Thursday, December 31, 2020


We Die Every Day

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 24.19-20 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
I remember one day you were handling the well-known commonplace,—that we do not suddenly fall on death, but advance towards it by slight degrees; we die every day. For every day a little of our life is taken from us; even when we are growing, our life is on the wane. We lose our childhood, then our boyhood, and then our youth. Counting even yesterday, all past time is lost time; the very day which we are now spending is shared between ourselves and death. It is not the last drop that empties the water-clock, but all that which previously has flowed out; similarly, the final hour when we cease to exist does not of itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way.

memini te illum locum aliquando tractasse, non repente nos in mortem incidere, sed minutatim procedere; cotidie morimur. cotidie enim demitur aliqua pars vitae, et tunc quoque, cum crescimus, vita decrescit. infantiam amisimus, deinde pueritiam, deinde adulescentiam. usque ad hesternum, quicquid transît temporis, perît; hunc ipsum, quem agimus, diem cum morte dividimus. quemadmodum clepsydram non extremum stillicidium exhaurit, sed quicquid ante defluxit, sic ultima hora, qua esse desinimus, non sola mortem facit, sed sola consummat; tunc ad illam pervenimus, sed diu venimus.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


Sling for Your Supper

Vegetius, Epitome of Military Science 1.16.1-3 (tr. N.P. Milner):
It is advisable that recruits be thoroughly trained at casting stones by hand or with slings. The inhabitants of the Balearic Isles are said to have been first to discover the use of slings and to have practised with such expertise that mothers did not allow their small sons to touch any food unless they had hit it with a stone shot from a sling. Often, against soldiers armed with helmets, cataphracts and cuirasses, smooth stones shot with a sling or "sling-staff" are more dangerous than any arrows, since while leaving the limbs intact they inflict a wound that is still lethal, and the enemy dies from the blow of the stone without loss of blood. That slingers served in all battles of the ancients is known to everyone. This weapon should be learned by all recruits with frequent exercise, because it is no effort to carry a sling.

ad lapides vero vel manibus vel fundis iaciendos exerceri diligenter convenit iuniores. fundarum usum primi Balearium insularum habitatores et invenisse et ita perite exercuisse dicuntur ut matres parvos filios nullum cibum contingere sinerent nisi quem ex funda destinato lapide percussissent. saepe enim adversum bellatores cassidibus catafractis loricisque munitos teretes lapides de funda vel fustibalo destinati sagittis sunt omnibus graviores, cum membris integris letale tamen vulnus importent et sine invidia sanguinis hostis lapidis ictu intereat. in omnibus autem veterum proeliis funditores militasse nullus ignorat. quae res ideo ab universis tironibus frequenti exercitio discenda est quia fundam portare nullus est labor.

loricis del. Gemoll
Florus, Epitome of Roman History 1.43.5 (on the Balearic War; tr. Edward Seymour Forster):
They fight with three slings apiece; and who can wonder that their aim is so accurate, seeing that this is their only kind of arm and its employment their sole pursuit from infancy? A boy receives no food from his mother except what he has struck down under her instruction.

tribus quisque fundis proeliantur. certos esse quis miretur ictus, cum haec solo genti arma sint, id unum ab infantia studium? cibum puer a matre non accipit, nisi quem ipsa monstrante percusserit.


Explanations for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civiization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 32-33, with note on p. 195 (click image once  or twice to enlarge):
3.1 A list of 210 reasons, from A to Z, that have been suggested, at one time or another, to explain the decline and fall of the Roman empire.

'Anarchy, Anti-Germanism, Apathy ... Bankruptcy, Barbarization, Bathing ...'—a German scholar recently produced a remarkable and fascinating list of the 210 explanations of the fall of the Roman empire that have been proposed over the centuries (Fig. 3.1).1 In German they sound even better, and certainly more portentous: Hunnensturm, Hybris, Hyperthermia, moralischer Idealismus, Imperialismus, Impotenz. (For those who are intrigued, Hyperthermia, brought about by too many visits to overheated baths, could cause Impotenz.)

1. A. Demandt, Der Fall Roms: Die Auflösung der römischen Reiches im Urteil der Nachwelt (Munich, 1984).
For an English translation of the list see here.


Hot Nymphs?

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.268-269, in Frank Justus Miller, ed., Ovid, Metamorphoses, Vol. I: Books I-VIII, 3rd ed. rev. G.P. Goold (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 78-79 (story of Phaethon and the chariot of the Sun):
                      ipsum quoque Nerea fama est
Doridaque et natas tepidis latuisse sub antris.

They say that Nereus himself and Doris and her daughters were hot as they lay hid in their caves.
But the adjective tepidis modifies antris, i.e.
They say that Nereus himself and Doris and her daughters lay hid in the hot caves.
Stanley Lombardo's translation:
                                                     Nereus himself,
The story goes, along with Doris and her daughters,
Hid in warm sea caverns.
Some recentiores read undis (waves) for antris (caves), a common manuscript variant in Ovid: see R.J. Tarrant, "Silver Threads Among the Gold: A Problem in the Text of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'," Illinois Classical Studies 14.1/2 (Spring/Fall 1989) 103-117 (at 106-108).

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


At This Very Moment

Orientius, Commonitorium 2.195-196, in Poetae Christiani Minores (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1888 = Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, XVI.1), p. 235 (my translation):
Every hour little by little brings us closer to death:
even at this moment in which we're speaking, we're dying in advance.

omnis paulatim leto nos applicat hora:
    hoc quoque quo loquimur tempore, praemorimur.
Cf. Horace, Odes 1.11.7-8 (dum loquimur, fugerit invida / aetas).

I don't have access to Mildred Dolores Toobin, Orientii Commonitorium: A Commentary with an Introduction and Translation (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1945 = Patristic Studies, 74), but I think at p. 95 she translates our couplet thus:
Every hour brings us little by little nearer to death. At the very time that we are speaking we are already dying.



J.M. Synge (1871-1909), The Aran Islands (Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 1907), pp. 76-77:
I have come out of an hotel full of tourists and commercial travelers, to stroll along the edge of Galway bay, and look out in the direction of the islands. The sort of yearning I feel towards those lonely rocks is indescribably acute. This town, that is usually so full of wild human interest, seems in my present mood a tawdry medley of all that is crudest in modern life. The nullity of the rich and the squalor of the poor give me the same pang of wondering disgust; yet the islands are fading already and I can hardly realise that the smell of the seaweed and the drone of the Atlantic are still moving round them.


Laughing and Jeering as Part of a Religious Festival

Pausanias 7.27.9-10 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
[9] About sixty stades distant from Pellene is the Mysaeum, a sanctuary of the Mysian Demeter. It is said that it was founded by Mysius, a man of Argos, who according to Argive tradition gave Demeter a welcome in his home. There is a grove in the Mysaeum, containing trees of every kind, and in it rises a copious supply of water from springs. Here they also celebrate a seven days' festival in honour of Demeter. [10] On the third day of the festival the men withdraw from the sanctuary, and the women are left to perform on that night the ritual that custom demands. Not only men are excluded, but even male dogs. On the following day the men come to the sanctuary, and the men and the women laugh and jeer at one another in turn.

[9] Πελλήνης δὲ ὅσον στάδια ἑξήκοντα ἀπέχει τὸ Μύσαιον, ἱερὸν Δήμητρος Μυσίας· ἱδρύσασθαι δὲ αὐτὸ Μύσιόν φασιν ἄνδρα Ἀργεῖον, ἐδέξατο δὲ οἴκῳ Δήμητρα καὶ ὁ Μύσιος λόγῳ τῷ Ἀργείων. ἔστι δὲ ἄλσος ἐν τῷ Μυσαίῳ, δένδρα ὁμοίως τὰ πάντα, καὶ ὕδωρ ἄφθονον ἄνεισιν ἐκ πηγῶν. ἄγουσι δὲ καὶ ἑορτὴν τῇ Δήμητρι ἐνταῦθα ἡμερῶν ἑπτά· [10] τρίτῃ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς ἑορτῆς ὑπεξίασιν οἱ ἄνδρες ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, καταλειπόμεναι δὲ αἱ γυναῖκες δρῶσιν ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ὁπόσα νόμος ἐστὶν αὐταῖς· ἀπελαύνονται δὲ οὐχ οἱ ἄνδρες μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν κυνῶν τὸ ἄρρεν. ἐς δὲ τὴν ἐπιοῦσαν ἀφικομένων ἐς τὸ ἱερὸν τῶν ἀνδρῶν, αἱ γυναῖκές τε ἐς αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος ἐς τὰς γυναῖκας οἱ ἄνδρες γέλωτί τε ἐς ἀλλήλους χρῶνται καὶ σκώμμασιν.
See Jeremy F. Hultin, The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment (Leiden: Brill, 2008), pp. 28-40.

Monday, December 28, 2020


Treatment of Hostile Barbarians

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civiization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 26-27:
2.3 The right way to treat hostile barbarians, as shown on the column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome (built at the end of the second century AD). Above, captured males are being beheaded, apparently by fellow prisoners acting under duress; below, a woman and child are being led into slavery—while behind them another woman prisoner is stabbed in the chest by a Roman soldier.
2.4 'The Return of Good Times' (Fel. Temp. Reparatio), as imagined on a fourth-century coin: a Roman soldier spears a diminutive barbarian horseman.


Born Equal?

Page Smith, John Adams, Vol. I: 1735-1784 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962), p. 441 (on the Massachusetts constitution of 1780):
For the declaration of rights which preceded the constitution itself Adams leaned heavily on George Mason's classic statement in the Virginia bill of rights, written three years earlier. It is interesting to note that where, in the first article, Adams had written: "All men are born equally free and independent..." the convention deleted "equally" and replaced "independent" with "equal." Thus Adams' effort to do away with what was to him the disturbingly ambiguous phrase "born free and equal" came to nothing. It seemed so clear to him that men were most emphatically not born equal, either in wealth or talents, which made the phrase misleading and consequently dangerous. "Free and independent," yes; "free and equal," no.
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), p. 92:
[S]ociety rests upon the inequality of men. That is a natural fact. There are strong and weak natures, natures born to lead or not to lead, creative and untalented, honourable, lazy, ambitious, and placid natures. Each has its place in the general order of things.

Sunday, December 27, 2020


Haste and Passion

Thucydides 3.42.1 (speech of Diodotus; tr. C.F. Smith):
I have no fault to find with those who have proposed a reconsideration of the question of the Mytilenaeans, nor do I commend those who object to repeated deliberation on matters of the greatest moment; on the contrary, I believe the two things most opposed to good counsel are haste and passion, of which the one is wont to keep company with folly, the other with an undisciplined and shallow mind.

οὔτε τοὺς προθέντας τὴν διαγνώμην αὖθις περὶ Μυτιληναίων αἰτιῶμαι οὔτε τοὺς μεμφομένους μὴ πολλάκις περὶ τῶν μεγίστων βουλεύεσθαι ἐπαινῶ, νομίζω δὲ δύο τὰ ἐναντιώτατα εὐβουλίᾳ εἶναι, τάχος τε καὶ ὀργήν, ὧν τὸ μὲν μετὰ ἀνοίας φιλεῖ γίγνεσθαι, τὸ δὲ μετὰ ἀπαιδευσίας καὶ βραχύτητος γνώμης.


Better Things to Do?

Walter Goffart, "The Theme of 'The Barbarian Invasions' in Late Antique and Modern Historiography," in Evangelos K. Chrysos and Andreas Schwarcz, edd., Das Reich und die Barbaren (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1989), pp. 87-107 (at 98):
The Empire after Constantine had better things to do than engage in a ceaseless, sterile effort to exclude foreigners for whom it could find useful employment.

Friday, December 25, 2020


Mein Herzliebes Jesulein

Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio, Part I, Movement 1 (tr. Michael Marissen):
Shout, exult, arise, praise the days [of Christmas],
glorify what the Most High this day has done!
Leave off faintheartedness, ban lamenting;
break forth into song, full of shouting and rejoicing!
Serve the Most High with glorious choirs,
let us revere the ruler's name!

Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage,
Rühmet, was heute der Höchste getan!
Lasset das Zagen, verbannet die Klage,
Stimmet voll Jauchzen und Fröhlichkeit an!
Dienet dem Höchsten mit herrlichen Chören,
Laßt uns den Namen des Herrschers verehren!
Id., Movement 9:
Oh my beloved little Jesus,
make for yourself a perfectly soft little bed,
to rest in the shrine of my heart,
that I may never forget you!

Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein,
Mach dir ein rein sanft Bettelein,
Zu ruhn in meines Herzens Schrein,
Daß ich nimmer vergesse dein!

Thursday, December 24, 2020


The Religion Which Our Parents Taught Us

Walter Savage Landor, "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 281-333 (at 293):
Lucian. I have no measure for ascertaining the distance between the opinions and practices of men: I only know that they stand widely apart in all countries on the most important occasions; but this newly-hatched word heresy, alighting on my ear, makes me rub it. A beneficent God descends on earth in the human form, to redeem us from the slavery of sin, from the penalty of our passions: can you imagine he will punish an error in opinion, or even an obstinacy in unbelief, with everlasting torments? Supposing it highly criminal to refuse to weigh a string of arguments, or to cross-question a herd of witnesses, on a subject which no experience hath warranted and no sagacity can comprehend; supposing it highly criminal to be contented with the religion which our parents taught us, which they bequeathed to us as the most precious of possessions, and which it would have broken their hearts if they had foreseen we should cast aside,—yet are eternal pains the just retribution of what at worst is but indifference and supineness?


Translation: The Easy Way Out

James Agate, quoted by Richard Howard, tr., Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal (Boston: David R. Godine, 1983), p. xx (on a translator of Cyrano):
He refuses to rhyme and takes refuge in blank verse, like a tight-rope walker whose wire is stretched along the floor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020



Edward Brooke-Hitching, The Madman's Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History (London: Simon & Schuster, 2020) p. 173:
So vexing was the possibility of error for even the most accomplished scribe that we find references and illustrations of it personified in demon form. Titivillus, known as 'the patron demon of scribes', was said to be sent by Lucifer to torment the tired scribe and trick him into bringing errors into his work, and is first referenced c.1285 by Johannes Galensis (John of Wales) in Tractatus de penitentia. The demon was also said to steal monks' idle chatter and their mumbled delivery during church services to bring back to Hell. Apparently, Titivillus's work is not yet done: Marc Drogin notes in Mediaeval Calligraphy: its History and Technique (1980) that 'for the past half-century every edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has listed an incorrect page reference for, of all things, a footnote on the earliest mention of Titivillus'.
Id, p. 172, from a French manuscript, ca. 1510:
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


We Must Strike Them a Blow

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) during the North Anna River Campaign:
We must strike them a blow!
Removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol Building


Become as Little Children

Walter Savage Landor, "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 281-333 (at 282):
Timotheus. Depend upon it, there can be no stability of truth, no elevation of genius, without an unwavering faith in our holy mysteries. Babes and sucklings who are blest with it stand higher, intellectually as well as morally, than stiff unbelievers and proud sceptics.

Lucian. I do not wonder that so many are firm holders of this novel doctrine. It is pleasant to grow wise and virtuous at so small an expenditure of thought or time.


Efficacy of the Death Penalty

Thucydides 3.45.3-7 (speech of Diodotus on the fate of the Mytilenaeans; tr. C.F. Smith):
[3] All men are by nature prone to err, both in private and in public life, and there is no law which will prevent them; in fact, mankind has run the whole gamut of penalties, making them more and more severe, in the hope that the transgressions of evil-doers might be abated. It is probable that in ancient times the penalties prescribed for the greatest offences were relatively mild, but as transgressions still occurred, in course of time the penalty was seldom less than death. But even so there is still transgression.

[4] Either, then, some terror more dreadful than death must be discovered, or we must own that death at least is no prevention. Nay, men are lured into hazardous enterprises by the constraint of poverty, which makes them bold, by the insolence and pride of affluence, which makes them greedy, and by the various passions engendered in the other conditions of human life as these are severally mastered by some mighty and irresistible impulse.

[5] Then, too, Hope and Desire are everywhere; Desire leads, Hope attends; Desire contrives the plan, Hope suggests the facility of fortune; the two passions are most baneful, and being unseen phantoms prevail over seen dangers.

[6] Besides these, fortune contributes in no less degree to urge men on; for she sometimes presents herself unexpectedly and thus tempts men to take risks even when their resources are inadequate, and states even more than men, inasmuch as the stake is the greatest of all — their own freedom or empire over others — and the individual, when supported by the whole people, unreasonably overestimates his own strength.

[7] In a word, it is impossible, and a mark of extreme simplicity, for anyone to imagine that when human nature is wholeheartedly bent on any undertaking it can be diverted from it by rigorous laws or by any other terror.

[3] πεφύκασί τε ἅπαντες καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ ἁμαρτάνειν, καὶ οὐκ ἔστι νόμος ὅστις ἀπείρξει τούτου, ἐπεὶ διεξεληλύθασί γε διὰ πασῶν τῶν ζημιῶν οἱ ἄνθρωποι προστιθέντες, εἴ πως ἧσσον ἀδικοῖντο ὑπὸ τῶν κακούργων. καὶ εἰκὸς τὸ πάλαι τῶν μεγίστων ἀδικημάτων μαλακωτέρας κεῖσθαι αὐτάς, παραβαινομένων δὲ τῷ χρόνῳ ἐς τὸν θάνατον αἱ πολλαὶ ἀνήκουσιν· καὶ τοῦτο ὅμως παραβαίνεται.

[4] ἢ τοίνυν δεινότερόν τι τούτου δέος εὑρετέον ἐστὶν ἢ τόδε γε οὐδὲν ἐπίσχει, ἀλλ᾿ ἡ μὲν πενία ἀνάγκῃ τὴν τόλμαν παρέχουσα, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξουσία ὕβρει τὴν πλεονεξίαν καὶ φρονήματι, αἱ δ᾿ ἄλλαι ξυντυχίαι ὀργῇ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ὡς ἑκάστη τις κατέχεται ὑπ᾿ ἀνηκέστου τινὸς κρείσσονος ἐξάγουσιν ἐς τοὺς κινδύνους.

[5] ἥ τε ἐλπὶς καὶ ὁ ἔρως ἐπὶ παντί, ὁ μὲν ἡγούμενος, ἡ δ᾿ ἐφεπομένη, καὶ ὁ μὲν τὴν ἐπιβουλὴν ἐκφροντίζων, ἡ δὲ τὴν εὐπορίαν τῆς τύχης ὑποτιθεῖσα, πλεῖστα βλάπτουσι, καὶ ὄντα ἀφανῆ κρείσσω ἐστὶ τῶν ὁρωμένων δεινῶν.

[6] καὶ ἡ τύχη ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὐδὲν ἔλασσον ξυμβάλλεται ἐς τὸ ἐπαίρειν· ἀδοκήτως γὰρ ἔστιν ὅτε παρισταμένη καὶ ἐκ τῶν ὑποδεεστέρων κινδυνεύειν τινὰ προάγει, καὶ οὐχ ἧσσον τὰς πόλεις, ὅσῳ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων τε, ἐλευθερίας ἢ ἄλλων ἀρχῆς, καὶ μετὰ πάντων ἕκαστος ἀλογίστως ἐπὶ πλέον τι αὑτὸν ἐδόξασεν.

[7] ἁπλῶς τε ἀδύνατον καὶ πολλῆς εὐηθείας, ὅστις οἴεται τῆς ἀνθρωπείας φύσεως ὁρμωμένης προθύμως τι πρᾶξαι ἀποτροπήν τινα ἔχειν ἢ νόμων ἰσχύι ἢ ἄλλῳ τῳ δεινῷ.

Monday, December 21, 2020


Desire for Knowledge

Cicero, On Duties 1.6.18 (tr. Walter Miller):
For we are all attracted and drawn to a zeal for learning and knowing; and we think it glorious to excel therein, while we count it base and immoral to fall into error, to wander from the truth, to be ignorant, to be led astray.

omnes enim trahimur et ducimur ad cognitionis et scientiae cupiditatem, in qua excellere pulchrum putamus, labi autem, errare, nescire, decipi et malum et turpe ducimus.
Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.980a (tr. W.D. Ross):
All men naturally desire knowledge. An indication of this is our esteem for the senses; for apart from their use we esteem them for their own sake, and most of all the sense of sight. Not only with a view to action, but even when no action is contemplated, we prefer sight, generally speaking, to all the other senses. The reason of this is that of all the senses sight best helps us to know things, and reveals many distinctions.

πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾽ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾽ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾽ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς.
Werner Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, tr. Richard Robinson, 2nd ed. (1948; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), pp. 68-69:
Every reader of the Metaphysics has been carried away again and again by the force of its opening pages. Aristotle there develops with irresistible power the view that, far from its being contrary to man's nature to occupy himself with theoretical studies, the pleasure of seeing, of understanding, and of knowing, is rooted deep within him, and merely expresses itself differently at the different levels of his consciousness and culture. It is really the fulfilment of man's higher nature, it is not a mere means to the satisfaction of the rising standards of civilized life, but the highest absolute value and the summit of culture, and of all studies the highest and most desirable is the one that produces the most exact science, and realizes in its perfect form the disinterested vision of pure knowledge. The protreptic power of these ideas will be felt by all who have learnt through experience the supreme value of this activity when pursued for its own sake. Knowledge has never been understood and recommended more purely, more earnestly, or more sublimely, and it is still a dead letter to-day for those who cannot pursue it in this spirit.

Saturday, December 19, 2020



Cicero, On Duties 1.2.7 (tr. Walter Miller):
For every systematic development of any subject ought to begin with a definition, so that everyone may understand what the discussion is about.

omnis enim, quae [a] ratione suscipitur de aliqua re institutio, debet a definitione proficisci, ut intellegatur, quid sit id, de quo disputetur.


Nipping Error in the Bud

Walter Savage Landor, "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 281-333 (at 281-282, Lucian speaking):
Surely we ought to remove an error the instant we detect it, although it may be out of our competence to state and establish what is right. A lie should be exposed as soon as born: we are not to wait until a healthier child is begotten. Whatever is evil in any way should be abolished. The husbandman never hesitates to eradicate weeds, or to burn them up, because he may not happen at the time to carry a sack on his shoulder with wheat or barley in it. Even if no wheat or barley is to be sown in future, the weeding and burning are in themselves beneficial, and something better will spring up.



Page Smith, John Adams, Vol. I: 1735-1784 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962), p. 273:
Of Adams' views and opinions, it is perhaps worth saying something at this juncture. Throughout his life he expressed a number of points of view, many of them about the same issues and problems, and many of them contradictory. Historians are generally uncomfortable in the face of contradictions and paradoxes. But life is full of both; professors may be rational but life is not. John Adams was often paradoxical, and since it did not worry him unduly, it should not worry historians. On one day John Adams loved the people of New England and saw in them every virtue and, if not every grace, almost every quality deserving of admiration and applause. On other days (sometimes the very next day) they seemed to him a narrow, avaricious, small-spirited lot. Sometimes it was clear to him that the American people had the greatest future of any people in the world or, indeed, in the whole sweep of history; and other times he felt that only a miracle could draw the vast, sprawling continent into a brief, precarious unity. Sometimes he deplored the aristocratic spirit, sometimes the leveling one. Sometimes he ridiculed formality and ceremony; at others he insisted on the necessity of both if the dignity of government was to be upheld. Sometimes he warned against innovation, and then again denounced those who resisted change. Part of this seeming inconsistency was, of course, simply Adams' response to the ordinary alternations of social and political life. We are not always threatened by the same dangers. Today's creative dream is often tomorrow's inflexible dogma; and since Adams had a strong vein of practical realism in his character, he responded quickly to new hazards that imperiled his beloved republic-in-the-making. Certainly an aspect of his inconsistency was the classic conflict in him between realism and idealism. He dared to dream bold and magnificent dreams, yet, unlike many dreamers, he was so solidly planted in the real world that he was always acutely conscious of the gap between the hoped-for and that which might be achieved in an imperfect universe.

Beyond that, as a passionate and committed man inclined to intense introspection he was swept alternately by tides of optimism and despair. Beyond that, many of the inconsistencies we have been speaking about were simply the natural response of any thoughtful and religious man to the ironies and paradoxes of the human condition.

Friday, December 18, 2020


Philosophy Test

Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 3.21.4-6 (tr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson):
The carpenter does not come and say, Hear me talk about the carpenter's art; but having undertaken to build a house, he makes it, and proves that he knows the art. You also ought to do something of the kind; eat like a man, drink like a man, dress, marry, beget children, do the office of a citizen, endure abuse, bear with an unreasonable brother, bear with your father, bear with your son, neighbour, companion. Show us these things that we may see that you have in truth learned something from the philosophers.

οὐκ ἔρχεται ὁ τέκτων καὶ λέγει "ἀκούσατέ μου διαλεγομένου περὶ τῶν τεκτονικῶν," ἀλλ᾿ ἐκμισθωσάμενος οἰκίαν ταύτην κατασκευάσας δείκνυσιν, ὅτι ἔχει τὴν τέχνην. τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ σὺ ποίησον· φάγε ὡς ἄνθρωπος, πίε ὡς ἄνθρωπος, κοσμήθητι, γάμησον, παιδοποίησον, πολίτευσαι· ἀνάσχου λοιδορίας, ἔνεγκε ἀδελφὸν ἀγνώμονα, ἔνεγκε πατέρα, ἔνεγκε υἱόν, γείτονα, σύνοδον. ταῦτα ἡμῖν δεῖξον, ἵν᾿ ἴδωμεν, ὅτι μεμάθηκας ταῖς ἀληθείαις τι τῶν φιλοσόφων.


Traveler versus Tourist

Waverley Root (1903-1982), The Food of France (1958; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1992), pp. 294-295:
Languedoc is not the country for the tourist who wants to be called for by a chauffeur in a private car (if he is well off) or to pile into a bus equipped with a loudspeaker and a guide obsessed with the idea that it must not be allowed to go unused (if he, or more often she, is not so well off), in order to be transported, hermetically isolated from the possible contagion of the surrounding country, to the noteworthy object and allowed to photograph it during the period allotted to it by a travel agency schedule; who then desires to be fed in a restaurant that can give him the same sort of meal he has eaten in every other restaurant he has ever patronized; and who finally requires some sort of standardized entertainment to banish boredom between dinner and bed. Because Languedoc has not vet been completely regimented, this is country which should be particularly attractive to the traveler who has not yet become resigned to being packaged, as well as to the diner who is not afraid to broaden the scope of his collection of tastes. The genuine traveler is advised to hurry if he wants to see Languedoc in something like its pristine innocence. The better-known tourist meccas can hold only so many persons, so the constant mounting of the tourist horde is forcing the flood into hitherto unexplored territories, preceded by travel agents whose duty it is to explain to local populations that tourists travel hundreds of miles from their own homes because they want to find in distant places replicas as like what they have left as possible.

The blight has already begun to invade Languedoc. I remember, nearly thirty years ago, spending a delightful idle aimless afternoon wandering about the Pont du Gard, that remarkable remnant of a Roman aqueduct, then traversing the trickle of river beneath it in the midst of a wilderness where nothing distracted from the spectacle of the weathered stones marching through the country of which they had become a part. But five years ago, when I went back, there were a modern hotel and a restaurant with large windows which permitted you to sit comfortably behind a table and look at the Pont du Gard as if it were on a television screen without establishing any personal contact with it. Someone had been tidying up the place, too—cutting grass, removing brush, and planting other brush where it would never have occurred to an independent bush to establish residence. I would have felt conspicuous to have wandered about and around the bridge and the Gard aimlessly, as I had done twenty-five years before, especially in my customary shameless state, naked of cameras.

The modern building was a violation of the setting, whose essence had been the absence of modernity. By breaking up the unity of the setting, it detached the Pont du Gard from it, too, and it had ceased to be an outgrowth of the country. It had become an isolated object, which might be viewed quite as profitably in a motion-picture theater. You cannot maintain interest in an isolated object for very long. It has to be related to a larger entity to have real meaning. The traveler visits the object on the spot to see it as part of the whole; the tourist visits it, under conditions which safely protect him from any spontaneity, to detach it from the whole and add it to his private collection of trinkets. Unfortunately the elaborate machinery by which he achieves this desire detaches the objects trom their settings for all other viewers, too. If, therefore, you are a traveler rather than a tourist, you are recommended to visit Languedoc, still largely unspoiled, and to do it soon. It cannot possibly last long.
Pont du Gard

Thursday, December 17, 2020


Our Understanding of Ancient Works

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, tr. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. vii-viii:
For all kinds of reasons, of which chronological distance is not the most important, our understanding of ancient works has grown more and more dim. To gain access to them once more, we will have to practice a kind of spiritual exercise or intellectual ascetics, in order to free ourselves from certain prejudices and rediscover what is, for us, almost another way of thinking.
Id., p. ix:
[T]he modern reader might imagine—and no one is safe from this error—that the ancient author lives in the same intellectual world as he does. The reader will treat the author's affirmations exactly as if they came from a contemporary author, and will therefore think he has immediately understood what the author meant. In fact, however, this understanding will be anachronistic, and the reader will often run the risk of committing serious mistranslations. To be sure, it is fashionable nowadays to affirm that, in any case, we cannot know exactly what an author meant, and that, moreover, this does not matter at all, for we can give the works any meaning we please. For my part, and without entering into this debate, I would say that before we discover "unintentional" meanings, it seems to me both possible and necessary to discover the meaning which the author intended. It is absolutely indispensable to go in the direction of a basic meaning, to which we can then refer in order to uncover, if we should so wish, those meanings of which the author was perhaps not conscious. It is true, however, that this reconstitution is extremely difficult for us, because we project attitudes and intentions proper to our era into the past. In order to understand ancient works, we must relocate them within their context, in the widest sense of the term, which can signify the material, social, and political situation as well as the political and rhetorical universe of thought.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


A Boon

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1.7 (among things owed to Quintus Junius Rusticus; tr. C.R. Haines): read with minute care and not to be content with a superficial bird's-eye view...

...καὶ τὸ ἀκριβῶς ἀναγινώσκειν καὶ μὴ ἀρκεῖσθαι περινοοῦντα ὁλοσχερῶς...
Peter Stewart, "The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius," in Marcel van Ackeren, ed., A Companion to Marcus Aurelius (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 264-277 (at 266):
The horse is caught in movement. Its raised front-right leg recalls the attitude of a highly trained parade horse on display, but this is misleading: according to the 12th-century Mirabilia Urbis Romae — an anonymous description of Rome's sights — the elevated hoof originally rested on the cowering body of a barbarian — a motif shared with the earlier, lost equestrian statue of the emperor Domitian, whose horse stepped on a personification of the River Rhine (Statius, Silvae 1.1.50–51). This detail is important for our perception of the statue and its place in the mythology of Marcus Aurelius. Without the submissive enemy he appears, to be sure, as a powerful ruler, but he is in civilian clothes, his expression is impassive — one might say 'philosophical' – and his gesture is more pacific than oppressive. If we restore in our imagination a barbarian figure, even an allegorical one, then the statue becomes a rather more typical representation of Roman victory through violence.
There is a copy of this statue at Brown University. Some students want the statue to be removed as a hated symbol of "white civilization."


Desire for Retirement

John Adams, letter to his wife Abigail (August 18, 1776):
Let me have my farm, family, and goosequill, and all the honors and offices this world has to bestow may go to those who deserve them better and desire them more. I covet them not. There are very few people in this world with whom I can bear to converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them, when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company. This has made me a recluse and will one day make me a hermit. I had rather build stone wall upon Penn's Hill, than to be the first Prince in Europe, or the first General or first Senator in America.


Wellington's Tree

Louise Allen, "Waterloo Battlefield, the First Tourists & the Fate of Wellington's Tree," Jane Austen's London (June 19, 2020):
One significant victim was the ‘Wellington Tree’. John Scott, a journalist, described its significance in Paris Revisited, in 1815, By Way of Brussels: Including A Walk Over the Field of Battle At Waterloo. (Longman, Hurst etc. London. 1816).

“From St. Jean, the road immediately rises up the back of the ridge, on the height and in the front of which, the infantry of the Duke of Wellington’s army was formed in line. The cavalry, at the beginning of the battle, were posted on the St. Jean side of the eminence. The ascent is easy: you reach the top unexpectedly, and the whole field of battle is then at once before the eye. Its sudden burst has the effect of a shock, and few, I believe, are found to put any question for the first five minutes. The point from whence this complete view of the scene, so often pictured in imagination, first presents itself, is one of the most interesting that it includes. It is the summit of the ridge close to the road, over which hangs an old picturesque tree, with a few straggling branches projecting in grotesque shapes from its ragged trunk. The British position extended on the right and left of the road, for the extent of about a mile and three quarters, along the top of a continued line of gentle eminences, immediately confronted by very similar heights, distant from half to three quarters of a mile along which the French army was posted. … The tree, already mentioned, fixed on the bank above the high road from Brussels to Charleroi, denotes the center of, our position, and, the Duke of Wellington having been near it the greater part of the day, it goes by the name of the “Wellington tree.” I found it much shattered with balls, both grape and musket; all of which had been picked out by visitors. Its branches and trunk were terribly splintered. It still retained, however, the vitality of its growth, and will, probably, for many future years, be the first saluting sign to our children and our children’s children, who, with feelings of a sacred cast, come to gaze on this theatre of their ancestors’ deeds.”

But the tree was not to survive for long. The party with schoolmaster John Evans, author of An Excursion to Windsor in 1810…to which is annexed A Journal of a Trip to Paris in the Autumn of 1816, by Way of Ostend, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and Waterloo. (Sherwood, Neely and Jones. London 1817) showed far less respect for the tree as a symbol than Scott did. “…we came in sight of WELLINGTON TREE, situated on a rising ground to the left of the road [seen from the south]. I took a Sketch of it, and some of my companions a bough or two. The bough immediately over the place where THE DUKE had stood, still bore the mark of a cannon-shot! This bough fell under the axe of an Irish officer in our party.” Charlotte Eaton [in The Days of Battle or Quatre Bras and Waterloo by An Englishwoman], returning to the battlefield for a second time, records the end of the tree. “*Footnote: It is on the left of the road in going towards Waterloo, behind the farmhouse of la Haye Sainte. But this tree, which ought to have been for ever sacred, has been CUT DOWN!!!”

H. Rider Haggard, Allan Quatermain, Chapter XV ("Sorais' Song"):
On other days we would pay visits to the country seats at some of the great lords' beautiful fortified places, and the villages clustering beneath their walls. Here we saw vineyards and corn-fields and well-kept park-like grounds, with such timber in them as filled me with delight, for I do love a good tree. There it stands so strong and sturdy, and yet so beautiful, a very type of the best sort of man. How proudly it lifts its bare head to the winter storms, and with what a full heart it rejoices when the spring has come again! How grand its voice is, too, when it talks with the wind: a thousand aeolian harps cannot equal the beauty of the sighing of a great tree in leaf. All day it points to the sunshine and all night to the stars, and thus passionless, and yet full of life, it endures through the centuries, come storm, come shine, drawing its sustenance from the cool bosom of its mother earth, and as the slow years roll by, learning the great mysteries of growth and of decay. And so on and on through generations, outliving individuals, customs, dynasties — all save the landscape it adorns and human nature — till the appointed day when the wind wins the long battle and rejoices over a reclaimed space, or decay puts the last stroke to his fungus-fingered work.

Ah, one should always think twice before one cuts down a tree!
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020


The Follies of Men

Walter Savage Landor, "Menander and Epicurus, Second Conversation," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 272-281 (at 279):
Epicurus. I suspect, my good Menander, that you enjoy the follies of men in our rotten State as flies enjoy fruit in its decay.

Menander. What can we do with such men as those about us better than laugh at them?


The Most Ungodly of All Crimes

Pausanias 7.10.1 (tr. Peter Levi):
The troubles of Achaia were to start from the most ungodly of all crimes, and one by which in the whole course of history Greece has never ceased to be afflicted: treachery to a man's country and people for the sake of his personal profit.

τολμημάτων δὲ τὸ ἀνοσιώτατον, τὴν πατρίδα καὶ ἄνδρας προδιδόναι πολίτας ἐπὶ οἰκείοις κέρδεσιν, ἔμελλε καὶ Ἀχαιοῖς κακῶν ἄρξειν, οὔποτε ἐκ τοῦ χρόνου παντὸς τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐκλιπόν.

Monday, December 14, 2020


Students to Teacher

Gilbert and Sullivan, Utopia Limited, Act I:
On each of us
    Thy learning shed.
On calculus
    May we be fed.
And teach us, please,
To speak with ease,
All languages,
    Alive and dead!



H. Rider Haggard, Allan Quatermain, Chapter IX ("Into the Unknown"):
But then that is what Englishmen are, adventurers to the backbone; and all our magnificent muster-roll of colonies, each of which will in time become a great nation, testify to the extraordinary value of the spirit of adventure which at first sight looks like a mild form of lunacy. 'Adventurer' — he that goes out to meet whatever may come. Well, that is what we all do in the world one way or another, and, speaking for myself, I am proud of the title, because it implies a brave heart and a trust in Providence. Besides, when many and many a noted Croesus, at whose feet the people worship, and many and many a time-serving and word-coining politician are forgotten, the names of those grand-hearted old adventurers who have made England what she is, will be remembered and taught with love and pride to little children whose unshaped spirits yet slumber in the womb of centuries to be.


A Madman

Joseph Epstein, "The Reluctant Bibliophile," Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays (Edinburg: Axios Press, 2016), pp. 523-525 (at 525):
The remainder of my reading life should be devoted to filling in the gaps of the great books I've not yet read or rereading those I read too young and with too little understanding. Yet I continue to acquire new books. At what point does bibliophilia turn into bibliomania? I fear I may have reached it. So if you happen to see a mild-looking little man descending the steps of the Evanston Library, a copy of Tarn and Griffith's Hellenistic Civilization and of Michael Millgate's hefty biography of Thomas Hardy under his arm and a complacent smile on his face, proceed cautiously. He is probably not dangerous though undoubtedly mad.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


Do No Harm

Robin Lane Fox, The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates (New York: Basic Books, 2020), page number unknown:
Fifteen years after the start of the plague, the Athenians decided in 415 BC to send a military expedition against Sicily, but the decision was then reopened in their democratic assembly. Thucydides tells how the general Nicias, wanting the idea to be abandoned, told the presiding member of the council to put the matter to a public vote for a second time: if he was afraid to do so, let him consider that if he did so, he would be acting as the 'doctor of the city when it has deliberated badly'. This advice, still pertinent, is then amplified. Good governance, Nicias says, is when 'someone benefits his country as much as possible or does it no willing harm.' This same precept, to 'do good or at least no harm', had already been commended to doctors in at least one of the new-style medical texts.21 It was to have a long life in medical ethics, but less of a life in political practice.

21. Thuc. 6.14; Epid. 1.5: Jouanna (2012) 21–38 and 152–3.


We Have Laws Enough

Walter Savage Landor, "Aeschines and Phocion," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 162-173 (at 165):
Phocion. While passions and minds are agitated, the fewer opinions we deliver before them the better. We have laws enough; and we should not accustom men to changes. Though many things might be altered and improved, yet alterations in State-matters, important or unimportant in themselves, are weighty in their complex and their consequences. A little car in motion shakes all the houses of a street; let it stand quiet, and you or I could almost bear it on our foot: it is thus with institutions.


A Charnel-House

H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, Chapter XVI ("The Tombs of Kôr"):
We were standing in an enormous pit, or rather on the edge of it, for it went down deeper— I don't know how much—than where we were, and was edged in with a low wall of rock. So far as I could judge, the pit was about the size of the space beneath the dome of St. Paul's, and when the lamps were held up I saw that it was nothing but one vast charnel-house, being literally full of thousands of human skeletons, which lay piled up in an enormous gleaming pyramid, formed by the slipping down of the bodies from the apex as fresh ones were dropped in from above. Anything more appalling than this jumbled mass of the remains of a departed race I cannot imagine, and what made it even more dreadful was that in this dry air a good number of the bodies had simply become desiccated with the skin on them, and now, fixed in every conceivable position, stared at one out of the heaps of white bones, grotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity. In my astonishment I made an ejaculation, and the echoes of my voice ringing in the vaulted place disturbed a skull that had been accurately balanced for many thousands of years near the apex of the pile. Down it came with a run, bounding along merrily towards us, and of course bringing an avalanche of other bones after it, till at last the whole place rattled with their movement, as though the skeletons were getting up to greet us.


A Slave's Lot

Euripides, Phoenician Women 392 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
This is a slave's lot you speak of, not to say what one thinks.

δούλου τόδ᾽ εἶπας, μὴ λέγειν ἅ τις φρονεῖ.

Friday, December 11, 2020


Ties That Bind

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 39 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
A strangely potent tie is kinship—and companionship as well.

τὸ συγγενές τοι δεινὸν ἥ θ᾽ ὁμιλία.


A Dangerous Creature

Abigail Adams, letter to her husband John (November 27, 1775):
I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, "Give, give!" The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020


Knave or Eunuch

Ezra Pound, "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley," III:
All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Pisistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.



Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes. Edited with an Introduction and Commentary by G.O. Hutchinson (1985; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 150 (commentary on lines 656f.):
The Greeks would seem to have wept freely, but also to have accepted that weeping was unmanly. Archil. fr. 13, Protag. B 9, Pl. Phd. 117D-E, are particularly revealing passages.
Archilochus, fragment 13 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
I will make nothing better by crying, I will make nothing
    worse by giving myself what entertainment I can.

οὔτε τι γὰρ κλαίων ἰήσομαι, οὐτε κάκιον
    θήσω τερπωλὰς καὶ θαλίας ἐφέπων.
Protagoras, fragment B 9 Diels (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
When his sons, who were fine young men, died within eight days, he (Pericles) bore it without mourning. For he held on to his serenity, from which every day he derived great benefit in happiness, freedom from suffering, and honour in the people's eyes—for all who saw him bearing his griefs valiantly thought him great-souled and brave and superior to themselves, well knowing their own helplessness in such a calamity.

τῶν γὰρ υἱέων νεηνιῶν ὄντων καὶ καλῶν, ἐν ὀκτὼ δὲ ταῖς πάσηισιν ἡμέρηισιν ἀποθανόντων νηπενθέως ἀνέτλη· εὐδίης γὰρ εἴχετο, ἐξ ἧς πολλὸν ὤνητο κατὰ πᾶσαν ἡμέρην εἰς εὐποτμίην καὶ ἀνωδυνίην καὶ τὴν ἐν τοῖς πολλοῖσι δόξαν· πᾶς γάρ τίς μιν ὁρῶν τὰ ἑαυτοῦ πένθεα ἐρρωμένως φέροντα, μεγαλόφρονά τε καὶ ἀνδρεῖον ἐδόκει εἶναι καὶ ἑαυτοῦ κρείσσω, κάρτα εἰδὼς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐν τοιοῖσδε πράγμασιν ἀμηχανίην.
Plato, Phaedo 117 D-E (tr. Harold North Fowler):
Crito had got up and gone away even before I did, because he could not restrain his tears. But Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time before, then wailed aloud in his grief and made us all break down, except Socrates himself. But he said, "What conduct is this, you strange men! I sent the women away chiefly for this very reason, that they might not behave in this absurd way; for I have heard that it is best to die in silence. Keep quiet and be brave." Then we were ashamed and controlled our tears.

ὁ δὲ Κρίτων ἔτι πρότερος ἐμοῦ, ἐπειδὴ οὐχ οἷός τ᾽ ἦν κατέχειν τὰ δάκρυα, ἐξανέστη. Ἀπολλόδωρος δὲ καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔμπροσθεν χρόνῳ οὐδὲν ἐπαύετο δακρύων, καὶ δὴ καὶ τότε ἀναβρυχησάμενος κλάων καὶ ἀγανακτῶν οὐδένα ὅντινα οὐ κατέκλασε τῶν παρόντων πλήν γε αὐτοῦ Σωκράτους. ἐκεῖνος δέ, 'οἷα, ἔφη, ποιεῖτε, ὦ θαυμάσιοι. ἐγὼ μέντοι οὐχ ἥκιστα τούτου ἕνεκα τὰς γυναῖκας ἀπέπεμψα, ἵνα μὴ τοιαῦτα πλημμελοῖεν· καὶ γὰρ ἀκήκοα ὅτι ἐν εὐφημίᾳ χρὴ τελευτᾶν. ἀλλ᾽ ἡσυχίαν τε ἄγετε καὶ καρτερεῖτε.' καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀκούσαντες ᾐσχύνθημέν τε καὶ ἐπέσχομεν τοῦ δακρύειν.
Related posts:


The Sweets and the Unsweets

Robert P. Tristram Coffin, quoted in Willan C. Roux, What's Cooking Down in Maine (Camden: Down East Books, 1964), p. 73:
Finally, the sweetening. Here the roads divide. For in New England there are two camps. Everybody is in one or the other. There are no neutrals. The Sweets and the Unsweets. They are bitterly opposed to each other. Blows may be exchanged. No quarter is given. Houses, even, are split in two on this crucial point. Ours was, on the farm. My mother had to bake two different pots of beans every Saturday of her life in the country. There was no compromise possible ... The sweet and the unsweet pots had to be rotated.

If you want to spoil your beans, if you wish to undo all the natural goodness in the universe ... pour in now one half cup of thick molasses, and ruin everything. Join the Sweets and be forever cursed to remain on the lower level of culture. But if, like me, you are one of the Unsweets, put in one tablespoon only of molasses—or, better still, one heaping one of brown sugar. There will be enough to give the thinnest edge of an exquisite suggestion of sweetness which the beans need to be perfect ...
Related posts:

Tuesday, December 08, 2020



The word xenophobia and its derivatives seem to be 20th century coinages, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I suspect French influence. See Pierre Villard, "Naissance d'un mot grec en 1900. Anatole France et les xénophobes," Mots n°8 (mars 1984) 191-195. I don't see the compound in ancient Greek, and I don't have access to Carl D. Buck and Walter Petersen, A Reverse Lexicon of Greek Nouns and Adjectives Arranged by Terminations (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1948), but I did recently meet with ἐχθρόξενος in Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 606 and 621. There is also an entry for μισόξενος in Liddell-Scott-Jones. 


Powerful and Rich, Lowly and Hungry

Luke 1:51–53 (Revised Standard Version):
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Setting by J.S. Bach:

François Bovon, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 1. Teilband: Lk 1,1-9,50 (Zürich: Benziger Verlag, 1989), pp. 90-91 (I don't have access to the English translation):
Die VV 52-53 gehören als zwei antithetische Doppelzeilen eng zusammen. Die Symmetrie ist mit zwei Reimen (-ων und -ους) eine chiastische: Die Gestraften werden in den Zeilen 1 und 4, die Geschützten in den Zeilen 2 und 3 genannt. Der Topos der Umkehrung der Verhältnisse ist auch in der griechischen Literatur bekannt73; als verantwortlich dafür kann dort Zeus, die Gottheit oder das Schicksal gelten. V 52 hat jedoch eher eine alttestamentliche Wurzel, denn dort ist sowohl von Gottes Überlegenheit über Reich und Arm wie von seiner aktiven Entscheidung zugunsten der Kleinen die Rede74 Beides ist Bestandteil des eschatologischen Programms. Sowohl die Gleichnisse Jesu als auch die Kreuzestheologie des Paulus bezeugen diese Umkehrung der Verhältnisse75. Das Magnificat paßt in die jüdische Tradition wie in die christliche Interpretation. V 52 spricht ausdrücklich nur von sozialen Situationen, doch das Äußere ist — gut alttestamentlich — Spiegel der inneren Haltung. Das Lied singt nicht nur von den Gefahren der Macht oder des Besitzes; ebensowenig dämonisiert es die politische und wirtschaftliche Welt. Der Umsturz wird von Gott gewünscht und durchgeführt, weil unter den Menschen Ungerechtigkeit herrscht. Wenn Gott seine Herrschaft einführt, rüttelt er notwendigerweise an den Thronen und verlangt das Geld der Reichen. Täte er es nicht, wäre er weder gerecht noch gütig, wäre er nicht Gott. Die Geburt des Kindes bedeutet das Ende vieler Privilegien und vieler Unterdrückungen. Es genügt weder zu sagen, daß Reiche und Arme im Armutsgeist der Evangelien leben sollen, noch, daß die alten Kategorien des Machtdenkens keine Bedeutung mehr haben76. Das Magnificat entspricht der hebräischen Weisheit und Vergeltungslehre: Θρόνους ἀρχόντων καθεῖλεν ὁ κύριος καὶ ἐκάθισε πρᾳεῖς ἀντ᾿ αὐτῶν (Sir 10,14)77.

Im Chiasmus beschreibt das Lied die soziale Erhöhung und das »Wirtschaftswunder« der Erwählten Gottes. Nach alttestamentlicher Symbolik bedeuten ὑψόω wie ἀγαθά mehr als menschlichen Status und Konsumgüter; man denke nur an die Erhöhung Christi und die eschatologischen Güter (bei Lukas der heilige Geist)78. In der liturgischen Sprache sind die ταπεινοί (auch als Glaubende hungrig nach Gottes Wort. Sie sind ebenso die φοβούμενοι αὐτόν (V50b)79

73 Vgl. Hesiod, Op 5-8; Aristoteles, Poët IX 11 1452a,23; Aesop, Fabula 20 von den beiden Hähnen und dem Adler; Xenophon, An III 2,10; HistGraec VI 4,23; vgl. Plinius der Jüngere IV 11,2; vgl. Schottroff, L., Magnificat 298-300 und Hamel, E., Magnificat 58-60.

74 Vgl. 1Sam (LXX 1Kön) 2,7-8; Jes 2,11- 17; Ez 21,26.31; Ps 146(147),6; Ijob 12,14-25; Sir 10,14; vgl. Hamel, E., ebd. 60-64.

75 Vgl. Lk 10,29-37; 15,11-32; 16,19-31; 18,9-14; 1Kor 1,26-31; 2Kor 8,9; Phil 2,6-11; vgl. Hamel, E., ebd. 65-70.

76 Vgl. Ernst 87.

77 Ἐξαποστέλλω mit κενός ist eine biblische Wendung: Gen 31,42; Dtn 15,13; 1Sam (LXX 1Kön) 6,3; Ijob 22,9; vgl. Rut 1,21; 3,17; Lk 20,11.

78 Ὑψόω (vgl. Apg 3,22 und Joh 3,14); ἀγαθά (vgl. Mt 7,11).

79 V53a nimmt Ps 106(107),9b auf: Καὶ ψυχὴν πεινῶσαν ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν.

Monday, December 07, 2020


Let's Not Talk About Politics

Walter Savage Landor, "Demosthenes and Eubulides, Second Conversation," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 153-162 (at 153-154):
Demosthenes. Let us avoid, I entreat you, my dear Eubulides, those thorny questions which we cannot so well avoid within the walls. Our opinions in matters of State are different; let us walk together where our pursuits are similar or the same.

Eubulides. Demosthenes! it is seldom that we have conversed on politics, sad refuge of restless minds, averse from business and from study.

Demosthenes. Say worse against them, Eubulides! and I, who am tossed on the summit of the wave, will cry out to you to curse them deeplier. There are few men who have not been witnesses that, on some slight divergence of incondite and unsound opinions, they have rolled away the stone from the cavern-mouth of the worst passions, and have evoked them up between two friends. I, of all men, am the least inclined to make them the subject of conversation; and particularly when I meet a literary man as you are, from whom I can receive, and often have received, some useful information, some philosophical thought, some generous sentiment, or some pleasant image.


Helps to Attention and Thinking

John Adams, Diary (June 27, 1770):
The only Way to compose myself and collect my Thoughts is to set down at my Table, place my Diary before me, and take my Pen into my Hand. This Apparatus takes off my Attention from other Objects. Pen, Ink and Paper and a sitting Posture, are great Helps to Attention and thinking.

Sunday, December 06, 2020


Letting Off Steam

Gilbert and Sullivan, Utopia Limited, Act I:
When I want to let off steam I have no alternative but to say, "Lalabalele molola lililah kallalale poo!"
Under the circumstances I really think I am justified in exclaiming "Lalabelele molola lililah kalabalale poo!" [All horrified] I don't care — the occasion demands it.


Real Life

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book VI, Chapter 1 (tr. Louise and Aylmer Maude):
Life meanwhile—real life, with its essential interests of health and sickness, toil and rest, and its intellectual interests in thought, science, poetry, music, love, friendship, hatred, and passions—went on as usual, independently of and apart from political friendship or enmity...


Echo Chamber

Walter Savage Landor, "Demosthenes and Eubulides," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. I (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1891), pp. 139-152 (at 151):
We listen to those whom we know to be of the same opinion as ourselves, and we call them wise for being of it; but we avoid such as differ from us: we pronounce them rash before we have heard them, and still more afterward lest we should be thought at any time to have erred.

Saturday, December 05, 2020


Mother Earth

Roderick Frazier Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 93:
And Francis used the adjective "mother" to characterize the earth.
"Mother" is a noun, not an adjective.



H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, Chapter VI ("An Early Christian Ceremony"):
For half an hour or so I lay there reflecting on the very remarkable experiences that we were going through, and wondering if any of my eminently respectable fossil friends down at Cambridge would believe me if I were to be miraculously set at the familiar dinner-table for the purpose of relating them. I don't want to convey any disrespectful notion or slight when I call those good and learned men fossils, but my experience is that people are apt to fossilize even at an university if they follow the same paths too persistently. I was getting fossilized myself, but of late my stock of ideas has been very much enlarged.

Friday, December 04, 2020


I Don't See It

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book V, Chapter 10 (Prince Andrew to Pierre; tr. Louise and Aylmer Maude):
"You say: join our brotherhood and we will show you the aim of life, the destiny of man, and the laws which govern the world. But who are we? Men. How is it you know everything? Why do I alone not see what you see? You see a reign of goodness and truth on earth, but I don't see it."

Thursday, December 03, 2020


Love of Country

Cicero, On the Orator 1.44.196 (tr. E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham):
And if our own native land is our joy, as to the uttermost it ought to be,—a sentiment of such strength and quality that a hero of consummate prudence gave preference over immortality to 'that Ithaca of his, lodged like a tiny nest upon the roughest of small crags,'—with love how ardent must we surely be fired for a country such as ours, standing alone among all lands. as the home of excellence, imperial power and good report! It is her spirit, customs and constitution that we are bound first to learn, both because she is the motherland of all of us, and because we must needs hold that wisdom as perfect went to the establishment of her laws, as to the acquisition of the vast might of her empire.

ac, si nos, id quod maxime debet, nostra patria delectat; cuius rei tanta est vis, ac tanta natura, ut 'Ithacam illam in asperrimis saxulis, tanquam nidulum, affixam,' sapientissimus vir immortalitati anteponeret; quo amore tandem inflammati esse debemus in eiusmodi patriam, quae una in omnibus terris domus est virtutis, imperii, dignitatis! cuius primum nobis mens, mos, disciplina, nota esse debet; vel quia est patria, parens omnium nostrum, vel quia tanta sapientia fuisse in iure constituendo putanda est, quanta fuit in his tantis opibus imperii comparandis.
A.S. Wilkins ad loc.:

Wednesday, December 02, 2020


Sappho and Dionysus

Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (1971; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 124-125:
Again: a poem that used to be attributed to Sappho, and though now removed from her canon remains perhaps the best-known of Greek quatrains—
Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δὲ
νύκτεσ, πάρα δ' ἔρχετ' ὦρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

The moon has set, and the Pleiades,
It is the middle of the night
Hour follows hour. I lie alone.
Guy Davenport, who made this translation, remarks that two lines of Robert Burns seem to answer the Greek as though from beneath the same moon but by another sea in another age:
The wan moon is setting behind the white wave,
                And Time is setting with me, oh.
And W.B. Yeats raised Burns' lines (slightly misquoted) to current fame in perceiving in them the supreme efficacy of the Symbolist aesthetic:
Take from them the whiteness of the moon and of the wave, whose relation to the setting of Time is too subtle for the intellect, and you take from them their beauty. But, when all are together, moon and wave and whiteness and setting Time and the last melancholy cry, they evoke an emotion which cannot be evoked by any other arrangement of colours and sounds and forms. We may call this metaphorical writing, but it is better to call it symbolic writing. . . .
Yeats might equally well have been explaining how men can respond as they do to 17 Greek words that appear to say such unrelated things: that the moon and the Pleiades have set, that time flows, that I lie in my bed alone. Mona: alone: we may recall its resemblance to the other Greek word for moon, the one not used in the poem, mēnē. Egō de mona kateudō: and my loneliness comports with that of the cold moon and the remote stars, now gone, borne on their great circles down under the horizon: a loneliness to fill the dark empty sky. So we read it, forgetting once again how much has dropped out. For what Greek forgot that the moon sleeps nightly with Endymion, or that the Pleiades visit the bed of Ocean? They go to their appointed partners, but I have no one; and "alone" means "unlike them."

The word "golden," the word "time," the word "alone": three words set free for chemical interaction: set free, however, from explicit structures we happen to be able to reconstitute, a folk idiom, a chronology, a habit of apprehending the heavens through myth. Restored to those structures, they act as schoolteachers assert words normally act, naming things, making comparisons, completing rational squares by means of paraphrasable sentences.
On doubts about Sappho's authorship of this fragment (168b Voigt), see Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Isyllos von Epidauros (Berlin: Weidmann, 1886), pp. 129-130, n. 7; Wilamowitz, Die Textgeschichte der griechischen Lyriker (Berlin: Weidmann, 1900), p. 33, n. 1; Wilamowitz, Sappho und Simonides (Berlin: Weidmann, 1913), p. 75, n. 1; Denys Page, Sappho and Alcaeus: An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Lesbian Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), pp. 128-129, n. 4.

I don't understand why Kenner prints the terminal sigma in the third line as σ, rather than ς.

Kenner's idea that μόνα is supposed to recall μήνη seems very far-fetched to me.

Thrice in The Pound Era (pp. 150, 250, 408) Kenner mentions Dionysius when he meant to say Dionysus. Dionysius doesn't appear in the index, but Dionysus does (p. 596, citing pages 361, 419, 432).


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