Monday, November 30, 2020


Unintended Consequence

Poetae Comici Graeci (PCG) Ediderunt R. Kassel et C. Austin, Vol. VIII: Adespota (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), p. 207 (fragment 727, my translation):
Your remedy makes the disease worse.

τὸ φάρμακόν ϲου τὴν νόϲον μείζω ποιεῖ.


A Defect in Vision, or Clear Sight?

Walter Savage Landor, "Aesop and Rhodopè, Second Conversation," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 19-28 (at 26, Aesop speaking):
It may be a defect in my vision, but I cannot see greatness on the earth. What they tell me is great and aspiring, to me seems little and crawling.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


Substitutes for Ink

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Finding," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 359-367 (at 364):
Sir Walter Scott, out hunting and with some good lines suddenly in his head, brought down a crow, whittled a pen from a feather, and wrote the poem on his jacket in crow's blood.
This may be an embellished recollection of a passage in a letter from Walter Scott to William Clerk (August 26, 1791):
[S]o much simplicity resides among these hills, that a pen, which could write at least, was not to be found about the house, though belonging to a considerable farmer, till I shot the crow with whose quill I write this epistle.
Clive James (1939-2019),, "Sergei Diaghilev," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 169-174 (at 172-173):
Rimbaud, of course, had raised the same question long before. His teenage masterpiece Bâteau ivre, among all the other things it is, is a perfect construction, architecture on paper. But the young man who wrote it was also capable of composing a poem on a café table using, as a substitute for ink, his own excrement, delivered fresh into his hand specifically for the purpose.




Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Ralph Eugene Meatyard," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 368-372 (at 371):
As a professor I must work with people for whom indifference is both a creed and a defense of their fanatic narrowness of mind...
Is he talking about his students or about his fellow professors? Or about both?

Eric Thomson (via email):
Students or professors? Indifference blights both, but I suspect Davenport is referring to his fellow professors, simply on the evidence of 'fanatic'. My students are too lazy and obtuse to be fanatic whereas the professors work away ferociously at their specialized fields. Interdisciplinarity is no more than glancing over the fence. "It's not my field" should now be replaced by "It's not my furrow".

Saturday, November 28, 2020


Wittgenstein Vindicated

Clive James (1939-2019), "Ludwig Wittgenstein," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 801-807 (at 803):
Wittgenstein's requirement that we should not be seduced by language is understandable in the context of the rich second phase of his philosophy, whose aim we can find summed up for him on his brass plate in Trinity College chapel in Cambridge: 'Rationem ex vinculis orationis vindicam esse.' (Reason must be released from the chains of speech.)
For vindicam read vindicandam.


Friday, November 27, 2020


Cause of Suffering

Rufus Putnam, quoted in Mary Cone, Life of Rufus Putnam, with Extracts from his Journal and an Account of the First Settlement in Ohio (Cleveland: William W. Williams, 1886), p. 15:
Having neglected spelling and grammar when I was young, I have suffered much through life on that account.


Village Church in New England

Hat tip: My brother, who lives across the street from the church and took the photograph.

Thursday, November 26, 2020


Learning French

Clive James (1939-2019), "Sainte-Beuve," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 658-663 (at 658-659):
Read today, his volumes of weekly pieces are still a good way of building up strength in one's reading of French, because even when the subject was ephemeral he gave it permanence with his registration of contemporary detail, so the reader is usefully driven to the dictionary and the Larousse. (The presence of that latter volume on your desk is a sure sign that you are on the right track.)
Id. (at 660-661):
At one stage I read all the way through the collected Causeries du lundi columns in a bunch of disintegrating paperbacks I bought from a bouquiniste on the Left Bank. With torn and faded yellow wrappers thinner than their pages, the books were sadly battered little bundles that fell open anywhere and eventually fell apart. It was one of the ways I learned French: a lundi a day, underline every word you don't know, keep going for as long as you get the sense, look up the hard words afterwards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


The Best Place on Earth

Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes 304-305 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
What land on earth can you take in exchange
that is better than this...?

ποῖον δ᾿ ἀμείψεσθε γαίας πέδον
τᾶσδ᾿ ἄρειον...;

Tuesday, November 24, 2020



A poem by Lo Monge de Montaudon, tr. W.S. Merwin, "Two Provençal Poems," Hudson Review 8.2 (Summer, 1955) 208-211 (at 211):
Game I enjoy, and gaiety,
Hospitality, bravery,
A frank pleasant-tempered lady,
An answer given cleverly,
In a rich man, sincerity,
And a plague take his enemy.

I like a man of kind salutation,
One who makes me gifts with good intention,
A rich man who gives me no contention,
Him who lends me good conversation;
I enjoy sleep when the wind is down,
And fat salmon in mid-afternoon.

And I am pleased, in summertime,
To tarry beside spring or stream
Among green fields—flowers in new blossom,
The small bird loud on limb—
And to have my lady, in secret, come,
And there make love with her, for a time.

I am pleased when one welcomes me
And when no disappointment takes me;
I am pleased with the favors of my lady—
Kisses, and what more she gives me,
With the losses of my enemy,
And more, when I do the robbery.

When among malice I am set down
I am glad for a companion
Who, while I have my say, will listen
And freely give me his attention.
The original (id. at 210):
Molt mi platz deportz e gaieza,
condugz e donars e proeza,
e dona franca e corteza
e de respondre ben apreza,
e platz m'a rie home franqueza,
e vas son enemic maleza.

E platz me hom que gen me sona
e qui de bon talan me dona,
e ricx hom quan no mi tensona;
e·m platz qui·m ditz be ni·m razona,
e dormir quan venta no trona,
e gras salmos az ora nona.

E platz mi be lai en estiu
que·m sojorn a font o a riu,
e·ill prat son vert e·l flors reviu
e li auzelhet chanton piu,
e m'amigua ve a celiu
e loy fauc una vetz de briu.

E platz mi be qui m'aculhia,
e quan gaire non truep fadia;
e platz mi solatz de m'amia,
baizars e mais, si loi fazia;
e si m os enemicx perdia
mi platz, e plus s'ieu loi tolhia.

E plazon mi be companho
cant entre mos enemicx so,
et auze ben dir ma razo
et ill l'escouton a bando.

Monday, November 23, 2020


The Smell of Bullshit

Richard O. Boyer, "The Hot Bach," in Mark Tucker, ed., The Duke Ellington Reader (1993; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 214-245 (at 236):
Ellington is also surprised at critics who claim in columns of rococo prose that jazz is the American equivalent of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome. A few weeks ago such a critique was read to Duke, a tall, broad, coffee-colored man of forty-five, as he lolled on a cot in his dressing room at the Hurricane, a Broadway night club in which he and his band were playing an engagement. The author maintained that when New York is but a memory, or at best a forest of rusty steel ascending to a quiet sky, the perceptive archeologist will be able to recreate American civilization if he is fortunate enough to find one Ellington record amid the deserted ruins. In the record's pulsing rhythms, the article said, he will hear the throb of long-stilled traffic, see the flash of neon signs, get some suggestion of the subway, and will understand, when a solo soars above the theme and then sinks back again, how the individual of the vanished past yearned for the stars but was limited to a banal earth. Duke listened impatiently. When the final sentence had been read, he said, "I don't know. May be something to it. But it seems to me such talk stinks up the place."

Sunday, November 22, 2020


The Preference for One's Own Kind

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.27.77 (tr. H. Rackham):
Do you suppose that there is a single creature on land or in the sea which does not prefer an animal of its own species to any other? If this were not so, why should not a bull desire to couple with a mare, or a horse with a cow? Do you imagine that an eagle or lion or dolphin thinks any shape more beautiful than its own?

an putas ullam esse terra marique beluam quae non sui generis belua maxime delectetur? quod ni ita esset, cur non gestiret taurus equae contrectatione, equus vaccae? an tu aquilam aut leonem aut delphinum ullam anteferre censes figuram suae?

Saturday, November 21, 2020



Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), Essays 5 ("The dangers of an Honest man in much Company"):
Man is to man all kinde of Beasts, a fauning Dog, a roaring Lion, a thieving Fox, a robbing Wolf, a dissembling Crocodile, a treacherous Decoy, and a rapacious Vulture.
[S]uch is the Original sin of most Cities: their Actual encrease daily with their Age and growth; the more people, the more wicked all of them; every one brings in his part to enflame the contagion, which becomes at last so universal and so strong, that no Precepts can be sufficient Preservatives, nor any thing secure our safety, but flight from among the Infected.



Cicero, Against Verres II 3.69.161 (tr. L.H.G. Greenwood):
You begot children not only for yourself, but for your fatherland, that they might not merely be a pleasure to yourself, but also, in due season, do good service to your country. It was your duty to educate and instruct them in the ways of our forefathers and the traditions of our national life, not in your own depraved and disgraceful behaviour...

susceperas enim liberos non solum tibi sed etiam patriae, qui non modo tibi voluptati sed etiam qui aliquando usui rei publicae esse possent. eos instituere atque erudire ad maiorum instituta, ad civitatis disciplinam, non ad tua flagitia neque ad tuas turpitudines debuisti...


A House of Cards

S. Douglas Olson, "The Fragments of Aristophanes' Gerytades: Methodological Considerations," in Anna Lamari et al., edd., Fragmentation in Ancient Greek Drama (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020), pp. 129-144 (at 142-143):
Since assertions regarding fragments inevitably involve some degree of guesswork, we ought to ask what sort of guesswork and in particular how many mutually dependent hypotheses we are willing to tolerate in discussions of them. The obvious danger is elaborate "house of cards" arguments, for the perverse nature of such constructions is that every additional "card" added to the house reduces the likelihood that the thesis as a whole is correct rather than increasing it. If a thesis depends on two proposals, for example, each of which has a 50% chance of being correct, the thesis as a whole has only a 25% chance of being right, and every additional such proposal added to the structure lowers the odds even further. "House of cards" arguments tend to be recognizable by their elaborate and ingenious character, with one arbitrary intuition or conjecture succeeding another until the grand conclusion is drawn. They also tend to be marked by phrases such as "if we assume", on the one hand, and by the use of words such as "clearly", which elicit the reader's assent without arguing the point, on the other. Without offering any specific quantitative criteria (since opinions may differ on the point), I suggest that any hypothesis regarding a lost text that can reasonably be described as a "house of cards" should be rejected a priori; this is a bad way to argue, except once again to the extent that such arguments contribute to other — contemporary — ends that have nothing specifically to do with ancient texts, even if ancient texts serve as a means of discussing them.
Id. (at 144):
Citation of an authority, above all else a modern authority, is not an argument. In particular, this means that further hypotheses ought not to be built on the conjectures of others even if those conjectures have ossified into scholarly doctrine; this is merely to assist in the construction of a multi-generational "house of cards", which looks secure because every individual scholar adds only one or two more hypotheses to the construction.

Friday, November 20, 2020


No Change of Consuls Troubles His Repose

Elizabeth Tollet (1694-1754), "Claudian's Old Man of Verona," in her Poems on Several Occasions (London: John Clarke, 1755), pp. 9-10:
Felix qui propriis ævum transegit in arvis.

Happy the Man, whom prudent Wishes bound,
Within the streight Inclosure of his Ground.
Who, ancient, leaning on his Staff's Support,
Reviews the grateful Scene of infant Sport:
Then, with his Mansion's Age computes his own,
And tells the Circles whirling Years have run.
The busy World he shuns, nor loves to roam;
Nor weary makes a foreign clime his Home.
Nor he the stormy Winds or Waves does fear;
Nor he that dreadful Sound of horrid War:
The noisy Courts are all to him unknown;
To him, who never saw the neighbouring Town.
No Change of Consuls troubles his Repose;
The Spring by Flow'rs, by Fruit he Autumn knows:
The Sun, whom his paternal Fences bound,
Rises and sets within his little Ground.
He does Verona and Benacus' Lake,
For the Red Sea and distant India take.
Yet, firm in Age, a long Descent he sees,
And, chearful, visits his coæval Trees;
Others rough Seas, and foreign Countries see;
How few so long, so blest a Life as he!
Claudian, Carmina Minora 20:
Felix, qui propriis aevum transegit in arvis,
  ipsa domus puerum quem videt, ipsa senem;
qui baculo nitens in qua reptavit harena
  unius numerat saecula longa casae.
illum non vario traxit fortuna tumultu,
  nec bibit ignotas mobilis hospes aquas.
non freta mercator tremuit, non classica miles,
  non rauci lites pertulit ille fori.
indocilis rerum, vicinae nescius urbis
  adspectu fruitur liberiore poli.
frugibus alternis, non consule computat annum:
  autumnum pomis, ver sibi flore notat.
idem condit ager soles idemque reducit,
  metiturque suo rusticus orbe diem,
ingentem meminit parvo qui gemine quercum
  aequaevumque videt consenuisse nemus,
proxima cui nigris Verona remotior Indis
  Benacumque putat litora Rubra lacum.
sed tamen indomitae vires firmisque lacertis
  aetas robustum tertia cernit avum.
erret et extremos alter scrutetur Hiberos:
  plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae.
Hat tip: Alan Crease.

Related posts:

Thursday, November 19, 2020


A Smokescreen

Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics? tr. Martin McLaughlin (1999; rpt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), pp. 5-6:
Reading a classic must also surprise us, when we compare it to the image we previously had of it. That is why we can never recommend enough a first-hand reading of the text itself, avoiding as far as possible secondary bibliography, commentaries, and other interpretations. Schools and universities should hammer home the idea that no book which discusses another book can ever say more than the original book under discussion; yet they actually do everything to make students believe the opposite. There is a reversal of values here which is very widespread, which means that the introduction, critical apparatus, and bibliography are used like a smokescreen to conceal what the text has to say and what it can only say if it is left to speak without intermediaries who claim to know more than the text itself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020



Walter Savage Landor, "Fra Filippo Lippi and Pope Eugenius the Fourth," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 373-396 (at 393-394, Filippo speaking):
While I continued in that country, although I was well treated, I often wished myself away, thinking of my friends in Florence,—of music, of painting, of our villegiatura at the vintage-time; whether in the green and narrow glades of Pratolino, with lofty trees above us, and little rills unseen, and little bells about the necks of sheep and goats, tinkling together ambiguously; or amid the grey quarries or under the majestic walls of ancient Fiesole; or down in the woods of the Doccia, where the cypresses are of such a girth that, when a youth stands against one of them, and a maiden stands opposite, and they clasp it, their hands at the time do little more than meet. Beautiful scenes, on which Heaven smiles eternally, how often has my heart ached for you! He who hath lived in this country, can enjoy no distant one. He breathes here another air; he lives more life; a brighter sun invigorates his studies, and serener stars influence his repose.

Dear Mike,

I thought you might be interested, although you're probably already very well aware, in how closely the passage you quote from "Fra Filippo Lippi and Pope Eugenius the Fourth" matches Landor's own Florentine experience. Attached are photographs I took in January 2016 of his grave (he'd have appreciated the pomegranate) and his Fiesole villa, as much at any rate as the trees permitted.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]
John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography (Boston: Fields Osgood, & Co., 1869), p. 433, quoting Landor's poem "My Homes":
From France to Italy my steps I bent,
And pitcht at Arno's side my household tent.
Six years the Medicaean palace held
My wandering Lares; then they went afield,
Where the hewn rocks of Fiesole impend
O'er Doccia's dell, and fig and olive blend.
There the twin streams in Affrico unite,
One dimly seen, the other out of sight,
But ever playing in his smoothen'd bed
Of polisht stone, and willing to be led
Where clustering vines protect him from the sun,
Never too grave to smile, too tired to run.
Here, by the lake, Boccacio's fair brigade
Beguiled the hours, and tale for tale repaid.
How happy! O, how happy had I been
With friends and children in this quiet scene!
Its quiet was not destined to be mine:
'Twas hard to keep, 'twas harder to resign.
From a letter by Kate Field (1861), three years before Landor's death (quoted by Forster, pp. 663-664):
Once we drove up to aerial Fiesole; and never can I forget Landor's manner while in the neighbourhood of his former home. It had been proposed that we should turn back when only half way up the hill. Ah, go a little farther, Landor said nervously; I should like to see my villa. Of course his wish was our pleasure, and so the drive was continued. Landor sat immovable, with head turned in the direction of the villa Gherardesca. At first sight of it he gave a sudden start, and genuine tears filled his eyes and coursed down his cheeks. There is where I lived, he said, breaking a long silence and pointing to his old estate. Still we mounted the hill, and when, at a turn in the road, the villa stood out before us clearly and distinctly, Landor said, Let us give the horses a rest here! We stopped, and for several minutes Landor's face was fixed upon the villa. There now, we can return to Florence, if you like, he murmured finally with a deep sigh. I have seen it probably for the last time. Hardly a word was spoken during the drive home. Landor seemed to be absent-minded.
Forster adds:
A tragedy lies underneath those few sentences of which every scene had been bitterly acted out, though not a line of it can be written here.
What follows in Field's letter, omitted in the biography, can be found in Lilian Whiting, The Florence of Landor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company 1912), pp. 288-289:
A sadder, more pathetic picture than he made during this memorable drive is rarely seen. 'With me life has been a failure' was the expression of that wretched worn face. Those who believe that Landor was devoid of heart should have seen him then.


Shun the Allurements of Fleeting Novelty

Grattius, Cynegetica 114-116 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
You are to shun the allurements of fleeting novelty: in this same field of hunting they do harm by a small or excessive size of spear. But slippery fashion goes its wandering round, and all men are in haste to discard usages which have been tried.

blandimenta vagae fugies novitatis: ibidem
exiguo nimiove nocent. sed lubricus errat
mos et ab expertis festinant usibus omnes.
P.J. Enk ad loc.:


A Holy Text

Clive James (1939-2019), "Ernst Robert Curtius," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 154-160 (at 155, on Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages):
When I was first a student at Sydney University in the late 1950s, my teacher George Russell, himelf a scholar of the Middle Ages, placed his copy of Curtius's masterpiece on a lectern, opened it as if it were a holy text and said: 'This is a great book.'
Si parvum (Gilleland) licet componere magno (James), in the early 1970s, when I was a student at the University of Maine, my teacher Renate Delphendahl let me borrow her copy of Curtius' book. One day, when I was reading it over breakfast, I spilled grape juice on it, staining the fore edge. I tried to scrape off the stain with a razor blade, but it didn't work, and eventually I returned the damaged book with an abject apology. I have my own copy of the holy text now, a paperback, falling apart from constant consultation.

Thanks to my dear and faithful friend Jim K., who gave me a copy of Clive James' book.


Shocking Blunders

Mark Thakkar, "Duces caecorum: On Two Recent Translations of Wyclif," Vivarium 58 (2020) 357-383, is a review of Stephen Penn, John Wyclif: Selected Latin Works in Translation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), and Stephen Lahey, Wyclif, Trialogus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Some of the errors Thakkar exposes are quite shocking. I select two (both from Penn's translation) as exhibits for my gallery of howlers.

Thakkar, p. 367:
Jesus's famous aphorism that "many are called, but few are chosen" (multi sunt vocati, pauci vero electi) is jaw-droppingly mistranslated as "many of the elect are called poor" (p. 292).
Id., p. 368:
... both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed contain professions of belief in the Catholic church ('credo ecclesiam catholicam' dicit utrumque simbolum), which Penn translates as: "the words 'I believe in the Catholic church' represent a symbol everywhere!" (p. 173).
Thakkar concludes his review with this observation (pp. 382-383, footnotes omitted):
[I]n countries like the UK and the US, where secondary-school Latin has collapsed outside the private sector, where few medievalists have an undergraduate background in Classics, and where lecturers would be embarrassed to sit in on language classes, most medievalists are only ever taught Latin while they are graduate students. What's more, we have already reached the stage where, in some universities, medieval Latin is taught from scratch to graduate students by people who were taught it from scratch when they were graduate students. This is not necessarily unsustainable, but it can only be sustainable if the language is taught seriously and intensively as a major component of graduate study, which it almost never is. And of course the problems we are storing up here are not confined to Wyclif: they will affect almost all areas of medieval studies. If, therefore, we do not drastically improve the level of graduate training in medieval Latin, hopeless misunderstandings of medieval sources will increasingly come to scar the scholarly landscape. In the meantime, it is evidently worth reminding translators and reviewers alike, as Wyclif used to remind his contemporaries, that "if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit."
Thanks to the friend who sent me a copy of Thakkar's review.

Related posts:


Tuesday, November 17, 2020



Clive James (1939-2019), "Chamfort," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 106-109 (at 107):
Chamfort was the one who supplied the lasting definition of fraternité: 'Be my brother or I will kill you.' That, in fact, was the joke that killed him: he was arrested soon after making it.
"Sois mon frère ou je te tue" was Chamfort's variation on the revolutionary slogan "La Fraternité ou la mort."

Monday, November 16, 2020


A Gain

John Henry Newman, "Sermon XXIV. The Religion of the Day," Parochial Sermons, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1843), pp. 180-189 (at 187):
Here I will not shrink from uttering my firm conviction that it would be a gain to this country, were it vastly more superstitious, more bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it shows itself to be.



Ezra Pound, "Papyrus," Lustra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1916), p. 49:
Spring. . .
Too long. . .
Gongula. . .
This is a translation of Sappho, fragment 95, lines 2-4 — see Sappho et Alcaeus, Fragmenta Edidit Eva-Maria Voigt (Amsterdam: Athenaeum, 1971), pp. 105-106, preserved in PBerol. 9722, fol. 4 (a fragment on parchment, not papyrus):
ᾖρ’ ἀ[
Here is an image of the fragment:
Laura Riding and Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1927; rpt. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1928), pp. 218-219:
When modernist poetry or what, not so long ago, passed for modernist poetry, can reach the stage where the following:

Spring . . . .
Too long . . .
Gongula . . . .
is seriously offered as a poem, there is some justification for the plain reader and orthodox critic who are frightened away from anything which may be labeled 'modernist' either in terms of condemnation or approbation. Who or what is Gongula? Is it a name of a person? of a town? of a musical instrument? Or is it the obsolete botanical word meaning 'spores'? Or is it a mistake for Gongora, the Spanish poet from whom the word 'gongorism' is formed, meaning "an affected elegance of style, also called 'cultism'?" And why "Papyrus"? Is the poem a fragment from a real papyrus? Or from an imaginary one? Or is it the poet's thoughts about either a real or imaginary fragment? Or about spring too long because of the gongula of the papyrus reeds? Rather than answer any of these questions and be driven to the shame-faced bluff of making much out of little, the common-sense reader retires to surer ground. Better, he thinks, presumably, that ten authentic poets should be left for posterity to discover than that one charlatan should be allowed to steal into the Temple of Fame. The plain reader objects to the idea of charlatanry in poetry more than he objects to the idea of stupidity, excess of learnedness, or honest inferiority: charlatanry being dishonest superiority.
Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), p. 517, with notes on p. 699:
Christopher M. Dawson, "Pound's Papyrus," The Expositor 9 (January 1, 1950), and Robert Duff Murray, Jr., "A Note on Sappho and Ezra Pound," Classical Journal 46.6 (March, 1951) 304-305, both connected Pound's poem with Sappho's fragment, and Murray correctly identified Gongula as one of Sappho's pupils. See also Hugh Kenner, "The Muse in Tatters," Arion 7.2 (Summer, 1968) 212-233.

Second thoughts of Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition, 2nd ed. (1957; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 517, with notes on p. 699:
Pound was bitterly attacked and derided for publishing the following poem:50
Spring . . .
Too long . . .
Gongula . . .
But hardly any of his critics cared to understand the title and listen for its suggestions. Yet they are clear, and boldly imaginative. Searching through the ruins of what were once Greek-speaking villages in Egypt, scholars have found many heaps of papyri miraculously preserved for fifteen or twenty centuries (see p. 468). Most of the writings on these papyri are not literary: they are letters, or school exercises, or tax-sheets. But occasionally we find poems or prose pieces by famous authors. Sometimes these are works which vanished in the Dark Ages and had been given up for lost. Sometimes they are merely fragments—yet precious, like the hand or head which is all that remains of a lost masterpiece of sculpture. A few words on a torn sheet of papyrus may be all that we can recover of a great poem; but they speak in the accents of immortality.

Now, the word Gongula occurs twice in poems by the exquisite Greek lyricist Sappho.51 It was the name of one of Sappho's pupils. We know scarcely anything about her, except that she was dear to Sappho. What Pound has done in this poem, therefore, is to write four words containing something of Sappho's own feeling for nature, something of her passionate yearning, and the name of one of those she loved. He has created a fragment of a poem which Sappho herself might have written.

50. Papyrus occurs in Pound's Lustra, a collection of short poems containing many adaptations of classical models.

51. The name occurs in E. Lobel's edition of Sappho (Oxford, 1925) at α 11. 10 and ε 4. 4.
Lawrence Alma Tadema, Sappho and Alcaeus (click to enlarge; note Gongula's name behind the garlanded girl):
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


Quarrelsomeness and Contention

Walter Savage Landor, "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 281-333 (at 283):
Timotheus. Fine talking! Do you know, you have really been called an atheist?

Lucian. Yes, yes; I know it well. But, in fact, I believe there are almost as few atheists in the world as there are Christians.

Timotheus. How! as few? Most of Europe, most of Asia, most of Africa, is Christian.

Lucian. Show me five men in each who obey the commands of Christ, and I will show you five hundred in this very city who observe the dictates of Pythagoras. Every Pythagorean obeys his defunct philosopher; and almost every Christian disobeys his living God. Where is there one who practises the most important and the easiest of his commands, to abstain from strife? Men easily and perpetually find something new to quarrel about; but the objects of affection are limited in number, and grow up scantily and slowly. Even a small house is often too spacious for them, and there is a vacant seat at the table. Religious men themselves, when the Deity has bestowed on them everything they prayed for, discover, as a peculiar gift of Providence, some fault in the actions or opinions of a neighbour, and run it down, crying and shouting after it, with more alacrity and more clamour than boys would a leveret or a squirrel in the play-ground. Are our years and our intellects, and the word of God itself, given us for this, O Timotheus?
Id. (at 285):
Lucian. I love those best who quarrel least, and who bring into public use the most civility and good-humour.
Id. (at 307-308):
Lucian. If your leaders are in earnest, as many think, do persuade them to abstain from quarrelsomeness and contention, and not to declare it necessary that there should perpetually be a religious as well as a political war between east and west. No honest and considerate man will believe in their doctrines who, inculcating peace and good-will, continue all the time to assail their fellow-citizens with the utmost rancour at every divergency of opinion, and, forbidding the indulgence of the kindlier affections, exercise at full stretch the fiercer.
Id. (at 331):
Lucian. I hold it to be the most unphilosophical thing in the world, to call away men from useful occupations and mutual help, to profitless speculations and acrid controversies. Censurable enough, and contemptible too, is that supercilious philosopher, sneeringly sedate, who narrates in full and flowing periods the persecutions and tortures of a fellow man, led astray by his credulity, and ready to die in the assertion of what in his soul he believes to be the truth. But hardly less censurable, hardly less contemptible, is the tranquilly arrogant sectarian, who denies that wisdom or honesty can exist beyond the limits of his own ill-lighted chamber.


The Easiest Way In

Clive James (1939-2019), "Anna Akhmatova," Cultural Amnesia (2007; rpt. London: Picador, 2012), pp. 11-15 (at 13):
Memo to any student making a raid on the culture of another language: essays are always the easiest way in.
Id., "Jorge Luis Borges," pp. 63-71 (at 63):
His dialogues and essays can be recommended as an easy way into Spanish, a language which every student of literature should hold in prospect, to the extent of an elementary reading knowledge at least.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


No Small Service

Walter Savage Landor, "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 281-333 (at 301-302):
It is no small service to the community to turn into ridicule the grave impostors, who are contending which of them shall guide and govern us, whether in politics or religion.


The Survival of Menander

Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), p. 51, discussing papyrus fragments:
All the Menander we have is from such sources, all the Herodas, half the Sappho, most of the Archilochos...
A considerable portion of Menander survives not in papyrus fragments but in quotations by other ancient authors: see Poetae Comici Graeci, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin, Vol. VI 2: Menander: Testimonia et Fragmenta apud Scriptores Servata (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), a volume of xxxi + 437 pages.


Friday, November 13, 2020


Soiled Undergarments

 Dear Mike,

Tom Shippey’s suggested nickname dritbrók, which he coyly forbears to translate, has an English parallel in the name of a Lincolnshire man, Randulfus Bla de Shitebroc, recorded in Court Rolls for 1202. Melissa Mohr, in Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 94) translates the name as ‘roughly, Randall Shitboast’. To quote Shippey, ‘This is a theory one has to reject!’ According to the MED ‘broc (?Cp. OE gebræc noise)’  means ‘a loud boast or threat’. However, if Mohr had consulted the entry for brẹ̄ch n. ‘The undergarment covering the lower part of the body; underpants, drawers, or tights;’ I think she’d have seen in brōc  the true source: ‘Etymology OE brēc (pl. of brōc, corresp. to OI brōk, OHG bruoh); perh. also the ON pl. brök-r, although ME brẹ̄k in N texts can come from OE.’ The word needs no translation, just updating. OED citations for shit-breech span the period 1648 to 2001 and include Joyce and Davenport.  For brōc-brēc, the same applies as to bōc ‘book’: a feminine athematic consonant stem, with nominative and accusative plural and genitive and dative singular bēc (probably /beːtʃ/), reflecting i-mutation of the stem vowel to ē … and palatalization and assibilation of the final consonant, both due to following i in the lost inflectional ending.’ The plural form beec ‘books’ survived into early Middle English.

Best wishes,

Eric [Thomson]



So Let Me Live

Tibullus 1.10.39-44 (tr. J.P. Postgate):
Nay, the hero is he whom, when his children are begotten,
old age's torpor overtakes in his humble cottage.
He follows his sheep, his son the lambs,
while the good wife heats the water for his weary limbs. So let me live
till the white hairs glisten on my head
and I tell in old man's fashion of the days gone by.

quin potius laudandus hic est quem prole parata
   occupat in parva pigra senecta casa!
ipse suas sectatur oves, at filius agnos,
   et calidam fesso comparat uxor aquam.
sic ego sim, liceatque caput candescere canis
   temporis et prisci facta referre senem.
William H. Race, "Prole Parata at Tibullus 1.10.39," American Journal of Philology 102.2 (Summer, 1981) 146-147, convincingly argues that prole parata means with his children at hand or in attendance (which for some reason reminds me of these lines from the song Dégénération by the group Mes Aïeux: Ton arrière-arrière-grand-mère, elle a eu quatorze enfants / Ton arrière-grand-mère en a eu quasiment autant .... Mais y'a des matins, tu te réveilles en pleurant / Quand tu rêves la nuit d'une grande table entourée d'enfants).

Kirby Flower Smith ad loc.:
Paul Murgatroyd ad loc.:
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Thursday, November 12, 2020



Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (London: Reaktion Books, 2018), p. 96, with notes on p. 320:
Rowe, by contrast, accepts that Reginherus may well have been the original of Ragnar, not yet known as 'Lodbrog'.30 Noting the accounts that say that he was struck down by disease, once specified as dysentery, she adds the speculation that the unfortunate effects of dysentery — unstoppably loose bowels — may have been the cause of his nickname.31 This is a theory one has to reject! If Ragnar had been famous for fouling his trousers, one can be sure that his loyal comrades, filled with Bad Sense of Humour, would not have called him anything as polite as loðbrók, or 'hairy-breeches'. They would have come out with something much ruder, perhaps dritbrók, which I forbear to translate.

30 [Elizabeth Ashman] Rowe, Vikings in the West, p. 32. She rejects, however, the idea that there ever was an actual person called Loðbrók, or that the attacker of Paris could have been the father of Irish Ímair, p. 134.

31 Ibid., pp. 165–6.
ONP: Dictionary of Old Norse Prose, s.v. drit sb. n.:
shit, excrement



A Public Menace

Ezra Pound, letter to Lascelles Abercrombie, quoted in Life Is My Song: The Autobiography of John Gould Fletcher (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937), p. 72:
Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace. I hereby challenge you to a duel, to be fought at the earliest moment that is suited to your convenience. My seconds will wait upon you in due course.
I don't see this letter in D.D. Paige, ed., The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941 (London: Faber and Faber, 1951).

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to Jeff Cooper, Timeline of the Dymock Poets 1911-1916:
1914, June 26?        Abercrombie receives a letter from Ezra Pound challenging him to a duel.

Thanks to Kenneth Haynes for drawing my attention to Pound / Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound's Essays on Joyce. Edited and with Commentary by Forrest Read (New York: New Directions, 1967), p. 48, n. 6:
A story is told in many versions about how Pound challenged Abercrombie to a duel for advising young poets to abandon realism and study Wordsworth (some versions say Milton). Abercrombie, it is said, took the challenge seriously and became frightened when told Pound was an expert fencer (Pound had been trying to get Yeats into condition by teaching him the art). But Abercrombie took advantage of the challenged party's right to choose the weapons and proposed that they bombard each other with copies of their unsold books. Soon thereafter, the story goes, Abercrombie paid a visit to Yeats; greeted by Pound at the door, he fled. That apparently closed the menacing incident, and two bards were preserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


A Cultural Imperative

Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (London: Reaktion Books, 2018), pp. 87-88, with notes on p. 319:
The characteristics of the northern death song, seen as a genre, have in fact been noted by Professor Joseph Harris of Harvard.9 He counts as many as fifteen Old Norse examples, though that includes some marginal cases like the death song of Starkad, found only (like most of Bjarkamál) in Saxo's verbose Latin rendering. He also lists some eight or nine motifs found repeatedly, but the most striking one is this: the very last words of a death song were (should be? Or were expected to be?) about as emotionally flat as could be managed. Several are quoted in what follows, but a good one is Thorir Jokul's, as he was led to execution in 1238: Eitt sinn skal hver deyja 'Everyone must die one day'.10 They are the correlative of the poker face that the hero is expected to display in moments of stress or disaster. Both the flat words and the poker face surely exist to express a cultural imperative — one that our more sentimental modern world is (on the whole, and with exceptions) ill-suited to appreciate.

9 Joseph Harris, 'Beowulf's Last Words', Speculum, lxvii (1992), pp. 1–32.

10 Quoted in Guðni Jónsson, ed., Sturlunga saga, 3 vols (Reykvavik, 1951), vol. ii, p. 352. The late date means that Thorir's poem could well have been recorded by someone actually present


To Endure the Lazy Stars

Martial, Epigrams. Edited and Translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Vol. II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993 = Loeb Classical Library, 95), pp. 44-45 (6.58.1-4):
Cernere Parrhasios dum te iuvat, Aule, triones
   comminus et Getici sidera ferre poli,
o quam paene tibi Stygias ego raptus ad undas
   Elysiae vidi nubila fusca plagae!

58.2 ferre γ: pigra β

While it is your pleasure, Aulus,a to gaze at the Parrhasian Bears from close at hand and to endure the lazy stars of a Getic sky, how nearly was I reft from you to the waters of Styx and beheld the dim mists of the Elysian plain!

a Aulus Pudens was campaigning against the Dacians.
In line 2, Shackleton Bailey printed ferre in the Latin text but translated both manuscript variants, ferre and pigra. The error persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library. He should have either printed ferre and translated "and to endure the stars," or printed pigra and translated "and the lazy stars."



Smoke and Fire

Plautus, Curculio 53-54 (tr. Wolfgang de Melo):
Always keep this in mind: flame is the next thing to smoke.
Nothing can be burned by smoke, but anything can be burned by flame.

semper tu scito, flamma fumo est proxuma;
fumo comburi nil potest, flamma potest.


A Program for a Better World

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Hour of Decision, Part One: Germany and World-Historical Evolution, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1934), pp. 9-10:
We are still in the Age of Rationalism, which began in the eighteenth century and is now rapidly nearing its close. We all are its creatures whether we know and wish it or not. The word is familiar enough, but who knows how much it implies? It is the arrogance of the urban intellect, which, detached from its roots and no longer guided by strong instinct, looks down with contempt on the full-blooded thinking of the past and the wisdom of ancient peasant stock. It is the period in which everyone can read and write and therefore must have his say and always "knows better." This type of mind is obsessed by concepts — the new gods of the Age — and it exercises its wits on the world as it sees it. "It is no good," it says; "we could make it better; here goes, let us set up a program for a better world!" Nothing could be easier for persons of intelligence, and no doubt seems to be felt that this world will then materialize of itself. It is given a label, "Human Progress," and now that it has a name, it is. Those who doubt it are narrow reactionaries, heretics, and, what is worse, persons devoid of democratic virtue: away with them!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


A Proposed Law to Ban the Destruction of Books

"Miran Ivan Knez, the Bukvarna, and the Quest to Ban Destruction of Books," The Fate of Books (November 9, 2020):
In 1990, the Slovenian Bibliophile Society launched a campaign which to my knowledge has no parallel anywhere else in the world. To the Slovenian national assembly, which was then still a regional organ within the Yugoslav federation, they proposed a law which would prohibit the destruction of books. Unfortunately, no draft of the proposed law remains publicly available anywhere. All I know is that despite its utopian nature, the law wasn’t dismissed out of hand, and it was actually given a pretty decent hearing.

After an initial rejection in 1990, the proposal was debated again in 1992 at the Committee for Culture within the national assembly of the newly independent Slovenia. The committee ordered the Ministry of Culture to “find a solution to the question of protecting books, based on the principle that books are objects of cultural heritage,” which is pretty close to the Bibliophile Society’s own position. In 1993, this same committee passed a resolution agreeing that books “should be protected against destruction to the greatest possible extent,” and again charged the Ministry of Culture to update the law accordingly.

Later in 1993, the ministry finally produced a response in which they officially recommended that libraries and waste paper companies refrain from pulping books. Instead, books should be donated to organisations willing to take them, for example to the Slovenian Bibliophile Society. However, the ministry rejected a ban on book destruction, as this would infringe on private property. The Bibliophile Society expressed disagreement with this lukewarm response, but pledged to continue its struggle against libricide.


Cause for Laughter

Procopius, History of the Wars 4.7.14-15 (tr. H.B. Dewing):
Accordingly Gelimer came before him in that place, laughing with such laughter as was neither moderate nor the kind one could conceal, and some of those who were looking at him suspected that by reason of the extremity of his affliction he had changed entirely from his natural state and that, already beside himself, he was laughing for no reason. But his friends would have it that the man was in his sound mind, and that because he had been born in a royal family, and had ascended the throne, and had been clothed with great power and immense wealth from childhood even to old age, and then being, driven to flight and plunged into great fear had undergone the sufferings on Papua, and now had come as a captive, having in this way had experience of all the gifts of fortune, both good and evil, for this reason, they believed, he thought that man's lot was worthy of nothing else than much laughter.

ἔνθα δὴ ὁ Γελίμερ παρ᾿ αὐτὸν εἰσῆλθε, γελῶν γέλωτα οὔτε φαῦλον οὔτε κρύπτεσθαι ἱκανὸν ὄντα, τῶν τε αὐτὸν θεωμένων ἔνιοι μὲν τῇ τοῦ πάθους ὑπερβολῇ ἁπάντων τε αὐτὸν ἐκστῆναι τῶν κατὰ φύσιν ὑπώπτευον καὶ παραπαίοντα ἤδη λόγῳ οὐδενὶ τὸν γέλωτα ἔχειν. οἱ μέντοι φίλοι ἀγχίνουν τε τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐβούλοντο εἶναι καὶ ἅτε οἰκίας μὲν βασιλικῆς γεγονότα, εἰς βασιλείαν δὲ ἀναβεβηκότα, καὶ δύναμίν τε ἰσχυρὰν χρήματά τε μεγάλα ἐκ παιδὸς ἄχρι καὶ ἐς γῆρας περιβαλόμενον, εἶτα εἰς φυγήν τε καὶ δέος πολὺ ἐμπεσόντα καὶ κακοπάθειαν τὴν ἐν Παπούᾳ ὑποστάντα, καὶ νῦν ἐν αἰχμαλώτων λόγῳ ἥκοντα, πάντων τε ταύτῃ τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς τύχης ἀγαθῶν τε καὶ φλαύρων ἐν πείρᾳ γεγονότα, ἄλλου οὐδενὸς ἄξια τὰ ἀνθρώπινα ἢ γέλωτος πολλοῦ οἴεσθαι εἶναι.
See Judith Hagen, "Laughter in Procopius' Wars," in Albrecht Classen, ed., Laughter in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), pp. 141-164 (at 159-163).

Monday, November 09, 2020


Quails and Magpies

The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry. Translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley (1937; rpt. New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 299 (Waley's number 269 = 49 Mao):
How the quails bicker,
How the magpies snatch!
Evil are the men
Whom I must call 'brother.'

How the magpies snatch,
How the quails bicker!
Evil are the men
Whom I must call 'lord.'
The same, in The Book of Odes. Chinese Text, Transcription and Translation by Bernhard Karlgren (Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1950), p. 32:
1. The quails are ardent, the magpies are fierce; a man who has no goodness I have to regard as my brother. 2. The magpies are fierce, the quails are ardent; a man who has no goodness I have to regard as my lord.


The Skies of Italy

Walter Savage Landor, Last Fruit Off an Old Tree, LIX (To Shelley), lines 13-15, in his Poems, Dialogues in Verse, and Epigrams, Vol. II: Poems and Epigrams (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1892), p. 253:
He who beholds the skies of Italy
Sees ancient Rome reflected, sees beyond,
Into more glorious Hellas, nurse of Gods
And godlike men: dwarfs people other lands.
Here "dwarfs" is a noun, subject of the verb "people" (probably obvious to everyone else, but it confused me at first).


Different Persons

Plutarch, The E at Delphi 18 (Moralia 392 D-E; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt):
Dead is the man of yesterday, for he is passed into the man of to-day; and the man of to-day is dying as he passes into the man of to-morrow. Nobody remains one person, nor is one person; but we become many persons, even as matter is drawn about some one semblance and common mould with imperceptible movement. Else how is it that, if we remain the same persons, we take delight in some things now, whereas earlier we took delight in different things; that we love or hate opposite things, and so too with our admirations and our disapprovals, and that we use other words and feel other emotions and have no longer the same personal appearance, the same external form, or the same purposes in mind? For without change it is not reasonable that a person should have different experiences and emotions; and if he changes, he is not the same person; and if he is not the same person, he has no permanent being, but changes his very nature as one personality in him succeeds to another. Our senses, through ignorance of reality, falsely tell us that what appears to be is.

ὅ τ᾿ ἐχθὲς εἰς τὸν σήμερον τέθνηκεν, ὁ δὲ σήμερον εἰς τὸν αὔριον ἀποθνῄσκει· μένει δ᾿ οὐδεὶς οὐδ᾿ ἔστιν εἷς, ἀλλὰ γιγνόμεθα πολλοί, περὶ ἕν τι φάντασμα καὶ κοινὸν ἐκμαγεῖον ὕλης περιελαυνομένης καὶ ὀλισθανούσης. ἐπεὶ πῶς οἱ αὐτοὶ μένοντες ἑτέροις χαίρομεν νῦν, ἑτέροις πρότερον, τἀναντία φιλοῦμεν ἢ μισοῦμεν καὶ θαυμάζομεν καὶ ψέγομεν, ἄλλοις δὲ χρώμεθα λόγοις ἄλλοις πάθεσιν, οὐκ εἶδος οὐ μορφὴν οὐ διάνοιαν ἔτι τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχοντες; οὔτε γὰρ ἄνευ μεταβολῆς ἕτερα πάσχειν εἰκός, οὔτε μεταβάλλων ὁ αὐτός ἐστιν· εἰ δ᾿ ὁ αὐτὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδ᾿ ἔστιν, ἀλλὰ6 τοῦτ᾿ αὐτὸ μεταβάλλει γιγνόμενος ἕτερος ἐξ ἑτέρου. ψεύδεται δ᾿ ἡ αἴσθησις ἀγνοίᾳ τοῦ ὄντος εἶναι τὸ φαινόμενον.

Sunday, November 08, 2020



"Ex Columbano Quae Videntur Catonis Esse," i.e., "Lines from Columbanus Which May Be Regarded as Catonian," number 2, in J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff, Minor Latin Poets (1935; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 630-631:
Take care your victory bring you no regrets.

Ne tua paeniteat caveas victoria temet.



Walter Savage Landor, "Peter Leopold and President Du Paty," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 176-233 (at 229-230):
Domitian never did against his enemies what these free nations have done against themselves.

The sea-tortoise can live without its brains,—an old discovery! Men can govern without theirs,—an older still!

Saturday, November 07, 2020


A Party-Man

Walter Savage Landor, "General Lacy and Cura Merino," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. V (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 241-257 (at 242-243):
He who declares himself a party-man, let his party profess the most liberal sentiments, is a registered and enlisted slave: he begins by being a zealot and ends by being a dupe...


The Historical Sciences

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "Prehistoric Eyes," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 61-67 (at 67, discussing Alexander Marshack, The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man's First Art, Symbol and Notation [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972]):
And cognition? I would swap eyes, were it possible, with an Aurignacian hunter; I suspect his of being sharper, better in every sense. History is not linear; it is the rings of growth in a tree; and it is tragic. Mr. Marshack's study of mind twenty millennia back is a touching of ghosts in the dark, the ghosts of people from whom we are descended, whose genes we carry in our bodies. Our most diligent sciences look inward into the cell and atom, to stave off death. The historical sciences do not so obviously stave off death, but it seems to me that searching for man in his past and finding him not brutal and inarticulate but a creature of accomplished sensitivity and order, sane and perhaps more alive than we, is a shield against the forces among us that stave off life.

Friday, November 06, 2020


Back Against the Stream of Time

Lafcadio Hearn, letter to Sentarō Nishida (November, 1893):
I like little towns. To live at Tadotsu, or at Hishi-ura in Oki, or at Yunotsu in Iwami, or at Daikon-shimain Naka-umi, would fill my soul with joy. I cannot like the new Japan. I dislike the officials, the imitation of foreign ways, the airs, the conceits, the contempt for Tempō, etc. Now to my poor mind, all that was good and noble and true was Old Japan: I wish I could fly out of Meiji forever, back against the stream of Time, into Tempō, or into the age of the Mikado Yūriaku — fourteen hundred years ago. The life of the old fans, the old byōbu, the tiny villages — that is the real Japan I love.
Tempō = era from 1831 to 1846
Meiji = era from 1868 to 1912
byōbu = folding screen


Fact or Fable?

Babrius 40 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A humpbacked camel was crossing a swiftly flowing river when he defecated. Seeing that the dung was floating ahead of him, he said: "Truly, I'm in a bad way; what ought to be behind me is now going in front." [A state in which the worst citizens are in power, instead of the best, might tell this story of Aesop's.]

Διέβαινε ποταμὸν ὀξὺν ὄντα τῷ ῥείθρῳ
κυρτὴ κάμηλος, εἶτ' ἔχεζε. τοῦ δ' ὄνθου
φθάνοντος αὐτὴν εἶπεν "ἦ κακῶς πράσσω·
ἔμπροσθεν ἤδη τἀξόπισθέ μου βαίνει."
[Πόλις ἄν τις εἴποι τὸν λόγον τὸν Αἰσώπου,
ἧς ἔσχατοι κρατοῦσιν ἀντὶ τῶν πρώτων.]

Thursday, November 05, 2020



Guy Davenport (1927-2005), "The Symbol of the Archaic," in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 17-29 (at 19-20, discussing Charles Olson's poem The Kingfisher):
All of this is part of what Olson meant by saying that we are alienated from all that was most familiar. Basically he meant that we no longer milk the cow, or shoot the game for our dinner, or make our clothes or houses or anything at all. Secondly, he meant that we have drained our symbols of meaning. We hang religious pictures in museums, honoring a residual meaning in them, at least. We have divorced poetry from music, language from concrete particulars. We have abandoned the rites de passage to casual neglect where once we marked them with trial and ceremony.

Thirdly, he meant that modernity is a kind of stupidity, as it has no critical tools for analyzing reality such as the ancient cultures kept bright and sharp. We do not notice that we are ruled by the worst rather than the best of men: Olson took over a word coined by Pound, pejorocracy.


What Difference Does It Make?

Phaedrus 1.15 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A change of sovereignty brings to the poor nothing more than a change in the name of their master. The truth of this is shown by the following little tale.

A timorous old man was pasturing an ass in a meadow. Alarmed by the sudden war cry of enemy soldiers approaching, he urged the ass to flee for fear of capture. But the stubborn beast replied: "I ask you, are you assuming that the conqueror will load me with two packs at a time?" "No," said the old man. "Then," said the ass, "what difference does it make to me whose slave I am, so long as I carry only one pack at a time?"

In principatu commutando civium
nil praeter dominum, non res mutant pauperes.
id esse verum parva haec fabella indicat.

Asellum in prato timidus pascebat senex.
is hostium clamore subito territus        5
suadebat asino fugere, ne possent capi.
At ille lentus: "Quaeso, num binas mihi
clitellas impositurum victorem putas?"
senex negavit. "Ergo quid refert mea
cui serviam, clitellas dum portem unicas?"        10

1 civium saepius PR'
2 dominum, non res Stowasser: domini mores PR': domini nomen Bongars
10 unicas Housman: meas PR

Wednesday, November 04, 2020


Events Which All Men Ought to Remember

Lysias 2.3 (tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
So now, in the first place, I shall recount the ancient ordeals of our ancestors, drawing remembrance thereof from their renown. For they also are events which all men ought to remember, glorifying them in their songs, and describing them in the sage sayings of worthy minds; honouring them on such occasions as this, and finding in the achievements of the dead so many lessons for the living.

πρῶτον μὲν οὖν τοὺς παλαιοὺς κινδύνους τῶν προγόνων δίειμι, μνήμην παρὰ τῆς φήμης λαβών· ἄξιον γὰρ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις κἀκείνων μεμνῆσθαι, ὑμνοῦντας μὲν ἐν ταῖς ᾠδαῖς, λέγοντας δ᾿ ἐν ταῖς τῶν ἀγαθῶν γνώμαις, τιμῶντας δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς καιροῖς τοῖς τοιούτοις, παιδεύοντας δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς τῶν τεθνεώτων ἔργοις τοὺς ζῶντας.

γνώμαις X: μνήμαις ΦV: τοῖς τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἐγκωμίοις Thalheim


Howler (click to enlarge): (click to enlarge):
"Odiosis hominem" is not Latin for "boring person". It's not grammatical Latin at all. Odiosis is dative or ablative plural of the adjective odiosus, and hominem is accusative singular of the noun homo. Adjectives should agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number, and case. Here the number and case don't match.

Also, if Odiosis hominem is intended to be a jocose scientific name, the word order and capitalization are wrong, as if Odiosis were the genus and hominem the species. Besides, scientific names are normally in the nominative singular, not in oblique cases or plurals.

My advice? Forgo Latin if you don't know Latin. Above all, never use Google Translate to find the Latin equivalent of an English phrase.

A few years ago Sixty Minutes correspondent Morley Safer labelled St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the "most boring" cities in the United States. At the time, I lived in St. Paul. In response to Safer, Mrs. Laudator temporarily changed our telephone answering machine message to "Hello. You have reached the most boring family in the most boring city in the United States. Leave your message at the tone." She was joking (I think).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts: A catalogue of howlers:

Tuesday, November 03, 2020


Selection of a Leader

Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (London: Reaktion Books, 2018), p. 66:
...if you believe 'The Saga of King Hrolf', the Geats chose their kings by seeing whose behind was big enough to fill their enormous throne by sitting on it...
The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. Translated with an Introduction by Jesse L. Byock (London: Penguin Books, 1998), p. 42:
Elk-Frodi instructed Thorir, saying, 'It is the law of the Gauts that a great assembly is called and all the Gauts are summoned to go there. A large throne, big enough for two men to sit comfortably on, is placed in the midst of the assembly. Then the man who fills that seat is chosen king. It seems to me that you would amply fill that seat.'

The brothers parted with affection, each wishing the other well. Thorir continued on his way until he reached Gautland. He came to a jarl, who received him well, and there Thorir spent the night. Every man who saw Thorir said that he might well become the king of the Gauts because of his size. They predicted that there would be few like him at the assembly.

When the time for the assembly arrived, the proceedings went as Frodi, his brother, had predicted they would. A judge was appointed to decide the matter truthfully. Many sat in the seat, but the judge declared none of them fit for the honour. Waiting until last, Thorir sat quickly in the chair, and the judge said, 'The seats fits you best, and you are selected to receive the kingship.'



Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Pericles and Aspasia," Longer Prose Works, Vol. 1 (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1892), pp. 117-410 (at 174, letter LVII, from Cleone to Aspasia):
Study is the bane of boyhood, the aliment of youth, the indulgence of manhood, and the restorative of age.

Monday, November 02, 2020


Men of Marathon

Plato, Menexenus 10 (240 d-e; tr. Tom Griffith):
That is the situation you have to think yourself into if you want to grasp what kind of people they really were who met the onslaught of the barbarians at Marathon, who punished the arrogance of the whole of Asia, and who were the first to set up memorials commemorating victory over the barbarians. They acted as guides and teachers to the rest of Greece, the lesson being that the power of the Persians was not irresistible, that all the numbers in the world, and all the wealth in the world, are no match for courage. For my part, therefore, I maintain that those men are not merely our fathers in a physical sense, but also fathered freedom both for us and for everybody in mainland Greece. That was the action to which the Greeks looked when they screwed up their courage to take their chance in the later battle for their freedom. They were pupils of the heroes of Marathon.

ἐν τούτῳ δὴ ἄν τις γενόμενος γνοίη οἷοι ἄρα ἐτύγχανον ὄντες τὴν ἀρετὴν οἱ Μαραθῶνι δεξάμενοι τὴν τῶν βαρβάρων δύναμιν καὶ κολασάμενοι τὴν ὑπερηφανίαν ὅλης τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ πρῶτοι στήσαντες τρόπαια τῶν βαρβάρων, ἡγεμόνες καὶ διδάσκαλοι τοῖς ἄλλοις γενόμενοι ὅτι οὐκ ἄμαχος εἴη ἡ Περσῶν δύναμις, ἀλλὰ πᾶν πλῆθος καὶ πᾶς πλοῦτος ἀρετῇ ὑπείκει. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ἐκείνους τοὺς ἄνδρας φημὶ οὐ μόνον τῶν σωμάτων τῶν ἡμετέρων πατέρας εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἐλευθερίας τῆς τε ἡμετέρας καὶ ξυμπάντων τῶν ἐν τῇδε τῇ ἠπείρῳ· εἰς ἐκεῖνο γὰρ τὸ ἔργον ἀποβλέψαντες καὶ τὰς ὑστέρας μάχας ἐτόλμησαν διακινδυνεύειν οἱ Ἕλληνες ὑπὲρ τῆς σωτηρίας, μαθηταὶ τῶν Μαραθῶνι γενόμενοι.


Ice People

Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War: The Middle Ages from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century (London: Methuen & Co., 1898), p. 58:
Still more interesting is the account of the array of the Franks a hundred years later, at the all-important battle of Poictiers, where Charles Martel turned back the advancing flood of Saracen horsemen who had swept so easily over the debris of the Visigothic monarchy. "The men of the North," says the chronicler, "stood as motionless as a wall;1 they were like a belt of ice frozen together, and not to be dissolved, as they slew the Arabs with the sword. The Austrasians, vast of limb, and iron of hand, hewed on bravely in the thick of the fight; it was they who found and cut down the Saracen king." Obviously, therefore, at Poictiers the Franks fought, as they had done two hundred years before, at Casilinum, in one solid mass,2 without breaking rank or attempting to manoeuvre. Their victory was won by the purely defensive tactics of the infantry square; the fanatical Arabs, dashing against them time after time, were shattered to pieces, and at last fled under shelter of the night.

1 "Gentes septentrionales ut paries immobiles permanentes, et sicut zona rigoris glacialiter adstricti gladio Arabes enecant. Gens Austriae mole membrorum praevalida et ferrea manu per ardua pectorabiliter ferientes regem inventum exanimant" (Isidorus Pacensis).

2 See p. 63.
"Dispatches: Skin Deep 101," Time 143.7 (February 14, 1994) 16 (on an African Heritage 101 class taught by Professor Leonard Jeffries at City College):
According to Jeffries, the class will focus on African contributions to world civilization that have been ignored by Eurocentric scholars. He begins by scribbling a chalkboard chart featuring "the sun people" (i.e., people of color) at one corner of a triangle and "the ice people" (i.e., not people of color) at another. Next to the latter he jots down a few salient attributes: "individualist," "competitive," "exploitative." Jeffries explains that his chart "gives us a paradigm for looking at the world. We're not talking about superiority and inferiority, but we're talking about the important factor of melanin." Blacks have more melanin — a skin pigment — than whites; Jeffries asserts, "It allows us to negotiate the vibrations of the universe and to deal with the ultraviolet rays of the sun."

Sunday, November 01, 2020


Not Yet

Homer, Odyssey 10.174-177 (tr. Peter Green):
Not yet, friends, for all our grief, shall we go down
to Hades' realm before our destined day arrives!
So come, while there's still food and drink in our swift ship
let's think about eating, not waste away from hunger!

ὦ φίλοι, οὐ γάρ πω καταδυσόμεθ᾽ ἀχνύμενοί περ
εἰς Ἀίδαο δόμους, πρὶν μόρσιμον ἦμαρ ἐπέλθῃ·
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγετ᾽, ὄφρ᾽ ἐν νηὶ θοῇ βρῶσίς τε πόσις τε,
μνησόμεθα βρώμης, μηδὲ τρυχώμεθα λιμῷ.

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