces on the page. Linguistically, certain features are clearly Latin (b instead of v in the imperfect endings of pareba, araba, teneba, seminaba; the consonant endings in boves and semen; the voiceless t instead of d in pratalia). Others are, equally clearly, vernacular (the dropping of the consonantal endings in the -ba instead of –bat suffixes; the endings in –o instead of –um in albo, versorio, negro; the pronoun se instead of sibi).
See also Francesca Guerra D'Antoni, "A New Perspective on the Veronese Riddle," Romance Philology 36.2 (November, 1982) 185-200.

Related posts:


Freedom of Religion

Cassiodorus, Variae 10.26.4 (King Theodahad to Emperor Justinian, anno 535; tr. S.J.B. Barnish):
Indeed, I do not presume to exercise judgement in those cases where I have no special mandate. For, since the Deity allows various religions to exist, I do not dare to impose one alone.

earum siquidem rerum iudicium non praesumimus, unde mandatum specialiter non habemus. nam cum divinitas patiatur diversas religiones esse, nos unam non audemus imponere.


A Real Bonny Folk

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Catriona, chapter 30 (Alan Breck speaking):
'They're a real bonny folk, the French nation.'

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


The Elimination of the Best

Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987), "Declines and Falls," The American Scholar 49.1 (Winter, 1980) 37-50 (at 41-42):
"Die Ausrottung der Besten" ("The elimination of the best") by Otto Seeck ... produced a sensation when it appeared in the first volume of his monumental Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt in 1895 — the year, incidentally, in which Brooks Adams published his Law of Civilization and Decay — but the outlines had already been given in the Deutsche Rundschau of 1892. Seeck maintained that an inverted Darwinism could explain the decline of the ancient world in the sense that the political developments of antiquity had implied a continuous elimination of the best elements of society. Social struggles, external wars, and, later, religious persecutions ended regularly in the murder of the most able and morally serious opponents. As the elimination of rivals was in the nature of ancient political struggles, according to Seeck, it was almost a tautology to conclude that only opportunists saved their skins in defeat. Contrary to a widespread legend, there was no vulgar racism in Seeck, who was one of the very few Geman historians to recognize the high level of spiritual creativity of the Jews throughout the centuries.

Julius Beloch, who in 1900 undertook to refute Seeck in the Historische Zeitschrift, was in fact not so distant from him as he thought he was. Beloch too, in his own way, emphasized the elimination of the best, but put the responsibility for the elimination of the best squarely on the shoulders of the Romans. By destroying Greek liberty, the Romans destroyed the roots of ancient civilization. The Roman soldier who murdered Archimedes in Syracuse at the end of the third century B.C. was the symbol of Rome murdering Greece. Not ancient Rome but Renaissance Florence was the heir of Athens in the eyes of this German professor, transplanted to Rome. Both Seeck and Beloch, though purporting to explain the end of ancient civilization — that is, the end of the Roman Empire — discovered the causes in a process which started many centuries before the fall of the Western Empire and had its center in Greece rather than in Rome. By some sort of teleological projection, which Arnold Toynbee was later to share, Rome was made to fall in consequence of the decline of Greece.


Airborne Contagion

Lucretius 6.1128-1130 (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Or else this force remains poised in the air itself,
and, when we draw in these mingled airs as we breathe,
it must needs be that we suck in these plagues with them into our body.

aut etiam suspensa manet vis aere in ipso
et, cum spirantes mixtas hinc ducimus auras,
illa quoque in corpus pariter sorbere necessest.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Rereading Thucydides

K.J. Dover (1920-2010), Thucydides (1973; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979 = Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, 7), p. 44:
It is the common experience of people who study Thucydides intensively over a long period that one goes on indefinitely noticing things in him which one has not noticed before. This could be said of other authors too, but in most cases the returns diminish; in the case of Thucydides there always seems to remain the possibility that something really important is still waiting to be noticed. The chief reason for this is the degree to which he manifests the Attic versatility which his Pericles praises in ii.41.1. He had the ambition to be scientific, to make human history intelligible, and also the ambition to be admired as an artist; the self-confidence of an aristocrat, a sense of intellectual superiority which did not allow him seriously to consider that his verdicts might need to be reconsidered by others, the strong reactions we would expect of a man brought up in a society which valued sensibility—and with all that, a genuine understanding of the difference between facts and values and of the intellectual and moral failures which can result from not understanding that difference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020



Lucretius 6.1226-1229 (tr. W.H.D. Rouse, rev. Martin F. Smith):
Nor was any kind of remedy general and certain; for what had given one the power to draw the breath of life into his lips and to behold the regions of heaven, this to others was poison and brought them death.

nec ratio remedii communis certa dabatur;
nam quod ali dederat vitalis aeris auras
volvere in ore licere et caeli templa tueri,
hoc aliis erat exitio letumque parabat.
Thucydides 2.51.2 (tr. Charles Forster Smith):
And no one remedy was found, I may say, which was sure to bring relief to those applying it — for what helped one man hurt another ...

ἕν τε οὐδὲν κατέστη ἴαμα ὡς εἰπεῖν ὅ τι χρῆν προσφέροντας ὠφελεῖν (τὸ γάρ τῳ ξυνενεγκὸν ἄλλον τοῦτο ἔβλαπτε) ...

Michael Sweerts (1618-1664), Plague in an Ancient City
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art, AC1997.10.1)

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



Lucian, Icaromenippus 29 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
There is a class of men which made its appearance in the world not long ago, lazy, disputatious, vainglorious, quick-tempered, gluttonous, doltish, addle-pated, full of effrontery and to use the language of Homer, 'a useless load to the soil'.1 Well, these people, dividing themselves into schools and inventing various word-mazes, have called themselves Stoics, Academics, Epicureans, Peripatetics and other things much more laughable than these. Then, cloaking themselves in the high-sounding name of Virtue, elevating their eyebrows, wrinkling up their foreheads and letting their beards grow long, they go about hiding loathsome habits under a false garb, very like actors in tragedy; for if you take away from the latter their masks and their gold-embroidered robes, nothing is left but a comical little creature hired for the show at seven drachmas.

1 Iliad 18, 104.

γένος γάρ τι ἀνθρώπων ἐστὶν οὐ πρὸ πολλοῦ τῷ βίῳ ἐπιπολάσαν ἀργὸν φιλόνεικον κενόδοξον ὀξύχολον ὑπόλιχνον ὑπόμωρον τετυφωμένον ὕβρεως ἀνάπλεων καὶ ἵνα καθ᾿ Ὅμηρον εἴπω 'ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης.' οὗτοι τοίνυν εἰς συστήματα διαιρεθέντες καὶ διαφόρους λόγων λαβυρίνθους ἐπινοήσαντες οἱ μὲν Στωϊκοὺς ὠνομάκασιν ἑαυτούς, οἱ δὲ Ἀκαδημαϊκούς, οἱ δὲ Ἐπικουρείους, οἱ δὲ Περιπατητικοὺς καὶ ἄλλα πολλῷ γελοιότερα τούτων· ἔπειτα δὲ ὄνομα σεμνὸν τὴν ἀρετὴν περιθέμενοι καὶ τὰς ὀφρῦς ἐπάραντες καὶ τὰ μέτωπα ῥυτιδώσαντες1 καὶ τοὺς πώγωνας ἐπισπασάμενοι περιέρχονται ἐπιπλάστῳ σχήματι κατάπτυστα ἤθη περιστέλλοντες, ἐμφερεῖς μάλιστα τοῖς τραγικοῖς ἐκείνοις ὑποκριταῖς, ὧν ἢν ἀφέλῃ τις τὰ προσωπεῖα καὶ τὴν χρυσόπαστον ἐκείνην στολήν, τὸ καταλειπόμενόν ἐστι γελοῖον ἀνθρώπιον ἑπτὰ δραχμῶν ἐς τὸν ἀγῶνα μεμισθωμένον.


The Ptolemaic System of History

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson, Vol. I (London: George Allen Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 17-18:
The ground of West Europe is treated as a steady pole, a unique patch chosen on the surface of the sphere for no better reason, it seems, than because we live on it — and great histories of millennial duration and mighty far-away Cultures are made to revolve around this pole in all modesty. It is a quaintly conceived system of sun and planets! We select a single bit of ground as the natural centre of the historical system, and make it the central sun. From it all the events of history receive their real light, from it their importance is judged in perspective. But it is in our own West-European conceit alone that this phantom "world-history," which a breath of scepticism would dissipate, is acted out.

We have to thank that conceit for the immense optical illusion (become natural from long habit) whereby distant histories of thousands of years, such as those of China and Egypt, are made to shrink to the dimensions of mere episodes while in the neighbourhood of our own position the decades since Luther, and particularly since Napoleon, loom large as Brocken-spectres. We know quite well that the slowness with which a high cloud or a railway train in the distance seems to move is only apparent, yet we believe that the tempo of all early Indian, Babylonian or Egyptian history was really slower than that of our own recent past. And we think of them as less substantial, more damped-down, more diluted, because we have not learned to make the allowance for (inward and outward) distances.

It is self-evident that for the Cultures of the West the existence of Athens, Florence or Paris is more important than that of Lo-Yang or Pataliputra. But is it permissible to found a scheme of world-history on estimates of such a sort? If so, then the Chinese historian is quite entitled to frame a world-history in which the Crusades, the Renaissance, Caesar and Frederick the Great are passed over in silence as insignificant. How, from the morphological point of view, should our 18th Century be more important than any other of the sixty centuries that preceded it? Is it not ridiculous to oppose a "modern" history of a few centuries, and that history to all intents localized in West Europe, to an "ancient" history which covers as many millennia — incidentally dumping into that "ancient history" the whole mass of the pre-Hellenic cultures, unprobed and unordered, as mere appendix-matter? This is no exaggeration. Do we not, for the sake of keeping the hoary scheme, dispose of Egypt and Babylon — each as an individual and self-contained history quite equal in the balance to our so-called “world-history” from Charlemagne to the World-War and well beyond it — as a prelude to classical history? Do we not relegate the vast complexes of Indian and Chinese culture to foot-notes, with a gesture of embarrassment? As for the great American cultures, do we not, on the ground that they do not "fit in" (with what?), entirely ignore them?

The most appropriate designation for this current West-European scheme of history, in which the great Cultures are made to follow orbits round us as the presumed centre of all world-happenings, is the Ptolemaic system of history. The system that is put forward in this work in place of it I regard as the Copernican discovery in the historical sphere, in that it admits no sort of privileged position to the Classical or the Western Culture as against the Cultures of India, Babylon, China, Egypt, the Arabs, Mexico — separate worlds of dynamic being which in point of mass count for just as much in the general picture of history as the Classical, while frequently surpassing it in point of spiritual greatness and soaring power.
Id., p. 30:
The audacious descriptions of Aristophanes, Juvenal or Petronius of life in the Classical cities — the southern dirt and riff-raff, terrors and brutalities, pleasure-boys and Phrynes, phallus worship and imperial orgies — excite the enthusiasm of the student and the dilettante, who find the same realities in the world-cities of to-day too lamentable and repulsive to face. "In the cities life is bad; there are too many of the lustful." — also sprach Zarathustra. They commend the state-sense of the Romans, but despise the man of to-day who permits himself any contact with public affairs. There is a type of scholar whose clarity of vision comes under some irresistible spell when it turns from a frock-coat to a toga, from a British football-ground to a Byzantine circus, from a transcontinental railway to a Roman road in the Alps, from a thirty-knot destroyer to a trireme, from Prussian bayonets to Roman spears — nowadays, even, from a modern engineer's Suez Canal to that of a Pharaoh. He would admit a steam-engine as a symbol of human passion and an expression of intellectual force if it were Hero of Alexandria who invented it, not otherwise. To such it seems blasphemous to talk of Roman central-heating or book-keeping in preference to the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods.
Id., p. 32:
So, for the first time, we are enabled to understand the Romans as the successors of the Greeks, and light is projected into the deepest secrets of the late-Classical period. What, but this, can be the meaning of the fact — which can only be disputed by vain phrases — that the Romans were barbarians who did not precede but closed a great development? Unspiritual, unphilosophical, devoid of art, clannish to the point of brutality, aiming relentlessly at tangible successes, they stand between the Hellenic Culture and nothingness.
In place of a type-true people, born of and grown on the soil, there is a new sort of nomad, cohering unstably in fluid masses, the parasitical city dweller, traditionless, utterly matter-of-fact, religionless, clever, unfruitful, deeply contemptuous of the countryman and especially that highest form of countryman, the country gentleman.
Id., p. 33:
The world-city means cosmopolitanism in place of "home,"3 cold matter-of-fact in place of reverence for tradition and age, scientific irreligion as a fossil representative of the older religion of the heart, "society" in place of the state, natural instead of hard-earned rights.

3A profound word which obtains its significance as soon as the barbarian becomes a culture-man and loses it again as soon as the civilization-man takes up the motto "Ubi bene, ibi patria."

Monday, March 23, 2020



Joseph P. Byrne, Daily Life During the Black Death (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006), p. 41, with note on p. 62:
John of Gaddesden wrote The English Rose in Latin about 1314, and nearly two centuries later (1491) it became the first printed medical text by an English author. John wrote that
during pestilence everyone over seven should be made to vomit daily from an empty stomach, and twice a week, or more if necessary; he should lie well wrapped up in a warm bed and drink warm ale with ginger so that he sweats copiously ... And as soon as he feels an itch or prickling in his flesh he must use a goblet or cupping horn to let blood and draw down the blood from the heart.
Aiding evacuation was the heart of the apothecary's art: laxatives, purgatives, diuretics, and suppositories were literally his stock in trade. And it could be a stinky trade at that. In his fictional dialogue on plague time William Bullein has his greedy apothecary lie to keep a visitor away from his rich patient's house: "[H]e hath taken a purgation, which has cast such an air abroad that I was not able to abide in the chamber. I had forgotten my perfumes to make all well against your coming."5

5. Maria Kelly, The Great Dying (Stroud, Gloucs., England: Tempus, 2003), pp. 115–16; William Bullein, A dialogue against the fever pestilence (Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1987), p. 20.
I might be willing to try the ale with ginger.


The Hollow Men

Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645), "Desengaño de la exterior apariencia con el examen interior y verdadero" (tr. Eric Thomson):
Do you see this stout Giant
parading with haughty gravity?
Well, inside he's all rags and stuffing,
which some hireling holds aloft.

Alive and animate he moves about,
condescending where his mighty spirit wills,
yet examine his stiff demeanour
and you'll scorn his painted pomp.

Such are the grandiose appearances
of Tyrants and their vain illusions,
grotesque and preeminent dross.

See how they're ablaze in purple, their fingers gleaming
with diamonds and precious stones
while inside — nausea, filth and worms.

¿Miras este Gigante corpulento
que con soberbia y gravedad camina?
Pues por de dentro es trapos y fajina,
y un ganapán le sirve de cimiento.

Con su alma vive y tiene movimiento,
y adonde quiere su grandeza inclina,
Mas quien su aspecto rígido examina
desprecia su figura y ornamento.

Tales son las grandezas aparentes
de la vana ilusión de los tiranos,
fantásticas escorias eminentes.

¿Veslos arder en púrpura, y sus manos
en diamantes y piedras diferentes?
Pues asco dentro son, tierra y gusanos.
Another translation, by Willis Barnstone in Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993), p. 29:
Do you see this fat giant of a man
strolling along with haughty gravity?
Well, inside he's a mess of rags, a pan
of trash, a young brat keeps from anarchy.

He moves about, parading his live soul,
and aims his greatness anywhere he wants;
yet gaze astutely at this emerald mole,
you'll laugh at all the ornaments he flaunts.

Such are the grandiose and pretentious ways
of tyrants living by their vain illusions,
those eminent, fantastic bags of germs.

They burn in purple as their fingers blaze
with diamonds and hard gems in white profusion,
while inside they are nausea, earth, and worms.
See Tyler Fisher, "Giants on Parade, Tyrants Aflame in Quevedo's Sonnet 'Desengaño de la exterior apariencia'," in Aaron M. Kahn, ed., On Wolves and Sheep: Exploring the Expression of Political Thought in Golden Age Spain (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), pp. 197-211.


The Life of Man

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Catriona (Conclusion):
For the life of man upon this world of ours is a funny business. They talk of the angels weeping; but I think they must more often be holding their sides as they look on ...

Sunday, March 22, 2020


The Arrows of Death

Nathaniel Hodges (1629-1688), Loimologia: Or, An Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665 (London: E. Bell, 1720), p. 31:
The Sacred Pages clearly and demonstratively prove, that the Almighty, by his Authority, and at his Pleasure, may draw the Sword, bend the Bow, or shoot the Arrows of Death ...



Martin L. West (1937-2015), Studies in Aeschylus (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1990), pp. 371-372:
More recently we have been advised by H. Neitzel:
Wer mit Dawes Sammlung von Konjekturen zu Aischylos (Leiden 1965) vertraut ist und die Geschichte der Kritik am Agamemnontext kennt, weiss, in welche Irrgänge sich die Interpreten zuweilen verloren haben. Sieht man von der Korrektur offensichtlicher Schreibfehler ab, so konvergiert die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Erwartung, durch Eingriffe in die Uberlieferung könne das Richtige getroffen werden, schon bei der Veränderung nur eines einzigen Buchstabens gegen Null.54
Here again we encounter the notion that once we have corrected a limited number of obvious copying errors, the text of Aeschylus lies before us as sound as we can expect to get it, wanting only sympathetic interpretation to disclose its secrets. Neitzel's argument, if I follow him correctly, seems to be that because tens of thousands of bad conjectures have been made and a relatively small number of good ones, the modern emender has an overwhelming statistical probability against him. This is like saying that because most violinists cannot play Paganini's Caprices adequately, no violinist should undertake to play them, as his chances of success are statistically very slight. The implied premise is that the violinist (or the textual critic) has no idea whether he is an expert practitioner of his art or an ill-equipped pretender. If a scholar is well attuned to Aeschylus and possesses an accurate knowledge of the poet's style and of all the relevant technicalities, and if he is able clearly to identify the nature of a given textual problem, and finds a solution which satisfies the three criteria for a true reading55, then his chances of success are at least fair, and not diminished in the least by the quantity of the rubbish that Wecklein and Dawe have raked together.

54) Gnomon 59 (1987) 481. He proceeds to illustrate his conclusion by arguing against the necessity for two particular conjectures that are widely accepted; as if this would indicate that conjectures in general are unnecessary.

55) I refer to those formulated in my Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, 48.
Martin L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1973), p. 48:
Sometimes this is a matter of choosing between transmitted variants, sometimes it is a matter of going beyond them and emending the text by conjecture, or adopting an emendation already proposed. We will consider these alternatives separately; the requirements which a satisfactory solution must fulfil are the same in both cases.

1. It must correspond in sense to what the author intended to say, so far as this can be determined from the context.

2. It must correspond in language, style, and any relevant technical points (metre, prose rhythm, avoidance of hiatus, etc.) to a way in which the author might naturally have expressed that sense.

3. It must be fully compatible with the fact that the surviving sources give what they do; in other words it must be clear how the presumed original reading could have been corrupted into any different reading that is transmitted.



Pliny the Elder, Natural History 3.39 (tr. H. Rackham):
I am well aware that I may with justice be considered ungrateful and lazy if I describe in this casual and cursory manner a land which is at once the nursling and the mother of all other lands, chosen by the providence of the gods to make heaven itself more glorious, to unite scattered empires, to make manners gentle, to draw together in converse by community of language the jarring and uncouth tongues of so many nations, to give mankind civilisation, and in a word to become throughout the world the single fatherland of all the races.

nec ignoro ingrati ac segnis animi existimari posse merito, si obiter atque in transcursu ad hunc modum dicatur terra omnium terrarum alumna eadem et parens, numine deum electa quae caelum ipsum clarius faceret, sparsa congregaret imperia ritusque molliret et tot populorum discordes ferasque linguas sermonis commercio contraheret ad colloquia et humanitatem homini daret breviterque una cunctarum gentium in toto orbe patria fieret.


Not Slaves

Aeschylus, Persians 241-242 (tr. Alan Sommerstein):
And who is the shepherd, master and commander over their host?
They are not called slaves or subjects to any man.

τίς δὲ ποιμάνωρ ἔπεστι κἀπιδεσπόζει στρατῷ;
οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ᾿ ὑπήκοοι.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Parturient Montes, Nascetur Ridiculus Mus

Rhys Blakely, "I saw a mouse. Where? There, 22,000ft up a volcano," The Times (March 21, 2020):
On the peak of a volcano miles above sea-level, in a freezing, oxygen-starved environment so hostile as to be compared to Mars, there lives a tiny mouse.

Scientists have captured a specimen of the highest-dwelling mammal in the world, the yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse, found at the summit of Llullaillaco, a volcano in the Andes that rises more than 6,700m (22,000ft) above sea level. The average temperature is minus 15C and there is only half as much oxygen in each gasp of air as at sea level.

A team of biologists made the trip to the peak last month after mountaineers reported seeing rodents on Llullaillaco. They spent weeks on the mountain and eventually succeeded in trapping a mouse.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who commented, "The Times used to be known as The Thunderer. Their correspondent is here offered a none-too-recherché Horatian tag on a plate and there's not even a glancing allusion to it."

Friday, March 20, 2020


Religious Zeal

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XVII.24 (tr. Henri van Laun):
What excesses will a man not commit through his zeal for a religion, of the truth of which he is not entirely convinced, and which he practises so badly?

Jusques où les hommes ne se portent-ils point par l'intérêt de la religion, dont ils sont si peu persuadés, et qu'ils pratiquent si mal!



Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Religio Medici II, 8:
[W]ee doe but learne to day, what our better advanced judgements will unteach to morrow: and Aristotle doth but instruct us as Plato did him; that is, to confute himselfe. I have runne through all sorts, yet finde no rest in any, though our first studies & junior endeavors may stile us Peripateticks, Stoicks, or Academicks, yet I perceive the wisest heads prove at last, almost all Scepticks, and stand like Janus in the field of knowledge. I have therefore on common and authentick Philosophy I learned in the Schooles, whereby I discourse and satisfie the reason of other men, another more reserved and drawne from experience, whereby I content mine owne. Solomon that complained of ignorance in the height of knowledge, hath not onely humbled my conceits, but discouraged my endeavours.
"on common," i.e. "one common".

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


The Tide Has Turned

Martin L. West (1937-2015), Studies in Aeschylus (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1990), pp. 355-356 (footnote omitted):
The period of manuscript transmission serveyed in the last chapter might be described as half a millennium of more or less continual deterioration of the Aeschylean text. Since then the tide has turned, and another half millennium has elapsed during which hundreds upon hundreds of corruptions that affected the medieval text have been progressively identified and cleared away.

There are of course many contradictory fluxes in tides. Certain medieval scribes were capable of improving the text by conjecture. Some of their attempts only resulted in deeper corruption, but sometimes they did succeed in restoring the truth. Conversely, the waves of printed editions that have rolled in since 1518 have not uniformly crept higher up the shores of enlightenment. But the overall movement has been steadily upward. Each successive century has brought a purer and more intelligible text, as understanding of Aeschylus' thought, language, style and metres has grown more refined. By the end of the sixteenth century more than five hundred errors had been corrected. But well over a thousand still remained. If one looks at Schütz's edition of 1782-1797, the best of its time, one finds many passages, especially in the lyrics, from which no coherent sense had yet come into sight: the student of Aeschylus was still moving through patchy fog. Things are much clearer today. But even now many problems remain unsolved and probably — unless papyri come to our aid — insoluble. We shall never be able to restore the text just as Aeschylus wrote it. Even if we did, we would not know we had done so, and many scholars would continue to dispute the necessity for the emendations that had brought us to that goal. Yet no one in his senses would deny that we are nowadays immeasurably closer to it than were our colleagues of five hundred years ago, or that the intellectual efforts which have been responsible for this progress must be sustained.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


The Best Books

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Sunday):
It would be worth the while to select our reading, for books are the society we keep; to read only the serenely true; never statistics, nor fiction, nor news, nor reports, nor periodicals, but only great poems, and when they failed, read them again, or perchance write more. Instead of other sacrifice, we might offer up our perfect (τελεία) thoughts to the gods daily, in hymns or psalms. For we should be at the helm at least once a day. The whole of the day should not be daytime; there should be one hour, if no more, which the day did not bring forth. Scholars are wont to sell their birthright for a mess of learning. But is it necessary to know what the speculator prints, or the thoughtless study, or the idle read, the literature of the Russians and the Chinese, or even French philosophy and much of German criticism? Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all. "There are the worshipers with offerings, and the worshipers with mortifications; and again the worshipers with enthusiastic devotion; so there are those the wisdom of whose reading is their worship, men of subdued passions and severe manners;—This world is not for him who doth not worship; and where, O Arjoon, is there another?" Certainly, we do not need to be soothed and entertained always like children. He who resorts to the easy novel, because he is languid, does no better than if he took a nap. The front aspect of great thoughts can only be enjoyed by those who stand on the side whence they arrive. Books, not which afford us a cowering enjoyment, but in which each thought is of unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, and a timid one would not be entertained by, which even make us dangerous to existing institutions,—such call I good books.

All that are printed and bound are not books; they do not necessarily belong to letters, but are oftener to be ranked with the other luxuries and appendages of civilized life. Base wares are palmed off under a thousand disguises.



Lucian, Icaromenippus 25 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Pursuing such topics, we came to the place where he had to sit and hear the prayers. There was a row of openings like mouths of wells, with covers on them, and beside each stood a golden throne. Sitting down by the first one, Zeus took off the cover and gave his attention to the people who were praying. The prayers came from all parts of the world and were of all sorts and kinds, for I myself bent over the orifice and listened to them along with him. They went like this; "O Zeus, may I succeed in becoming king!" "O Zeus, make my onions and my garlic grow!" "O ye gods, let my father die quickly!"; and now and then one or another would say: "O that I may inherit my wife's property!" "O that I may be undetected in my plot against my brother!" "May I succeed in winning my suit!" "Let me win the wreath at the Olympic games!" Among seafaring men, one was praying for the north wind to blow, another for the south wind; and the farmers were praying for rain while the washermen were praying for sunshine.

Τοιαῦθ᾿ ἅμα διεξιόντες ἀφικνούμεθα ἐς τὸ χωρίον ἔνθα ἔδει αὐτὸν καθεζόμενον διακοῦσαι τῶν εὐχῶν. θυρίδες δὲ ἦσαν ἑξῆς τοῖς στομίοις τῶν φρεάτων ἐοικυῖαι πώματα ἔχουσαι, καὶ παρ᾿ ἑκάστῃ θρόνος ἔκειτο χρυσοῦς. καθίσας οὖν ἑαυτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς πρώτης ὁ Ζεὺς καὶ ἀφελὼν τὸ πῶμα παρεῖχε τοῖς εὐχομένοις ἑαυτόν· εὔχοντο δὲ πανταχόθεν τῆς γῆς διάφορα καὶ ποικίλα. συμπαρακύψας γὰρ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπήκουον ἅμα τῶν εὐχῶν. ἦσαν δὲ τοιαίδε, "Ὦ Ζεῦ, βασιλεῦσαί μοι γένοιτο·" "Ὦ Ζεῦ, τὰ κρόμμυά μοι φῦναι καὶ τὰ σκόροδα·" "Ὦ θεοί, τὸν πατέρα μοι ταχέως ἀποθανεῖν·" ὁ δέ τις ἂν ἔφη, "Εἴθε κληρονομήσαιμι τῆς γυναικός," "Εἴθε λάθοιμι ἐπιβουλεύσας τῷ ἀδελφῷ," "Γένοιτό μοι νικῆσαι τὴν δίκην," "Δὸς στεφθῆναι τὰ Ὀλύμπια." τῶν πλεόντων δὲ ὁ μὲν βορέαν εὔχετο ἐπιπνεῦσαι, ὁ δὲ νότον, ὁ δὲ γεωργὸς ᾔτει ὑετόν, ὁ δὲ γναφεὺς ἥλιον.


True Freedom

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Freedom and its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty (London: Chatto & Windus, 2002), pp. 103-104 (on Hegel):
The essence of liberty has always lain in the ability to choose as you wish to choose, because you wish so to choose, uncoerced, unbullied, not swallowed up in some vast system; and in the right to resist, to be unpopular, to stand up for your convictions merely because they are your convictions. That is true freedom, and without it there is neither freedom of any kind, nor even the illusion of it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020



Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Russian Thinkers (1978; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 1994), p. 148:
Turgenev's liberalism and moderation, for which he was so much criticised, took the form of holding everything in solution—of remaining outside the situation in a state of watchful and ironical detachment, uncommitted, evenly balanced—an agnostic oscillating contentedly between atheism and faith, belief in progress and scepticism, an observer in a state of cool, emotionally controlled doubt before a spectacle of life where nothing is quite what it seems, where every quality is infected by its opposite, where paths are never straight, never cross in geometrically regular patterns. For him (this is his version of the Hegelian dialectic) reality for ever escapes all artificial ideological nets, all rigid, dogmatic assumptions, defies all attempts at codification, upsets all symmetrical moral or sociological systems, and yields itself only to cautious, emotionally neutral, scrupulously empirical attempts to describe it bit by bit, as it presents itself to the curious eye of the morally disinterested observer.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


No Medicine

Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and Other Works, edited and translated by Michael Winterbottom (London: Phillimore & Co, 1978 = Arthurian Britain Sources, 7) pp. 24-25; Latin text p. 96 (De Excidio Britonum, 21):
And it was not only this vice that flourished, but all those that generally befall human nature — and especially one that is the downfall of every good condition nowadays too, the hatred of truth and its champions and the love of falsehood and its contrivers .... Every head is sick, every heart is sorrowful; from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no health in it. Everything they did went against their salvation, just as though the true doctor of us all granted the world no medicine.

Non solum vero hoc vitium, sed et omnia quae humanae naturae accedere solent, et precipue, quod et nunc quoque in ea totius boni avertit statum odium veritatis cum assertoribus amorque mendacii cum suis fabricatoribus .... Omne caput languidum et omne cor maerens: a planta pedis usque ad verticem non est in eo sanitas. Sicque agebant cuncta quae saluti contraria fuerint, ac si nihil mundo medicinae a vero omnium medico largiretur.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


The Respectable Folks

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Poems of Nature (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1895), pp. 103-104:
The respectable folks,—
Where dwell they?
They whisper in the oaks,
And they sigh in the hay;
Summer and winter, night and day,
Out on the meadow, there dwell they.
They never die,
Nor snivel, nor cry,
Nor ask our pity
With a wet eye.
A sound estate they ever mend,
To every asker readily lend;
To the ocean wealth,
To the meadow health,
To Time his length,
To the rocks strength,
To the stars light,
To the weary night,
To the busy day,
To the idle play;
And so their good cheer never ends,
For all are their debtors, and all their friends.



Thucydides 2.47.4 (tr. Charles Forster Smith):
And the supplications made at sanctuaries, or appeals to oracles and the like, were all futile, and at last men desisted from them, overcome by the calamity.

ὅσα τε πρὸς ἱεροῖς ἱκέτευσαν ἢ μαντείοις καὶ τοῖς τοιούτοις ἐχρήσαντο, πάντα ἀνωφελῆ ἦν, τελευτῶντές τε αὐτῶν ἀπέστησαν ὑπὸ τοῦ κακοῦ νικώμενοι.
Gomme ad loc.:

Monday, March 16, 2020


Coronavirus Bulletin

The Wanderer 106-107:
Eall is earfoðlic    eorþan rice:
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft    weoruld under heofonum.

All is troublesome    in this earthly kingdom,
the turn of events changes    the world under the heavens.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


An Eccentric Englishman

Curtis Cate (1924-2006), Friedrich Nietzsche (London: Hutchinson, 2003), p. xvi:
Thanks to three remarkable teachers: Professor Crane Brinton, who had me read the first part of The Genealogy of Morals in order to understand the psychological phenomenon of revolutionary resentment; the omnivorous Paul Peter Cram, a walking encyclopedia of facts and dates covering two thousand years of European history, who first introduced me to the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset; and an eccentric Englishman, Arthur Dobby Nock, whose opening words, in an enthralling course on the History of Religions — 'God is the name we give to the Great Unknown' — made me realize that to claim to 'know' the precise nature of this Divinity in any meaningful sense is a sacrilegious presumption on the part of mortal beings.
His name was Arthur Darby Nock, not Arthur Dobby Nock. And who is Paul Peter Cram?

Dear Mike,

I suspect this is your man:

Paul Perham Cram, for many years an instructor in history at Harvard University, was killed Monday afternoon in a horseback riding accident at Hopkinton, N.H. He was 72 years old.


Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]



Different Reactions

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), Decameron, tr. G.H. McWilliam, 2nd ed. (1995; London: Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 7-8:
Some people were of the opinion that a sober and abstemious mode of living considerably reduced the risk of infection. They therefore formed themselves into groups and lived in isolation from everyone else. Having withdrawn to a comfortable abode where there were no sick persons, they locked themselves in and settled down to a peaceable existence, consuming modest quantities of delicate foods and precious wines and avoiding all excesses. They refrained from speaking to outsiders, refused to receive news of the dead or sick, and entertained themselves with music and whatever other amusements they were able to devise.

Others took the opposite view, and maintained that an infallible way of warding off this appalling evil was to drink heavily, enjoy life to the full, go round singing and merrymaking, gratify all of one's cravings whenever the opportunity offered, and shrug the whole thing off as one enormous joke. Moreover, they practised what they preached to the best of their ability, for they would visit one tavern after another, drinking all day and night to immoderate excess; or alternatively (and this was their more frequent custom), they would do their drinking in various private houses, but only in the ones where the conversation was restricted to subjects that were pleasant or entertaining. Such places were easy to find, for people behaved as though their days were numbered, and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon. Hence most houses had become common property, and any passing stranger could make himself at home as naturally as though he were the rightful owner. But for all their riotous manner of living, these people always took good care to avoid any contact with the sick.

In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city. For like everybody else, those ministers and executors of the laws who were not either dead or ill were left with so few subordinates that they were unable to discharge any of their duties. Hence everyone was free to behave as he pleased.

There were many other people who steered a middle course between the two already mentioned, neither restricting their diet to the same degree as the first group, nor indulging so freely as the second in drinking and other forms of wantonness, but simply doing no more than satisfy their appetite. Instead of incarcerating themselves, these people moved about freely, holding in their hands a posy of flowers, or fragrant herbs, or one of a wide range of spices, which they applied at frequent intervals to their nostrils, thinking it an excellent idea to fortify the brain with smells of that particular sort; for the stench of dead bodies, sickness, and medicines seemed to fill and pollute the whole of the atmosphere.

Some people, pursuing what was possibly the safer alternative, callously maintained that there was no better or more efficacious remedy against a plague than to run away from it. Swayed by this argument, and sparing no thought for anyone but themselves, large numbers of men and women abandoned their city, their homes, their relatives, their estates and their belongings, and headed for the countryside, either in Florentine territory or, better still, abroad. It was as though they imagined that the wrath of God would not unleash this plague against men for their iniquities irrespective of where they happened to be, but would only be aroused against those who found themselves within the city walls; or possibly they assumed that the whole of the population would be exterminated and that the city's last hour had come.

Friday, March 13, 2020


A Glorious Time

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), The Maine Woods (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 264 (The Allegash and East Branch; on white-throated sparrows):
What a glorious time they must have in that wilderness, far from mankind and election day!


Source of Evil

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books D.366 (tr. Norman Alliston):
All the mischief in the world may be put down to the general, indiscriminate veneration of old laws, old customs and old religion.

Der oft unüberlegten Hochachtung gegen alte Gesetze, alte Gebräuche und alte Religion hat man alles Übel in der Welt zu danken.


What Is Culture?

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), The World of Yesterday (1943; rpt. London: Cassell and Company Ltd., 1953), p. 14:
Vienna was, we know, an epicurean city; but what is culture, if not to wheedle from the coarse material of life, by art and love, its finest, its most delicate, its most subtle qualities? Gourmets in culinary matters, much occupied with a good wine, a dry fresh beer, sumptuous pastries and cakes, in this city people were also demanding with regard to more subtle delights. Making music, dancing, the theatre, conversation, proper and urbane deportment, these were cultivated here as particular arts.


Disagreement Among Experts

Lucian, Icaromenippus 5 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Extraordinary that learned men quarrelled with each other about their doctrines and did not hold the same views about the same things!

ἄτοπον λέγεις, εἰ σοφοὶ ὄντες οἱ ἄνδρες ἐστασίαζον πρὸς αὑτοὺς περὶ τῶν λόγων καὶ οὐ τὰ αὐτὰ περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν ἐδόξαζον.
Latin translation by Erasmus:
rem absurdam narras, si viri, quum essent sapientes, inter sese de rebus factiose dissidebant, neque de iisdem eadem probabant.

Thursday, March 12, 2020


Many a Little Makes a Mickle

Hesiod, Works and Days 362-363 (tr. M.L. West):
For if you lay down even a little on a little, and do this often, even that may well grow big.

εἰ γάρ κεν καὶ σμικρὸν ἐπὶ σμικρῷ καταθεῖο
καὶ θαμὰ τοῦτ᾽ ἔρδοις, τάχα κεν μέγα καὶ τὸ γένοιτο.
A popular quotation, if one can judge from Rzach's editio maior:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Objects of Human Endeavor

Lucian, Icaromenippus 4 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
As soon as I began to find, in the course of my investigation of life, that all objects of human endeavour are ridiculous and trivial and insecure (wealth, I mean, and office and sovereign power), contemning those things and assuming that the effort to get them was an obstacle to getting things truly worth effort, I undertook to lift my eyes and contemplate the universe.

ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐπειδὴ τάχιστα ἐξετάζων τὰ κατὰ τὸν βίον γελοῖα καὶ ταπεινὰ καὶ ἀβέβαια τὰ ἀνθρώπινα πάντα εὕρισκον, πλούτους λέγω καὶ ἀρχὰς καὶ δυναστείας, καταφρονήσας αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν περὶ ταῦτα σπουδὴν ἀσχολίαν τῶν ἀληθῶς σπουδαίων ὑπολαβὼν ἀνακύπτειν τε καὶ πρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἀποβλέπειν ἐπειρώμην.
Latin translation by Erasmus:
ego igitur quum expendens ea quae sunt in vita mortalium protinus omnes res humanas repperissem ridiculas, humiles, instabiles, nempe opes imperia magistratus, contemptis his atque horum studio adiectoque animo ad ea quae vere sunt bona, conatus sum ab his tenebris emicare et ad uniuersi naturam suspicere.



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books F.149 (tr. Norman Alliston):
The reason why intercourse with sensible people is in every case so much to be recommended, is that in this way, by mere force of imitation, a blockhead may learn to act intelligently; for the greatest blockheads are capable of imitating—even monkeys, poodles and elephants can do so.

Der Umgang mit vernünftigen Leuten ist deswegen jedermann so sehr anzurathen, weil ein Dummkopf auf diese Art durch Nachahmen klug handeln lernen kann; denn die größten Dummköpfe können nachahmen, selbst die Affen, Pudelhunde und Elefanten können es.



Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), The World of Yesterday (1943; rpt. London: Cassell and Company Ltd., 1953), pp. 3-5:
In its liberal idealism, the nineteenth century was honestly convinced that it was on the straight and unfailing path towards being the best of all worlds. Earlier eras, with their wars, famines, and revolts, were deprecated as times when mankind was still immature and unenlightened. But, now it was merely a matter of decades until the last vestige of evil and violence would finally be conquered, and this faith in an uninterrupted and irresistible "progress" truly had the force of a religion for that generation. One began to believe more in this "progress" than in the Bible, and its gospel appeared ultimate because of the daily new wonders of science and technology. In fact, at the end of this peaceful century, a general advance became more marked, more rapid, more varied. At night the dim street lights of former times were replaced by electric lights, the shops spread their tempting glow from the main streets out to the city limits. Thanks to the telephone one could talk at a distance from person to person. People moved about in horseless carriages with a new rapidity; they soared aloft, and the dream of Icarus was fulfilled. Comfort made its way from the houses of the fashionable to those of the middle class. It was no longer necessary to fetch water from the pump or the passage, or to take the trouble to build a fire in the fireplace. Hygiene spread and filth disappeared. People became handsomer, stronger, healthier, as sport steeled their bodies. Fewer cripples and maimed and persons with goiters were seen on the streets, and all of these miracles were accomplished by science, the arch­angel of progress. Progress was also made in social matters; year after year new rights were accorded to the individual, justice was administered more benignly and humanely, and even the problem of problems, the poverty of the great masses, no longer seemed insur­mountable. The right to vote was being accorded to wider circles, and with it the possibility of legally protecting their interests. Sociologists and professors competed with one another to create healthier and happier living conditions for the proletariat. Small wonder, then, that this century sunned itself in its own accomplishments and looked upon each completed decade as the prelude to a better one. There was as little belief in the possibility of such barbaric declines as wars between the peoples of Europe as there was in witches and ghosts. Our fathers were comfortably saturated with confidence in the unfailing and binding power of tolerance and conciliation. They honestly believed that the divergences and the boundaries between nations and sects would gradually melt away into a common humanity, and that peace and security, the highest of treasures, would be shared by all mankind.

It is reasonable that we, who have long since struck the word "security" from our vocabulary as a myth, should smile at the optimistic delusion of that idealistically blinded generation, that the technical progress of mankind must connote an unqualified and equally rapid moral ascent. We of the new generation who have learned not to be surprised by any outbreak of bestiality, we who each new day expect things worse than the day before, are markedly more skeptical about a possible moral improvement of mankind. We must agree with Freud, to whom our culture and civilization were merely a thin layer liable at any moment to be pierced by the destructive forces of the "underworld". We have had to accustom ourselves gradually to living without the ground beneath our feet, without justice, without freedom, without security. Long since, as far as our existence is concerned, we have denied the religion of our fathers, their faith in a rapid and continuous rise of humanity. To us, gruesomely taught, witnesses of a catastrophe which, at a swoop, hurled us back a thousand years of humane endeavour, that rash optimism seems banal.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


Fresh Air

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), The Maine Woods (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 140 (Chesuncook):
It is surprising with what impunity and comfort one who has always lain in a warm bed in a close apartment, and studiously avoided drafts of air, can lie down on the ground without a shelter, roll himself in a blanket, and sleep before a fire, in a frosty, autumn night, just after a long rain-storm, and even come soon to enjoy and value the fresh air.
Related post: Camping Out.


False to One's Own Nature

Sophocles, Philoctetes 902-903 (tr. Carl Phillips):
Everything is burdensome,
when—taking leave of his very nature,
a man does what he knows hardly befits him.

ἅπαντα δυσχέρεια, τὴν αὑτοῦ φύσιν
ὅταν λιπών τις δρᾷ τὰ μὴ προσεικότα.

Monday, March 09, 2020


Lucretius in Greek

The Valachi Papers (1972 movie), screenplay by Stephen Geller, from a conversation between Joe Valachi (played by Charles Bronson) and Salvatore Maranzano (played by Joseph Wiseman), in the latter's library (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94aAjvHSmvo, at 1:03:29):
JV "What kinda language is this?"

SM "Oh, it's Lucretius. It's in Greek."


Liquid Gold

From my brother, who lives in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom:

We boiled enough [maple] sap to end up with a couple of pints [of syrup]. I started with 18-19 quarts of sap. I toss any ice buildup from my sap which I believe produces a more pure sap. Probably will do another boil tomorrow....Mmm. Buttery smooth. Had some over vanilla ice cream with walnuts last night.

Our grandmother (or rather our mémère, born in Quebec) used to pour hot maple syrup on snow, a real treat.


Yet More Plurals of Personal Names

Teleclides, fragment 42, in Poetae Comici Graeci, Vol. VII: Menecrates-Xenophon, edd. R. Kassel et C. Austin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), p. 684:

Cf. Poetae Comici Graeci, Vol. III 2: Aristophanes, Testimonia et Fragmenta, edd. R. Kassel et C. Austin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), p. 216 (annotation to Aristophanes, fragment 392):

If Cobet's conjecture Εὐριπίδας σωκρατογόμφους is adopted, we have an example of the plural of a personal name. See Mary Lefkowitz, Euripides and the Gods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 30, who translates the fragment as "Euripideses nailed together by Socrates."

Lucian, The Dream, or the Cock 26 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Then when they fall they make no better figure than the actors that you often see, who for a time pretend to be a Cecrops or a Sisyphus or a Telephus, with diadems and ivory-hilted swords and waving hair and gold-embroidered tunics...

εἶτ' ἐπειδὰν πέσωσιν, ὅμοιοι μάλιστα φαίνονται τοῖς τραγικοῖς ὑποκριταῖς, ὧν πολλοὺς ἰδεῖν ἔνεστι τέως μὲν Κέκροπας δῆθεν ὄντας ἢ Σισύφους ἢ Τηλέφους, διαδήματα ἔχοντας καὶ ξίφη ἐλεφαντόκωπα καὶ ἐπίσειστον κόμην καὶ χλαμύδα χρυσόπαστον...
You wouldn't know it from Harmon's translation, but here too we have plurals of personal names. For "a Cecrops or a Sisyphus or a Telephus" translate "Cecropses or Sisyphuses or Telephuses."

Related posts:

Sunday, March 08, 2020


To Find the Mind's Construction in the Face

Petronius, Satyricon 126 (tr. Michael Heseltine):
Look at me; I know nothing of omens, and I never attend to the astrologer's sky, but I read character in a man's face, and when I see him walk I know his thoughts.

vides me: nec auguria novi nec mathematicorum caelum curare soleo, ex vultibus tamen hominum mores colligo, et cum spatiantem vidi, quid cogitet scio.
Gareth Schmeling, A Commentary on the Satyrica of Petronius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 474:
The art of metoposcopy seems to have taken its place with other means of fortune-telling popular in the Empire: Suetonius Tit. 2 aiunt metoposcopum a Narcisso Claudi liberto adhibitum, ut Britannicum inspiceret, constantissime affirmasse illum quidem nullo modo ... imperaturum; Pliny NH 35.88 quendam a facie hominum divinantem, quos metoposcopos vocant, ex iis dixisse aut futurae mortis annos aut praeteritae vitae; Plautus Pseud. 750 ubi te aspexerit, narrabit ultro quid sese velis. On ancient beliefs in physiognomy as a science, which were codified in Aristotle's time, see Förster (1893-4) passim; J. Schmidt, RE s.v. 'Physiognomik', 1064-75, for contemporary Roman beliefs; see E. C. Evans (1950) on Seneca; ead. (1969) for a masterful study on physiognomy in the ancient world (excellent index); see now Swain (2007).
A note is also needed concerning the analysis of a man's character from his gait. Start with Simon Goldhill, Who Needs Greek? Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; rpt. 2003), p. 83:
How you walk is a repeated topic of commentary by Lucian. You should hope to 'walk like a man' (which is linked to a body bronzed by the sun, a masculine glint in the eye, an alert appearance).82 You don't want to walk 'with an unsteady shimmy' (which is linked to a floppy neck, a woman's glance, a soft voice, the smell of perfume, scratching your head with one finger, and carefully coiffed curls).83 The figure of Blame in one of Lucian's divine comedies attacks even the god Dionysus for his 'walk': 'you all know how female and girly he is in his nature ... '84 In particular, however, it is philosophers who seem to have a specially noticeable style of walking (which you may think harder to spot these days around the university or on the street). Thrasycles' walk is 'orderly' (eye-brows high, fierce gaze, elegant turn out);85 Diogenes' walk matches his intense expression.86 The uncultured book-buyer is mocked for imitating the walk of a philosopher;87 and a string of philosophers are immediately distinctive because of their gait. The longest description of what 'the walk' should be like is this:
I saw them walking in an orderly fashion, decently dressed, always in thought, masculine, mostly with close-cropped hair nothing degenerate, none of that hyper-indifference which marks the simply mad Cynic, but of middling constitution, which everyone says is best.88
82 41.9.
83 41.11.
84 52.4.
85 25.54.
86 27.10.
87 31.21.
88 70.18.

Saturday, March 07, 2020


Without a Commentary

Kierkegaard's Journals and Notebooks, Vol. 7: Journals NB15-20 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), pp. 153-154 (NB16:84):
Above all, read the N.T. without a commentary. Would it ever occur to a lover to read a letter from his beloved with a commentary!

A commentator is an extremely dangerous interference in connection with everything that makes a qualitative claim of having purely personal significance for me.

If the letter from the beloved were in a language I did not understand―well, then I learn the language―but I do not read the letter with commentaries by others. I read it, and because the thought of the beloved is truly present to me, and there is the intention, in everything, to will as the beloved wills and wishes: then I will surely understand it. It is the same with the Holy Scriptures. With God's help I will surely understand them. Every commentator detracts. The person who can sit with 10 open commentaries and read the Holy Scriptures―well, perhaps he will write the 11th, but he is associating with the Holy Scriptures contra naturam.


The Rich

Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.16.1-2 (tr. John Henry Freese):
The characters which accompany wealth are plain for all to see. The wealthy are insolent and arrogant, being mentally affected by the acquisition of wealth, for they seem to think that they possess all good things; for wealth is a kind of standard of value of everything else, so that everything seems purchasable by it. They are luxurious and swaggerers, luxurious because of their luxury and the display of their prosperity, swaggerers and ill-mannered because all men are accustomed to devote their attention to what they like and admire, and the rich suppose that what they themselves are emulous of is the object of all other men's emulation.

τῷ δὲ πλούτῳ ἃ ἕπεται ἤθη, ἐπιπολῆς ἔστιν ἰδεῖν ἅπασιν· ὑβρισταὶ γὰρ καὶ ὑπερήφανοι, πάσχοντές τι ὑπὸ τῆς κτήσεως τοῦ πλούτου· ὥσπερ γὰρ ἔχοντες ἅπαντα τἀγαθὰ οὕτω διάκεινται· ὁ γὰρ πλοῦτος οἷον τιμή τις τῆς ἀξίας τῶν ἄλλων, διὸ φαίνεται ὤνια ἅπαντα εἶναι αὐτοῦ. καὶ τρυφεροὶ καὶ σαλάκωνες, τρυφεροὶ μὲν διὰ τὴν τροφὴν καὶ τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς εὐδαιμονίας, σαλάκωνες δὲ καὶ σόλοικοι διὰ τὸ πάντας εἰωθέναι διατρίβειν περὶ τὸ ἐρώμενον καὶ θαυμαζόμενον ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν, καὶ τὸ οἴεσθαι ζηλοῦν τοὺς ἄλλους ἃ καὶ αὐτοί.


Teaching Tools

From Eric Thomson:
Phanias (Greek Anthology 6.294) enumerates the arsenal of a plagosus Orbilius. Kallon of course would spend his retirement behind bars today.
Σκήπωνα προποδαγὸν, ἱμάντα τε, καὶ παρακοίταν
   νάρθηκα, κροτάφων πλάκτορα νηπιάχων,
κέρκον τ᾽ εὐμόλπαν φιλοκαμπέα, καὶ μονόπελμον
   συγχίδα, καὶ στεγάναν κρατὸς ἐρημοκόμου,
Κάλλων Ἑρμείᾳ θέτ᾽ ἀνάκτορι, σύμβολ᾽ ἀγωγᾶς
   παιδείου, πολιῷ γυῖα δεθεὶς καμάτῳ.

The staff that guided his feet, his flogging strap, the cane ever-ready to rap young heads, his supple whistling bull's pizzle, his sandal with a single sole, and the skull-cap for his haireless pate, Kallon, his body bound by the fatigue of old age, dedicates to Hermes the Lord the tools of his pedagogical trade.
Nice to see Paton (an Aberdonian) use 'tawse' in his translation but I doubt if many know the word now. Beazley (a Glaswegian, whose article on narthex is attached) keeps it.

Beazley = J.D. Beazley, "Narthex," American Journal of Archaeology 37.3 (July-September, 1933) 400-403, who translates Phanias' poem as follows:
The staff that guided his feet, his tawse, the narthex [that lay ever ready to his hand] to tap little boys with on the head, his lithe [whistling bull's pizzle], his one-soled slipper, and the skull-cap of his hairless pate, Kallon, his limbs fettered by senile fatigue, dedicates to Hermes the Lord, tokens of his career as a schoolmaster.
A rather free version by Peter Porter:
The stick he used to tap out feet
   (both kinds), the belt and cane which
lay side by side to maintain order,
   the well-oiled tawse, the stinging slipper
with its one thin sole, the skull cap
   which kept his hairless head from laughter —
these tokens of his long schoolmastering
   Callon dedicates to the Lord Hermes:
his limbs are bound by age and he
   must soon depart the ageless world of boys.
Text and apparatus from Hermann Beckby, ed., Anthologia Graeca, 2nd ed., Bd. I: Buch I-VI (Munich: Ernst Heimeran Verlag, [1966]), p. 620:

See also:
Related posts:

Friday, March 06, 2020


What Is Truth?

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), Characters XVII.22 (tr. Henri van Laun):
Man who is born a liar cannot relish the plainness and simplicity of truth; he is altogether hankering after appearance and ornament. He has not made truth, for it comes from Heaven ready-made, as it were, in all its perfection, and man loves nothing but his own productions, Fable and Fiction. Observe the common people; they will invent a tale, add to it, and exaggerate it through coarseness or folly; ask even the most honest man if he always speaks the truth, if he does not sometimes discover that, either through vanity or levity, he has disguised the truth; and if to embellish a story he does not often add some circumstance to set it off? An accident happened to-day, and almost, as it were, under our eyes; a hundred people have seen it, and all relate it in as many different ways; and yet another person may come, and if you will only listen to him, he shall tell it in a way in which it has not yet been told. How then can I believe facts which are so old and took place several centuries ago?

L'homme est né menteur: la vérité est simple et ingénue, et il veut du spécieux et de l'ornement. Elle n'est pas à lui, elle vient du ciel toute faite, pour ainsi dire, et dans toute sa perfection; et l'homme n'aime que son propre ouvrage, la fiction et la fable. Voyez le peuple: il controuve, il augmente, il charge par grossièreté et par sottise; demandez même au plus honnête homme s'il est toujours vrai dans ses discours, s'il ne se surprend pas quelquefois dans des déguisements où engagent nécessairement la vanité et la légèreté, si pour faire un meilleur conte, il ne lui échappe pas souvent d'ajouter à un fait qu'il récite une circonstance qui y manque. Une chose arrive aujourd'hui, et presque sous nos yeux: cent personnes qui l'ont vue la racontent en cent façons différentes; celui-ci, s'il est écouté, la dira encore d'une manière qui n'a pas été dite. Quelle créance donc pourrais-je donner à des faits qui sont anciens et éloignés de nous par plusieurs siècles?
Related posts:

Thursday, March 05, 2020


Axe, Pen, and Plough

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), "Sunday," A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:
He will not idly dance at his work who has wood to cut and cord before nightfall in the short days of winter; but every stroke will be husbanded, and ring soberly through the wood; and so will the strokes of that scholar's pen, which at evening record the story of the day, ring soberly, yet cheerily, on the ear of the reader, long after the echoes of his axe have died away. The scholar may be sure that he writes the tougher truth for the calluses on his palms. They give firmness to the sentence. Indeed, the mind never makes a great and successful effort, without a corresponding energy of the body. We are often struck by the force and precision of style to which hardworking men, unpractised in writing, easily attain when required to make the effort. As if plainness, and vigor, and sincerity, the ornaments of style, were better learned on the farm and in the workshop, than in the schools. The sentences written by such rude hands are nervous and tough, like hardened thongs, the sinews of the deer, or the roots of the pine.


A sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.
Related posts:


Diffidence Befitting a Young Man

Homer, Odyssey 3.22-24 (Telemachus to Athena disguised as Mentor; tr. Peter Green):
What, Mentōr, must be my approach? How am I to greet him?
I've no experience yet in subtle discourse; a young
man feels embarrassed when interrogating his elders.

Μέντορ, πῶς τ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἴω; πῶς τ᾽ ἂρ προσπτύξομαι αὐτόν;
οὐδέ τί πω μύθοισι πεπείρημαι πυκινοῖσιν·
αἰδὼς δ᾽ αὖ νέον ἄνδρα γεραίτερον ἐξερέεσθαι.


Rivals of Mankind

Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964), An Almanac for Moderns (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1935), p. 135 (July 22):
Of all the rivals of mankind for dominance on this earth no other creatures large enough to be seen with the naked eye have held out successfully save the insects. When we clear the forest, we rid ourselves of the forest insects, only to make way for the field insects. Man sows his crops—and what comes up? A host of long-faced, armor-plated locusts who eat him out of house and home. We strike at them, but it is like striking at the sea. Whatever way we turn we find the insects there before us, in water, in air, on the earth and under it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020


A Quiet Day

Connop Thirlwall (1797-1875), Letters to a Friend, ed. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1881), p. 139:
I flatter myself that I can sympathize with your enjoyment of a quiet day. A life of constant society would to me be absolutely intolerable, while I was never yet tired of what is called solitude (being indeed some of the choicest society to one who likes a book).
Id., pp. 224-225:
As a matter of general experience, I believe that few persons are able to take up again with pleasure a book in which they have been crammed for examination, at least until after a pretty long interval; but it does not follow that they should take a distaste to the whole class of books to which it belongs.

I remember that having been injudiciously plied with Horace at the Charterhouse, many years elapsed before I could enjoy the most charming of Latin poets, though I did not on that account abandon my classical studies.


Where There Were Once Forests

C.H. Sisson (1914-2003), In the Trojan Ditch: Collected Poems & Selected Translations (1974; rpt. Cheadle: Carcanet Press, 1975), pp. (a very free version of Horace, Odes 2.15: Iam pauca aratro iugera regiae), pp. 226-227:
There will be nothing soon for the plough
But huge bulks everywhere. On all sides
      Wider than lakes, the city
      Lamp-standards drive out the elms,

Planes, beeches. Once it was fertile here.
Edges of violets circumscribed
      The grove; there was everywhere something for the
      Nostrils, but now there is nothing.

Where there were once forests a region of
Concrete. Until quite recently
      There were meadows at Westminster.
      The salmon leaped where Raleigh was beheaded.

Once there was only nature for ornament.
Then there was ornament and art flourished;
      Now there is only the South Bank
      And, of course, the Arts Council.

It was not laws but a less abstract
Technology made the turf spring.
      The churches in those days, you may
      Remember, were built of stone.



Ambitiously Overarching Explanations

Ramsay MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 122-124, with notes on pp. 202-203:
The most ambitiously overarching explanations for the success of Mithraism lie in the characterization of religious life in the times at large. By contemporaries, that is rarely attempted.29 Among modern authorities, the best known, Cumont, begins by sketching the decline and recession of older alternatives to Mithraism. In our period of study, "less and less is that sturdy health of character found that, unable to depart at length from the road, felt no need of a guide and comforter. The spreading sense of decline and frailty could be noted that follows the wanderings of the passions; the same weakness that leads to crime urged the search for absolution ... ," etc. etc.30 For none of these thoughts does Cumont, or any adherent of the "Spiritual-Fortitude, Spiritual-Weakening" school of interpretation, offer any serious substantiation. The terms of description themselves are useless as too vague; useless a second time as normative according to prejudices not divulged, perhaps never examined; and useless a third time as applied to a population whose moral attributes and inner thoughts are not only almost entirely hidden from us but not even investigated through such few data as could be used.

But Cumont continues: "In the third century, the misery of the times was the cause of such great suffering...that people sought asylum in the expectation of a better life." This argument, making of the "Oriental" cults in general a retreat for desperation, can be expanded backward and forward in time to account for all the manifestations and appeal associated with those cults.31 Indeed, it must be expanded, if their popularity is rightly reflected in the only promising category of evidence available to us, inscriptions. Such a correspondence is generally assumed. The number of epigraphic testimonies begins its steep rise from the earliest Empire, up to a point a little past A.D. 200. As we have seen, however, the correspondence is illusory and the rise means nothing, because all inscriptions of every sort rise equally.

Beyond that, what sense does it make to assign a single character to so long an era? — as if one were to say, "in Italy, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Britain, France, and Spain between about 1400 and 1600, people were tense and worried." The statement denies the very change and complexity which it is the job of historians to discover, and which indeed they never fail to reveal, wherever their sources allow them to portray events and figures of the past full-scale. As if a century, let alone two or three, could be "an age" — that is, a stretch of time in which just about everybody acted in significantly different ways from other human beings before and after, but with something close to a characteristic uniformity among themselves! It can only be the observer's ignorance that would make all the life of a vast area for so long a span, in the mind's eye, blur, shrink, stop. Such ignorance is the natural condition of the ancient historian, paradoxically inviting him to arrange his few scattered facts into grand patterns — the fewer, the grander. Where the temptations and the hazards are so pressing, perhaps it should be a rule that no one may generalize about ancient history until he has served an old-fashioned, seven-year apprenticeship in the teaching, or at least in the formal study, of modern history!32

29. Paus. 8.2.5, complaining of evil days as the reason why no new gods come into being from men. The passage happens to coincide with, and contradict, CIG 5980=IG 14.966= SIG2 807, which reports a miracle in Rome, bystanders rejoicing "because the powers were living then in the reign of our emperor Antoninus." Porphyry in Euseb., Praep. ev. 5.1 (179df.) speaks of the declining presence of the gods, but in a polemical setting.

30. Cumont (1929) 38—a sort of rephrasing of the "failure-of-nerve" interpretation. Gordon (1972) 93f. rightly puts the latter interpretation aside, speaking of Dodds (but there are others behind Dodds, e.g., Gilbert Murray). For similar generalizing about spiritual sturdiness, compare A.H.M. Jones (1963) 19: "the peasant masses, who were made of tougher stuff than the townsmen," clung to Christianity under the Tetrarchs.

31. Cumont (1929) 39f., above, p. 64, and similarly in Laurin (1954) 8.

32. In works demonstrating the most admirable scholarship and powers in philology, one may find statements that no historian would dream of making. Drawing from major authorities, throughout this chapter's notes, I have scattered examples which it would be invidious to recall at this point.
Related post: Generalizations.

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