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
Geography
Geometry
Fractions
Writing
Drawing

 

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.
Id.:
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.

 

Complacency

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.

 

Retrogradation

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

 

Regress

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.

 

Off-Putting

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.

 

Better

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

δηλαδὴ σιγᾶν ἄμεινον.

Monday, January 11, 2021

 

Hunting

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 (http://163.1.35.99/edition-of-aeschylus?item=214#Description). From the Catalogue Notes:
Owners

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.

Comments

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.

 

Assent

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

 

Wine

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.
Id.:
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.

 

Kinship Terms

Rules of the House of Representatives for the One Hundred Seventeenth Congress, pp. 5-6:
In clause 8(c)(3) of rule XXIII, strike "father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, grandson, or granddaughter" and insert "parent, child, sibling, parent's sibling, first cousin, sibling's child, spouse, parent-in-law, child-in-law, sibling-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, half-sibling, or grandchild".
On kinship terms, see Emile Benveniste, Indo-European Language and Society, tr. Elizabeth Palmer (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1973 = Miami Linguistics Series, 12), Book 2 ("The Vocabulary of Kinship").

Friday, January 08, 2021

 

Peace and Quiet

Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen, Act I, Scene 3 (tr. Walter Scott):
Peace and quiet! No doubt! Every bird of prey naturally likes to eat its plunder undisturbed.

Ruh und Frieden! Ich glaub's wohl! Den wünscht jeder Raubvogel, die Beute nach Bequemlichkeit zu verzehren.

 

In My Time

Pausanias 8.2.5 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
But at the present time, when sin has grown to such a height and has been spreading over every land and every city, no longer do men turn into gods, except in the flattering words addressed to despots, and the wrath of the gods is reserved until the sinners have departed to the next world.

ἐπ’ ἐμοῦ δὲ—κακία γὰρ δὴ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ηὔξετο καὶ γῆν τε ἐπενέμετο πᾶσαν καὶ πόλεις πάσας—οὔτε θεὸς ἐγίνετο οὐδεὶς ἔτι ἐξ ἀνθρώπου, πλὴν ὅσον λόγῳ καὶ κολακείᾳ πρὸς τὸ ὑπερέχον, καὶ ἀδίκοις τὸ μήνιμα τὸ ἐκ τῶν θεῶν ὀψέ τε καὶ ἀπελθοῦσιν ἐνθένδε ἀπόκειται.

 

The Land

Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, tr. Gilbert Highet, Vol. III: The Conflict of Cultural Ideals in the Age of Plato (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944), p. 173:
There is a new spirit in Xenophon's Oeconomicus. The world of farmers and peasants has realized its own worth, and has become capable of showing forth its own very considerable contribution to civilization. The love for the country which comes out here is equally far from the sentimental rusticity of the Hellenistic idylls, and from the yokel farce of Aristophanes' peasant scenes. It is quite sure of itself. It does not need to exaggerate the importance of its own world. Although we need not generalize the phenomenon of the literary farmer, it is still true that Xenophon's book shows the land to be the imperishable and eternally young root of all human life.

 

Extremes

Page Smith, John Adams, Vol. I: 1735-1784 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962), p. 569:
The logic of a position, once assumed, almost invariably drives its possessor to extremes, especially if he is under constant political pressure from an opposition party. The natural human instinct for self-justification makes us more and more fervent in a cause and less inclined, ultimately less able, to perceive shades and nuances in our own and more particularly in the opposing viewpoint.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

 

Who Is This Hero?

Bacchylides 18.31-45 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Who is this hero, then, does he say?
Where does he come from? What has he with him?
Does he come armed with weapons of war?
Has he a great following behind him?
Or alone, and with body servants
only, goes he as a merchant who travels
into alien lands?
Strong he must be, and resolute,
adventurous, too, who has stood the onset
of such big men and put them down.
Surely, the drive of a god is behind him,
to bring law to the lawless people.
It is no easy thing to engage
again and again, and never be loser.
In the length of time all things are brought to completion.

τίνα δ᾽ ἔμμεν πόθεν ἄνδρα τοῦτον
λέγει, τίνα τε στολὰν ἔχοντα;
πότερα σὺν πολεμηΐοις ὅ-
πλοισι στρατιὰν ἄγοντα πολλάν;
ἢ μοῦνον σὺν ὀπάοσιν        35
στείχειν ἔμπορον οἷ᾽ ἀλάταν
ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοδαμίαν,
ἰσχυρόν τε καὶ ἄλκιμον
ὧδε καὶ θρασύν, ὅς τε τοσούτων
ἀνδρῶν κρατερὸν σθένος        40
ἔσχεν; ἦ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὁρμᾷ,
δίκας ἀδίκοισιν ὄφρα μήσεται·
οὐ γὰρ ῥᾴδιον αἰὲν ἔρ-
δοντα μὴ 'ντυχεῖν κακῷ.
πάντ᾽ ἐν τῷ δολιχῷ χρόνῳ τελεῖται.
        45

35 ὀπάοσιν Weil: ὅπλοισιν
39 τοσούτων Platt: τούτων
"What has he with him?" is a bit thin for τίνα τε στολὰν ἔχοντα; (line 32). See H. Maehler ad loc.:
στολή can mean 'equipment' or 'clothing' ('equipment': Aesch. Supp. 764, Pers. 1018; 'clothing': Aesch. Pers. 192, Soph. Phil. 224, Ar. Eccl. 846 στολὴ ἱππική, cf. Hdt. 1.80.2). The chorus' questions concerning στολή, weapons (33-4) and companions (35-7), will be answered in reverse order by the king: companions (46), weapons (47-9), clothes (50-4), so στολάν in 32 is likely to refer to his chiton and chlamys.
At line 45, Maehler regards τελεῖται as future.

 

Translation

Basil L. Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 27 (1906) 479-487 (at 481):
To one who tries to look at a language face to face, translation is a hindrance as well as a help...

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

 

Today

Pindar, Olympian Odes 1.99-100 (tr. G.S. Conway):
Yet for each man the blessing of each day
Is the best boon.

τὸ δ' αἰεὶ παράμερον ἐσλόν
ὕπατον ἔρχεται παντὶ βροτῶν.

 

Boston Schoolboys

George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution Toward the Interpretation of the National Mind (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920), p. 181, § 429:
That all the schoolboys in Boston have bulged brows, wear large spectacles and can read Greek.
The American Credo is the American equivalent of Flaubert's Dictionnaire des idées reçues.

Monday, January 04, 2021

 

A Greek Thing

Euripides, Orestes 486 (tr. S.C. Woodhouse):
'Tis a Greek custom ever to honour one's kindred.

̔Ἑλληνικόν τοι τὸν ὁμόθεν τιμᾶν ἀεί.

 

The Greatest Political Evil

John Adams, letter to Jonathan Jackson (October 2, 1780):
There is nothing I dread So much, as a Division of the Republick into two great Parties, each arranged under its Leader, and concerting Measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

 

I Must Die

Robert Southwell (1561-1595), "Upon the Image of death," in his Poems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), pp. 73-74:
Before my face the picture hangs
    That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold qwalmes and bitter pangs,
    That shortly I am like to finde:
But yet alas full little I
    Doe think hereon that I must die.

I often looke upon a face
    Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thinne,
I often view the hollow place
    Where eies and nose had sometimes bin,
I see the bones acrosse that lie,
    Yet little thinke that I must die.

I read the Labell underneath,
    That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eake that saith,
    Remember man that thou art dust:
But yet alas but seldome I
    Doe thinke indeede that I must die.

Continually at my beds head
    A hearse doth hang which doth me tel,
That I yer morning may be dead,
    Though now I feele my selfe full wel:
But yet alas, for all this I
    Have little minde that I must die.

The gowne which I do use to weare,
    The knife wherewith I cut my meate,
And eke that old and ancient chaire,
    Which is my onely usuall seate:
All these do tell me I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turnd to clay,
    And many of my mates are gone,
My yongers dayly drop away,
    And can I thinke to scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

Not Salomon for all his wit,
    Nor Samson though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
    Could scape but death laid him along:
Wherefore I know that I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to heare
    Of Alexanders dreadfull name,
And all the West did likewise feare
    To hear of Julius Cesars fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie,
    Who then can scape but he must die?

If none can scape deaths dreadfull dart,
    If rich and poore his becke obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
    Then I to scape shall have no way.
Oh grant me grace O God that I
    My life may mend sith I must die.

Friday, January 01, 2021

 

Who Knows?

John Adams, letter to his wife Abigail (January 1, 1779):
I wish you an happy new Year, and many happy Years — and all the Blessings of Life. Who knows but this Year may be more prosperous for our Country than any We have seen. For my own Part I have hopes that it will. Great Blessings are in store for it, and they may come this Year as well as another.

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