Saturday, January 30, 2021


An Object of Worship in Every Field

Walter Savage Landor, "Tibullus and Messala," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 77-90 (at 84):
Tibullus. In my humble opinion, and I hope I am falling into no impiety when I say it, we have gods enow already. Those of Egypt we have in our kitchens,5 and those of Gaul are not worth conveyance from their woods. We require no importations.

Messala. Formerly, gods made men; at present, men make gods. Where will this fashion have an end? Perhaps you may live to enlarge your sacristy.

Tibullus. I find an object of worship in every field. Wherever there is a stake or a stone crowned with flowers,* I bend before it, and thank the gods for inspiring the hearts of men with gratitude. I feel confident they are well-pleased at these oblations, however poor their worshipper, and however he mispronounce their names.

Messala. While the gods came from the potter, men were virtuous and happy; when they came from the goldsmith, they retained the heat of the furnace, and dazzled and deluded. Priests assumed their similitude, and encrusted one another with the same metal.

[5 Cats.]

* Nam veneror seu stipes habet desertus in agris,
    Seu vetus in trivio florida serta lapis.
Tibullus 1.1.11-12 (tr. J.P. Postgate):
For I bend in worship wherever flowery garlands lie on deserted tree-stock in the fields or old stone at a crossway.

nam veneror seu stipes habet desertus in agris,
    seu vetus in trivio florida serta lapis.
Kirby Flower Smith ad loc.:
Related posts:


A Typical Englishman

Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989; rpt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), p. 184, with note on p. 353:
A sensitive friend of Vera Brittain's who was worried that he might not pass the test of courage in the front lines in an emergency wrote: "I tell you it is a positive curse to have a temperament out here. The ideal thing to be is a typical Englishman."26 And to be a typical Englishman meant, of course, that one repressed inner feelings, stiffened one's upper lip, and functioned according to form. What was vital was what the British used to call "bottom," stability of character, staying power, integrity.

26. In Brittain, Testament of Youth, 316.

Friday, January 29, 2021


Bitter Bierce

H.L. Mencken, "Ambrose Bierce," Prejudices, Sixth Series:
There was nothing of the milk of human kindness in old Ambrose; he did not get the nickname of Bitter Bierce for nothing. What delighted him most in this life was the spectacle of human cowardice and folly. He put man, intellectually, somewhere between the sheep and the horned cattle, and as a hero somewhere below the rats. His war stories, even when they deal with the heroic, do not depict soldiers as heroes; they depict them as bewildered fools, doing things without sense, submitting to torture and outrage without resistance, dying at last like hogs in Chicago, the former literary capital of the United States. So far in this life, indeed, I have encountered no more thorough-going cynic than Bierce. His disbelief in man went even further than Mark Twain's; he was quite unable to imagine the heroic, in any ordinary sense. Nor, for that matter, the wise. Man to him, was the most stupid and ignoble of animals. But at the same time the most amusing. Out of the spectacle of life about him he got an unflagging and Gargantuan joy. The obscene farce of politics delighted him. He was an almost amorous connoisseur of theology and theologians. He howled with mirth whenever he thought of a professor, a doctor or a husband. His favorites among his contemporaries were such zanies as Bryan, Roosevelt and Hearst.


Three Types of Government

Pindar, Pythian Odes 2.86-88 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Yet in each state the candid man will go far,
when tyrants rule, or the swirling rabble,
or the wise keep the city in ward.

ἐν πάντα δὲ νόμον εὐθύγλωσσος ἀνὴρ προφέρει,
παρὰ τυραννίδι, χὠπόταν ὁ λάβρος στρατός,
χὤταν πόλιν οἱ σοφοὶ τηρέωντι.
The three types of government:
  1. Monarchy (παρὰ τυραννίδι, 6 syllables)
  2. Democracy (χὠπόταν ὁ λάβρος στρατός, 8 syllables)
  3. Aristocracy (χὤταν πόλιν οἱ σοφοὶ τηρέωντι, 11 syllables)
William H. Race, Style and Rhetoric in Pindar's Odes (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1990), p. 21, regards these lines as an example of das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder (the law of increasing elements). See Otto Behaghel, "Beziehungen zwischen Umfang und Reihenfolge von Satzgliedern," Indogermanische Forschungen 25 (1909) 110-142.

Related post: The Law of the Increasing Members.

Thursday, January 28, 2021


Nightmare of a Pretender to the Throne

Alexander Pushkin, Boris Godunov, Scene 5, lines 56-58 (tr. James E. Falen):
Below me, on the square, the people seethed,
All pointing up at me with mocking laughter;
And I became ashamed and full of dread...


How Many Books Are Enough?

Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, Part I (December 24, 1849; translator unknown):
And, if you will allow me to give my opinion about it, I think you have books enough here now. Monsieur has thousands and thousands of books, which simply turn his head; and as for me, I have just two, which are quite enough for all my wants and purposes—my Catholic prayer-book and my 'Cuisinière Bourgeoise.'

Et si vous me permettez de donner mon avis, je dirai que nous avons assez de livres ici. Monsieur en a des mille et des mille qui lui font perdre la tête, et moi j'en ai deux qui me suffisent, mon Paroissien romain et ma Cuisinière bourgeoise.


A Sign of Stupidity

Walter Savage Landor, "Marcus Tullius and Quinctius Cicero," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 29-73 (at 55):
There is no more certain sign of a narrow mind, of stupidity, and of arrogance, than to stand aloof from those who think differently from ourselves. If they have weighed the matter in dispute as carefully, it is equitable to suppose that they have the same chance as we have of being in the right; if they have not, we may as reasonably be out of humor with our footman or chairman: he is more ignorant and more careless of it still.

I have seen reason to change the greater part of my opinions. Let me confess to you, Quinctus, we oftener say things because we can say them well, than because they are sound and reasonable.
Footman = pedisequus, chairman = lecticarius.

Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur (New York: New Directions, 1970), p. 84:
Landor finding no good conversation had to pretend it had sometimes existed.
Ezra Pound, Literary Essays (New York: New Directions, 1954), p. 344:
A set of Landor's collected works will go further towards civilizing a man than any university education now on the market.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Worth Study

Basil L. Gildersleeve, ed., Pindar, Olympian and Pythian Odes (New York: American Book Company, 1885), p. xlii:
In the fine feeling of language few poets can vie with Pindar; and though he is no pedantic synonym-monger, like a true artist he delights in the play of his own work. There is danger of over-subtilty in the study of antique style; but Pindar is a jeweller, his material gold and ivory, and his chryselephantine work challenges the scrutiny of the microscope, invites the study that wearies not day or night in exploring the recesses in which the artist has held his art sequestered—invites the study and rewards it. Pindar himself has made φωνάεντα συνετοῖσιν (O. 2, 93) a common saying; Pindar himself speaks of his art as ἀκοὰ σοφοῖς (P. 9, 84); his call across the centuries is to the lovers of art as art. There is an aristocratic disdain in his nature that yields only to kindred spirits or to faithful service.


Your Inheritance

Goethe, Faust, Part I, lines 682-683 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it.

Was du ererbt von deinen Vatern hast,
Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
See Hermann Barnstorff, "Translating and Interpreting Goethe's Faust, I, 682/3," Modern Language Notes 58.4 (April, 1943) 288-291.

These lines are inscribed on the Goethe-Schiller monument in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

Tuesday, January 26, 2021



Pausanias 9.10.4 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
The following custom is still to my knowledge observed in Thebes. A boy of good family, handsome and strong, is made priest of the Ismenian Apollo for a year. His title is Laurel-bearer, for these boys wear wreaths of laurel leaves. I am not clear whether it is the custom for all boys who have worn the laurel to dedicate a bronze tripod to the god; but I think it is not the rule for all of them to do so, for I did not see many of these votive offerings here. But the wealthier boys certainly dedicate them. Most remarkable for its age and for the renown of him who dedicated it, is a tripod dedicated by Amphitryo for Hercules who wore the laurel.
Frazer ad loc.:
The festival of the Laurel-bearing (Daphnephoria) is more fully described by Proclus (quoted by Photius, Bibliotheca, p. 321, ed. Bekker). He says: "They cover a staff of olive-wood with laurels and many-coloured flowers, and on the top of the staff is fitted a bronze globe, and from it they suspend smaller globes. To the middle of the staff they attach <a globe> smaller than the one at the top, and purple fillets; the lowest part of the staff they swathe in a saffron pall. The globe at the top is meant to signify the Sun, with which they connect Apollo; the globe beneath it signifies the moon, and the small globes, which are fastened on, signify the stars. The fillets symbolise the course of the year, and they make 365 of them. The procession of the Laurel-bearing is headed by a boy, whose parents are both alive. His nearest kinsman bears the wreathed staff, which they call Kopo. The Laurel-bearer himself follows grasping the laurel, his hair streaming down; he wears a golden crown and is clad in a bright-hued garment that reaches to his feet, and he is shod with the shoes called Iphicratides. A choir of virgins follows him holding boughs in token of supplication and singing hymns. The procession of the Laurel-bearing is escorted to the sanctuary of the Ismenian and Galaxian (Chalazian?) Apollo." Proclus describes the Laurel-bearing (Daphnephoria) as a Boeotian festival, and from an inscription (C.I.G. No. 1595; C.I.G.G.S. 1. No. 3407) we learn that at Chaeronea Apollo was worshipped under the title of Laurel-bearer (see note on ix.40.5). The festival, Proclus tells us, took place every eighth or, as the Greeks expressed it, every ninth year; in other words, seven years elapsed between two successive celebrations. Thus the period of the festival was the same as that of the Delphic festival at which a boy, whose parents were both alive, fetched the laurel from the sacred laurel-tree at Tempe. The two festivals may have been closely alike. The Delphic festival was explained as an imitation of the slaughter of the Python by Apollo and the subsequent purification of the god, the purification having apparently consisted in a year's servitude and the wearing of the laurel. The resemblance between the two festivals would be still greater if we supposed that the Laurel-bearing at Thebes commemorated the slaughter of the dragon by Cadmus and the subsequent purification of the slayer by servitude and the wearing of the laurel. But though Cadmus was said to have served Ares eight years for slaying the dragon (see note on § 1), there seems to be no direct evidence to connect that legend with the festival of the Laurel-bearing. Still the eight years of Cadmus's servitude, compared with the octennial period of the festival, seem to indicate a connexion between the legend and the festival. The traditional origin of the festival, according to Proclus, was this. The Aeolians of Arne abandoned that city at the bidding of an oracle and laid siege to Thebes, which was held by Pelasgians. It happened that both sides desired to celebrate a festival of Apollo; so they made a truce and cut laurels, the Aeolians on Mount Helicon and the Pelasgians at the Black River, and they brought these laurels to Apollo. But Polematas, the Boeotian leader, dreamed that a young man gave him a suit of armour and commanded that they should offer prayers to Apollo every ninth (eighth) year, wearing the laurel. Two days afterwards Polematas attacked and conquered the enemy; so he performed in person the ceremony of the Laurel-bearing, and the custom was observed from that time forth. The description and explanation which Proclus gives of the Laurel-bearing are repeated verbally by a scholiast on Clement of Alexandria (Protrept. i. § 10, p. 9, ed. Potter).

As to the festival, see also Böckh's Pindar, Explicationes, p. 590; K.O. Müller, Orchomenos und die Minyer2, p. 215 sq.; id., Dorier,2 I. pp. 236 sq., 333 ; Hermann, Gottesdienstliche Alterthümer,2 § 63, 28; Schömann, Griech. Alterthümer,3 2. P. 463 sq.; C. Bötticher, Baumkultus der Hellenen, p. 386 sqq. ; Preller, Griechische Mythologie,4 I. p. 288, note 1.

The procession of the Laurel-bearing is the subject of a fine painting by the late Lord Leighton.
Frederic Leighton, Daphnephoria

Pindar, fragment 1 (paean perhaps composed for the Daphnephoria; tr. G.S. Conway):
Before reaching the painful [threshold] of old age,
a man should shade his soul
with cheerfulness, free of anger
in due measure
and see to the resources of his house.

Ié ié, now the year that brings all to fulfilment
and the seasons, daughters of Themis,
have come to the horse-driving city of Thebes
to bring a banquet for Apollo, lover of garlands.
May he crown the people
with flowers of good government.

πρὶν ὀδυνηρὰ γήραος σ̣[χεδὸν μ]ολεῖν
πρίν τις εὐθυμίᾳ σκιαζέτω
νόημ᾿ ἄκοτον ἐπὶ μέτρα, ἀδών
δύναμιν οἰκόθετον.

ἰ]ὴ ἰή, νῦν ὁ παντελὴς Ἐνιαυτός        5
Ὧρα[ί] τε Θεμίγονοι
πλάξ]ιππον ἄστυ Θήβας ἐπῆλθον
Ἀπόλ]λωνι δαῖτα φιλησιστέφανον ἄγοντες·
Παιὰ]ν δὲ λαῶν γενεὰν δαρὸν ἐρέπτοι
σαό]φρόνος ἄνθεσιν εὐνομίας.       10
On the festival see Albert Schachter, Cults of Boiotia, vol. 1: Acheloos to Hera (London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, 1981), pp. 83-85.

Sunday, January 24, 2021


Nature versus Nurture

Pindar, Nemean Odes 1.25-26 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Skills vary with the man. We must tread a straight path and strive by that which is born in us.

τέχναι δ᾽ ἑτέρων ἕτεραι·
χρὴ δ᾽ ἐν εὐθείαις ὁδοῖς στείχοντα μάρνασθαι φυᾷ.
Pindar, Nemean Odes 3.40-42 (tr. G.S. Conway):
                                       By worth        
         Of inborn talent a man
Wins rich repute. Whose art is but instructed,
An obscure feather-brain he, now here aspiring
Now there, and steps with no sure foot, essaying
A thousand valorous deeds to no avail.

συγγενεῖ δέ τις εὐδοξίᾳ μέγα βρίθει·
ὃς δὲ διδάκτ᾽ ἔχει, ψεφηνὸς ἀνὴρ
ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλα πνέων οὔ ποτ᾽ ἀτρεκεῖ
κατέβα ποδί, μυριᾶν δ᾽ ἀρετᾶν ἀτελεῖ νόῳ γεύεται.



Walter Savage Landor, "Lucullus and Caesar," Imaginary Conversations, Vol. II (London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1901), pp. 9-29 (at 11-12, Lucullus speaking; I corrected imposotrs to impostors):
But the philosophers are wrong, as they generally are, even in the commonest things; because they seldom look beyond their own tenets, unless through captiousness, and because they argue more than they meditate, and display more than they examine. Archimedes and Euclid are, in my opinion, after our Epicurus, the worthiest of the name, having kept apart to the demonstrable, the practical, and the useful. Many of the rest are good writers and good disputants; but unfaithful suitors of simple science, boasters of their acquaintance with gods and goddesses, plagiarists and impostors.

Saturday, January 23, 2021


No Rest

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. 151, n. 1:
This intellectual work can never be limited to a definite number of hours. It pursues and tyrannizes over its victims during their periods of rest, on their travels, and in their sleepless nights. It makes a real rest from thought and real relaxation impossible and uses up the most able men of the time. No worker for wages breaks down from overstrain or mental collapse. But among these others it happens in innumerable cases. So much for the demagogues' picture of the gourmandizing, idle bourgeois!


Mortal Enemies

Solomon and Saturn II, lines 177-180 (tr. Tom Shippey):
The clutch of fire and the chill of frost cannot live in the same place, nor can snow and sun bear to live together, but one of them will have to weaken and give in, the one which has less power.

Ne mæg fyres feng    ne forstes cile,
snaw ne sunne    somod eardian,
aldor geæfnan,    ac hira sceal anra gehwylc
onlutan ond onliðigan    ðe hafað læsse mægnn.
The same, tr. Daniel Anlezark:
Fire's grasp and frost's chill, snow and sun, can neither dwell nor endure life together, but either one of them must submit and yield, that which has less power.

Friday, January 22, 2021


God Finds Him Most Offensive

Solomon and Saturn II, lines 173-174 (tr. Tom Shippey):
It is a miserable and spiritless man who keeps on being gloomy when he is in trouble. God finds him most offensive.

Unlæde bið ond ormod    se ðe a wile
geomrian on gihðe;    se bið Gode fracoðast.
The same, tr. Daniel Anlezark:
He is miserable and despairing, he who always wishes to be sad in grief. He is most offensive to God.


Gifts of the Gods

Pindar, Pythian Odes 1.41-42 (tr. John Sandys):
From the gods come all the means of mortal exploits; thanks to the gods are men wise and brave and eloquent.

ἐκ θεῶν γὰρ μαχαναὶ πᾶσαι βροτέαις ἀρεταῖς,
καὶ σοφοὶ καὶ χερσὶ βιαταὶ περίγλωσσοί τ᾽ ἔφυν.
The same, tr. Richmond Lattimore:
From the gods come all means to mortal endeavor;
by them we are wise, or strong with our hands, or eloquent of speech.

Thursday, January 21, 2021


Morning Visitors

Hat tip: My brother.


Waiting to Die

Last lines of Sonatorrek, tr. Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (London: Reaktion Books, 2018), p. 129, with note on p. 323:
Still I shall gladly
with a good will
and not grieving
wait for death.37

Skalk þó glaðr
með góðan vilja
ok óhryggr
heljar bíða.

37 Jónsson, ed., Íslendinga sögur, vol. II, p. 267.



Craig Simpson, "Chaucer courses to be replaced by modules on race and sexuality under University of Leicester plans. Beowulf and The Canterbury tales could be sidelined under plans for the English department. Geoffrey Chaucer's works will no longer be taught under new proposals," Telegraph (20 January 2021):
The University of Leicester will stop teaching Geoffrey Chaucer's work and other medieval literature in favour of modules on race and sexuality, according to new proposals.

Management told the English department that courses on canonical works will be dropped for modules “students expect” as part of plans now under consultation.

Foundational texts like The Canterbury Tales and Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf would no longer be taught under proposals to scrap medieval literature.

Instead the English faculty will be refocused to drop centuries of the literary canon and deliver a “decolonised” curriculum devoted to diversity.

Academics now facing redundancy were told via email: “The aim of our proposals (is) to offer a suite of undergraduate degrees that provide modules which students expect of an English degree.”

New modules described as “excitingly innovative” would cover: “A chronological literary history, a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability modules.”

Professors were told that to facilitate change management planned to stop all English Language courses, cease medieval literature, and reduce Early Modern Literature offerings.

It was claimed that this would “refocus and strengthen” the department.

Despite Chaucer’s position as “the father of English literature” the 14th century figure will no longer be taught if plans currently under consultation go ahead.

They would end all teaching on texts central to the development of the English language, including the Dark Age epic poem Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Sir Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur, the Viking sagas, and all works written earlier than 1500 would also be removed from the syllabus.

Cuts to Early Modern English modules could see texts John Milton’s Paradise Lost omitted, according to concerned academics, with teaching on Christopher Marlowe and John Donne potentially reduced.

The University of Leicester has said that teaching on William Shakespeare’s work will remain in place.

Staff do not have the same certainty, and were alerted to the change and the threat of redundancies on Monday, with 60 jobs under threat.

Many more roles are likely to be reassigned as specialist subjects are replaced.

Plans for restructuring at the university were announced in 2020, with management seeking to ensure courses were “sustainable” for the next decade of student intake.

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah said that changing modules was part of the long-term strategy to “compete on a global level”, adding: “To facilitate this, we may need to cease activity in a limited number of areas.”

While teaching on almost 1000 years of the English language and its literature may be subject to cuts, the university has pledged that students will still receive comprehensive education.

A spokeswoman said: “We are currently considering some proposed changes to our English programme and are consulting with staff as part of these discussions.

“The University of Leicester continues to offer students a broad programme of learning at undergraduate level, including a chronological span of English Literature, from Shakespeare to Bernadine Evaristo, alongside thematically-driven and author-driven modules.

“We are committed to the future sustainability of teaching English, and we will continue to work with our staff and our students to deliver this.”

Consultation will begin next week on the future of English faculty roles placed under threat of redundancy.
A Chaucer Wordlist:

ape n. "ape, monkey (also as adj.); dupe, fool"
bitraisinge ger. "betrayal"
couardie n. "cowardice"
daffe n. "fool"
falshede n. "falseness, deceitfulness, infidelity"
idel adj. "idle, lazy; futile, worthless; empty"
idolatrie n. "idolatry"
inconstaunce n. "inconstancy, fickleness"
infecten v. "infect with disease, contaminate; invalidate; darken"
imposen v. "(ppl.) imposed, made compulsory"
knavish adj. "crude"
shreue n. "scoundrel, evildoer; malignant planet"
swines-hed n. "pig's head, fool"
tene n. "harm, trouble; grief, affliction; ill will; cause of trouble"
temporal adj. "temporal, worldly"
thef n. "thief, scoundrel"
trecheri n. "treachery, treason"
unwit n. "lack of prudence, foolishness"
unworshipful adj. "without honor"
unworthi adj. "unworthy"

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

A few of the Chaucer posts on this blog:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021



Robin Waterfield, Olympia: The Story of the Ancient Olympics (London: Head of Zeus, 2018), page number unknown (from chapter 1):
Whether they were rich or poor, and whether they came from one of the few great states or one of the many that were small and obscure, everyone at Olympia recognized themselves as kin. The games were an affirmation of Greekness that was particularly important for those visiting from overseas or the fringes of the Greek world. When the fifth-century-BCE historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus said that one of the things that bound all Greeks together, wherever they lived, was their common sanctuaries and festivals, he was thinking of the Olympic festival and others like it.5 A shared religious festival such as the Olympics gave the Greeks a chance to recognize their cultural unity — even though, as we shall see, it often did little to disguise their political disunity.

Greeks lived not just in the country that is nowadays called 'Greece', but also in separate states all over the Mediterranean and Black Sea coastlines. From about the middle of the fifth century onwards, judges were appointed at Olympia — they were called the Hellanodikai, the 'judges of the Greeks' — and one of their jobs was to make sure that all contestants were genuinely Greek, full citizens of their states (in particular, not slaves) and of good standing in their states. Greekness remained a prerequisite for several centuries, until from the end of the third century BCE the rule was obsequiously bent for Romans, the new masters of the Mediterranean world (though in fact they entered only the equestrian events, and left the rest to Greeks).

5 Herodotus, Histories, 8.144


The Danger of Specialization

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 136-137 (note omitted):
I have argued that the end of the ancient economy, and the timing of its collapse, were closely linked to the demise of the Roman empire. However, to understand the full and unexpected scale of the decline—turning sophisticated regions into underdeveloped backwaters—we need to appreciate that economic sophistication has a negative side. If the ancient economy had consisted of a series of simple and essentially autonomous local units, with little specialization of labour within them and very little exchange between them, then parts of it would certainly have survived the troubles of post-Roman times—dented perhaps, but in an essentially recognizable form. However, because the ancient economy was in fact a complicated and interlocked system, its very sophistication rendered it fragile and less adaptable to change.

For bulk, high-quality production to flourish in the way that it did in Roman times, a very large number of people had to be involved, in more-or-less specialized capacities. First, there had to be the skilled manufacturers, able to make goods to a high standard, and in a sufficient quantity to ensure a low unit-cost. Secondly, a sophisticated network of transport and commerce had to exist, in order to distribute these goods efficiently and widely. Finally, a large (and therefore generally scattered) market of consumers was essential, with cash to spend and an inclination to spend it. Furthermore, all this complexity depended on the labour of the hundreds of other people who oiled the wheels of manufacture and com- merce by maintaining an infrastructure of coins, roads, boats, wagons, wayside hostelries, and so on.

Economic complexity made mass-produced goods available, but it also made people dependent on specialists or semi-specialists—sometimes working hundreds of miles away—for many of their material needs. This worked very well in stable times, but it rendered consumers extremely vulnerable if for any reason the networks of production and distribution were disrupted, or if they themselves could no longer afford to purchase from a specialist. If specialized production failed, it was not possible to fall back immediately on effective self-help.

Comparison with the contemporary western world is obvious and important. Admittedly, the ancient economy was nowhere near as intricate as that of the developed world in the twenty-first century. We sit in tiny productive pigeon-holes, making our minute and highly specialized contributions to the global economy (in my case, some teaching, and a bit of writing about the end of the Roman world), and we are wholly dependent for our needs on thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of other people spread around the globe, each doing their own little thing. We would be quite incapable of meeting our needs locally, even in an emergency. The ancient world had not come as far down the road of specialization and helplessness as we have, but it had come some way.

The enormity of the economic disintegration that occurred at the end of the empire was almost certainly a direct result of this specialization. The post-Roman world reverted to levels of economic simplicity, lower even than those of immediately pre-Roman times, with little movement of goods, poor housing, and only the most basic manufactured items. The sophistication of the Roman period, by spreading high-quality goods widely in society, had destroyed the local skills and local networks that, in pre-Roman times, had provided lower-level economic complexity. It took centuries for people in the former empire to reacquire the skills and the regional networks that would take them back to these pre-Roman levels of sophistication. Ironically, viewed from the perspective of fifth-century Britain and of most of the sixth- and seventh-century Mediterranean, the Roman experience had been highly damaging.


The New Burgemeister

Goethe, Faust, Part I, line 846 (my translation):
No, I don't like him, the new Burgemeister!

Nein, er gefällt mir nicht, der neue Burgemeister!
I didn't like the old one either.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021


A Vehement and Strenuous Education

Dear Mike,

Thirteen year-old John Quincy Adams' remarkable education inevitably reminded me of another John's equally remarkable and dour upbringing, under a demanding father plagosus, whose dubious parenting seems to proclaim, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm grievously displeased."

Hugh S.R. Eliot, ed., Letters of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 1 (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1910), pp. xiv-xvi (footnotes omitted):
During his early years, John Mill was subjected to so vehement and strenuous an education, as perhaps had never been seen before, and never will be seen again. James Mill was a man of iron will, of energy almost miraculous; he was largely indifferent to pleasure or pain, and inaccessible to the softer sides of human existence. From the moment that John was born, he had decided what John should be. The details of the education are fully set forth in the "Autobiography," but may be recapitulated here. He started learning to read when he was two years old. He began the study of Greek when he was three; and when he was still only seven, he had read the whole of Herodotus, and of Xenophon's "Cyropaadia" and "Memorials of Socrates"; some of the lives of the philosophers by Diogenes Laertius; part of Lucian, and Isocrates ad Demonicum and Ad Nicoclem. When he was eight, he read the first six dialogues of Plato, from the Euthyphron to the Theaetetus inclusive. Mill observes: "My father demanded of me not only the utmost that I could do, but much that I could by no possibility have done." At this age Mill had undergone in addition an extended course of English reading, including Robertson's histories, Hume, Gibbon, Watson's "Philip the Second and Third," Hooke's "History of Rome," two or three volumes of a translation of Rollin's "Ancient History of Greece," Langhorne's translation of Plutarch, Burnet's “History of His Own Time," the historical part of the "Annual Register" from the beginning down to about 1788, Millar's "Historical View of the English Government," Mosheim's "Ecclesiastical History," M'Crie's "Life of John Knox," Sewell and Rutty's Histories of the Quakers, and a number of other books besides. Thoroughly characteristic of James Mill's stern philosophy was his fondness for putting into his son's hands "books which exhibited men of energy and resource in unusual circumstances, struggling against difficulties and overcoming them."

That Mill continued to flourish under this severe treatment must be attributed partly to the vigour of his own constitution, and partly to the fact that his father was one of the most brilliant men, and the leading psychologist of the age. Under less able guidance, Mill's youthful mind would assuredly have been crushed and maimed; but in the hands of James Mill that fatality was avoided, and the precise result which he desired was achieved. When John was six years old, and his father's health seemed very precarious, Bentham wrote one of his characteristic letters, offering to undertake the guardianship of the child. It is addressed to James Mill from Queen's Square Place, dated Saturday, 25th July 1812, and runs as follows:—

"If in the meantime any such thing as dying should happen to you (for we are all mortal !!!!), you having however between the act of such dying as aforesaid and the act of receiving these presents, time to make your will (which to the purpose in question may be done by word of mouth, but if you cannot write it yourself better have it set down in writing and read to you), if you will appoint me guardian to Mr. John Stuart Mill, I will, in the event of his father's being disposed of elsewhere, take him to Q.S P. and there or elsewhere, by whipping or otherwise, do whatsoever may seem most necessary and proper, for teaching him to make all proper distinctions, such as between the Devil and the Holy Ghost, and how to make Codes and Encyclopaedias, and whatsoever else may be proper to be made, so long as I remain an inhabitant of this vale of tears, after which—but this must remain for God's providence to determine. . . ."

Clearly James Mill had been suffering from gout, for farther on in the same letter, Bentham offers to "come and sit with you, and help worship Mistink [Mill's cat] and during the armistice of your arm, help whip Mr. John Mill."

To this Mill replied: "I take your offer quite seriously, and then we may perhaps leave him a successor worthy of both of us."

From the eighth to the twelfth year Mill's education was carried forward on the same inexorable plan. The list of classical authors read during this period would be tedious to enumerate; geometry and algebra were included in the curriculum, as also the differential calculus and other branches of the higher mathematics. He was exceedingly fond of history; and while he was still eleven he had composed a Roman History, picked out of Hooke"; an "Abridgement of the Ancient Universal History"; a “History of Holland"; and a "proffered History of the Roman Government," compiled from Livy and Dionysius. At twelve, he began logic and read the "Organon," though he observes that he "profited little by the Posterior Analytics." He read several Latin treatises on the scholastic logic.
If Bentham's felicific calculus were applied to the proffered whippings, I wonder whether the giver's "hedons" would outweigh the receiver's "dolors”?

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Related posts:



John Hines, "The Roman Name for Manchester," in G.D.B. Jones, Roman Manchester (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1974), pp. 159-163 (at 160, notes omitted):
The name MAMUCIUM has found its way into the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain, and (as the received version) into such authoritative works as Crawford and Richmond's 'The British Section of the Ravenna Cosmography', and Rivet and Jackson's 'The British Section of the Antonine Itinerary', which came out in 1949 and 1970 respectively.

The form MAMUCIUM, then, has as strong manuscript support as has MANCUNIUM, although popular tradition still holds to the latter. When one considers what the popular mind is capable of making of names ('Manchester' was in Camden's day locally supposed to be the 'city of Men', or of the 'good burghers and true' who fought back the Danes) this particular consideration gives the received form no real advantage. Those who accept the form MAMUCIUM as the original Latinised Celtic name have the problem of finding a satisfactory derivation. Indeed this did not prove too difficult, since the word MANS, MAMM, is to hand. This means in Irish or Welsh 'breast', 'mother' or 'womb'. To the specialist scholar, then, the name means 'breast-like hill' and is compared to CICUTIO, a place-name with similar meaning of a fort sited in Wales (Y Gaer).
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related posts:

Monday, January 18, 2021


Foundations of Success

William H. Race, Style and Rhetoric in Pindar's Odes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), p. 164 (on Olympian Ode 8):
From beginning to end it provides a meditation on the nature of success — how its foundations are laid by gods, furthered by family predecessors who may not live to share directly in the victories of their offspring (Aiakos, Iphion, Kallimachos), aided by expert teaching, and finally realized in deed (cf. ἔργον at 19, 63, and 85).


My Work for a Day

Phyllis Lee Levin, The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015), p. 52:
"My Work For a day," was the title of John Quincy's letter to his father on March 16, 1780.

Make Latin
Explain Cicero, Erasmus
Pierce Phaedrus
Learn Greek racines, Greek grammar


Spiritual and Physical Failures and Inferiors

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. 93-94:
We do not seek to alter and improve, but to destroy. In every society degenerate elements sink constantly to the bottom: exhausted families, downfallen members of generations of high breed, spiritual and physical failures and inferiors. One has only to glance at the figures in meetings, public-houses, processions, and riots; one way or another they are all abortions, men who, instead of having healthy instincts in their body, have only heads full of disputatiousness and revenge for their wasted life, and mouths as their most important organ. It is the dregs of the great cities, the genuine mob, the underworld in every sense, which everywhere constitute the opposition to the great and noble world and unite in their hatred of it: political and literary Bohemia, wastrel nobility (Catiline and Philippe Égalité, Duke of Orleans), shipwrecked academicians, adventurers and speculators, criminals and prostitutes, loiterers, and the feeble-minded, mixed with a few pathetic enthusiasts for some abstract ideal. A mushy desire for revenge for some bad luck that has spoilt their lives, the absence of any instinct of honour and duty, and an unlimited thirst for money without work and for rights without responsibilities bring them together. It is from this befogged milieu that the heroes of the moment of all popular movements and Radical parties arise. Here the word "Liberty" takes on the bloody significance that it has in the declining ages. What is meant is: liberation from all the bonds of civilization, from every kind of form and custom, from all the people whose mode of life they feel in their dull fury to be superior. Pride and quietly borne poverty, silent fulfilment of duty, renunciation for the sake of a task or conviction, greatness in enduring one's fate, loyalty, honour, responsibility, achievement: all this is a constant reproach to the "humiliated and insulted."


The Cultural Capacity of Elected or Appointed Officials

Gerhard Herz, ed., Bach, Cantata No. 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), p. 156:
In the period of emerging musicology, those who contributed to it did not earn their living by it. Carl von Winterfeld was a high court judge. Carl Hermann Bitter (1813-85) was Prussian Minister of Finance (1879-82), appointed by Bismarck. That a Minister of Finance would write books on Bach, on Bach's sons and other musical subject matters, might give pause for comparative reflection on the cultural capacity of today's elected or appointed officials.

Sunday, January 17, 2021


Hymn Written in Time of Plague

Gerhard Herz, ed., Bach, Cantata No. 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), pp. 55-56:
The opening, middle and last movements of Cantata 140 are based on the hymn text and melody, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, by Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608).
The hymn is a reversed acrostic, the initial letters of its three stanzas, W.Z.G., standing for "Graf zu Waldeck" (Count of Waldeck), Nicolai's former pupil, who died in 1598, aged fifteen.1 The Hymn probably was written in 1597, during the pestilence at Unna in Westphalia, where Nicolai then was a pastor.2
While 1,300 of Unna's inhabitants succumbed to the epidemic, Nicolai, expecting death himself, recorded his meditations. Having miraculously survived, he appended to the finished manuscript the two hymns, with their tunes, that were to assure for him some measure of immortality. He published the whole work under the name Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens (Mirror of joy of the eternal life) the following year (1599) in Frankfurt am Main.3

The two hymns became famous almost overnight. The many editions of the Freudenspiegel, and the early uses of the hymns by composers such as Praetorius and Scheidt, testify to this.

The poem Wachet auf ... recalls the Minnesinger time of Wolfram von Eschenbach, particularly the Morning Song (Tageweise), in which the watchman on the battlement of the knight's castle breaks the quiet of the night with his horn's call, warning the lovers that dawn approaches and they must part. These Morning Songs were still printed as broadsheets in the 16th century, the century that saw their transformation into sacred watchmens' songs. The last of them is Nicolai's magnificent hymn, which has been called the "King of Chorales." The warning call to the lovers became the watchmen's call to Zion. Nicolai subtitled his hymn "Of the Voice at Midnight, and (of) the Wise Virgins, who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom, Matthew 25,"4 thus describing precisely the portion of the Gospel (Matthew 25:1-7) that he selected for his hymn: the expectation of the Bridegroom, the ecstatic joy at his coming, and the union with him. The Foolish Virgins do not appear in his hymn.

1. The initial stanzas of Nicolai's other great hymn, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, spell—in correct order—Wihelm Ernst Graf Und Herr Zu Waldeck (Wilhelm Ernst Count and Lord of Waldeck).

2, C.S. Terry, Bach's Chorals [sic], 3 vols., London, 1915-21, II, p. 405.

3. See facsimile reprint, Soest, 1963, p. 409 ff. and 412 f. Cf. also W.S. Kelynack, The Fourth Century of Philipp Nicolai, in The Choir, XLVII (1956), 136.

4. Cf. Ludwig Kurtze, D. Philipp Nicolai's Leben und Lieder (Nach den Quellen), Halle, 1859, p. 126 ff.
Listen to Bach's cantata 140 on YouTube.

Saturday, January 16, 2021


Darkened Minds

Pindar, Olympian Odes 7.24-26 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
                                                              Delusions innumerable
hang their shadows over men's minds. This thing passes wit to discover,
what is best now and at the end for a man to attain.

ἀμφὶ δ᾿ ἀνθρώπων φρασὶν ἀμπλακίαι
ἀναρίθμητοι κρέμανται· τοῦτο δ᾿ ἀμάχανον εὑρεῖν,
ὅ τι νῦν ἐν καὶ τελευτᾷ φέρτατον ἀνδρὶ τυχεῖν.

Friday, January 15, 2021


Your Inheritance

Cicero, Philippics 4.5.13 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Hold fast, I beseech you, to that which your ancestors have bequeathed you, as it were an heirloom.

hanc retinete, quaeso, quam vobis tamquam hereditatem maiores vestri reliquerunt!


The Great Bulwark of Liberty

[Thomas Gordon], Cato's Letters, No. 15 (Saturday, February 4, 1721—"Of Freedom of Speech: That the same is inseparable from publick Liberty"):
This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property; and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to publick traitors.
Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them.



Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 183:
Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.


Coat of Arms

Abraham Cowley, "Of Agriculture," Essays (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869), pp. 38-64 (at 43):
We may talk what we please of lilies, and lions rampant, and spread-eagles, in fields d'or or d'argent; but, if heraldry were guided by reason, a plough in a field arable, would be the most noble and ancient arms.

Thursday, January 14, 2021


Prayer to Zeus

Pindar, Olympian Odes 2.14-15 (tr. William H. Race):
Graciously preserve their ancestral land
for their children still to come.

εὔφρων ἄρουραν ἔτι πατρίαν σφίσιν κόμισον
λοιπῷ γένει.


Shelley's Sophocles

C.M. Reed, "On Weeping" (Jan. 2020):
I’ve never wept over the death of a loved one; those ties, says my wife, are in my case too deep for tears. Nor do I weep in response to literature that moves me profoundly.

Yet I cry unexpectedly and involuntarily on seeing (on DVD) or hearing certain passages of classical music. And twice, curiously enough, I’ve wept piteously over the circumstances surrounding great verse.

Let me deal straightaway with the second instance, which occurred several years ago when an American friend from Oxford days, Charles Calhoun, urged me to go on Youtube and type in “George Steiner: ‘I summon up remembrance of things past.’” I urge the reader to do the same.

It takes a bit longer to describe the first occasion. I should begin by confessing that as one of nature’s chicken-hearted souls I shrink from facing new circumstances. So when my wife Jean, a baby daughter, and I arrived in Oxford in October of 1971, I found plenty to complain about, moaning repeatedly to my wife that we should have chosen Harvard for graduate work in ancient Greek history instead of Oxford.

We had come from Charlottesville, Virginia, where a spring bout with thyroid cancer forced me to postpone finishing several UVa assignments until our arrival in Oxford. One of them was to trace the evolution of a single choral passage in a Sophoclean play from its Renaissance form to the present. I chose a passage from my favorite, Oedipus at Colonus.

A glance at the 1502 Florentine edition of Sophocles by Aldus Manutius reveals that the choral passages suffered far more than did the remainder of the text in the long transmission from their ancient form to the present. Choruses in the 1502 Aldine text are often an incoherent mess, worlds removed from the polished eloquence of the Sophoclean choruses one reads today. Has any scholarly achievement of the past half-millennium been more neglected than the labors of those who devoted their lives to editing and thus improving these texts? Who outside the circle of classical scholars recognizes names such as Scaliger, Causabon, Bentley, Hermann, Elmsley, or Jebb? Consider the formidable array of tools required for the task — an intimacy with the ancient author’s entire corpus and its manuscript history, an exquisite knowledge of tragic meter, and a first-rate poetic imagination.

Fortunately most of the important printed editions of Oedipus at Colonus since the Renaissance were readily available on the open shelves of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. But a crucial one was missing — a late 18th century edition by a German scholar, R.F.P. Brunck. This, I discovered, was among the Bodleian’s rare book holdings in the surpassingly beautiful reading room known as Duke Humfrey’s Library.

So I filled out a request to have the book fetched and handed it to a librarian, the first in a series of a distinct breed of Oxford lady librarians I encountered over the next six years — middle-aged, tall, pert, razor-thin, with a cultivated accent spoken rapidly in a high pitch that warbled tunefully in its uppermost register.

A week passed. No Brunck. How differently things would have been managed at Harvard, I mused to myself. Up I went to complain to that same librarian, whose tart response made one thing clear: My efforts to come across as a well-mannered southern gentleman had failed; she now viewed me as simply another querulous American.

Several days into the second week the same librarian appeared at my chair in the reading room, silently plopping down a small volume in wretched condition. It looked as if someone, reading in the bath, had let it drop into the water. My first thought was characteristically invidious: “I’ll wager that the Widener Library’s copy at Harvard wouldn’t be in such sad shape.”

Then I opened to the frontispiece and read, “This book was found on the body of Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822) when it floated ashore on the coast of Italy.”

I began weeping. I couldn’t stop! After a few minutes I rose and made my way to the men’s room to wash away the tears. Upon returning, I hurriedly copied out the relevant choral passage and, gingerly picking it up, carried the book back to the librarian at her desk. “Ah, finished so quickly, are we?” she said archly as she took it from my hand. Then she looked up, saw my reddened eyes, and asked, ever so gently and softly, “Would you like me to hold it for you till later?”

Hat tip: Taylor Posey.

Related post: Shelley's Aeschylus.



Nicholas Evans, From Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 208:
The Kusunda are a little-known group of hunter-gatherers who may help us understand the pre-Hindu civilization in India. This tiny people somehow managed to hold onto their distinctiveness in the remote jungles of Nepal: their language is unrelated to any other. First mentioned in 1848, when a British envoy wrote that "amid the dense forests . . . dwell, in scanty numbers . . . two broken tribes having no apparent affinity with the civilized races . . . and seeming like fragments of an earlier population," by the late twentieth century the language was being declared extinct, disappearing almost without record. But Nepalese officials recently intensified efforts to locate speakers. In 2000 they discovered a man who could remember some of his parents' speech, and in 2004 they found a couple more Kusunda and brought them to Kathmandu to give them citizenship papers. One, Kamala (center) is only 30, and still speaks the language with her monolingual mother, who was too old to make the journey to Kathmandu. Her 60-something cousin Gyani Maiya (left) is also fluent, although she had not used the language for 20 years; the two knew of one another but had not met until both came out to Kathmandu. And these speakers know of a couple more, six days' walk into the jungles. Yogendra Prasad Yadav, David Watters, and Madhav Prasad Pokhrei have now been able to record and analyze a good part of the language. Amazingly for hunter-gatherers, this language has native words for domestic animals (horse, cow, sheep, goat, chicken), for 15 different castes of tribal groups, for king, police, gold, and money. All these words are completely unrelated to those found in other languages of the region. This suggests that the Kusunda, against first expectations, have not always been hunter-gatherers, but were once the bearers of a much more sophisticated civilization, predating the Indo-Aryans of Vedic times, from which they had to retreat into a marginalized hunter-gathering existence once more powerful groups encroached.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Facial Recognition

Mark Buchan, "Penelope's Foot," Ramus 44.1-2 (December, 2015) 141-154 (at ?):
As Professor Katz has again pointed out to me, the reverse of Odysseus' obsession with recognition of his foot lurks behind a witticism in an anecdote about the classicist Maurice Bowra, recently retold by Bevis Hillier of his autobiography (Spectator, 17 December 2005). 'He liked to sun himself at Parsons' Pleasure, the (since abolished) nude bathing place for men on the river Cherwell. The story was much told of how, when an illicit punt-load of women floated past, all the other men covered their genitals, but Bowra threw a towel over his face with the words, "I don't know about you chaps, but I am known in the streets of Oxford by my face".'
Tom Stoppard in Conversation, ed. Paul Delaney (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 151:
GOLLOB: Let's plunge in ... with a bathing anecdote. This is an apocryphal anecdote about A.J. Ayer going swimming with some other philosophy dons at a men only bathing area on the Cherwell. They are frolicking around starkers when all of a sudden these girls go by in a punt. All reach for their towels in a mad rush to cover their private parts except for Ayer who covers his head. Do you know the story?

STOPPARD: Yes, and the story is a lot older than Freddy Ayer.

GOLLOB: Is it?

STOPPARD: Yes, I mean I suppose it may have happened to somebody sometime but I'm not even sure that it did. It's a story told about Oxford dons, sometimes about a particular one and it's usually set in a sort of Edwardian England when I suppose naked men were even more shocking, but let's assume it happened to Freddy as well...
Hat tip: Kevin Muse.


Reading the Encyclopedia

The Words: The Autobiography of Jean-Paul Sartre, tr. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Vintage Books, 1981) pp. 50-51:
The library contained little other than the major French and German classics. […] A lean universe. But for me the Larousse Encyclopedia took the place of everything: I would pick a volume at random, behind the desk, on the next-to-last shelf, A-Bello, Belloc-Ch or Ci-D, Mele-Po or Pr-Z (these associations of syllables had become proper names which designated sectors of universal knowledge: there was the Ci-D region, the Pr-Z region, with their flora and fauna, cities, great men, and battles); I would set it down laboriously on my grand-father's blotter, I would open it. There I would take real birds from their nests, would chase real butterflies that alighted on real flowers. Men and animals were there in person: the engravings were their bodies, the texts were their souls, their individual essence. Beyond the walls, one encountered rough sketches which more or less approximated the archetypes without achieving their perfection: the monkeys in the zoo were less monkey, the men in the Luxembourg Gardens were less man. In Platonic fashion, I went from knowledge to its subject. I found more reality in the idea than in the thing because it was given to me first and because it was given as a thing. It was in books that I encountered the universe: assimilated, classified, labeled, pondered, still formidable; and I confused the disorder of my bookish experiences with the random course of real events. From that came the idealism which it took me thirty years to shake off.

La bibliothèque ne comprenait guère que les grands classiques de France et d'Allemagne. […] Maigre univers. Mais le Grand Larousse me tenait lieu de tout: j'en prenais un tome au hasard, derrière le bureau, sur l'avant-dernier rayon, A-Bello, Belloc-Ch ou Ci-D, Mele-Po ou Pr-Z (ces associations de syllabes étaient devenues des noms propres qui désignaient les secteurs du savoir universel: il y avait la région Ci-D, la région Pr-Z, avec leur faune et leur flore, leurs villes, leurs grands hommes et leurs batailles); je le déposais péniblement sur le sous-main de mon grand-père, je l'ouvrais, j'y dénichais les vrais oiseaux, j'y faisais la chasse aux vrais papillons posés sur de vraies fleurs. Hommes et bêtes étaient là, en personne: les gravures, c'étaient leurs corps, le texte, c'était leur âme, leur essence singulière; hors les murs, on rencontrait de vagues ébauches qui s'approchaient plus ou moins des archétypes sans atteindre à leur perfection: au Jardin d'Acclimatation, les singes étaient moins singes, au Jardin du Luxembourg, les hommes étaient moins hommes. Platonicien par état, j'allais du savoir à son objet; je trouvais à l'idée plus de réalité qu'à la chose, parce qu'elle se donnait à moi d'abord et parce qu'elle se donnait comme une chose. C'est dans les livres que j'ai rencontré l'univers: assimilé, classé, étiqueté, pensé, redoutable encore; et j'ai confondu le désordre de mes expériences livresques avec le cours hasardeux des événements réels. De là vint cet idéalisme dont j'ai mis trente ans à me défaire.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Related post: The Book of Books.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021



Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 118, 120 (notes omitted):
It may initially be hard to believe, but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age. Southern Britain, in the years before the Roman conquest of AD 43, was importing quantities of Gaulish wine and Gaulish pottery; it had its own native pottery industries with regional distribution of their wares; it even had native silver coinages, which may well have been used to facilitate exchange, as well as for purposes of prestige and gift-giving. The settlement pattern of later iron-age Britain also reflects emerging economic complexity, with substantial coastal settlements, like Hengistbury in modern Hampshire, which were at least partly dependent on trade. None of these features can be found reliably in fifth- and sixth-century post-Roman Britain. It is really only in about AD 700, three centuries after the disintegration of the Romano-British economy, that southern Britain crawled back to the level of economic complexity found in the pre-Roman Iron Age, with evidence of pots imported from the Continent, the first substantial and wheel-turned Anglo-Saxon pottery industry (at Ipswich), the striking of silver coins, and the emergence of coastal trading towns, such as Hamwic (Saxon Southampton) and London. All these features were new, or only just beginning, in around AD 700; but all had existed in southern Britain during the pre-Roman Iron Age.



James J. O'Donnell, review of P.J. Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Macmillan, 2005), Bryn Mawr Classical Review:
One aspect of the book was seriously off-putting to this reader, but may be less so for others: the flippant lecture-platform style. Many pages read as if they were taken from the lectures at Oxford on ancient history by Colonel Blimp's great-grandson addressing the grandchildren of Bertie Wooster. I recognize that tastes will differ, and so what is incurably vulgar to me may be witty to others, but I think that borrowing an analytical style from the language of television commentators has a more pernicious effect. When he says, for example (p. 230), "Augustine's immediate answer [to critics of Christianity worried by the sack of Rome in 410] was of the straightforward yah-boo-sucks variety", my taste is repelled, but my intellect regards the description of books 1-3 of City of God, a sophisticated reincarnation of Cicero with sly effect, as simply wrong. So too (p. 263), his words "For one thing, the Visigothic supergroup settled so recently in Aquitaine got uppity again, aspiring to a more grandiose role in the running of the Empire than the peace of 418 had allowed them" left me in the end baffled at just what event or events this referred to, while observing that "uppity" certainly makes it clear whose side Heather is on. (The regular use of "supergroup" for the Visigoths and others left this reader of mature years distractedly thinking with pleasure of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker more often than absolutely necessary.) Le mot injuste comes easily in such a style, leading to this ludicrous mischaracterization of Constantine Porphyrogenitus: 305, "He [Constantine Porphyrogenitus] conceived a maniacal project to preserve classical learning . . . ."
I had a similar reaction to the slang and pop-culture references in a recent book with scholarly pretensions, viz., Brian C. Muraresku, The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2020):
Suddenly Praetextatus pops into my mind. Why did he schlep here, all the way from his lavish home in Rome? (p. 79)

He schlepped all over the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas, tracking down eyewitness accounts of spiritual gurus whose physical bodies were said to shrink or disappear after death, often transforming into radiant displays of multicolored light. (p. 173)

If you ever wondered why Jesus was the only Jewish man of first-century Galilee to get the Jim Morrison look, this is why. (p. 223)

Like some corporate gimmick by Amazon Prime, the Son of God from Nazareth had just made it perfectly respectable to order the Drug of Immortality straight to your front door. (p. 248)

Whoever he is, he's definitely rocking the long-haired Jesus look. (p. 269)

On their trip from Velia to Rome, some ideal pit stops appear on the map for the Campanian priestesses. (p. 324)


The Book of Books

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Books for the Journey," Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (London: Chatto & Windus, 1925; rpt. 1948), pp. 63-72 (at 70-71):
India paper and photography have rendered possible the inclusion in a portable library of what in my opinion is the best traveller's book of all—a volume (any one of the thirty-two will do) of the twelfth, half-size edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It takes up very little room (eight and a half inches by six and a half by one is not excessive), it contains about a thousand pages and an almost countless number of curious and improbable facts. It can be dipped into anywhere, its component chapters are complete in themselves and not too long. For the traveller, disposing as he does only of brief half-hours, it is the perfect book, the more so, since I take it that, being a born traveller, he is likely also to be one of those desultory and self-indulgent readers to whom the Encyclopaedia, when not used for some practical purpose, must specially appeal. I never pass a day away from home without taking a volume with me. It is the book of books. Turning over its pages, rummaging among the stores of fantastically varied facts which the hazards of alphabetical arrangement bring together, I wallow in my mental vice. A stray volume of the Encyclopaedia is like the mind of a learned madman—stored with correct ideas, between which, however, there is no other connection than the fact that there is a B in both; from orach, or mountain spinach, one passes directly to oracles. That one does not oneself go mad, or become, in the process of reading the Encyclopaedia, a mine of useless and unrelated knowledge is due to the fact that one forgets. The mind has a vast capacity for oblivion. Providentially; otherwise, in the chaos of futile memories, it would be impossible to remember anything useful or coherent. In practice, we work with generalizations, abstracted out of the turmoil of realities. If we remembered everything perfectly, we should never be able to generalize at all; for there would appear before our minds nothing but individual images, precise and different. Without ignorance we could not generalize. Let us thank Heaven for our powers of forgetting. With regard to the Encyclopaedia, they are enormous. The mind only remembers that of which it has some need. Five minutes after reading about mountain spinach, the ordinary man, who is neither a botanist nor a cook, has forgotten all about it. Read for amusement, the Encyclopaedia serves only to distract for the moment; it does not instruct, it deposits nothing on the surface of the mind that will remain. It is a mere time-killer and momentary tickler of the mind. I use it only for amusement on my travels; I should be ashamed to indulge so wantonly in mere curiosity at home, during seasons of serious business.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021


Die Gedanken Sind Frei

James Anthony Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects. Second Series (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1873), pp. 342-343:
Our thoughts and opinions are our own. We may say justly to any one, You shall not make me profess to think true what I believe to be false; you shall not make me do what I do not think just: but there our natural liberty ends. Others have as good a right to their opinion as we have to ours. To any one who holds what are called advanced views on serious subjects, I recommend a long suffering reticence and the reflection that, after all, he may possibly be wrong. Whether we are Radicals or Conservatives we require to be often reminded that truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, are no creatures of our own belief. We cannot make true things false, or false things true, by choosing to think them so. We cannot vote right into wrong or wrong into right. The eternal truths and rights of things exist, fortunately, independent of our thoughts or wishes, fixed as mathematics, inherent in the nature of man and the world. They are no more to be trifled with than gravitation. If we discover and obey them, it is well with us; but that is all we can do.



Euripides, Orestes 789 (tr. David Kovacs):
Clearly better to say nothing.

δηλαδὴ σιγᾶν ἄμεινον.

Monday, January 11, 2021



Xenophon, On Hunting 1.18 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
Therefore I charge the young not to despise hunting or any other schooling. For these are the means by which men become good in war and in all things out of which must come excellence in thought and word and deed.

ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν παραινῶ τοῖς νέοις μὴ καταφρονεῖν κυνηγεσίων μηδὲ τῆς ἄλλης παιδείας· ἐκ τούτων γὰρ γίγνονται τὰ εἰς τὸν πόλεμον ἀγαθοὶ καὶ εἰς τὰ ἄλλα ἐξ ὧν ἀνάγκη καλῶς νοεῖν καὶ λέγειν καὶ πράττειν.
Related post: Thought, Word, and Deed.


Liberty of Speech

William Gladstone, speech on the Treaty of Berlin (July 30, 1878):
The liberty of speech which we enjoy, and the publicity which attends our political life and action, are, I believe, the matters in which we have the greatest amount of advantage over some other countries of the civilized world. That liberty of speech is the liberty which secures all other liberties, and the abridgement of which would render all other liberties vain and useless possessions.
A sentiment apparently not shared by some, e.g. this unholy trinity:


Shelley's Aeschylus

Dear Mike,

George Barnett Smith, Shelley: A Critical Biography (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1877), pp. 146-148:
For many years Shelley's death was believed in England to be attributable to the accidental oversetting of his craft; but this belief has never been shared by his descendants; and the poet's friend who recovered the boat — she was found some two miles away, off the coast of Via Reggio — has stated that the cause of her loss was at once apparent; her starboard quarter was stove in, evidently by a blow from the bows of a felucca; and being undecked, and having three tons and a half of iron ballast, she would have sunk in two minutes. An Italian seaman recently confessed that he was one of those who ran down Shelley's boat, believing that Lord Byron was on board, and that his lordship would pay a heavy ransom for his rescue; and this man stated that the moment the vessel struck, Shelley's craft went down. Several attempts have been made to throw discredit upon this story, for whose accuracy no one could vouch; but as regards the running down, Shelley's relatives have always believed it, though they imagine it was probably the result of a misadventure. Besides the hole discovered in the boat, many circumstances in the attitude of the poet himself confirm the belief that his death was not the result of the accidental oversetting of the boat, but of a collision. Firmly clasped in the hand of Shelley when the boat went down was a copy of Æschylus (not of Keats's poems). Shelley was passionately enamoured of Æschylus, and was apparently reading him at the very moment when the vessel was struck, an occupation which would not have engaged him if the vessel had at that moment been in imminent peril from the storm. There was a volume of Keats in his breast pocket, but the volume of Æschylus, as already intimated, was in his hand, and with the finger clasped in its pages. The volume still opens at the page where Shelley had been reading when the storm arose, and the print of his finger is still to be perceived upon the page. The book was in his hand when the body was found, and it was taken from him by Mr. Trelawny as he laid him on the pile for the burning: the volume remains in the possession of Sir Percy Shelley.
This may be a fanciful and embellished account of Shelley’s drowning, but even so it is a pity we are not told at which print-bearing page Shelley's Æschylus opens. What passage was he reading when disaster struck?

I would hope, as I’m sure Trelawny would too, that the Shelleyan finger was inserted between pages 140 and 141 (Æschyli tragœdiæ; ex editione Chr. Godofr. Schütz; Oxonii: Typis et Sumtu N. Bliss, 1809):
In the last line of p. 140, the Chorus in The Persians laments ὀτοτοτοῖ, φίλων, continuing on the following page,
Ἁλίδονα σώματα πολυβαφῆ
Κατθανόντα λέγεις φέρεσθαι
Πλαγκτοῖς ἐν διπλάκεσσιν.
ll. 272-275

Alas, alas! You say that the bodies of our loved ones,
battered by the brine and drenched, are tossing,
washed back and forth among the reefs. (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth)
According to Kim Wheatley, "'Attracted by the Body': Accounts of Shelley's Cremation," Keats-Shelley Journal 49 (2000) 162-182 (footnote at 177-178), the Aeschylus volume is a fiction:
31… a very late comment by Trelawny: "All parts of the body not protected by clothes were torn off by dog-fish and other sea-vermin, even to their scalps; the hands were torn off at the wrists (Records [of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron], p. 310). Trelawny makes this statement — which strongly counteracts the angelicizing process — to refute another writer's claim that Shelley's body was found grasping a book, even though Trelawny himself was guilty of creating confusion over the reading matter found upon the poet's person. As Hunt informed a friend in his letter announcing Shelley's death, "in S's pocket … a copy of Keats's last volume which he had borrowed of me to read on his passage, was open and doubled back” (quoted by White, The Unextinguished Hearth, p. 322). A letter by Byron makes clear the book's importance given the state of the body: "Shelley's body has been found and identified (though with difficulty) two days ago — chiefly by a book in his Jacket pocket — the body itself being totally disfigured & in a state of putrefaction." (Leslie Marchand, ed., Byron's Letters and Journals, 12 vols. [Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1973-82], Ix, 185.) Trelawny's Recollections expands upon the detail of the book: "The tall, slight figure, the jacket, the volume of Sophocles in one pocket, and Keats's poems in the other, doubled back, as if the reader, in the act of reading, had hastily thrust it away, were all too familiar to me to leave a doubt on my mind that this mutilated corpse was any other than Shelley's" (p. 123). Trelawny's description — in contrast with Byron's — certainly makes Shelley seem bookish and impractical (and therefore potentially angelic) even in death; on the other hand Trelawny invents the Sophocles volume (Aeschylus in the 1878 Records [of Shelley, Byron and the Author]) presumably as a necessary counterweight to the "mutilated corpse." On the volume of Sophocles as an embellishment by Trelawny, see Marchand, "Trelawny on the Death of Shelley," 17.
It is slightly puzzling why, if the memory of the clutched Aeschylus first surfaces in Trelawny’s 1878 Records, the volume is already present in George Barnett Smith’s biography of 1877. Personal communication may be one explanation. Alan Halsey, "The Text of Shelley's Death: a Mythopoeic Retrospective," in The Survival of Myth: Innovation, Singularity and Alterity, edd. David Kennedy and Paul Hardwick (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010), pp. 152-167 (at 153), suggests that this particular piece of embroidery was actually Smith's:
From Trelawny alone it would be possible to derive eight or more tellings with significant differences to which we can add a few variants contributed by Captain Daniel Roberts. We need not look far for a motive underlying Trelawny's and Roberts' accounts: they were at least partly to blame for the unseaworthiness of Shelley's boat. Nevertheless, Trelawny is the source mined and embroidered by the later nineteenth century biographers: William Sharp, William Michael Rossetti, A. Clutton-Brock, Edward Dowden, and George Barnett Smith. Smith himself provides the wondrous embellishment of the copy of Aeschylus still clutched in Shelley's hand after eight or more days in the sea, a detail solemnly recorded in the Bodleian catalogue for several decades, albeit for a copy of Sophocles.
Whatever the case, it was probably the survival of the books themselves that gave the various confabulations traction. Shelley did own copies of both tragedians. The Aeschylus [Oxford, 1809: Bodleian, Shelfmark: [pr.] Shelley adds. gr 1] was exhibited in the Bodleian Libraries/New York Public Library exhibition Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the image of a literary family ( From the Catalogue Notes:

Percy Bysshe Shelley; ? E.J. Trelawny; ? (gift) Sir Percy Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1899) John C.E. Shelley (later Sir John Shelley-Rolls); (bequest, 1961) Bodleian.


In the course of his long life Trelawny wrote numerous accounts of Shelley’s death and cremation, each one more dramatic and less reliable than the last. He did not record finding an edition of Sophocles in Shelley’s jacket pocket until 1858; in an account of 1878, this has turned into an edition of Aeschylus. Both a Sophocles and an Aeschylus may have been found by Trelawny after Shelley’s death but – less dramatically – in the trunk of belongings he had with him on board rather than in his jacket pocket. Although better preserved than the Sophocles, the Aeschylus seems to show signs of water damage such as its buckled binding.

Trelawny recalled giving Shelley's Aeschylus to Sir Percy Shelley. Perhaps it was the edition here, which has notes in Shelley’s hand. It is inscribed on the flyleaf: 'Belonged to P.B. Shelley / & was left to me / by his daughter-in-law / Jane, Lady Shelley. / J.C. Shelley-Rolls.'
Shelley's verse drama and last published poem, Hellas, was written in Pisa the year before his death (1822), with a view to raising money for the Greek War of Independence.  As it was inspired by Aeschylus's The Persians, the poet is unlikely not to have read the prophetic lines of the Chorus on pp. 140-141 above in the months preceding his drowning, even if the book lay on a desk or table on dry land and not firmly clasped aboard the doomed Don Juan.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Sunday, January 10, 2021


Gothic Mustaches

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 72-74, with note on p. 202:
There is also a very interesting piece of evidence to show that King Theoderic himself, and one of his successors, continued to feel different from their Roman subjects, almost certainly because they still felt 'Gothic'. The only certain representation that we have of Theoderic is on a gold medallion, known as the 'Senigallia medallion' (Fig. 4.2). He is shown here in very Roman mode: identified by a Latin inscription and Roman titles; wearing a cuirass and cloak (in the manner of contemporary coin portraits of east-Roman emperors); and bearing an orb surmounted by a Victory. But he is also shown with long hair covering his ears, and, most significantly, with a moustache. There is no representation that I know of, from any century, that shows a Roman, or indeed a Greek, with a moustache (unless it is accompanied by a beard); and there is not even a word in the Latin language for 'moustache'. Contemporaries, whether Romans or Goths, will have interpreted Theoderic's moustache as a sign of his un-Romanness, indeed of his Gothicness; and, in doing so, they will surely have been right. As late as 534–6, one of his successors, Theodahad, is also shown on coinage sporting a prominent moustache (Fig. 4.3). Theodahad, according to Procopius, was an unwarlike man, learned in Latin literature and Platonic philosophy; in these respects he had clearly moved towards 'Romanness'. But even the learned Theodahad kept his Gothic moustache.20
4.2 Gold medallion with the bust, and in the name, of Theoderic. The inscription on the reverse, 'King Theoderic victor over foreign peoples' (victor gentium), is an implicit claim that the Ostrogoths were less foreign, and therefore more Roman, than other Germanic tribes.
4.3 A philosopher-king with a Gothic moustache. Copper coin of the Ostrogothic king Theodahad (534–6). The design on the reverse is closely modelled on coins of the first century AD, down to the claim that this was issued 'by decree of the Senate' (Senatus consultu, the 'SC' that appears on either side of the Victory).

20. Senigallia medallion: W. Wroth, Catalogue of the Coins of the Vandals, Ostrogoths and Lombards . . . in the British Museum (London, 1911), 54. Amory, People and Identity, 338–46 is wrong to assume that a moustache alone (as worn by Theoderic and Theodahad) is the same as a beard-with-moustache (which some Romans did wear). Theodahad’s coins: Wroth, Catalogue, 75–6. Theodahad’s learned nature: Procopius, Wars, V.3.1.



John Locke, A Treatise on the Conduct of Understanding, § 33 (Assent):
In the whole conduct of the understanding there is nothing of more moment than to know when and where, and how far to give assent; and possibly there is nothing harder. It is very easily said, and nobody questions it, that giving and withholding our assent, and the degrees of it, should be regulated by the evidence which things carry with them; and yet we see men are not the better for this rule; some firmly embrace doctrines upon slight grounds, some upon no grounds, and some contrary to appearance: some admit of certainty, and are not to be moved in what they hold: others waver in every thing, and there want not those that reject all as uncertain. What then shall a novice, an inquirer, a stranger do in the case? I answer, use his eyes.

There is a correspondence in things, and agreement and disagreement in ideas, discernible in very different degrees, and there are eyes in men to see them, if they please: only their eyes may be dimmed or dazzled, and the discerning sight in them impaired or lost. Interest and passion dazzle; the custom of arguing on any side, even against our persuasions, dims the understanding, and makes it by degrees lose the faculty of discerning clearly between truth and falsehood, and so of adhering to the right side. It is not safe to play with error, and dress it up to ourselves or others in the shape of truth. The mind by degrees loses its natural relish of real solid truth, is reconciled insensibly to any thing that can be dressed up into any faint appearance of it; and if the fancy be allowed the place of judgment at first in sport, it afterward comes by use to usurp it; and what is recommended by this flatterer (that studies but to please,) is received for good. There are so many ways of fallacy, such arts of giving colours, appearances, and resemblances by this court-dresser, the fancy, that he who is not wary to admit nothing but truth itself, very careful not to make his mind subservient to any thing else, cannot but be caught. He that has a mind to believe, has half assented already; and he that, by often arguing against his own sense, imposes falsehood on others, is not far from believing himself. This takes away the great distance there is betwixt truth and falsehood; it brings them almost together, and makes it no great odds, in things that approach so near, which you take; and when things are brought to that pass, passion or interest, &c. easily and without being perceived, determine which shall be the right.


Idle Mouths

A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, Vol. II (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964), p. 933:
Economically the church was an additional burden, which steadily increased in weight, on the limited resources of the empire. The huge army of clergy and monks were for the most part idle mouths, living upon offerings, endowments and state subsidies.

Saturday, January 09, 2021



Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen, Act I, Scene 2 (Brother Martin speaking; tr. anonymous, rather carelessly, e.g. second sentence omitted):
When you have eaten and drunken, you are like one new-born. Wine rejoices the heart of man, and joy is the mother of all the virtues. When you have drunken wine, all your powers are doubled—you are quick to contrive, bold to undertake, and fortunate in achieving.

Wenn Ihr gessen und trunken habt, seid Ihr wie neugeboren. Seid stärker, mutiger, geschickter zu Eurem Geschäft. Der Wein erfreut des Menschen Herz, und die Freudigkeit ist die Mutter aller Tugenden. Wenn Ihr Wein getrunken habt, seid Ihr alles doppelt, was Ihr sein sollt, noch einmal so leicht denkend, noch einmal so unternehmend, noch einmal so schnell ausführend.
Alas! what is not wearisome in this sad world! And what can be more wearisome than my own wretched, monotonous existence! Poverty, chastity, and obedience—vows which may soon be taken, but which can hardly be performed! And under the load of such vows must I drag out my life in spiritless endurance, or else awaken the gnawings of a conscience which may indeed be blunted, but which can never die! O, my Lord, what are the dangers and anxieties of your life, to the silent sorrows of a state, in which, through a mistaken desire to draw nearer to God, the best and warmest longings of our nature are forbidden and condemned!

Was ist nicht beschwerlich auf dieser Welt, und mir kommt nichts beschwerlicher vor, als nicht Mensch sein dürfen. Armut, Keuschheit und Gehorsam. Drei Gelübde, deren jedes, einzeln betrachtet, der Natur das unausstehlichste scheint, so unerträglich sind sie alle. Und sein ganzes Leben unter dieser Last, oder der weit drückendern Bürde des Gewissens mutlos zu keichen! O Herr! was sind die Mühseligkeiten Eures Lebens, gegen die Jämmerlichkeiten eines Stands, der die besten Triebe, durch die wir werden, wachsen und gedeihen, aus missverstandner Begierde Gott näher zu rücken, verdammt.

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