Saturday, October 23, 2021


The Approach of an Amateur

Gerald Brenan (1894-1987), Thoughts in a Dry Season (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. viii:
I was never at a university and can claim no special knowledge of anything. All my life I have been a learner rather than a knower, a dabbler in matters that were often beyond my natural range or capacity, so that when I treat of these I can only excuse myself with the hope that in an age of specialists the approach of an amateur may have some interest.

Friday, October 22, 2021



Thomas Jefferson, letter to N.G. Dufief (April 19, 1814):
[A]re we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy?


A Curse

A curse tablet found in the temple of Mercury, Uley, Gloucestershire in 1978, published by M.W.C. Hassall and R.S.O Tomlin, Britannia 19 (1988) 485–487, with translation (p. 486, sic in original):
Biccus gives Mercury whatever he has lost (that the thief), whether man or male (sic), may not urinate nor defecate nor speak nor sleep nor stay awake nor (have) well-being or health, unless he bring (it) in the temple of Mercury; nor gain consciousness (sic) of (it) unless with my intervention.
Latin (p. 487, simplified):
Biccus dat Mercurio quidquid pe(r)d(id)it si vir si mascel ne meiat ne cacet ne loquatur ne dormiat n[e] vigilet nec s[al]utem nec sanitatem ness[i] in templo Mercurii pertulerit ne co(n)scientiam de perferat ness[i] me intercedente
The curse tablet is now in the British Museum (number 1978,0102.80). See also Sara Paulin, "'Ne meiat, ne cacet, ne loquatur, ne dormiat, ne vigilet.' La sujeción del cuerpo en las tablillas de maldición latinas," in Alicia Schniebs, ed., Discursos del cuerpo en Roma (Buenos Aires: Editorial de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2011), pp. 185-208.

Thursday, October 21, 2021


Table Manners

Plautus, fragment 55 (tr. Wolfgang de Melo):
I don't blare about politics at table and I don't bellow about the laws.

neque ego ad mensam publicas res clamo nec leges crepo.


The Continuity of Values

Arthur Darby Nock, "The Study of the History of Religion," Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, Vol. I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 331-340 (at 338):
You cannot read such a book as Westermarck's The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas without being deeply impressed by the continuity of the virtues in human history. You cannot, of course, read it without becoming aware of the extent to which the details of ethical codes vary in different ages and climes, and are a product of particular forms of social structure and of particular forms of fear and ignorance. You may regard the checks which are so commonly placed on the sexual instinct as explicable from physiological and ritual considerations. But you cannot deny that you find them in some shape almost everywhere. And, what is more important, you find the same generosity, the same hospitality, the same truthfulness, the same respect for legitimate authority held in honour over the world.

Furthermore, you will find in the whole story a notable measure of continuity in general. The prophetic innovators of whom we have spoken have nearly all proved to come not to destroy but to fulfil. The movements which sprang from their teaching have nearly all conserved the values which existed in the traditions with which they broke.
Id. (at 339):
It is possible to maintain the unbending supernaturalism of the Catholic Church frankly as a thing revealed to man from without and resting on a divine gift of faith. Here it is all or nothing; one concession would invalidate everything, for it is of the essence of the system that reason is the handmaid of faith, concerned to study and understand what is given to it by faith. This majestic structure is likely to have a very long life as it stands; if I were to have a chance of seeing the world in 2432, by the time machine of H.G. Wells or some similar device, I should confidently expect to find the Latin Mass being said with the same gestures and dogmatic theology being taught according to the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas. The uncompromising nature of Catholicism, its perfect because unconscious correspondence to the needs and aspirations of ordinary humanity, its very otherness are its guarantee of survival. Protestantism is in a very different position. Its basic theory, that it represents a return to the Gospel or to the primitive church, has not stood investigation, and it is from its very nature, from its championship of individual judgment, unable to oppose a fiat of authority to the findings of scholarship. It has to stand before the world absolutely on its own merits, as a frank and deliberate compromise between tradition, or, if you prefer it, revelation and reason; and when you make such a compromise you cannot cry, Stop.
Nock's essay was originally published in the Hibbert Journal 31 (1933) 605-615. How inaccurate his prophecy about the Catholic Church has proved to be! The head of that church did his utmost to limit the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass a few months ago in the ironically named Traditionis custodes. The seeds of destruction almost always sprout from within.


A Fierce and Caustic Mockery of Life

Thomas Mann (1875-1955), "Schopenhauer," Essays, tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), pp. 255-302 (at 267-268):
He speaks with a cutting vehemence, in accents of experience and all-embracing knowledge that horrify and bewitch us by their power and veracity. Certain pages display a fierce and caustic mockery of life, uttered as it were with flashing eyes and compressed lips, and in showers of Greek and Latin quotations: a pitiful-pitiless coruscation of statement, citation, and proof of the utter misery of the world. All this is far from being so depressing as one would expect from the pitch of acuity and sinister eloquence it arrives at. Actually it fills the reader with strange, deep satisfaction, whose source is the spiritual rebellion speaking in the words, the human indignation betrayed in what seems like a suppressed quiver of the voice. Everyone feels this satisfaction; everyone realizes that when this great writer and commanding spirit speaks of the suffering of the world, he speaks of yours and mine; all of us feel what amounts almost to triumph at being thus avenged by the heroic Word.

Er spricht davon mit einer schneidenden Vehemenz, mit einem Akzent der Erfahrung, des umfassenden Bescheidwissens, der entsetzt und durch seine gewaltige Wahrheit entzückt. Es ist auf gewissen Seiten ein wilder kaustischer Hohn auf das Leben, funkelnden Blickes und mit verkniffenen Lippen, unter Einstreuung griechischer und lateinischer Zitate; ein erbarmungsvoll-erbarmungsloses Anprangern, Feststellen, Aufrechnen und Begründen des Weltelends,—bei weitem nicht so niederdrückend übrigens, wie man bei soviel Genauigkeit und finsterem Ausdruckstalent erwarten sollte, mit einer seltsam tiefen Genugtuung erfüllend vielmehr kraft des geistigen Protestes, der in einem unterdrückten Beben der Stimme vernehmbaren menschlichen Empörung, die sich darin ausdrückt. Diese Genugtuung empfindet jeder; denn spricht ein richtender Geist und großer Schriftsteller im allgemeinen vom Leiden der Welt, so spricht er auch von deinem und meinem, und bis zum Triumphgefühl fühlen wir alle uns gerächt durch das herrliche Wort.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


Party Animosities

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. Church (October, 1792):
Party animosities here have raised a wall of separation between those who differ in political sentiments. They must love misery indeed who would rather, at the sight of an honest man, feel the torment of hatred and aversion than the benign spasms of benevolence and esteem.


The Few and the Many

Plautus, Trinummus 34-35 (tr. Paul Nixon):
We have a crowd here that gives lots more consideration to currying favour with a certain clique than to our general welfare.

nimioque hic pluris pauciorum gratiam
faciunt pars hominum quam id quod prosint pluribus.
J.H. Gray ad loc.:
34. nimioque pluris, 'value at a higher price by much,' value far more highly (see on v. 28) the favour of the few. Pauciores )( plures οἱ ὀλίγοι, 'the aristocrats,' 'the optimates.' Cf. the complaints of self-seeking v. 1033 ff.

35. faciunt, plur. after pars hominum which implies a number of persons, a common κατὰ σύνεσιν or ad sensum construction.

quam id quod prosint pluribus, 'than they (value) that wherein they may benefit the many.' This, the reading of A, is supported by Shilleto (quoted by Prof. Mayor on Cic. 2 Phil. 21.30, q.v.). Id is acc. after faciunt, quod is the limiting (adverbial) acc. of neut. pron. so common in Plautus, e.g. Curc. 327 sed quod te misi, nihilo sum certior, 'but I am no wiser about what I sent you for,' lit. 'as to what,' Curc. 456 quid hoc quod ad te uenio? 'but what about the business on which I come to you?' So id and ĭdem frequently. Cf. Ouid. Epist. VI.3.4 hoc tamen ipsum debueram scripto certior esse tuo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Words of a President of the United States of America

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac Weaver, Jr. (June 7, 1807):
Being very sensible of bodily decays from advancing years, I ought not to doubt their effect on the mental faculties. To do so would evince either great self-love or little observation of what passes under our eyes; and I shall be fortunate if I am the first to perceive and to obey this admonition of nature.



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1977), p. 188 (my translation):
A little dust on a text drives away the average reader.

Un poco de polvo sobre un texto ahuyenta al lector común.


I Wish

Robert Frost (1874-1963), "The Black Cottage," Complete Poems (1948; rpt. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), pp. 74-77 (at 77):
For, dear me, why abandon a belief
Merely because it ceases to be true.
Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
It will turn true again, for so it goes.
Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
I could be monarch of a desert land
I could devote and dedicate forever
To the truths we keep coming back and back to.
So desert it would have to be, so walled
By mountain ranges half in summer snow,
No one would covet it or think it worth
The pains of conquering to force change on.

Monday, October 18, 2021


Symbols of Other-World Potations

J.M.C. Toynbee (1897-1985), Death and Burial in the Roman World (1971; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p. 253 (note omitted):
A strange form of gravestone, peculiar, so it seems, to Roman sites in modern Portugal, is the wine barrel lying on its side on a low base, generally with its hoops, and sometimes with rows of wineskins, rendered in relief on its curving surface and a panel reserved for the funerary inscription in a central space between the groups of hoops. The Evora (Ebora) Museum has one, the Conimbriga Museum, near Coimbra, one (without hoops), the Beja (Pax Julia) Museum as many as thirteen and fragments of a number of others; and there is a particularly well preserved example from Algarve in the National Archaeological Museum at Belém on the outskirts of Lisbon. Many more must still exist or have existed. It would appear to be improbable that all the dead persons above whose remains these objects stood had been in the wine trade. The piece at Belém is, in fact, inscribed with the name of a woman who died at the age of twenty-five. These barrels must be symbols of other-world potations or of the wine of new life beyond the grave. Whether they stood directly on the ground or were mounted on pedestals is not known. At any rate they provide a very unusual type of free-standing stelai. (Pl. 81)
Id., plate 81:
Below, the gravestone of a young woman, Eppatricia [sic, read Patricia], in the form of a wine-barrel adorned with hoops and wine-skins—a type of monument apparently peculiar to Roman sites in what is now Portugal (p. 253).
The inscription is Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 2.5143:
D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum) / et Patriciae / vixit ann(is) / XXV mens(ibus) / VII dieb(us) VIIII / s(it) t(i)b(i) t(e)r(ra) l(e)b(i)s
See also José d'Encarnação, Inscrições Romanas do Conventus Pacensis: subsídios para o estudo da Romanização (Coimbra: Instituto de Arqueologia da Faculdade de Letras, 1984), pp. 95-96, number 50. Here are more photographs, from d'Encarnação:

Sunday, October 17, 2021


A Holy Thing

Arthur Darby Nock, "The Study of the History of Religion," Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, Vol. I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 331-340 (at 333):
A fact is a holy thing, and its life should never be laid down on the altar of a generalization. We have had these generalizations in plenty, and they have worked havoc. The key to all religions and to all mythologies has been sought in various theories—in an emphasis on the worship of ancestors, or on the worship of the heavenly bodies, or on the worship of inanimate and even artificial objects charged with power, or on the kinship of certain social units with animals or plants called totems, or again in the interpretation of all phenomena in terms of mana, the obscure magical force present in various objects, or again in the henotheistic ideas reported as held among quite undeveloped tribes. Each time the key has opened certain doors, but no amount of filing has enabled it to open all doors. Each time the attempt has shown a naïf assumption, characteristic of the ancients and excusable in them, that the universe and the facts of life are ultimately susceptible of a simple explanation. But the universe and the facts of life are stubborn and recalcitrant and the quest for simple explanations is doomed to failure. No big thing is so to be explained. There is no single and simple origin of tragedy or of sacrifice or of funerary ritual. Life does not happen like that. If any domain of the history of man and of his thought seems to us quite straightforward, we may be fairly certain that we are ill-informed about it or view it from a partisan standpoint.


Unattractive Names

Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs (1964; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 45:
He was called Jahaish (little donkey). This was not a nickname but his proper name. Many of these tribesmen had wildly improbable names; Jahaish was one of the least odd. I was to meet at various times men or boys called Chilaib (little dog), Bakur (sow) and Khanzir (pig), startling among Moslems, who regarded both dogs and pigs as unclean. Others had such strange names as Jaraizi (little rat), Wawai (jackal), Dhauba (hyena), Kausaj (shark), Afrit (Jinn) and even Barur (dung). In order to avert the evil eye unattractive names like these were often given to boys whose brothers had died in infancy.
Related posts:


Small Towns

Julian Young, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 13 (note omitted, brackets in original):
At least until the beginning of his nomadic mode of life at the end of the 1870s, Nietzsche hated large cities. But small towns where one was protected from the dangers of the wide world by a wall, where one came to know one's neighbours and remained in contact with the countryside, he came to love, particularly Germany's old medieval towns. In 1874, for instance, he wrote to his friend Edwin Rohde that he planned to leave the city of Basel and move to the walled (to this very day) medieval town of Rotenburg-ob-der-Tauber in Franconia since, unlike the cities of modernity, it was still 'altdeutsch' [German in the old-fashioned way] and 'whole'.


A High School Library

Amy Richlin, Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 62, n. 93:
My copy of Duckworth's book comes from the North Platte (Nebraska) Senior High School Library, from which it was deaccessioned. This library now no longer contains either a copy of The Nature of Roman Comedy or any book about or by Plautus, and only four books even tangentially about Rome: testimony to the cultural gutting of what are now hinterlands.

Saturday, October 16, 2021



Plato, Euthydemus 304b (tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
Water is cheapest.

τὸ δὲ ὕδωρ εὐωνότατον.
Plautus, Asinaria 198 (tr. Paul Nixon):
Daylight, water, sunlight, moonlight, darkness—for these things I have to pay no money.

diem aquam solem lunam noctem, haec argento non emo.
Horace, Satires 1.5.88-89 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Here water, nature's cheapest product, is sold.

                                venit vilissima rerum
hic aqua.
Seneca, Natural Questions 4.13.3-4 (tr. Thomas H. Corcoran):
We have found out how we may compress snow so that it prevails over summer and is protected in a cold place against the season's heat. What have we accomplished by this diligence? Only that we trade in free water. We are sad because we cannot pay for air and sunlight, and because this air comes easily and without cost to the fastidious also and the rich. How unfortunate it is for us that nature has left anything as common property. This water, which nature has allowed to flow for everyone and be available to all, the drinking of which she has made common to life; this water which she has poured forth abundantly and generously for the use of men as well as wild animals, birds, and the laziest creatures; on this water luxury, ingenious against itself, has put a price. So, nothing can please luxury unless it is expensive. Water was the one thing which reduced the wealthy to the level of the mob. In this, the wealthy could not be superior to the poorest man. Someone burdened by riches has thought out how even water might become a luxury.

invenimus quomodo stiparemus nivem, ut ea aestatem evinceret et contra anni fervorem defenderetur loci frigore. quid hac diligentia consecuti sumus? nempe ut gratuitam mercemur aquam. nobis dolet quod spiritum, quod solem emere non possumus, quod hic aer etiam delicatis divitibusque ex facili nec emptus venit. o quam nobis male est quod quicquam a rerum natura in medio relictum est! hoc quod illa fluere et patere omnibus voluit, cuius haustum vitae publicum fecit, hoc quod tam homini quam feris avibusque et inertissimis animalibus in usum large ac beate profudit, contra se ingeniosa luxuria redegit ad pretium, adeo nihil illi potest placere nisi carum. unum hoc erat quod divites in aequum turbae deduceret, quo non possent antecedere pauperrimum; illi cui divitiae molestae sunt excogitatum est quemadmodum etiam caperet aqua luxuriam.
Vitruvius 8.praef.3 (tr. Frank Granger):
Water, moreover, by furnishing not only drink but all our infinite necessities, provides its grateful utility as a gracious gift.

aqua vero non solum potus sed infinitas usu praebendo necessitates, gratas, quod est gratuita, praestat utilitates.
Lactantius, Divine Institutes 3.26.11 (tr. Mary Francis McDonald):
We do not sell water, nor do we hold forth the sun as a reward.

nos aquam non vendimus nec solem mercede praestamus.


El Jefe

Tacitus, Histories 1.49.8 (tr. Clifford H. Moore):
All would have agreed that he was equal to the imperial office if he had never held it.

omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset.

Friday, October 15, 2021


Mores Maiorum

Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, tr. Alan Shapiro (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), p. 156:
Simplicity and self-sufficiency, a strict upbringing and moral code, order and subservience within the family, diligence, bravery, and self-sacrifice: these were the virtues that had continually been evoked in Rome with the slogan "mores maiorum," ever since the process of Hellenization began. Yet in reality this archaic society and its values were receding ever more rapidly. Nevertheless, the belief in the necessity of a moral renewal was firmly rooted. Without a return to the ancestral virtues there could be no internal healing of the body politic.

Such dramatic appeals had surely been heard many times before, and, inevitably, they are vague, short-lived, and out of touch with reality. But despite this, their emotional impact can often be amazingly deep. They are an indispensable element in the eternal longing for a "brave new world."


Peace and Continuity

Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs (1964; rpt. London: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 23:
As I came out into the dawn, I saw, far away across a great sheet of water, the silhouette of a distant land, black against the sunrise. For a moment I had a vision of Hufaidh, the legendary island, which no man may look on and keep his senses; then I realized that I was looking at great reedbeds. A slim, black, high-prowed craft lay beached at my feet — the sheikh's war canoe, waiting to take me into the Marshes. Before the first palaces were built at Ur, men had stepped out into the dawn from such a house, launched a canoe like this, and gone hunting here. Woolley had unearthed their dwellings and models of their boats buried deep under the relics of Sumeria, deeper even than evidence of the Flood. Five thousand years of history were here and the pattern was still unchanged.

Memories of that first visit to the Marshes have never left me: firelight on a half-turned face, the crying of geese, duck flighting in to feed, a boy’s voice singing somewhere in the dark, canoes moving in procession down a waterway, the setting sun seen crimson through the smoke of burning reedbeds, narrow waterways that wound still deeper into the Marshes. A naked man in a canoe with a trident in his hand, reed houses built upon water, black, dripping buffaloes that looked as if they had calved from the swamp with the first dry land. Stars reflected in dark water, the croaking of frogs, canoes coming home at evening, peace and continuity, the stillness of a world that never knew an engine. Once again I experienced the longing to share this life, and to be more than a mere spectator.


You Won't Get Away With It

Plautus, Asinaria 489–490 (tr. Paul Nixon):
Do you want to insult another man and not get it back?
I'm as much of a man as you are!

tu contumeliam alteri facias, tibi non dicatur?
tam ego homo sum quam tu.


An Hour a Day

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Vol. II: The Later Masters, tr. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1948), p. 92:
Rabbi Moshe Leib said:
"A human being who has not a single hour for his own every day is no human being."


A Higher Revelation

Beethoven, quoted in Bettina Brentano, letter to Goethe (May 28, 1810), from O.G. Sonneck, ed., Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967), p. 80:
When I open my eyes I must sigh, for what I see is contrary to my religion, and I must despise the world which does not know that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken. When they are again become sober they have drawn from the sea all that they brought with them, all that they can bring with them to dry land. I have not a single friend; I must live alone. But well I know that God is nearer to me than to other artists; I associate with him without fear; I have always recognized and understood him and have no fear for my music — it can meet no evil fate. Those who understand it must be freed by it from all the miseries which the others drag about with themselves.

Wenn ich die Augen aufschlage, so muß ich seufzen; denn, was ich sehe, ist gegen meine Religion, und die Welt muß ich verachten, die nicht ahnt, daß Musik höhere Offenbarung ist als alle Weisheit und Philosophie, sie ist der Wein, der zu neuen Erzeugungen begeistert, und ich bin der Bacchus, der für die Menschen diesen herrlichen Wein keltert und sie geistestrunken macht, wenn sie dann wieder nüchtern sind, dann haben sie allerlei gefischt, was sie mit aufs Trockne bringen. — Keinen Freund hab ich, ich muß mit mir allein leben; ich weiß aber wohl, daß Gott mir näher ist wie den andern in meiner Kunst, ich gehe ohne Furcht mit ihm um, ich hab ihn jedesmal erkannt und verstanden, mir ist auch gar nicht bange um meine Musik, die kann kein bös Schicksal haben, wem sie sich verständlich macht, der muß frei werden von all dem Elend, womit sich die andern schleppen.
Did Beethoven really say that, or did Bettina Brentano make it up to impress Goethe?

Thursday, October 14, 2021


Everybody Needs A Friend

Cicero, On Friendship 23.87 (tr. J.G.F. Powell):
Even if one be of so rude and savage a nature as to shun and hate the society of men, as we have learned was the case with that Timon of Athens, if there ever was such a man, he yet cannot help seeking some one in whose presence he may vomit the venom of his bitterness.

quin etiam si quis asperitate ea est et immanitate naturae, congressus ut hominum fugiat atque oderit, qualem fuisse Athenis Timonem nescio quem accepimus, tamen is pati non possit, ut non anquirat aliquem, apud quem evomat virus acerbitatis suae.



Wallace M. Lindsay, ed., Sexti Pompei Festi De verborum significatu quae supersunt cum Pauli epitome (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1913), p. 62:
Decrepitus est desperatus crepera iam vita, ut crepusculum extremum diei tempus. Sive decrepitus dictus, quia propter senectutem nec movere se, nec ullum facere potest crepitum.
Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL), s.v. crepitus, cites this passage under the heading de ventre (4:1170, 79-80), i.e., here crepitum = crepitum ventris. TLL, s.v. decrepitus (5,1:217, 82), derives the adjective from de + crepare. For crepo with the meaning break wind, see TLL 4:1172, 42-48. If we accept Festus' explanation of decrepitus, describing someone who can't break wind because of old age, then I'm not decrepit yet.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Gallows Humor

Antonin J. Obrdlik, "'Gallows Humor'—A Sociological Phenomenon," American Journal of Sociology 47.5 (March, 1942) 709-716 (at 712-713):
People who live in absolute uncertainty as to their lives and property find a refuge in inventing, repeating, and spreading through the channels of whispering counterpropaganda, anecdotes and jokes about their oppressors. This is gallows humor at its best because it originates and functions among people who literally face death at any moment. Some of them even dare to collect the jokes as philatelists collect stamps. One young man whom I knew was very proud of having a collection of more than two hundred pieces which he kept safe in a jar interred in the corner of his father's garden. These people simply have to persuade themselves as well as others that their present suffering is only temporary, that it will soon be all over, that once again they will live as they used to live before they were crushed. In a word, they have to strengthen their hope because otherwise they could not bear the strains to which their nerves are exposed. Gallows humor, full of invectives and irony, is their psychological escape, and it is in this sense that I call gallows humor a psychological compensation. Its social influence is enormous. On many an occasion I have observed how one good anecdote changed completely the mood of persons who have heard it—pessimists changed into optimists. Relying on my observations, I may go so far as to say that gallows humor is an unmistakable index of good morale and of the spirit of resistance of the oppressed peoples. Its decline or disappearance reveals either indifference or a breakdown of the will to resist evil. I can remember that those who accepted the New Order as something final and unalterable refused to listen to anecdotes and usually attacked those who repeated them in their presence with sarcastic remarks like this: "You'd better stop making fun of yourself. This is no time to live on jokes." They did not lose their ardent nationalism, but their morale disintegrated—there was no will-power left to resist.


The Triumph of Death

Manilius 4.16 (tr. G.P. Goold):
At birth our death is sealed, and our end is consequent upon our beginning.

nascentes morimur, finisque ab origine pendet.
Propertius 2.28.58 (tr. H.E. Butler):
Sooner or later death awaiteth all.

longius aut propius mors sua quemque manet.
These quotations appear at the bottom of The Triumph of Death, by Georg Pencz (1500-1550):
The illustration above comes from the Art Institute of Chicago, which recently fired all 122 of its docents.


Persistence in Error

Lactantius, Divine Institutes 3.24.10 (tr. Mary Francis McDonald):
I do not know what to say about those who, when once they have gone astray, constantly remain in their foolishness and defend their empty theses with empty prattling, except that sometimes I think that they philosophize for the sake of a joke, or that cleverly and knowingly they take up lies to defend them, so that they might, as it were, exercise or demonstrate their abilities in evil things.

quid dicam de his nescio, qui cum semel aberraverint, constanter in stultitia perseverant et vanis vana defendunt, nisi quod eos interdum puto aut ioci causa philosophari aut prudentes et scios mendacia defendenda suscipere, quasi ut ingenia sua in malis rebus exerceant vel ostendant.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Our Task

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, letter to Hermann Usener (February, 1883; tr. Robert E. Norton), in Usener und Wilamowitz. Ein Briefwechsel 1870-1905 (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1934), p. 28:
Ancient poetry (and naturally law and belief and history) is dead: our task is to enliven it.

Die alte Poesie (und natürlich ebenso Recht und Glaube und Geschichte) ist tot: unsere Aufgabe ist, sie zu beleben.
Related post: Blood for the Ghosts.


This Fearful Country

William Shakespeare, The Tempest 5.1.104-106:
All torment, trouble, wonder and amazement
Inhabits here. Some heavenly power guide us
Out of this fearful country!


Ohe, Iam Satis Est!

Horace, Satires 1.5.12-13 (tr. Emily Gowers):
Whoa, that's quite enough!

iam satis est!
Martial, 4.89.1 (tr. Rosario Moreno Soldevila):
Whoa, that's enough, whoa...

ohe, iam satis est, ohe...
Moreno Soldevila ad loc.:
cf. Hor. S. 1.5.12–13. The interjection ohe (Gr. ὠή or ὠῆ) roughly means 'stop it' (OLD s.v. 1a), although it can simply imply impatience or tiresomeness (OLD s.v. 1b): cf. Don. ad Ter. Ph. 377 ohe interiectio est satietatem usque ad fastidium designans. It belongs to oral language; it is, therefore, highly common in comedy: Pl. As. 384; Bac. 1065; Ter. Ph. 418; 1001; cf. Pers. 1.23. It is normally reinforced by the adverb iam (Ter. Ad. 723; 769 [cf. Hau. 879]; Hor. S. 2.5.96), or even by iam satis (Pl. Cas. 248; St. 734). For its prosody, see TLL s.v. 536.36–43 (W.). Both here and in line 9, the first ohe has two long vowels, whereas the second has a short /o/ (cf. 1.31.1, for the different prosody of tibi: tĭbī and tĭbĭ). Martial further uses iam satis est in 7.51.14 et cum 'Iam satis est' dixeris, ille leget (Galán ad loc.); 9.6.4; cf. Pl. As. 329 iam satis est mihi; Hor. S. 1.1.120 iam satis est; Ep. 1.7.16; [Quint.] Decl. 6.7.
The sentence is in A. Otto, Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1890), p. 309 (#1591), but not in Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010).

I find it a useful expression these days, when so many things disgust me. To translate Donatus (quoted above by Moreno Soldevila), "Ohe is an interjection signifying surfeit to the point of disgust."

Monday, October 11, 2021



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1977), p. 159 (my translation):
To discover the fool, there is no better reagent than the word: medieval. Immediately he sees red.

Para descubrir al tonto no hay mejor reactivo que la palabra: medieval. Inmediatamente ve rojo.


Not a Game

K.J. Dover, "On Writing for the General Reader," The Greeks and their Legacy: Collected Papers, Vol. II (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp. 304-313 (at 312):
In the past, many a good grammarian has disastrously misinterpreted many a passage of Greek literature because the evidence most relevant to its interpretation was not the kind of evidence he understood, and if Classics were a leisurely game we might be content to say that for the next couple of generations it is someone else's turn. But Classics is not a game; it is an enquiry into what real people actually said and thought and felt and did.



Plato, Gorgias 458a (Socrates speaking; tr. Walter Hamilton, rev. Chris Emlyn-Jones):
And what sort of man am I? I am one of those people who are glad to have their own mistakes pointed out and glad to point out the mistakes of others, but who would just as soon have the first experience as the second; in fact I consider being refuted a greater good, inasmuch as it is better to be relieved of a very bad evil oneself than to relieve another.

ἐγὼ δὲ τίνων εἰμί; τῶν ἡδέως μὲν ἂν ἐλεγχθέντων εἴ τι μὴ ἀληθὲς λέγω, ἡδέως δ᾽ ἂν ἐλεγξάντων εἴ τίς τι μὴ ἀληθὲς λέγοι, οὐκ ἀηδέστερον μεντἂν ἐλεγχθέντων ἢ ἐλεγξάντων· μεῖζον γὰρ αὐτὸ ἀγαθὸν ἡγοῦμαι, ὅσῳπερ μεῖζον ἀγαθόν ἐστιν αὐτὸν ἀπαλλαγῆναι κακοῦ τοῦ μεγίστου ἢ ἄλλον ἀπαλλάξαι.
Paul A. Rahe, "Donald Kagan, 1932–2021," New Criterion (October 2021):
Working with Don Kagan was a delight. One could argue with the man. He was less attached to his own opinions than to the process of probing and sifting the evidence, and he was open to changing his mind.



Cesare Pavese, Diaries (December 20, 1935; my translation):
Either cops or criminals.

O poliziotti o delinquenti.

Sunday, October 10, 2021



Plato, Gorgias 457c-e (Socrates speaking; tr. Walter Hamilton, rev. Chris Emlyn-Jones):
I suppose, Gorgias, that like me you have had experience of many arguments, and have observed how difficult the parties find it to define exactly the subject which they have taken in hand and to come away from their discussion mutually enlightened; what usually happens is that, as soon as they disagree and one declares the other to be mistaken or obscure in what he says, they lose their tempers and accuse one another of speaking from motives of personal spite and in an endeavour to score a victory rather than to investigate the question at issue; and sometimes they part on the worst possible terms, after such an exchange of abuse that the bystanders feel annoyed on their own account that they ever thought it worth their while to listen to such people.

οἶμαι, ὦ Γοργία, καὶ σὲ ἔμπειρον εἶναι πολλῶν λόγων καὶ καθεωρακέναι ἐν αὐτοῖς τὸ τοιόνδε, ὅτι οὐ ῥᾳδίως δύνανται περὶ ὧν ἂν ἐπιχειρήσωσιν διαλέγεσθαι διορισάμενοι πρὸς ἀλλήλους καὶ μαθόντες καὶ διδάξαντες ἑαυτούς, οὕτω διαλύεσθαι τὰς συνουσίας, ἀλλ᾽ ἐὰν περί του ἀμφισβητήσωσιν καὶ μὴ φῇ ὁ ἕτερος τὸν ἕτερον ὀρθῶς λέγειν ἢ μὴ σαφῶς, χαλεπαίνουσί τε καὶ κατὰ φθόνον οἴονται τὸν ἑαυτῶν λέγειν, φιλονικοῦντας ἀλλ᾽ οὐ ζητοῦντας τὸ προκείμενον ἐν τῷ λόγῳ· καὶ ἔνιοί γε τελευτῶντες αἴσχιστα ἀπαλλάττονται, λοιδορηθέντες τε καὶ εἰπόντες καὶ ἀκούσαντες περὶ σφῶν αὐτῶν τοιαῦτα οἷα καὶ τοὺς παρόντας ἄχθεσθαι ὑπὲρ σφῶν αὐτῶν, ὅτι τοιούτων ἀνθρώπων ἠξίωσαν ἀκροαταὶ γενέσθαι.


Civil War

Vergil, Eclogues 1.71-72 (tr. H. Musgrave Wilkins):
See to what a pitch of woe civil war has brought our wretched fellow-countrymen!

                             en quo discordia civis
produxit miseros!
Wendell Clausen ad loc.:
discordia: domestic strife, civil war; cf. G. 2.496 'infidos agitans discordia fratres', Cic. Phil. 7.25 'omnia . . . plena odiorum, plena discordiarum, ex quibus oriuntur bella ciuilia'. The collocation 'discordia ciuis' is striking; repeated in A. 12.583 'trepidos inter discordia ciuis' and imitated by Propertius 1.22.5 'cum Romana suos egit discordia ciuis'.


A Quotation About Hebrew

Joseph L. Baron, ed., A Treasury of Jewish Quotations (New York: Aronson, 1985), p. 176 (373.18):
It is worth studying the Hebrew language for ten years in order to read Psalm 104 in the original.

*Herder. q Hertz, DPB, 582.
The asterisk indicates a non-Jewish author, and DPB stands for Daily Prayer Book (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1948). I only have access to Joseph H. Hertz, The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, rev. ed. (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1961), where the following appears on p. 582:
Herder, a pioneer of the appreciation of the Bible as literature, declared, "It is worth while studying the Hebrew language for ten years, in order to read Psalm 104 in the original".
No source is given, and I can't find the original quotation. Some German versions of the sentence are floating around on the World Wide Web, but I suspect that they are all translations from the English. One would expect to find the quotation in Herder's Vom Geist der ebräischen Poesie, but it escapes me.



William Shakespeare, The Tempest 5.1.281:
How cam'st thou in this pickle?

Saturday, October 09, 2021


Malleus Maurorum

From a friend:
Greetings from Ourique, close to the site of the battle thereof.

I thought I'd photograph this statue of Portugal's first king before it's spray-painted or toppled.
Click the photograph once or twice to enlarge it.


The Wisdom of the Man on the Street

Ernst Jünger (1895–1998), Der Waldgang, § 16, tr. Thomas Friese:
It is rather the case that the ordinary man on the street, whom we meet everywhere, everyday, grasps the situation better than any regime and any theoretician. This ability stems from the surviving traces in him of a knowledge reaching deeper than all the platitudes of the times. It also explains why resolutions can be made at conferences and congresses that are much stupider and more dangerous than the candid opinion of the first random person stepping out of the next streetcar.

Es ist vielmehr so, daß der einfache Mensch, der Mann auf der Straße, dem wir täglich und überall begegnen, die Lage besser erfaßt hat als alle Regierungen und alle Theoretiker. Das beruht darauf, daß in ihm immer noch die Spuren eines Wissens leben, das tiefer reicht als die Gemeinplätze der Zeit. Daher kommt es, daß auf Konferenzen und Kongressen Beschlüsse gefaßt werden, die viel dümmer und gefährlicher sind, als es der Schiedsspruch des Nächsten, Besten wäre, den man aus einer Straßenbahn herauszöge.



Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 21.10 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
Go to his [Epicurus'] Garden and read the motto carved there: "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure." The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: "Have you not been well entertained?"

cum adieris eius hortulos et inscriptum hortulis legeris
hospes, hic bene manebis, hic summum bonum voluptas est,
paratus erit istius domicilii custos hospitalis, humanus, et te polenta excipiet et aquam quoque large ministrabit et dicet: "ecquid bene acceptus es?"
There is an incorrect citation ("Ep. 79.15") of this motto in Diskin Clay, "The Athenian Garden," in James Warren, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 9-28 (at 9).




Lucretius 2.258 (tr. W.H.D. Rouse):
We proceed whither pleasure leads each.

progredimur quo ducit quemque voluptas.

voluptas α-RFC: voluntas Ω
Vergil, Eclogues 2.65 (tr. H. Musgrave Wilkins):
Every man is attracted by his favourite pleasure.

trahit sua quemque voluptas.
Thanks to Alan Crease for drawing my attention to a similar German proverb:
Jedem Tierchen sein Pläsierchen.
Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #1607, pp. 1185-1186:

Friday, October 08, 2021


A Waste of Time

Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1977), p. 158 (my translation):
To engage in discussion with those who do not share our postulates is nothing more than a foolish way to kill time.

Dialogar con quienes no comparten nuestros postulados no es más que una manera tonta de matar el tiempo.


College Students

Grant Showerman (1870-1935), With the Professor (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910), pp. 84-85:
Could it be, after all, that his faith had been misplaced—that the value of education was overestimated, and greatly so? He remembered having read the assertion of an English observer to the effect that education was the great national fetich of the United States. He thought of the motley crowd in his own and other institutions with which he was acquainted—of the thousands of aimless young men and women floating along in the current of the college course simply because report had it that education was a good thing; of the thousands more who worked hard first to gain entrance and then to remain, and whose case was hopeless because of natural dullness and deficiency; of the throngs—some stupid and some talented—who were unambitious; of the idlers who came to get culture through being in the college atmosphere, and whose joys and sorrows were almost all inseparably connected with fraternity and sorority life.



Plato, Gorgias 486a-d (Callicles speaking; tr. Walter Hamilton, rev. Chris Emlyn-Jones):
Do not be offended, Socrates — I am speaking out of the kindness of my heart to you — aren't you ashamed to be in this plight, which I believe you to share with all those who plunge deeper and deeper into philosophy?

As things are now, if anyone were to arrest you or one of your sort and drag you off to prison on a charge of which you were innocent, you would be quite helpless — you can be sure of that; you would be in a daze and gape and have nothing to say, and when you got into court, however unprincipled a rascal the prosecutor might be, you would be condemned to death, if he chose to ask for the death penalty.

But what kind of wisdom can we call it, Socrates, this art that 'takes a man of talent and spoils his gifts', so that he cannot defend himself or another from mortal danger, but lets his enemies rob him of all his goods, and lives to all intents and purposes the life of an outlaw in his own city? A man like that, if you will pardon a rather blunt expression, can be slapped on the face with complete impunity.

Take my advice then, my good friend; 'abandon argument, practise the accomplishments of active life', which will give you the reputation of a prudent man. 'Leave others to split hairs' of what I don't know whether to call folly or nonsense; 'their only outcome is that you will inhabit a barren house.' Take for your models not the men who spend their time on these petty quibbles, but those who have a livelihood and reputation and many other good things.

καίτοι, ὦ φίλε Σώκρατες — καί μοι μηδὲν ἀχθεσθῇς· εὐνοίᾳ γὰρ ἐρῶ τῇ σῇ — οὐκ αἰσχρὸν δοκεῖ σοι εἶναι οὕτως ἔχειν ὡς ἐγὼ σὲ οἶμαι ἔχειν καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους τοὺς πόρρω ἀεὶ φιλοσοφίας ἐλαύνοντας;

νῦν γὰρ εἴ τις σοῦ λαβόμενος ἢ ἄλλου ὁτουοῦν τῶν τοιούτων εἰς τὸ δεσμωτήριον ἀπάγοι, φάσκων ἀδικεῖν μηδὲν ἀδικοῦντα, οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι οὐκ ἂν ἔχοις ὅτι χρήσαιο σαυτῷ, ἀλλ᾽ ἰλιγγιῴης ἂν καὶ χασμῷο οὐκ ἔχων ὅτι εἴποις, καὶ εἰς τὸ δικαστήριον ἀναβάς, κατηγόρου τυχὼν πάνυ φαύλου καὶ μοχθηροῦ, ἀποθάνοις ἄν, εἰ βούλοιτο θανάτου σοι τιμᾶσθαι.

καίτοι πῶς σοφὸν τοῦτό ἐστιν, ὦ Σώκρατες, “ἥτις εὐφυῆ λαβοῦσα τέχνη φῶτα ἔθηκε χείρονα”, μήτε αὐτὸν αὑτῷ δυνάμενον βοηθεῖν μηδ᾽ ἐκσῶσαι ἐκ τῶν μεγίστων κινδύνων μήτε ἑαυτὸν μήτε ἄλλον μηδένα, ὑπὸ δὲ τῶν ἐχθρῶν περισυλᾶσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οὐσίαν, ἀτεχνῶς δὲ ἄτιμον ζῆν ἐν τῇ πόλει; τὸν δὲ τοιοῦτον, εἴ τι καὶ ἀγροικότερον εἰρῆσθαι, ἔξεστιν ἐπὶ κόρρης τύπτοντα μὴ διδόναι δίκην.

ἀλλ᾽ ὠγαθέ, ἐμοὶ πείθου, “παῦσαι δὲ ἐλέγχων, πραγμάτων δ᾽ εὐμουσίαν ἄσκει”, καὶ ἄσκει ὁπόθεν δόξεις φρονεῖν, “ἄλλοις τὰ κομψὰ ταῦτα ἀφείς”, εἴτε ληρήματα χρὴ φάναι εἶναι εἴτε φλυαρίας, “ἐξ ὧν κενοῖσιν ἐγκατοικήσεις δόμοις”· ζηλῶν οὐκ ἐλέγχοντας ἄνδρας τὰ μικρὰ ταῦτα, ἀλλ᾽ οἷς ἔστιν καὶ βίος καὶ δόξα καὶ ἄλλα πολλὰ ἀγαθά.
The quotations/paraphrases are from Euripides' Antiope, here in the translation of Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp.

Fragment 186:
And how is this wise—an art that takes a naturally robust man and makes him inferior?

καὶ πῶς σοφὸν τοῦτ᾿ ἐστίν, ἥτις εὐφυᾶ
λαβοῦσα τέχνη φῶτ᾿ ἔθηκε χείρονα;
Fragment 188:
No, let me persuade you! Cease this idle folly, and practise the fine music of hard work! Make this your song, and you will seem sensible, digging, ploughing the land, watching over flocks, leaving to others these pretty arts of yours which will have you keeping house in a bare home.

                                         ἀλλ᾿ ἐμοὶ πιθοῦ·
παῦσαι ματᾴζων καὶ πόνων εὐμουσίαν
ἄσκει· τοιαῦτ᾿ ἄειδε καὶ δόξεις φρονεῖν,
σκάπτων, ἀρῶν γῆν, ποιμνίοις ἐπιστατῶν,
ἄλλοις τὰ κομψὰ ταῦτ᾿ ἀφεὶς σοφίσματα,
ἐξ ὧν κενοῖσιν ἐγκατοικήσεις δόμοις.



Ernst Jünger (1895–1998), Der Waldgang, § 6, tr. Thomas Friese:
On the other hand, through the pressure they themselves create, dictatorships open up a series of weak points that simplify and condense the possibilities for attack. Sticking with our example, even the whole sentence above ["I said no"] would not be necessary. A short "No" would suffice, because everyone whose eye it caught would know exactly what was meant. It would be a sign that the oppression had not entirely succeeded.

Symbols stand out particularly well on monotoned backgrounds. The gray expanses correlate with a concentration into a minimized space. The signs can manifest as colors, figures, or objects. Where they have an alphabetic character, the script is transformed into pictography. In the process, it gains immediate life, becomes hieroglyphic, and now, rather than explaining, it offers subject matter requiring explanation. One could further abbreviate and, in the place of "No," simply use a single letter — say, an R. This could indicate: Reflect, Reject, React, Rearm, Resist. It could also mean: Rebel.

This would be a first step out of the world of statistical surveillance and control. Yet the question at once arises if the individual is strong enough for such a venture.

Andererseits eröffnen die Diktaturen durch ihren eigenen Druck eine Reihe von Blößen, die den Angriff vereinfachen und abkürzen. So braucht man, um bei unserem Beispiel zu bleiben, nicht einmal den oben erwähnten Satz [»Ich habe Nein gesagt«]. Auch das Wörtchen »Nein« würde ausreichen, und jeder, dessen Augen darauf fielen, würde genau wissen, was es zu bedeuten hat. Das ist ein Zeichen dafür, daß die Unterdrückung nicht völlig gelungen ist.

Gerade auf eintönigen Unterlagen leuchten die Symbole besonders auf. Den grauen Flächen entspricht Verdichtung auf engstem Raum. Die Zeichen können als Farben, Figuren oder Gegenstände auftreten. Wo sie Buchstabencharakter tragen, verwandelt sich die Schrift in Bilderschrift zurück. Damit gewinnt sie unmittelbares Leben, wird hieroglyphisch und bietet nun, statt zu erklären, Stoff für Erklärungen. Man könnte noch weiter abkürzen und statt des »Nein« einen einzigen Buchstaben setzen — nehmen wir an, das W. Das könnte dann etwa heißen: Wir, Wachsam, Waffen, Wölfe, Widerstand. Es könnte auch heißen: Waldgänger.

Das wäre ein erster Schritt aus der statistisch überwachten und beherrschten Welt. Und sogleich erhebt sich die Frage, ob denn der Einzelne auch stark genug zu solchem Wagnis ist.
Nicolas de Chamfort (1741-1794), Maximes et Pensées:
Almost all men are slaves, for the reason the Spartans gave to explain the servitude of the Persians, the inability to pronounce the syllable "No." Knowing how to pronounce this word and knowing how to live by oneself are the only two ways to preserve one's freedom and individuality.

Presque tous les hommes sont esclaves par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de conserver sa liberté et son caractère.

Thursday, October 07, 2021


Too Hard for the American Brain

John Jay Chapman (1862-1933), "A New Menace to Education: The Growing Contempt for Culture and the Classics in American Universities," Meredith College, Quarterly Bulletin 1919-1920: Special Education Number, pp. 1-6 (at 1, footnote omitted):
Well, Yale has followed her sisters and dropped Latin from her entrance exams. You can get stamped as an educated Yale man without knowing bonus bona bonum.

And how much Latin did the American colleges ever teach? Any boy with good teaching could learn enough Latin in six months to get into an American college. And just this amount, this little smattering of Latin, is enough to make the whole difference in any man's outlook upon civilization. This bonus bona bonum makes French and Spanish and Italian easy to him. It puts him at home in half the words of the English language. It acclimates him in literature, in European travel, in South America. Almost everything an educated man has to do with is tinged with bonus bona bonum.

The tincture of Latinity which the Roman Empire left upon Europe is to modern cultivation what Christianity is to modern religion,—it pervades everything. These two elements—Latin and Christianity—taken together, make up the unity of the modern world. They form the common inheritance of modern Europe,—a sort of deep inter-racial bond, which, so far as human reason can see, is the most important thing in the life of the western world.

And now our Universities have decided that the Latin phrase-book is too hard for the American brain. It is difficult and unnecessary.
Id. (at 5-6):
There has never been a literature in the world which did not spring from the worship of old forms, and a digging into the roots of language. It is not merely because Latin is dropped that we must grieve, but because the dropping of Latin shows that our educators do not know what learning is. They do not understand the relation which exists between language and mind. They have inherited the fruits of a whole army of American saints who planted our colleges large and small,—religious pioneers, for the most part,—but all of them students, scholars and prophets of scholarship. It was these men who gave the light to democracy. It is they who made us. They are the pit out of which we are digged. It is they who have united us to Europe and made possible the future union of mankind. For it is by our literacy we stand.

And now the successors of these spiritual Fathers of America discard the rudiments of literacy. The next generation of American college presidents will not themselves have known bonus bona bonum. If you speak to them of Rome they will be dumb.
The essay was originally printed in Vanity Fair (June, 1919), but Vanity Fair's  owner Condé Nast now wants $8 in exchange for viewing the article. The entire issue originally cost 35 cents.

In the Year of Our Lord 2021 you can now major in Classics at Princeton University without learning bonus bona bonum.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021


Vapula Papiria

Amy Richlin, Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 40-41 (footnote omitted):
How could a troupe of low-class actors voice a critique of the state? Or of the treatment of slaves by owners? Many have felt such a critique to be out of the question, and certainly not what was going on in the palliata. The state paid for the performances at the ludi, it is argued, and so the content of the palliata must be pro-state; the ludi served the purposes of the "elite"; the audience was restricted to slave-owning Roman citizens (an instance of dogmatic drag). A short answer is provided by an important fragment of the comedy Faeneratrix, attributed to Plautus by the first-century-BCE scholar Sinnius Capito (Festus 512L = Plautus fr. 71–3):
"Vapula Papiria" in proverbio fuit antiquis, de quo Sinnius Capito sic refert: tum dici solitum est, cum vellent minantibus significare se eos negligere et non curare, fretos iure libertatis. Plautus in Feneratrice: "Heus tu! in barbaria quod fecisse dicitur libertus suae patronae, ideo dico <tibi>: 'Libertas salve, vapula Papiria.'" in barbaria est in Italia.

"Get beat up, Papiria" was a saying they had in the old days, on which Sinnius Capito reports as follows: "They used to say this, when they wanted to convey to people threatening them that they held them of no account and did not care, relying on the rights of liberty. So Plautus in She Charged Interest: 'Hey you! Like they say the freedman in barbarian-land did to the lady who used to own him, so I say to you: "Hello liberty; get beat up, Papiria."' 'In barbarian-land' is in Italy."
Apart from what Sinnius Capito thought this meant: Plautus here expresses the idea of snapping your fingers in the face of power, but at a triple remove. A masked character says the line; he compares himself (or herself) to a freedman speaking to his patrona; the freedman is in barbaria. The character speaks the freedman's line to "you": first "Hello, liberty," then the enigmatic vapula Papiria. Whoever or whatever Papiria was, she/it is vehemently disrespected in this catchphrase. The expression libertas salve is a meta-expression of the greeting to the newly freed slave (chapter 8); vapula Papiria, satisfyingly onomatopoeic, adapts a verb that, in the first person, means "I get beat up" (so Sosia in Amphitruo), but which, as an imperative, means something like "Fuck you!" For a freedman to say it to a patrona is a marked reversal of roles; we do not know what character was addressed as "you," but it seems safe to assume the speaker is expressing defiance. The shift in person is a protective device, just like the shift in place that turns Italy into barbaria: here, but not here.
Erasmus, Adages IV iii 1 to V ii 51. Translated and Annotated by John N. Grant and Betty I. Knott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), pp. 111-112 (IV iv 75):
75 Vapula Papiria
You be hanged, Papiria

'You be flogged, Papiria.' Sisinius Capito writes that this was a proverb frequently used whenever persons wanted to show that they did not pay any attention to someone else's threats. We find this only in the fragments of Festus Pompeius.1 I suspect that it originated with Papirius Praetextatus, whose mother tried to extract from him what had happened in the senate, in vain, even though she threatened a flogging.2 Therefore one should read Papiri,3 not Papiria, unless one prefers to understand lege 'law,' so that the words are a threat to inflict the punishment of the lex Papiria.4 Unless you prefer to understand it as referring to Papiria, the wife of Paulus Aemilius, who was divorced by her husband although no one could find the reason for it.5 What can one do? We must engage in conjecture when no sources can help us.

75 Pompeius Festus (see n1). Otto 1846. Added in 1515

1 Pompeius Festus 512.15-19 Lindsay. On the fragments of Festus see Adagia iv iv 52 n3 (96 above). The proverb was not preserved in Paul the Deacon's excerpts of Festus. 'Sisinius' (for 'Sinnius') is the reading in Erasmus' immediate source, the 1513 Aldine edition. Sinnius Capito was a grammarian of the late 1st century BC; see Funaioli 457-66.

2 The story is told in Aulus Gellius Noctes Atticae 1.23. While still a boy (and thus wearing the toga praetexta) the young Papirius was taken to the senate by his father. Because he refused to divulge to his mother what he had heard, he was honoured by being given the nickname 'Praetextatus.' Gellius does not say anything of the mother threatening to flog her son; it is an embellishment of Erasmus.

3 The vocative of Papirius. The proverb would then reflect what the mother allegedly said to her son.

4 The translation would be 'be flogged under the lex Papiria.' The lex Papiria, introduced by Caius Papirius Carbo in 131 or 130 BC, extended the use of the secret ballot to legislative assemblies. See T.R.S. Broughton The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (New York 1951-2) 1.502.

5 See Plutarch Aemilius 5.1-3.
See also Marcus Deufert, Textgeschichte und Rezeption der plautinischen Komödien im Altertum (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2002), pp. 109-110.


Feeding the Soul of Man

John Jay Chapman (1862-1933), Learning and Other Essays (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1910), pp. 20-22:
There are, then, in the modern world these two influences which are hostile to education, the influence of business and the influence of uninspired science. In Europe these influences are qualified by the vigor of the old learning. In America they dominate remorselessly, and make the path of education doubly hard. Consider how they meet us in ordinary social life. We have all heard men bemoan the time they have spent over Latin and Greek on the ground that these studies did not fit them for business,—as if a thing must be worthless if it can be neither eaten nor drunk. It is hard to explain the value of education to men who have forgotten the meaning of education: its symbols convey nothing to them.

The situation is very similar in dealing with scientific men,—at least with that large class of them who have little learning and no religion, and who are thus obliged to use the formulae of modern science as their only vehicle of thought. These men regard humanity as something which started up in Darwin's time. They do not listen when the humanities are mentioned; and if they did they would not understand. When Darwin confessed that poetry had no meaning for him, and that nothing significant was left to him in the whole artistic life of the past, he did not know how many of his brethren his words were destined to describe.

We can forgive the business man for the loss of his birthright: he knows no better. But we have it against a scientist if he undervalues education. Surely, the Latin classics are as valuable a deposit as the crustacean fossils, or the implements of the Stone Age. When science shall have assumed her true relation to the field of human culture we shall all be happier. To-day science knows that the silkworm must be fed on the leaves of the mulberry tree, but does not know that the soul of man must be fed on the Bible and the Greek classics. Science knows that a queen bee can be produced by care and feeding, but does not as yet know that every man who has had a little Greek and Latin in his youth belongs to a different species from the ignorant man. No matter how little it may have been, it reclassifies him. There is more kinship between that man and a great scholar than there is between the same man and some one who has had no classics at all: he breathes from a different part of his anatomy. Drop the classics from education? Ask rather, Why not drop education? For the classics are education. We cannot draw a line and say, 'Here we start.' The facts are the other way. We started long ago, and our very life depends upon keeping alive all that we have thought and felt during our history. If the continuity is taken from us, we shall relapse.

When we discover that these two tremendous interests—business and commerical science have arisen in the modern world and are muffling the voice of man, we tremble for the future. If these giants shall continue their subjugation of the gods, the whole race, we fear, way relapse into dumbness.



Grant Showerman (1870-1935), With the Professor (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910), p. 70 (Mr. Homo to Dr. Scholarship):
You may be a scholar yet, but don't think that you must do it right away. You are not ripe for it now. What are you about, anyway, trying to write books at thirty? One might think you had some great message for the world! Bless your heart, you don't know enough yet to write anything worth putting into print! You haven't lived enough or thought enough to possess real knowledge.
Related post: Forty.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021


Scholarly Fantasies

D.W. Lucas, review of Wolf H. Friedrich, Euripides und Diphilos (Munich: Beck, 1953 = Zetemata, 5), in Classical Review 5.1 (March, 1955), pp. 41-43 (at 43):
Yet in the long run it is bad for classical studies to take refuge in the convenient fallacies that nothing is ever thought of for the first time, and that things which are similar must be derived one from another....There is always a danger that scholars, baffled by the difficulties of working from inadequate data, may suit their standards of probability to their convenience and come really to think that their fantasies are scientific deductions.


Diphilus, Fragment 4

Diphilus, fragment 4 (from his comedy The Brothers; my translation):
My dear sir, being mortal understand how to fail,
so that you may only be unfortunate to the extent necessary,
and not receive more in addition through ignorance.

ὦ μακάρι', ἀτυχεῖν θνητὸς ὢν ἐπίστασο
ἵν' ἀυτὰ τἀναγκαῖα δυστυχῇς μόνον,
πλείω δὲ διὰ τὴν ἀμαθίαν μὴ προσλάβῃς.
J.M. Edmonds' unhelpful version:
Being human, learn to suffer, or you'll add
What might be better to what must be bad.
Alan Sommerstein on Menander, Samia 111:
ἀυτὰ τἀναγκαῖ' 'just to the extent that was unavoidable', i.e. 'as little as possible'; cf. Diphilus fr. 4.

Another translation (better than mine), from Joel Eidsath:
Good sir, know how to take your lumps like a man, so that you'll just suffer the unavoidable, and not get more for being stupid.

Monday, October 04, 2021


Family and Hearth

Jack Kerouac, "Private Philologies," The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings (New York: The Library of America, 2016), page number unknown:
The Latin "familia" (family) is understood to derive from "thymele"— the sacred center of fire. We learn from this everything we want to know about the origin of the family—not only the word, the sacred center of the fire, the hearth, and the family there assembled:—in raw darknesses.
Kerouac got this bogus etymology from Matthew Arnold, On the Study of Celtic Literature and Other Essays (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1916), p. 65:
[T]he hearth, the centre of the family, becomes the family itself, just our word family, the Latin familia, is from thymelé, the sacred centre of fire.
Where Arnold got it, I don't know. See Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, 4th ed. rev. Jacques André (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 215, s.v. famulus (whence familia):
Mots uniquement attestés dans les dialectes italiques et sans étymologie...
See also Roger Henrion, "Des origines du mot familia," L'Antiquité Classique 19 (1941) 37-69 and 11.2 (1942) 253-287, and Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), pp. 200-201 (famulus):
Greek θυμέλη (place of burning, hearth, altar) is related to θύω (sacrifice by burning).

Dear Mike,

Sorry I can't write more; I’ve got a class shortly, but this may be Arnold's source, since he mentions Bergmann's monograph in his footnotes. The passage is from p. 46.
Best wishes,

Eric [Thomson]


No Complaining

Paul, Letter to the Philippians 2.14 (KJV):
Do all things without murmurings and disputings...

πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν...


Prosperity Gospel

Papyri Graecae Magicae IV 2171-2177 (tr. Hubert Martin, Jr.):
Everyone will fear you; in war you will be invulnerable; when you ask you will receive; you will enjoy favor; your life will change; and you will be loved by any woman or man you have contact with. You will have honor, happiness; you will receive inheritances, have good fortune, be unaffected by potions and poison; you will break spells and conquer your enemies.

φοβηθήσεταί σε πᾶς, ἐν πολέμῳ ἄτρωτος ἔσῃ, αἰτήσας λήμψει, ἐπιχαρὴς ἔσῃ, ἀλλαχθήσῃ, ἧς δ᾽ ἂν παράψῃ γυναικὸς ἢ ἀνδρός, φιληθήσει· ἔνδοξος, μακάριος ἔσει, κληρονομίας ἕξεις, εὐτυχήσεις, φάρμακα νικήσεις, καταδέσμους ἀναλύσεις καὶ ἐχθροὺς νικήσεις.


Augustine Against Linguistic Nitpickers

Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana 2.44-46 (tr. R.P.H. Green):
[44] Translators often meet not only individual words, but also whole phrases which simply cannot be expressed in the idioms of the Latin language, at least not if one wants to maintain the usage of ancient speakers of Latin. Sometimes these translations lose nothing in intelligibility but trouble those people who take more delight in things when correct usage is observed in expressing the corresponding signs. What is called a solecism is simply what results when words are not combined according to the rules by which our predecessors, who spoke with some authority, combined them. Whether you say inter homines or inter hominibus does not matter to a student intent upon things. [45] Likewise, what is a barbarism but a word articulated with letters or sounds that are not the same as those with which it was normally articulated by those who spoke Latin before us? Whether one says ignoscere with a long or short third syllable is of little concern to someone beseeching God to forgive his sins, however he may have managed to utter the word. What, then, is correctness of speech but the maintenance of the practice of others, as established by the authority of ancient speakers? [46] But the weaker men are, the more they are troubled by such matters. Their weakness stems from a desire to appear learned, not with a knowledge of things, by which we are edified, but with a knowledge of signs, by which it is difficult not to be puffed up in some way; even a knowledge of things often makes people boastful, unless their necks are held down by the Lord's yoke.

[44] Nam non solum verba singula sed etiam locutiones saepe transferuntur quae omnino in latinae linguae usum, si quis consuetudinem veterum qui latine locuti sunt tenere voluerit, transire non possint. Quae aliquando intellectui nihil adimunt, sed offendunt tamen eos qui plus delectantur rebus cum etiam in earum signis sua quaedam servatur integritas. Nam soloecismus qui dicitur nihil est aliud quam cum verba non ea lege sibi coaptantur qua coaptaverunt qui priores nobis non sine auctoritate aliqua locuti sunt. Utrum enim inter homines an inter hominibus dicatur ad rerum non pertinet cognitorem. [45] Item barbarismus quid aliud est nisi verbum non eis litteris vel sono enuntiatum, quo ab eis qui ante nos latine locuti sunt enuntiari solet? Utrum autem ignoscere producta an correpta tertia syllaba dicatur, non multum curat qui peccatis suis deus ut ignoscat petit, quolibet modo illud verbum sonare potuerit. Quid est ergo integritas locutionis nisi alienae consuetudinis conservatio, loquentium veterum auctoritate firmatae? [46] Sed tamen eo magis inde offenduntur homines quo infirmiores sunt, et eo sunt infirmiores quo doctiores videri volunt, non rerum scientia qua aedificamur, sed signorum, qua non inflari omnino difficile est, cum et ipsa rerum scientia saepe cervicem erigat nisi dominico reprimatur iugo.

Sunday, October 03, 2021



Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), Escolios a un Texto Implicito, II (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1977), p. 145 (my translation):
"Politics" is the business of empty souls.

La "política" es la ocupación de las almas vacías.



Vergil, Georgics 2.173-174 (tr. C. Day Lewis):
Hail, great mother of harvests! O land of Saturn, hail!
Mother of men!

salve, magna parens frugum, Saturnia tellus,
magna virum...
The Latin words appear on this medal in honor of the bimillenary of Vergil's birth:
Richard Jenkyns, Virgil's Experience. Nature and History: Times, Names, and Places (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 367-368:
'magna parens frugum, ... magna [parens] virum'—in the parallelism between these two phrases the way that a people's identity is rooted in its native soil is more firmly than ever proclaimed. In this context 'Saturnia' is profoundly and multiply suggestive. Virgil is not asserting that the miraculous world of the golden age survives in Italy; for an Italian, after all, Saturn was a genuine native deity, not a moral or poetical symbol. He is at moments almost a 'patron saint' of Italy: Ennius already uses 'Saturnia terra' as a synonym for Italy, and when Evander in the eighth Aeneid says that 'Saturnia tellus' has often changed its name, he means that Italy has changed its name not that paradise has.75 Saturn will have suggested several things to Virgil's contemporaries. His name appears to be of Etruscan derivation; he was an agricultural deity, invoked against blight. Antiquarians (wrongly) drew the name's etymology from the root which produces 'sata' (crops). He became identified with the Greek Kronos, ruler of the gods until he was overthrown by his son Zeus, and in the Eclogues Virgil has already had him reigning in that golden age which Zeus or Jupiter destroyed; hence too the story in the Aeneid that when defeated by Jupiter he fled to Italy, establishing another kind of 'golden age' there.76

Bearing all this in mind, we can see how rich in associations his name is here. It evokes a complex of ideas: fecundity, moral virtue, national glory, numinousness, the immemorial depths of Italian history, the blessedness and changelessness of country life. Sundry phrases in lines 173-5 bring out the various aspects of the complex emotion contained within the words 'Saturnia tellus'. 'Frugum' stresses fertility, `virum' patriotic pride; the idea of motherhood in 'parens frugum' and 'parens virum' seems to suggest both the intimacy of man's link with nature, which nurtures him, and, more particularly, the strength of the tie that binds his loyalty and affections to one especial spot of earth.

75 Enn. Ann. 21 Sk; Aen. 8.329

76 Ecl. 4.6 (cf. 6.41); Aen. 8.319 ff.


Banish Vexation

Sirach 30.21-25 (tr. G.H. Box and W.O.E. Oesterley):
[21] Give not thy soul to sorrow,
    And let not thyself become unsteadied with care.
[22] Heart-joy is life for a man,
    And human gladness prolongeth days.
[23] Entice thyself and soothe thine heart,
    And banish vexation from thee:
For sorrow hath slain many,
    And there is no profit in vexation.
[24] Envy and anger shorten days,
    And anxiety maketh old untimely.
[25] The sleep of a cheerful heart is like dainties,
    And his food is agreeable unto him.
The same, tr. Patrick W. Skehan (with slightly different numbering):
[21] Do not give in to grief
    or afflict yourself with brooding;
[22] Gladness of heart is the very life of a person,
    and cheerfulness prolongs his days.
[23] Distract yourself, renew your courage,
    drive resentment far away from you;
For grief has brought death to many,
    nor is there aught to be gained from resentment.
[24] Envy and anger shorten one's life;
    anxiety brings on premature old age.
[27] One who is bright and cheery at table
    benefits from his food.


Stay Put

Pseudo-Aristeas, Letter to Philocrates 249 (tr. Benjamin G. Wright III):
After declaring that he had spoken well, he asked another, "How is one a lover of his country?" "By setting as a goal," he said, "that it is good to live and die in one's own country. Being an alien brings contempt to the poor and shame to the rich, as though they were exiled due to a crime. Therefore, showing kindness to all, just as you always do — God granting you favor before all — you will appear as a lover of your country."

φήσας δὲ εὐλογεῖν ἄλλον ἠρώτα πῶς ἂν φιλόπατρις εἴη; προτιθέμενος, εἶπεν, ὅτι καλὸν ἐν ἰδίᾳ καὶ ζῇν καὶ τελευτᾷν. ἡ δὲ ξενία τοῖς μὲν πένησι καταφρόνησιν ἐργάζεται, τοῖς δὲ πλουσίοις ὄνειδος, ὡς διὰ κακίαν ἐκπεπτωκόσιν. εὐεργετῶν οὖν ἅπαντας, καθὼς συνεχῶς τοῦτ᾽ ἐπιτελεῖς, θεοῦ διδόντος σοὶ πρὸς πάντα χάριν, φιλόπατρις φανήσῃ.

Saturday, October 02, 2021


A Blessed Death

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.53.184 (tr. H. Rackham):
Cornelius Gallus, ex-praetor, and Titus Hetereius Knight of Rome died while with women.

Cornelius Gallus praetorius et T. Hetereius Eques Romanus in venere obiere.
Rackham's translation verges on euphemism. What were the men doing with the women? There is a more accurate rendering in The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal: Natural History, Book 7. Translated with Introduction and Historical Commentary by Mary Beagon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), p. 99:
The ex-praetor Cornelius Gallus died while making love, as did T. Hetereius, a Roman knight.
Beagon's note on p. 409:
Ovid's ideal end, according to Am. 2.10.29–36. Montaigne added to Pliny's list at this point 'Tigillinus, Captaine of the Romans Watch, Lodowicke, sonne of Guido Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. . . . And of a farre worse example, Speusippus the Platonian philosopher and one of our Popes . . .' (Essays 1.xix, trans. J. Florio). Tigellinus' death was in fact a forced suicide rather than a sudden collapse (Tac. Hist. 1.72), but committed 'in the midst of his concubines' embraces and kisses'. Montaigne's version of Speusippus' death seems to go back no further than a polemical passage of Tertullian attacking pagan philosophers (Apol. 46).
M.A. Screech says that the lecherous Pope was Clement V, but Pierre Michel in the Gallimard edition of Montaigne says it was John XXII (a mistake for John XII?).

Cf. Philodemus, On Death, column 4, lines 10-11 (tr. W. Benjamin Henry): dying with pleasure those expiring during sexual intercourse...

...ὡς μεθ' ἡδονῆς τελευτῶντας τοὺς ἐν τῷ συνουσιάζειν...
Related post: Planting Cabbages.

Friday, October 01, 2021


Incapable of Enjoyment

Philodemus, On Anger, column 25, lines 22-35 (tr. David Armstrong and Michael McOsker; the Greek simplified by the removal of brackets etc.):
They cannot even enjoy a public spectacle because of their anger, or a bath or drinking party or a trip with any sort of people whatever or any of the things considered pleasurable, but in everything their irritations are mixed in because of a nod, a whisper, a laugh, or a reminder of the things over which they were enraged by someone...

ἡδεῖα δ' αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ θέα γίνεται διὰ τὴν ὀργήν, οὔτε λουτρὸν οὔτε συμπόσιον οὔτε ἀποδημία μεθ' ὡνδήποτε ἀνθρώπων οὔτε ἄλλο τῶν ἐπιτερπῶν εἶναι δοκούντων οὐδέν, ἀλλὰ πάντα παραμισγομένων τῶν ἐρεθισμῶν διὰ νεῦμα καὶ ψιθυρισμὸν καὶ γέλωτα καὶ τῶν ἐφ' οἷς ἐθυμώθησαν ὑπό τινος ἀνάμνησιν...



Arrian, Discourses of Epictetus 3.3.5 (tr. W.A. Oldfather):
That is why the good is preferred above every form of kinship. My father is nothing to me, but only the good.

διὰ τοῦτο πάσης οἰκειότητος προκρίνεται τὸ ἀγαθόν. οὐδὲν ἐμοὶ καὶ τῷ πατρί, ἀλλὰ τῷ ἀγαθῷ.
A repellent doctrine, to place an abstraction above one's own flesh and blood. Cf. Plato, Euthyphro, Matthew 12.46-49, Mark 3.31-35, Luke 8.19-21, etc.


Excuse for Lying

Sophocles, Philoctetes 108-109 (tr. David Grene):
Do you not find it shameful to tell lies?
Not if the lying brings our rescue with it.

οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγῇ δῆτα τὸ ψευδῆ λέγειν;
οὔκ, εἰ τὸ σωθῆναί γε τὸ ψεῦδος φέρει.

108 δῆτα τὸ Vauvilliers: δὴ τάδε vel δῆτα τὰ codd.

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