Wednesday, May 31, 2023


The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth?

Lysias 1.5 (tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
I shall therefore set forth to you the whole of my story from the beginning; I shall omit nothing, but will tell the truth.

ἐγὼ τοίνυν ἐξ ἀρχῆς ὑμῖν ἅπαντα ἐπιδείξω τὰ ἐμαυτοῦ πράγματα, οὐδὲν παραλείπων, ἀλλὰ λέγων τἀληθῆ.
S.C. Todd ad loc.:
For the programmatic gambit, cf. Lys. 3.3 and Lys. frag. 279 Against Teisis §1. In fact the details of what he tells us are very carefully selected, as is the order in which they are told, and the perspective from which we hear them. Euphiletos offers, for instance, no details of the killing itself, and even if his account were factually complete, it is notable that he never stops to discuss what might have been his motives, as opposed to what his motives were not.
Lysias 3.3 (tr. W.R.M. Lamb):
I will relate to you the whole of the facts without the slightest reserve.

οὐδὲν ἀποκρυψάμενος ἅπαντα διηγήσομαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς τὰ πεπραγμένα.
Lysias, fragment 279 §1 (my translation)
For the whole truth will be told to you.

ἅπαντα γὰρ εἰρήσεται τἀληθῆ πρὸς ὑμᾶς.


A Foul-Smelling Liquor

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 13.11.16 (tr. Earnest Cary):
The Gauls at that time had no knowledge either of wine made from grapes or of oil such as is produced by our olive trees, but used for wine a foul-smelling liquor made from barley rotted in water, and for oil, stale lard, disgusting both in smell and taste.

οἱ δὲ Κελτοὶ οὔτε οἶνον ἀμπέλινον εἰδότες τηνικαῦτα οὔτε ἔλαιον οἷον αἱ παρ᾿ ἡμῖν ἐλαῖαι φέρουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ οἴνῳ μὲν χρώμενοι κριθῆς σαπείσης ἐν ὕδατι χυλῷ δυσώδει, ἐλαίῳ δὲ συείῳ στέατι πεπαλαιωμένῳ τήν τε ὀδμὴν καὶ τὴν γεῦσιν ἀτόπῳ...
Max Nelson, The Barbarian's Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 46:
Dionysius here emphasizes his disdain for beer in one of the most virulent classical attacks on the beverage, following the notion first found in Theophrastus that beer is fundamentally rotten (presumably because of the corrupting influence of yeast, as we have seen in Chapter 3).
Diodorus Siculus 5.26.2 (tr. Earnest Cary):
Furthermore, since temperateness of climate is destroyed by the excessive cold, the land produces neither wine nor oil, and as a consequence those Gauls who are deprived of these fruits make a drink out of barley which they call zythos or beer, and they also drink the water with which they cleanse their honeycombs.

διὰ δὲ τὴν ὑπερβολὴν τοῦ ψύχους διαφθειρομένης τῆς κατὰ τὸν ἀέρα κράσεως οὔτ᾿ οἶνον οὔτ᾿ ἔλαιον φέρει· διόπερ τῶν Γαλατῶν οἱ τούτων τῶν καρπῶν στερισκόμενοι πόμα κατασκευάζουσιν ἐκ τῆς κριθῆς τὸ προσαγορευόμενον ζῦθος, καὶ τὰ κηρία πλύνοντες τῷ τούτων ἀποπλύματι χρῶνται.
Nelson, p. 51 (note omitted):
It is difficult to assess the accuracy of this statement, which is clearly again indebted to Posidonius. Diodorus seems to have misunderstood Posidonius's use of the term zūthos as a generic one for beer, taking it instead as a Gallic word for beer, which it certainly was not. There is also an ambiguity in the passage since Diodorus could be referring to one drink (a honey barley beer, made from the honeyed water remaining after honeycombs are washed) or to two drinks, namely barley beer and mead. Either interpretation is possible, especially since Posidonius speaks elsewhere of honey wheat beer, as we have seen, and since Gallic mead is known, not only from the Hochdorf grave, discussed above, but from a silver goblet (now lost) with a Gallic inscription in Greek letters which reads: 'mead of a kinsman'.


Constants and Variables

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Waste Books A.93 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
To understand the true meaning of a word of our mother tongue certainly often takes us many years. By understanding I also include the meanings that can be bestowed upon it by the way in which it is spoken. The signification of a word is—to express myself mathematically—given us in a formula in which the way it is spoken is the variable and the word itself the constant quantity. Here there opens up a way of endlessly enriching the languages without increasing the number of words. I have found that we enunciate the phrase Es ist gut in five different ways and each time with a different meaning, which is, to be sure, often also determined by a third variable quantity, namely facial expression.

Die wahre Bedeutung eines Wortes in unsrer Muttersprache zu verstehen bringen wir gewiß oft viele Jahre hin. Ich verstehe auch zugleich hiermit die Bedeutungen die ihm der Ton geben kann. Der Verstand eines Wortes wird uns um mich mathematisch auszudrücken durch eine Formul gegeben, worin der Ton die veränderliche und das Wort die beständige Größe ist. Hier eröffnet sich ein Weg die Sprachen unendlich zu bereichern ohne die Worte zu vermehren. Ich habe gefunden, daß die Redens-Art: Es ist gut auf fünferlei Art von uns ausgesprochen wird, und allemal mit einer andern Bedeutung, die freilich auch oft noch durch eine dritte veränderliche Größe nämlich: die Miene bestimmt wird.


Worth Living For

Samuel Butler, The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler, Vol. I: 20th January 1774-1st March 1831 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1924), p. 247:
I have heard the late Canon W.G. Humphry say, "Dr. Butler certainly did succeed in making us believe that Latin and Greek were the one thing worth living for."

Tuesday, May 30, 2023


What Is the Matter with the Man?

R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, ed. T.M. Knox (1919; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), p. 29:
The style of Herodotus is easy, spontaneous, convincing. That of Thucydides is harsh, artificial, repellent. In reading Thucydides I ask myself, What is the matter with the man, that he writes like that? I answer: he has a bad conscience. He is trying to justify himself for writing history at all by turning it into something that is not history.
Id., p. 30:
Consider his speeches. Custom has dulled our susceptibilities; but let us ask ourselves for a moment: could a just man who had a really historical mind have permitted himself the use of such a convention? Think first of their style. Is it not, historically speaking, an outrage to make all these very different characters talk in one and the same fashion, and that a fashion in which no one can ever have spoken when addressing troops before a battle or when pleading for the lives of the conquered? Is it not clear that the style betrays a lack of interest in the question what such and such a man really said on such and such an occasion? Secondly, think of their contents. Can we say that, however unhistorical their style may be, their substance is historical? The question has been variously answered. Thucydides does say (i.22) that he kept 'as closely as possible' to the general sense of what was actually said; but how close was this? He does not claim that it was very close, because he adds that he has given the speeches roughly as he thought the speakers would have said what was appropriate to the occasion; and when we consider the speeches themselves in their context, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the judge of 'what was appropriate' was Thucydides himself. Grote argued long ago1 that the Melian dialogue contains more imagination than history, and I have seen no convincing refutation of his argument. The speeches seem to me to be in substance not history but Thucydidean comments upon the acts of the speakers, Thucydidean reconstructions of their motives and intentions.

1 History of Greece (London, 1862), vol. v, p. 95.


Apollo's Advice

Plutarch, Letter of Consolation to Apollonius 14 (= Moralia 109A; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt).
Of Agamedes and Trophonius, Pindar [fragment 3 Snell and Maehler] says that after building the temple at Delphi they asked Apollo for a reward, and he promised them to make payment on the seventh day, bidding them in the meantime to eat, drink, and be merry. They did what was commanded, and on the evening of the seventh day lay down to sleep and their life came to an end.

καὶ περὶ Ἀγαμήδους δὲ καὶ Τροφωνίου φησὶ Πίνδαρος τὸν νεὼν τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς οἰκοδομήσαντας αἰτεῖν παρὰ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος μισθόν, τὸν δ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἐπαγγείλασθαι εἰς ἑβδόμην ἡμέραν ἀποδώσειν, ἐν τοσούτῳ δ᾽ εὐωχεῖσθαι παρακελύσασθαι· τοὺς δὲ ποιήσαντας τὸ προσταχθὲν τῇ ἑβδόμῃ νυκτὶ κατακοιμηθέντας τελευτῆσαι.
εὐωχέω, middle and passive = fare sumptuously, feast (Liddell and Scott), whence εὐωχητήριον (banqueting-hall, which would be a good name for a restaurant), εὐωχητής (reveller), εὐωχία (good cheer, feasting).

From the same poem (an ode in praise of Kasmylos of Rhodes, winner at boxing in the Isthmian Games, 462 BC), Pindar, fragment 2 (tr. William H. Race):
He who is willing and able to live luxuriously,
by taking the advice of the Far-Shooter
given to Agamedes and Trophonius...

ὁ δ᾿ ἐθέλων τε καὶ δυνάμενος ἁβρὰ πάσχειν
τὰν Ἀγαμήδεϊ Τροφωνίῳ θ᾿ Ἑκαταβόλου
συμβουλίαν λαβών...
See Giovan Battista D'Alessio, "The Lost Isthmian Odes of Pindar," in Reading the Victory Ode, edd. Peter Agócs et al. (2012; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 28-57 (at 35-37).


Historical Fiction

Ronald Syme, "Fictional History Old and New: Hadrian," in his Roman Papers, VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 157-181 (at 158):
The historical novel may be described as legitimate and harmless. The intent is to convey entertainment in the first place, although not always avoiding instruction in social or political doctrines; and the author can seldom dissemble his own milieu and opinions.

By contrast, fictional history is the simulation of history, and it may involve impersonation. For example, the Julian of Gore Vidal, whatever be the quality of the scholarship.

A further criterion is the purpose of the writing, or the motive behind it—and the author's own professions come into the count. Reference can no longer be delayed to Robert Graves. That is, to his King Jesus, which sold more than a hundred thousand copies. His recent biographer came out with a firm statement, namely 'the fact that Graves believed what he was writing to be the historical truth'.4 That disclosure is quite alarming for estimate of the biographer no less than the author.

4 M. Seymour-Smith, Robert Graves (1982), 393. Credulity is contagious.



Milan Hübl (1927-1989), quoted in Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, tr. Michael Henry Heim (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1981), p. 159:
"The first step in liquidating a people," said Hubl, "is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster."

«Pour liquider les peuples, disait Hübl, on commence par leur enlever la mémoire. On détruit leurs livres, leur culture, leur histoire. Et quelqu'un d'autre leur écrit d'autres livres, leur donne une autre culture et leur invente une autre Histoire. Ensuite, le peuple commence lentement à oublier ce qu'il est et ce qu'il était. Le monde autour de lui l'oublie encore plus vite.»

Monday, May 29, 2023


Learned Idiot

Franco Montanari, The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Leiden: Brill, 1995), p. 1376:
μωρόσοφος -ον [μωρός, σοφός] idiot savant LUC. Alex. 40.
Eric Thomson per litteras:
I'm not sure the context in Lucian warrants that translation. Idiot savant is one thing, learned idiot quite another. For every idiot savant there are at least a thousand learned idiots.
Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 40 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Often in the course of the torchlight ceremonies and the gambols of the mysteries his thigh was bared purposely and showed golden. No doubt gilded leather had been put about it, which gleamed in the light of the cressets. There was once a discussion between two of our learned idiots in regard to him, whether he had the soul of Pythagoras, on account of the golden thigh, or some other soul akin to it...

πολλάκις δὲ ἐν τῇ δᾳδουχίᾳ καὶ τοῖς μυστικοῖς σκιρτήμασιν γυμνωθεὶς ὁ μηρὸς αὐτοῦ ἐξεπίτηδες χρυσοῦς διεφάνη, δέρματος ὡς εἰκὸς ἐπιχρύσου περιτεθέντος καὶ πρὸς τὴν αὐγὴν τῶν λαμπάδων ἀποστίλβοντος. ὥστε καὶ γενομένης ποτὲ ζητήσεως δύο τισὶ τῶν μωροσόφων ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ, εἴτε Πυθαγόρου τὴν ψυχὴν ἔχοι διὰ τὸν χρυσοῦν μηρὸν εἴτε ἄλλην ὁμοίαν αὐτῇ...
There is no gloss on the word in Hugo Rabe, ed., Scholia in Lucianum (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1906), p. 184. On the word in Erasmus and Thomas More, see C.R. Thompson "Some Greek and Grecized Words in Renaissance Latin," American Journal of Philology 64.3 (1943) 333-335 (at 333-334).


Remembering the War Dead

Basil L. Gildersleeve, "A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War," Atlantic Monthly 80 (September, 1897) 330-342, rpt. in The Creed of the Old South 1865-1915 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915), pp. 55-103, rpt. in Ward W. Briggs Jr., ed., Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 389-413 (at 390-392):
When I was a student abroad, American novices used to be asked in jest, "Is this your first ruin?" "Is this your first nightingale?" I am not certain that I can place my first ruin or my first nightingale, but I can recall my first dead man on the battlefield. We were making an advance on the enemy's position near Huttonsville.4 Nothing, by the way, could have been more beautiful than the plan, which I was privileged to see; and as we neared the objective point, it was a pleasure to watch how column after column, marching by this road and that, converged to the rendezvous. It was as if some huge spider were gathering its legs about the victim. The special order issued breathed a spirit of calm resolution worthy of the general commanding and his troops. Nobody that I remember criticised the tautological expression, "The progress of this army must be forward." We were prepared for a hard fight, for we knew that the enemy was strongly posted. Most of us were to be under fire for the first time, and there was some talk about the chances of the morrow as we lay down to sleep. Moralizing of that sort gets less and less common with experience in the business, and this time the moralizing may have seemed to some premature. But wherever the minié ball sang its diabolical mosquito song there was death in the air, and I was soon to see brought into camp, under a flag of truce, the lifeless body of the heir of Mount Vernon, whose graceful riding I had envied a few days before.5 However, there was no serious fighting. The advance on the enemy's position had developed more strength in front than we had counted on, or some of the spider's legs had failed to close in. A misleading report had been brought to headquarters. A weak point in the enemy's line had been reinforced. Who knows? The best laid plans are often thwarted by the merest trifles, an insignificant puddle, a jingling canteen. This game of war is a hit or miss game, after all. A certain fatalism is bred thereby, and it is well to set out with a stock of that article. So our resolute advance became a forced reconnaissance, greatly to the chagrin of the younger and more ardent spirits. We found out exactly where the enemy was, and declined to have anything further to do with him for the time being. But in finding him we had to clear the ground and drive in the pickets. One picket had been posted at the end of a loop in a chain of valleys. The road we followed skirted the base of one range of hills. The house which served as the headquarters of the picket was on the other side. A meadow as level as a board stretched between. I remember seeing a boy come out and catch a horse, while we were advancing. Somehow it seemed to be a trivial thing to do just then. I knew better afterwards. Our skirmishers had done their work, had swept the woods on either side clean, and the pickets had fallen back on the main body; but not all of them. One man, if not more, had only had time to fall dead. The one I saw, the first, was a young man, not thirty, I should judge, lying on his back, his head too low for comfort. He had been killed outright, and there was no distortion of feature. No more peaceful faces than one sees at times on the battlefield, and sudden death, despite the Litany, is not the least enviable exit. In this case there was something like a mild surprise on the countenance. The rather stolid face could never have been very expressive. An unposted letter was found on the dead man's body. It was written in German, and I was asked to interpret it, in case it should contain any important information. There was no important information; just messages to friends and kindred, just the trivialities of camp life.

The man was an invader, and in my eyes deserved an invader's doom. If sides had been changed, he would have been a rebel, and would have deserved a rebel's doom. I was not stirred to the depths by the sight, but it gave me a lesson in grammar, and war has ever been concrete to me from that time on. The horror I did not feel at first grew steadily. "A sweet thing," says Pindar, "is war to those that have not tried it."

4. Confederates engaged Union forces at Beverly, West Virginia on 2–3 July 1863 and at Huttonsville, 4 July 1863. Captain John Righter had a written plan of the location of fourteen pickets. Detachments of the 19th Virginia Cavalry under Col. William L. Jackson surrounded them on the morning of 2 July , killing forty Union soldiers and losing only four of his own men, despite the fact that the detachment of Lt. Col. A.C. Dunn did not respond to orders. Dunn was subsequently placed under arrest by Jackson. For Jackson's lost plat and Dunn's "misleading report," see OR, ser. 1, 27.2.805-16.

5. BLG note: "John Augustin[e] Washington."
This Washington (1821-61) was great-grandson and namesake of George Washington's brother. He received the A.B. degree at the University of Virginia in 1841 and moved almost immediately into the great house, the costs and social responsibilities of which he could not maintain. In 1858, he sold the property to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and in 1860 moved to Waveland in Fauquier Co. Appointed aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel on the staff of R.E. Lee, he was killed 13 Sept. 1861 near Cheat Mountain (West) Virginia.
Pindar, fragment 110 (tr. William H. Race):
Sweet is war to those without experience, but anyone who has experienced it
dreads its approach exceedingly in his heart.

γλυκὺ δὲ πόλεμος ἀπείροισιν, ἐμπείρων δέ τις
ταρβεῖ προσιόντα νιν καρδίᾳ περισσῶς.

Sunday, May 28, 2023


Fields of Study

Ronald Syme, "Pliny and the Dacian Wars," in his Roman Papers, VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 142-149 (at 142):
Certain fields of study, large or small, have an easy appeal because no fresh information has accrued through the ages, or seems likely to emerge.
Negative evidence can be variously instructive. It is often worth the effort to look for the words and phrases an author avoids, the persons, topics, or episodes he has decided to omit. That is a clue to his style and idiosyncrasy. Also and further, a revelation of social conventions or political attitudes.


Barley Cake

Achaeus, fragment 25 (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
But a barley-cake's more valuable to a hungry man
than gold or ivory.

πεινῶντι δ' ἀνδρὶ µᾶζα τιµιωτέρα
χρυσοῦ τε κἀλέφαντος.
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Saturday, May 27, 2023


Knaxzbi, Chthyptes, Phlegmo, Drops

C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman (1986; rpt. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 2010), p. 47 (on Richard Bentley's Epistola ad Joannem Millium):
He then turns to Thespis and (after emending a line of Sophocles in the same source) explains the meaning of an alleged fragment from Thespis, a few anapaests cited by the Christian writer Clement of Alexandria in his Miscellanies, Stromateis. The anapaests contain three apparently nonsensical words which had been regarded by Clement and others as in some way liturgic and magical. The words are knaxzbi, chthyptes, and phlegmo (or -os), κναξζβί, κθύπτης [sic, read χθύπτης], and φλεγμώ (-ός Clem.). Bentley explains them as anagrams, used for representing the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. He finds the fourth word of the set in Clement, i.e. drops, δρόψ (δρώψ Clem.). This adds up, as do two other sets of similar non-words in Clement. He brilliantly confirms this explanation from an Oxford MS, again unpublished, of Porphyry, the Neoplatonist, entitled 'An explanation of κναξζβί, κθύπτης [sic, read χθύπτης], φλεγμώ and δρόψ', where a suitably symbolic interpretation of these seemingly hieratic words is given.
Eric Thomson confirms my guess that the pangram-destroying κθύπτης is an error which crept into the 2010 reprint of Brink's book. The original 1986 edition has the correct χθύπτης.

See also Bentley's Dissertations Upon the Epistles of Phalaris, Themistocles, Socrates, and Upon the Fables of Aesop, ed. Wilhelm Wagner (Berlin: S. Calvary and Co., 1874), pp. 267-268, and now: M.J. Cropp, Minor Greek Tragedians: Fragments from the Tragedies with Selected Testimonia. Edited with Introductions, Translations and Notes, Vol. I: The Fifth Century (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2019), pp. 10-11, 17:
ἴδε σοὶ σπένδω κναξζβι λευκὸν,
ἀπὸ θηλαµόνων θλίψας κνακῶν·
ἴδε σοὶ χθυπτην τυρὸν µίξας
ἐρυθρῷ µελιτῷ, κατὰ τῶν σῶν, Πὰν
δικέρως, τίθεµαι βωµῶν ἁγίων.        5
ἴδε σοὶ Βροµίου αἴθοπα φλεγµὸν
λείβω ...

See, I make you a libation of white knaxzbi that I have pressed from tawny nanny-goats. See, I have mixed for you chthuptês-cheese with red-brown honey and set it down, two-horned Pan, on your holy altar. See, I pour for you Bromios's fiery phlegmos ...

Metre: anapaests. A chorus (of satyrs?) makes an offering of milk, cheese mixed with honey, and wine to the goat-god Pan. The verses include three of the four words in the nonsense-verse κναξζβι χθυπτης φλεγµο δρωψ, which includes all twenty-four letters of the Ionic Greek alphabet once each and was probably used as a teaching device in Greek schools (δρωψ probably appeared soon after v. 6). Evidently the fragment is a whimsical literary invention attaching meanings to these words, rather than a serious piece of archaic poetry. The words attracted serious explanations and interpretations in antiquity which are exemplified in Clement's discussion of this and two similar nonsense-verses as examples of symbolic expression. He also reports that the verses κναξζβι etc. and βεδυ ζαψ χθωµ πληκτρον σφιγξ were said to have been composed by the legendary seer Branchus as a spell against a plague afflicting the people of Miletus, a story twice mentioned by Callimachus (frs 194.28-31 and 229.2-4 Pfeiffer) and perhaps earlier by Hipponax (fr. 105.6 IEG). »» Merkelbach 1985 (cf. Bentley 1691, 47-49).


Friday, May 26, 2023


You Are an Idiot

Joshua T. Katz, "Classics: Inside Out and Upside Down," Academic Questions (Spring 2023):
Philology is tied to text, and text is tied to language. And language, it seems, is a major problem. It is of course the case that there is much more to the Ancient Greek and Roman world than language. If you don't have respect for colleagues who painstakingly excavate in the Athenian Agora or study Roman portraiture of North Africa or examine waste to learn the diet of soldiers at Hadrian's Wall or study Alice Oswald's contemporary transformations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, you are an idiot. But you are also an idiot if you don't have respect for colleagues who pay close attention to Greek and Latin and their linguistic and philological niceties. It is undeniable that studying a culture without knowing its language—or, in most cases, languages—is to ignore its core and render one especially vulnerable to the charge of having no idea what one is doing. What is happening in Classics is turning the subject inside out—and then, to add insult to injury, hurling abuse at what is now on the outside.



Erasmus, Adagia I ii 23 (tr. Margaret Mann Phillips, with R.A.B. Mynors' notes):
Semper graculus adsidet graculo
Jackdaw always sits by jackdaw

Ἀεὶ κολοιὸς παρὰ κολοιὸν ἱζάνει. Jackdaw always sits by jackdaw. This proverb, an iambic line, is found in Diogenianus, and it is noted in the book of Aristotle's Rhetoric which I have just quoted, where he calls it to mind among other proverbs of the same nature, and also in book 8 of his Ethics: 'And jackdaw to jackdaw.' (This is a trochaic dimeter in Greek, no doubt taken from some poet.) Gregory made use of the adage with some elegance in a letter to Eudoxius: 'That jackdaw sits by jackdaw you hear the proverb say.' Varro in book 3 of his Agriculture attests that gatherings of jackdaws have long been known, whence Plutarch says, in 'On Having Many Friends,' 'It is neither like a herd of cattle nor like a flock of daws.' The bird's name in Greek comes from the word kolao, I glue together, and Varro thinks that their Latin name too comes from their habit of flying in flocks (graculus from gregatim). Quintilian does not agree, but asserts that the name was invented from the bird's call.

23 Collectanea no 721, derived from Diogenianus 1.61 (the adage is also in Zenobius 2.47 and Suidas K 1968). Tilley L 283 The like, I say, sits with the jay. 5 Aristotle] Rhetoric 1.11 (1371b15), used in i ii 20; Ethica Nicomachea 8.1 (1155a34). The origin of the line seems to be unknown.

trochaic dimeter] In principle, two units of four syllables each, scanning long-short-long-short. This metrical parenthesis, which was added like many of the metrical comments in the Adagia in 1528, refers only to the phrase as quoted in the second passage from Aristotle, and it is quite possible that its apparently metrical structure is purely accidental.

Gregory] of Nazianzus, Epistulae 178.8 (PG 37.3653), added in 1533 (see i iv 98n).

Varro] Res rusticae 3.16.4 (see i i 40n).

Plutarch] Moralia 93E

Varro] De lingua latina 5.76, cited by Quintilian 1.6.37 (a passage to which Erasmus returns in i iv 37). This discussion of the origin of the word, which, like nearly all ancient etymology, is quite imaginary, was added in 1528. We should not now expect the same man to write valuable manuals on agriculture and on philology, as well as satires (see i ii 60n); but Varro (116-27 BC) was a polymath and a ready writer.
Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), p. 268 (graculus):
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Biography and History

Ronald Syme, "Roman Biographies and Roman History," in his Roman Papers, VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 122-128 (at 122):
A fresh wind is blowing through the dry leaves, so they tell us. Classical studies are being reinvigorated, and it was high time. However, not much novelty is discovered in the subjects of books designed for the 'general reader' of the better sort. The lives and exploits of heroes are still high in favour. Notably Hannibal and Caesar, to judge by productions from more countries than one in recent years. Along with Alexander and Napoleon, Hannibal and Caesar keep their fame and rank for generalship through the ages; and Scipio belongs with them, whom Liddell Hart described as a 'greater Napoleon'. Hence suitable characters to be matched for comparison in the manner of Plutarch, or to figure in some Dialogues of the Dead.

Biography is of plain service for conveying historical instruction painlessly. It is not to be despised, for it furnishes a framework and a chronological sequence. But biography is also the enemy of history. It is prone to fable and legend, it exalts the individual unduly, at the expense of social history, the long trends, and the facts of power in the world. Hannibal, Scipio, and Caesar may be described as monarchic aristocrats. They were at the same time citizens of imperial Republics. Their environment must be kept in mind, and the political system which they obeyed or defied.


Brink Blinks?

C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman (1986; rpt. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 2010), pp. 44-45 (on Richard Bentley's Epistola ad Joannem Millium):
He concludes by restoring some Orphic oracles which Malelas had avowedly spoilt by making their verse into prose, 'εἰς τὴν κοιὴν διάλεκτον' (p. 248), helped in the task by an (unpublished) Oxford MS, in which he had noticed 'oracles and theologies of Greek Philosophers', Χρησμοὶ καὶ Θεολογίαι Ἑλλήνων φιλοσόφων.
Image of the reprint:
For εἰς τὴν κοιὴν διάλεκτον read εἰς τὴν κοινὴν διάλεκτον.

Apparently the error was introduced in the reprint, published after Brink's death. Eric Thomson sent me this image of the original:


Thursday, May 25, 2023


Bible Study

C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman (1986; rpt. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 2010), p. 26 (on Richard Bentley; note omitted):
One of the projects that occupied him throughout his life was a critical text of the New Testament. The beginnings of that project must go back to that early period and it is characteristic of him how he fitted himself for that task. Many years later he described what he had come to see as the best way to make himself generally proficient in biblical studies. To understand the Scriptures one must know Hebrew, and the best way to learn the language was not 'from the late rabbins' but from the ancient sources themselves. Hence, before he was twenty-four, he constructed a sort of Hexapla, a stout quarto volume with all biblical Hebrew words alphabetically arranged in the first column, to be followed in five other columns by the translations of those words into what he calls Chaldee, as well as Syriac, the Latin of the Vulgate, the Greek of the Septuagint and of the remains of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. He compiled also a volume containing the Hebrew text of the Old Testament on the basis of the ancient translations, with variant readings and emendations. Neither of these early exercises seems to have survived.


Aliens and Enemies

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.55.2 (reported speech of Gaius Claudius; tr. Earnest Cary):
For all who attempted to disturb the established customs and to corrupt their ancient form of government, he said, were aliens and enemies of the commonwealth.

ἅπαντας γὰρ τοὺς ἐπιχειροῦντας τὰ πάτρια κινεῖν ἔθη καὶ τὸν κόσμον τοῦ πολιτεύματος τὸν ἀρχαῖον διαφθείρειν ἀλλοτρίους καὶ πολεμίους εἶναι τῆς πόλεως.


Hesiod's Outlook on Life

P. Walcot (1931-2009), Greek Peasants, Ancient and Modern: A Comparison of Social and Moral Values (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1970), pp. 9-10:
Those who write on the Works and Days are scholars, far removed from the kind of rural background which will alone set Hesiod's poem in the correct perspective. To understand Hesiod's outlook on life, first the mind must be stripped of the debris of academic debate; secondly, and this I would stress is absolutely crucial, we must leave far behind the values of a sophisticated and complex culture to which the morality and motives of the peasant, a term I use of Hesiod in the sense that for him 'agriculture is a livelihood and a way of life, not a business for profit' (our p. 13), appear contradictory and even perverse. I am much in sympathy with the Dutch reviewer of a recent book on the structure of the Works and Days who passed the following comment:
In my youth I heard our Calvinistic Dutch farmers on winter nights grumbling about matters of inheritance, blaming laziness, jesting, theologising, preaching penitence ('personal invective' of course included) and discussing details of farming. This is the way of the poet of the Erga. The 'problems' some scholars find in his sequence of thoughts and the solutions they propose have as much to do with his mentality as a lecture-room with a cow-shed.1
1 A. Hoekstra, Mnemosyne 4, 19 (1966), p. 407.


The Intellectual

Ronald Syme, "Hadrian the Intellectual," in his Roman Papers, VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 103-114 (at 103):
Hadrian might be defined as an 'intellectual', with all that the term connotes of good or bad, serious or frivolous. The intellectual falls into a recognizable category, all too familiar in the cultivated societies of the modern world. He is curious and conceited, instable and petulant; against birth and class, authority and tradition. He dabbles in the arts, he admires the beauties of nature. A cosmopolitan by his tastes, he is devoted to foreign travel; he detests nationalism, militarism, and the cult of power; and he will defend 'les droits de l'homme' or the cause of universal peace.
Related posts:

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


Fields for Research

Ronald Syme, "From Octavian to Augustus," in his Roman Papers, VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 1-4 (at 2):
The political history of these years is not a subject easy to treat with complete success. The very fullness of the ancient and modern accounts is something of a deterrent—scholars can be pardoned for turning rather to fields where the evidence is a thin and weedy growth, and to paths where few have trodden, although, as Carcopino somewhere reminds us, it is the beaten tracks that have the most ruts.
Thanks to Eric Thomson for locating the passage from Jérôme Carcopino, Autour des Gracques: Études critiques (Paris: ‘Les Belles Lettres’, 1928), p.2: “[…]; c'est dans les sentiers battus qu'il se creuse le plus d'ornières; […]”


Nobody Did

C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman (1986; rpt. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 2010), p. 25 (on Richard Bentley):
There was no teacher to tell him what he should do, for the simple reason that few had understood that the fragmentary nature of the surviving classical literatures demanded an intimate knowledge of late and often absurdly debased writings for the reconstruction of classical works that had been lost, and for correcting and explaining those that had survived.
Id., pp. 26-27:
Again one needs to ask who had told him about codices and their scripts, who taught him palaeography, who gave him the sort of information undergraduates are now given in their classical courses. The answer must be that nobody did. He found out for himself, and soon was able to make discoveries and put them to the astonishing use that marks his early books.


An Unanswered Prayer

Homer, Iliad 6.305-311 (uttered by the Trojan Theano; tr. A.T. Murray, rev. William F. Wyatt):
"Lady Athene, you who guard our city, fairest among goddesses,
break now the spear of Diomedes, and grant also that he himself
may fall headlong before the Scaean gates,
so that we may now immediately sacrifice to you in your shrine twelve year-old heifers
that have not felt the goad, if you will take pity on
the city and the Trojans' wives and their little ones."
So she spoke praying, but Pallas Athene denied the prayer.

"πότνι᾽ Ἀθηναίη ἐρυσίπτολι δῖα θεάων        305
ἆξον δὴ ἔγχος Διομήδεος, ἠδὲ καὶ αὐτὸν
πρηνέα δὸς πεσέειν Σκαιῶν προπάροιθε πυλάων,
ὄφρά τοι αὐτίκα νῦν δυοκαίδεκα βοῦς ἐνὶ νηῷ
ἤνις ἠκέστας ἱερεύσομεν, αἴ κ᾽ ἐλεήσῃς
ἄστύ τε καὶ Τρώων ἀλόχους καὶ νήπια τέκνα."        310
ὣς ἔφατ᾽ εὐχομένη, ἀνένευε δὲ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη.

305 ἐρυσίπτολι codd.: ῥυσίπτολι var. lect. apud schol. AT
306 ἆξον δὴ ἔγχος codd.: ἔγχος δὴ ἆξον Payne Knight
311 ath. Aristarchus
Cf. Vergil, Aeneid 1.479-482 (tr. J.W. Mackail):
Meanwhile the Ilian women went with disordered tresses to unfriendly Pallas' temple, and bore the votive garment, mournfully beating their breasts with open hands: the goddess turning away held her eyes fast on the ground.

interea ad templum non aequae Palladis ibant
crinibus Iliades passis peplumque ferebant,
suppliciter tristes et tunsae pectora palmis;
diva solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat.
and 11.483-485:
Maiden armipotent, Tritonian, sovereign of war, break with thine hand the spear of the Phrygian robber, hurl him prone to earth and dash him down beneath our lofty gates.

armipotens, praeses belli, Tritonia virgo,
frange manu telum Phrygii praedonis, et ipsum
pronum sterne solo portisque effunde sub altis.
See Georg Nicolaus Knauer, Die Aeneis und Homer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), pp. 287, 289.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


One Mule Scratches Another

Erasmus, Adagia I vii 96 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors with his notes):
Mutuum muli scabunt
One mule scratches another

When rascals and men of no reputation admire and cry up one another. The image is taken from mules which, like other beasts of burden, have a habit of scratching one another with their teeth. The phrase is cited by Nonius Marcellus1 as the title of one of Marcus Varro's Menippean Satires, and must surely be proverbial. Ausonius2 in the second preface to his Monosyllaba: 'But to end with a proverb what I began with an adage, mules scratch one another.' Varro3 also mentions this in the third book of his On the Latin Language, though the wording is most foully corrupt, for which the passage of time is not so much to blame as the common run of printers, whose only object seems to be the utter extinction of all good books. For the text runs thus: 'Philoptorus, a female friend of the man who in old age calls a boy pusus and a girl pusa. The result will be mutuam mulinam.' I think we should read mutuum muli and understand scabunt. Symmachus4 in one of his letters: 'The proverb says that mules scratch one another, and for fear I may be within reach of that, I hold back behind clenched teeth what I would say in praise of you.' It looks however as if the adage could not be correctly understood except in a derogatory sense, as for instance if two ignorant men were to praise each other or two cripples or two rascals. This recalls Horace's5 anecdote of the two brothers who enjoyed mutual back-scratching and an exchange of panegyrics in turn.
Rome had two brothers; one the spoken word
And one the law pursued. And how they purred!
How oft reciprocal the butter flew! —
'Gracchus has met his match.' 'And Mucius too!'
He also criticizes poetasters who, bad as they are, listen to each others' recitations with rapture:
Alcaeus I in his opinion shine,
He soars a new Callimachus in mine.
96 Taken from Nonius; it looks like the second half of an iambic line, though Erasmus does not note this, as he usually does. Otto 1162; Tilley M 1396 One mule doth scrub another. The first of a small group of adages with related meanings.

1 Nonius Marcellus] p 115 and three other places; for the Menippean Satires see i vii 5n.

2 Ausonius] See i vi 64n; from the third preface of his Technopaegnion.

3 Varro] De lingua latina 7.28. The standard edition by G. Goetz and F. Schoell, Leipzig 1910, credits the recognition of the proverb in this corrupt passage to Pantagathus, who in 1508 was a boy of fourteen.

4 Symmachus] Epistulae 10.1.3; he was an orator of the fourth century AD. In his edition in the Monumenta Germaniae historica (Auct ant 6), Berlin 1883, O. Seeck says that the manuscripts read (a)emulos for mulos, and credits the correction to Maarten Lips, whose edition was published in Basel in 1549.

5 Horace] Epistles 2.2.87-9 and 99-100, the latter in the version of Sir Philip Francis (1756), which has already been used in i v 60. Horace, a devoted follower of the Lesbian lyric poet Alcaeus, means himself to be recognized as one of these characters; it is thought that the other, who likes to be regarded as a second Callimachus (the eminent Hellenistic poet), may be a dig at his contemporary Propertius.
See also I vii 97-99.

A. Otto, Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1890), p. 232-233 (#1162):
Mútuum mulí scabunt***) lautete der Titel einer Satire Varros (p. 172 R.). Pompilius bei Varro l. lat. 7, 28 sic fiet mutua muli. Auson. id. 12 (27, 4 Sch.) ut, quod per adagionem coepimus, proverbio finiamus et mutuum muli scalpant. Symmach. ep. 1, 31, 1 videbor mutuum scabere. 10, 1, 3 hoc est, quod aiunt, mutuum scabere mulos, cui proverbio ne videar confinis u.s.w. Ennod. p. 20, 16 Vog. dum in praeconiis mutuum videmur scabere. Apost. 17, 20 τὸν ξύοντα ἀντιξύειν: ἐπὶ τῶν βλαπτόντων ἢ ὠφελούντων τινάς. ἀπὸ μεταφορᾶς τῶν ὄνων· ἀλλήλους γὰρ ἀντικνήθουσιν. Diogen. 8, 48 τὸν ξύοντα δ' ἀντιξύειν: ἐπὶ τῶν διὰ χάριν χάριτας ποιoύντων. 'Ein Esel kraut den anderen' (Düringsf. I n. 427), d.h. ein Beschränkter lobt den andern und streicht ihn heraus. *) — Vgl. Ter. Phorm. 267 tradunt operas mutuas (sie helfen und unterstützen sich gegenseitig). Diese letztere Redensart wird jedoch, wie mir scheint, mit Unrecht unter den sprichwörtlichen aufgeführt.

***) Es ist der Schluss eines jamb. Trim. oder troch. Tetram. S. L. Müller zu Non. p. 115, 19.

*) Nicht ganz zutreffend Riese a.a.O. ut facis mihi, ita facio tibi. Falsch Genthe, de prov. ad anim. nat. pertin. p. 7: In beneficiis referendis qui exspectat mutuam gratiam, pueriliter sentit.
A.E. Housman refers to the proverb ('mutua muli') in his interpretation of Martial 9.67, in his "Corrections and Explanations of Martial," Journal of Philology 30 (1907) 229-265 (at 248).

From Augusto Franzini:
An old professsor in my high school ( Sardinia) used to say: "Asinus asinum fricat" in Latin, meaning that a donkey (i.e. a very poor student) is always going for the company, or contact, with another one.
Hat tip: Alan Crease.


Ruling Illusions?

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), England and the Need for Nations (London: Civitas, 2006), p. 33 (note omitted):
Nobody brought up in post-war England can fail to be aware of the educated derision that has been directed at our national loyalty by those whose freedom to criticise would have been extinguished years ago, had the English not been prepared to die for their country. To many of the post-war writers, the English ideals of freedom and service, for which the war in Europe had ostensibly been fought, were mere ideological constructs—'ruling illusions' which, by disguising exploitation as paternal guidance, made it possible to ship home the spoils of empire with an easy conscience. All those features of the English character that had been praised in war-time books and films—gentleness, firmness, honesty, tolerance, 'grit', the stiff upper lip and the spirit of fair play—were either denied or derided. England was not the free, harmonious, law-abiding community celebrated in boy's magazines, but a place of class-divisions, jingoism and racial intolerance. Look beneath every institution and every ideal, the critics said, and you will find the same sordid reality: a self-perpetuating upper class, and a people hoodwinked by imperial illusions into accepting their dominion.


Consigning Aristophanes to Oblivion

M.L. Clarke, Greek Studies in England 1700-1830 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1945), p. 12:
John Bowdler, father of the famous editor of Shakespeare, objected to the classics on the grounds of their obscenity, and recommended expurgation.1 Defenders of the classical education had their doubts about its moral tendency. Beattie, the Scottish professor and poet, in his Remarks on the Utility of Classical Learning, written in 1769, is in favour of expurgation, and would be quite willing to consign Aristophanes to eternal oblivion.2 Vicesimus Knox, a typical defender of the existing education, regards Lucian, then much read, as a bad influence, and would substitute for him 'Epictetus and the Table of Cebes and all the Socraticae Chartae exhibited by Plato and Xenophon'.3

1 Remarks on Dr Vincent's Defence (1802), pp. 14, 31. There is a strong attack on the obscenity of the classics in Academic Errors, or Recollections of Youth, by a member of the University of Cambridge, 1817—a not uninteresting story of educational folly and sense.

2 Essays (1778), p. 542.

3 Knox, Liberal Education, p. 126. Knox's book, of no permanent value, was widely read in his day. The Table of Cebes, at that time attributed to Socrates's disciple, was regarded with great respect for its moral teaching. 'One of the finest remains of antiquity' (Dalzel, Substance of Lectures, II, p. 324).


Give and Take

Hesiod, Works and Days 354-360 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
Give to one who gives, but do not give to one who does not give.
A man gives to the free-handed, but no one gives to the close-fisted.
Give is a good girl, but Take is bad and she brings death.
For the man who gives willingly, even though he gives a great thing,
rejoices in his gift and is glad in heart;
but whoever gives way to shamelessness and takes something himself,
even though it be a small thing, it freezes his heart.

καὶ δόμεν, ὅς κεν δῷ, καὶ μὴ δόμεν, ὅς κεν μὴ δῷ.
δώτῃ μέν τις ἔδωκεν, ἀδώτῃ δ' οὔτις ἔδωκεν.        355
δὼς ἀγαθή, ἅρπαξ δὲ κακή, θανάτοιο δότειρα.
ὃς μὲν γάρ κεν ἀνὴρ ἐθέλων, ὅ γε, κεἰ μέγα δοίη,
χαίρει τῷ δώρῳ καὶ τέρπεται ὃν κατὰ θυμόν·
ὃς δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕληται ἀναιδείηφι πιθήσας,
καί τε σμικρὸν ἐόν, τό γ' ἐπάχνωσεν φίλον ἦτορ.        360

Monday, May 22, 2023


In Unexpected Quarters

M.L. Clarke, Greek Studies in England 1700-1830 (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1945), pp. 6-7 (notes omitted):
A knowledge of the classics was sometimes to be found in unexpected quarters. Even the most uncultured of country gentlemen might yet be possessed of a tincture of learning. John Mytton, toughest of hunting squires, expelled from Harrow and Westminster, and drunk for twelve years on end, 'always', we are told, 'had a quotation at hand from a Greek or Latin author'. Nor does one associate the Hanoverian dynasty with learning; yet George IV used to read Homer—with two bishops to help him. Byron, writing to Scott in 1812, describes how he had met the Regent, who 'spoke alternatively of Homer and yourself, and seemed well acquainted with both'. He could produce a Homeric quotation suitable to the occasion, as when Dr Davies of Eton, somewhat drunk after dinner, said to him, ' What do you know of Homer? I'd bet you don't know a line of the Iliad.' The Prince of Wales, as he then was, immediately quoted a line beginning with the word Οἰνοβαρές [Iliad 1.225].


The Story of O

Gian Biagio Conte, Virgilian Parerga: Textual Criticism and Stylistic Analysis (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2021), p. 100:
I fail to understand Lachmann's disavowal of his own method in a passage where he disregards the norms he himself had laboriously put in place. Let us have a look at the passage in question.¹¹ Konrad Müller, Edward J. Kenney, and Marcus Deufert have rightly rejected the vulgate at Lucr. 3.1-3, as I am sure that David Butterfield, the future OCT editor, will also do:
e tenebris tantis tam clarum extollere lumen
qui primus potuisti inlustrans commoda uitae
te sequor, o Graie gentis decus …
Though attested in a single humanistic manuscript [Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. mon. 816a, the so-called Codex Victorianus], the reading e tenebris has illegitimately entered the text. The Oblongus and the schedae Vindobonenses have the vocative particle o instead. The first letter is missing in the other main Lucretian manuscript, the Quadratus, because the scribe left an empty space for the rubricator. Given that the Quadratus and the schedae derive from the archetype via a common subarchetype, the agreement of one of these manuscripts with the Oblongus must be viewed as the reading of the archetype — in this case, o tenebris. Thus does Lachmann teach. It is therefore surprising that Lachmann claims that the reading of the archetype, which can be established through the method that he himself contributed to establish in his edition of Lucretius (1850), is to be rejected: "O [valde] ineptum est".¹² Before Timpanaro provided definitive arguments to restore the correct reading,¹³ only Gilbert Wakefield (1796) got rid of the humanistic conjecture e and printed o tenebris tantis.

¹¹ I have already discussed the passage in Conte (2013) 82–84.

¹² [O is unfit]. However, if the archetype is already corrupt, it must be emended. This is the reasoning behind Lachmann's approval of E (an inappropriate intrusion).

¹³ Timpanaro (1960) 147–149 [= Timpanaro (1978): 135–139].
See also M.L. Clarke, "Lucretius 3.1-3," Classical Quarterly 27.2 (1977) 354-355.


Roman Knowledge of Geography

Ronald Syme, "The Subjugation of Mountain Zones," in his Roman Papers, V (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 648-660 (at 648):
To be sure, the Romans neglected the science and study of geography. That is a common assumption. It derives from literature, which tended to preserve obsolete notions, such as the misconception about the orientation of Spain—as likewise on the world map of Agrippa. That document was produced as public advertisement or ornament, not as a guide for travellers or the military. They had resources that have seldom percolated into literature. High technique is proved by the planning of roads, the construction of bridges and aqueducts, the siting of forts and cities.


I Know Well Enough

James Stephens, The Crock of Gold (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1913), p. 72 (Book I, Chapter VII):
"Long life and good health to your honour," said he as he turned away.

The Philosopher lit his pipe.

"We live as long as we are let," said he, "and we get the health we deserve. Your salutation embodies a reflection on death which is not philosophic. We must acquiesce in all logical progressions. The merging of opposites is completion. Life runs to death, as to its goal, and we should go towards that next stage of experience either carelessly as to what must be, or with a good, honest curiosity as to what may be."

"There's not much fun in being dead, sir," said Meehawl.

"How do you know?" said the Philosopher.

"I know well enough," replied Meehawl.



Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, chapter 6 (tr. James E. Woods):
When, in fact, there was nothing to that fawning poet laureate and flunky of the Julians, that oh-so-urbane inkslinger and rhetorical show-off without a spark of creativity, whose soul, if he had one, was secondhand at best, who was not a poet at all, but a Frenchman togged out in a full Augustan wig of flowing curls.

Was es denn weiter auf sich gehabt habe mit diesem höfischen Laureatus und Speichellecker des julischen Hauses, diesem Weltstadtliteraten und Prunkrhetor ohne einen Funken von Produktivität, dessen Seele, wenn er eine gehabt habe, jedenfalls aus zweiter Hand gewesen, und der überhaupt kein Dichter, sondern ein Franzose in augusteischer Allongeperücke gewesen sei!
The same (tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter):
But what was there to this courtly laureate and lickspittle of the Julian house, this urban littérateur and eulogist, who was without a spark of creative genius, whose soul, if he had one, was second-hand, and who was certainly no poet, but a Frenchman in an Augustean full-bottomed wig!
Related posts:


A Misattributed Quotation

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), England and the Need for Nations (London: Civitas, 2006), p. 23:
Ever since Terence half-humorously asked the question quis custodiet ipsos custodes?—who will guard the guardians?—the question of accountability has been at the forefront of all constructive political thinking.
Terence didn't ask the question, Juvenal did (6.347-348, plus lines 31-32 of the Oxford fragment).

Related post: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?




Eduard Norden, "Sprachliche Beobachtungen zu Plautus," in his Kleine Schriften zum klassischen Altertum, ed. Bernhard Kytzler (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1966), pp. 117-127 (at 124):
Nach Langens Nachweis (Fleckeisens Jhb. 125, 679 f.) gebraucht Plautus bei aninum advortere nie die Form huc, sondern stets hoc.
For aninum read animum.


Sunday, May 21, 2023


Contentiousness, Enmity, and Envy

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.18.3 (tr. Earnest Cary):
Such counsels, fathers, are not those of men in their senses nor do they spring from the political foresight which regards the public advantages as more essential than private animosities, but rather from an unseasonable contentiousness, an ill-starred enmity, and an unfortunate envy which does not permit those who are under its influence to show sound judgement.

οὐκ ἔστιν ὑγιαινόντων ἀνθρώπων τὰ τοιαῦτα βουλεύματα, ὦ πατέρες, οὐδὲ προνοίας πολιτικῆς τὰ κοινὰ συμφέροντα τῶν ἰδίων ἀπεχθειῶν ἡγουμένης ἀναγκαιότερα, ἀλλὰ φιλονεικίας ἀκαίρου καὶ δυσμενείας ἀβούλου καὶ φθόνου κακοδαίμονος, ὃς οὐκ ἐᾷ τοὺς ἔχοντας αὐτὸν σωφρονεῖν.


People and Places

Roger Scruton (1944-2020), England and the Need for Nations (London: Civitas, 2006), pp. 15-16:
To put the matter simply: nations are defined not by kinship or religion but by a homeland. National loyalty is founded in the love of place, of the customs and traditions that have been inscribed in the landscape and of the desire to protect these good things through a common law and a common loyalty. The art and literature of the nation is an art and literature of settlement, a celebration of all that attaches the place to the people and the people to the place. This you find in Shakespeare's history plays, in the novels of Austen, Eliot and Hardy, in the music of Elgar and Vaughan-Williams, in the art of Constable and Crome, in the poetry of Wordsworth and Tennyson. And you find it in the art and literature of every nation that has defined itself as a nation. Listen to Sibelius and an imaginative vision of Finland unfolds before your inner ear; read Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz and old Lithuania welcomes you home; look at the paintings of Corot and Cézanne, and it is France that invites your eye. Russian national literature is about Russia; Manzoni's I promessi sposi is about resurgent Italy; Lorca's poetry about Spain, and so on.


A Curse in Plautus

Plautus, Casina 642-643 (tr. Wolfgang de Melo):
Get away from me and get hanged!
May the gods destroy you, breast, ears, and head!

i in malam a me crucem!
pectus, auris, caput teque di perduint!
Line 643 reminds me of the enumeration of body parts in some curse tablets. It isn't mentioned in Henk S. Versnel, "καὶ εἴ τι λ[οιπὸν] τῶν μερ[ῶ]ν [ἔσ]ται τοῦ σώματος ὅλ[ο]υ[.. (... and any other part of the entire body there may be ...) An Essay on Anatomical Curses," in Fritz Graf, ed., Ansichten griechischer Rituale. Geburtstags-Symposium für Walter Burkert (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1998), pp. 216-267.

Saturday, May 20, 2023


Diagnosis of Decline

Ronald Syme, "Antonine Government and Governing Class," in his Roman Papers, V (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 668-688 (at 688):
When a government collapses or a civilization falls by slow decay, anybody and everybody rushes in with a diagnosis. Easy explanations are to hand in every age, and notably in the recent time. Moral degeneration or religious disbelief tends to be incriminated. That is natural. The notions are vague and emotional, they appeal to sentiments both of censure and of guilt. Are they valid for the age of the Antonine Caesars? Perhaps the failure is rather to be defined as a failure of the intellect.

The men of that time had not deserted the ancient ways. On the contrary, they reverted to tradition with zeal and affection. They were sober and pious; they were dedicated to the things of the mind, and they elevated the study of the classics to a religion and a cult. Not all old authors equally, be it added. Senators might have benefited from a course of study with sombre and searching writers like Thucydides and Tacitus.


For You

Plautus, The Merchant 71-72 (tr. Paul Nixon):
It is for yourself you plough, for yourself you harrow, for yourself you sow, yes, and for yourself you reap, and for yourself, finally, that labour will engender joy.

tibi aras, tibi occas, tibi seris, tibi idem metis,
tibi denique iste pariet laetitiam labos.

71 occas Pylades: occasus B, occasis CD; item Guyet: eidem codd.; metis codd.: metes Muretus


Triflers in our Midst

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.18.1-2 (tr. Earnest Cary):
Oh, the great folly of these men who can think of uttering such nonsense, and our own great stupidity if, when they say such things, we show no displeasure, but submit to hearing them, as if we were consulting in the interest of our enemies and not out of ourselves and our country! Shall we not remove these triflers from our midst?

ὦ πολλῆς μὲν εὐηθείας τούτων οἷς ἐπὶ νοῦν ἔρχεται τοιαῦτα ληρεῖν, πολλῆς δ᾽ ἀναλγησίας ἡμῶν, εἰ τοιαῦτα λεγόντων αὐτῶν οὐκ ἀγανακτοῦμεν, ἀλλ᾽ ὑπομένομεν ἀκούειν, ὥσπερ ὑπὲρ τῶν πολεμίων, ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς πατρίδος βουλευόμενοι. οὐκ ἀνελοῦμεν ἐκ μέσου τοὺς φλυάρους;

Friday, May 19, 2023


Liberty and Freedom of Speech

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.5.3 (tr. Earnest Cary):
Or have you decided that both we and the rest of the Romans have so mean a spirit that we shall be content to be permitted to enjoy life on any terms whatever and will neither say nor do anything in favour of liberty and freedom of speech? Or are you intoxicated with the greatness of your power?

ἤ τοσαύτην κατεγνώκατε καὶ ἡμῶν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Ῥωμαίων ἀνανδρίαν ὥστ᾽ ἀγαπήσειν ἐάν τις ἐᾷ ζῆν ἡμᾶς ὁπωσδήποτε, ὑπὲρ ἐλευθερίας δὲ καὶ παρρησίας μήτ᾽ ἐρεῖν μήτε πράξειν μηθέν; ἢ μεθύετε τῷ μεγέθει τῆς ἐξουσίας;

πράξειν Syllburg: πράσσειν O: δράσειν Reiske


A Day of Grand Intellectual Feasting

Jean-Pierre Vernant, Preface to Louis Gernet (1888-1962), The Anthropology of Ancient Greece, tr. John Hamilton and Blaise Nagy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. vii-viii:
This man, who had so many things to transmit and who could have formed so many pupils, passed most of his life as a teacher of Greek prose composition on the Faculté des Lettres d'Alger. He was over sixty-five when he was able to come to the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes to speak about a subject dear to his heart, one about which he alone could speak. We were a handful who followed his seminars, and most of us were non-Hellenists. During these years, each Thursday morning was a festive day for us, a day of grand intellectual feasting. We saw him arrive with rapid and lively pace, this old man still full of youth; he was tall, with a fine face framed by a well-trimmed beard, and it seemed as if the great Poseidon, such as the figure seen in the Museum at Athens, were coming to us. As a sign of his nonconformism, he wore a black, round hat in the style of Blum, and the cravat of Lavalliere. He carried not a single lecture note; only a few references jotted down on a single sheet of paper. Penal law, testament, property, war, legends and cults of heroes, family and marriage, Orphism and religious sects, tragedy—it did not matter what the question was. Whatever it was, Gernet was at home in his subject, because he was at home in ancient Greece. Like an ethnologist who, beginning with the dawn of civilization, sets out to a distant land, he would never abandon his quest, and would understand the people from within and from without, with the twofold perspective of native and foreigner. Louis Gernet had read everything; in all the areas of Hellenism, his knowledge was faultless. This knowledge went far beyond ours, but it never crushed or paralyzed us. There was not a shadow of pedantry in this learned man, who considered erudition only a means, a tool with which to pose the problems correctly and to discover each time answers that were better nuanced than before. We used to debate every subject freely in his presence, and I cannot think of a better eulogy for him than this: none of us ever feared to lose face because of some error or silly mistake. He rescued us from our own mistakes, gave us direction, and informed us. Our shortcomings were mere trifles in his eyes. The research he pursued continually looked far beyond.



Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 38.4 (1917) 454-460 (at 457-458):
Lysias is to me a name to conjure with, and I hope I shall be pardoned for recalling the part the son of Kephalos has played in my life—for my living has also been my life, as it is with all real teachers of Greek. Yes—the name itself has interested me, and some years ago, forgetting my favourite quotation 'non omnis aetas, Lyde, ludo convenit', I set up a mock defence of Teichmüller's identification of the Dionysodoros of Plato's Euthydemus with Lysias. Lysias, I said, is evidently the short for Lysanias, the name of his grandfather, and I propounded the equation Λυσανίας = Λυαίος = Διόνυσος—a winged word which was promptly hawked at by a mousing owl of a German reviewer.1 My first acquaintance with Lysias goes back to 1850, when I bought out of my scant allowance a copy of the Berlin ed. of the Attic orators, to find alas! as I went on in my studies that I had been swindled by somebody. A leaf of the Παναθηναϊκός of Isokrates had taken the place of a leaf of the Περὶ παραπρεσβείας of Demosthenes. This is no solitary experience in the case of German editions, and I have occasionally registered a complaint (e.g. A.J.P. VIII 119). The mention of those Berlin days calls up the image of Johannes Franz (Φρασικλῆς) who admitted me to his Schola Graeca and gave me the name Χρυσοβραχίων. He too is a Lysianic reminiscence, for he edited Lysias in the year in which I was born. For years my favourite edition was the pretty pocket-edition by Westermann, which I proceeded to disfigure by marginal and other notes. It perished, to my sorrow, in the flood of water turned upon my library at the time of the Johns Hopkins fire. The scholar to whom I owe my first introduction to Lysias was Rauchenstein, the same who helped me in my first studies of Pindar. It may seem strange to some that the same man should have been an enthusiastic student of two authors so diverse as Lysias and Pindar (A.J.P. XXIV 108), but such a one has never considered the processes of wine-taster and tea-taster. Somewhere in the 'to-hu bo-hu' of my MSS there is a Greek exercise-book, based on Lysias, a safer model than Xenophon. Fifty years ago when a local Sir Oracle said to me that his test of Greek scholarship was a mastery of Pindar and Athenaeus, I ventured to remark that my test was an honest enjoyment of Lysias.

1 A.J.P. XXXV 364.



Benedict Beckeld, Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations (Ithaca: Northern Illinois University Press, an Imprint of Cornell University Press, 2022), pp. ix-x:
My gratitude is also for those oikophobes, far too numerous to list by name, both young and old, who have littered my life's path, especially within the halls of academia but also without. These people—old professors jaded by years of groupthink isolation, semiliterate youngsters unwittingly repeating the already tired prejudices of the narrow time and place in which they were born—have all strongly provoked me with their lofty assumptions, with the innocent sweetness of their most precious convictions, and they have offered me more material than would have been available in even the best of libraries. I thank them all.


A Ghost Word

Ronald Syme, "Names and Identities in Quintilian," in his Roman Papers, V (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 630-638 (at 632, on the rhetor Cartorius Proculus):
Festus cites him for the words 'procastria', 'topper', 'tentippellium'.14

14 Festus 225; 482; 500 (ed. Lindsay).
For tentippellium read tentipellium, meaning "A device for stretching skins or leather" (Oxford Latin Dictionary).


Thursday, May 18, 2023


Glory to God

Bacchylides, Victory Odes 3.15-22 (tr. David A. Campbell):
The temples abound in feasts where cattle are sacrificed, the streets abound in hospitality; and gold shines with flashing light from the high elaborate tripods standing in front of the temple where the Delphians tend the great sanctuary of Phoebus by the waters of Castalia. Let God, God be glorified; that is the best of prosperities.

βρύει μὲν ἱερὰ βουθύτοις ἑορταῖς,        15
βρύουσι φιλοξενίας ἀγυιαί·
λάμπει δ᾽ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς ὁ χρυσὸς
    ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων σταθέντων
πάροιθε ναοῦ, τόθι μέγιστον ἄλσος
Φοίβου παρὰ Κασταλίας ῥεέθροις        20
Δελφοὶ διέπουσι. θεόν, θεόν τις
    ἀγλαϊζέτω, ὁ γὰρ ἄριστος ὄλβων.
Campbell ad loc.:



Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 38.4 (1917) 454-460 (at 455):
Very much alive are these ancients.


Sans End

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, XXIV (tr. Edward FitzGerald):
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
    Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!


Sit Down and Shut Up

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.4.5 (Appius Claudius speakimg; tr. Earnest Cary):
This is not your turn, Valerius, and it is not fitting for you to speak now. But when these senators who are older and more honoured than you have delivered their opinions, then you also will be called upon and will say what you think proper. For the present be silent and sit down.

οὐχ οὗτος ὁ τόπος, εἶπεν, ὦ Οὐαλέριε, σός, οὐδὲ προσήκει σοι νῦν λέγειν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν οἵδε οἱ πρεσβύτεροι καὶ τιμιώτεροί σου γνώμην ἀγορεύσωσι, τότε καὶ σὺ κληθεὶς ἐρεῖς ὅ τι σοι δοκεῖ· νῦν δὲ σιώπα καὶ κάθησο.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


The Infinite

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständniß des West-östlichen Divans" (tr. Martin Bidney):
Poetry if you would know,
To its country you must go;
If the poet you would know,
To the poet's country go.

Wer das Dichten will verstehen,
muß ins Land der Dichtung gehen;
wer den Dichter will verstehen,
muß in Dichters Lande gehen.

Dear Mike,

Herewith another instance perhaps of Goethe's dictum about knowledge of a poet's country:

Iain McGilchrist, The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World, Vol. II (London: Perspectiva Press, 2021), p. 830:
Always dear to me has been this lonely hill,
    and this line of trees which, from so much
    of the furthest horizon, hides my view.
Yet as I sit and gaze, in my thoughts
    I conjure up boundless spaces far beyond it,
    and superhuman silences,
    and deepest quiet — until my heart
    almost grows afraid. And I hear the wind push
Through the trees, I cannot help setting its sound against
    that infinite silence; and the eternal envelops me
    with the thought of seasons long past
    And of all the living present and its sounds.
Then in this immensity my thought goes under,
    And sweet is it to me to drown in such a sea.63

63 Leopardi, 'L'infinito', trans Nigel McGilchrist [the author's brother], who comments: 'it is conventional to translate siepe as a hedgerow, which is exactly what it means in current Italian usage. But in older garden-design tracts siepe is often used to mean a "break of trees". Since the land drops sharply below the spot in Recanati where Leopardi is said to have composed the poem, only a line of tall trees rising from further down the slope, rather than a hedgerow, would effectively occlude his view.'
The Italian original:
Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle,
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte
dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quïete
io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco
il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
infinito silenzio a questa voce
vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
e le morte stagioni, e la presente
e viva, e 'l suon di lei. Così tra questa
immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
e 'l naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.
Luca Morri, I Luoghi leopardiani (Il Colle dell'Infinito):
Il colle, celebrato nell'idillio omonimo, era meta delle passeggiate di Giacomo che vi accedeva direttamente dal giardino di casa, passando attraverso l'orto del convento di Santo Stefano e lì usava soffermarsi per godere lo splendido vastissimo panorama, dal monte al mare.
I've never been to Recanati unfortunately but the photograph here gives a hint of the declivity involved. Siepe as a break of tall trees would seem to make more sense too in the context of "odo stormir tra queste piante".
Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

I see that Jonathan Galassi translates siepe here as hedgerow.


Learning from the Past

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 10.51.3 (tr. Earnest Cary):
For that state is best governed which adapts itself to circumstances, and that man is the best counsellor who expresses his opinion without regard to personal enmity or favour but with a view to the public advantage; and those persons deliberate best concerning the future who take past events as examples of those that are to come.

κράτιστα γὰρ οἰκεῖται πόλις ἡ πρὸς τὰ πράγματα μεθαρμοττομένη, καὶ συμβούλων ἄριστος ὁ μὴ πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν ἔχθραν ἢ χάριν, ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὸ κοινῇ συμφέρον ἀποδεικνύμενος γνώμην· βουλεύονταί τ᾽ ἄριστα περὶ τῶν μελλόντων οἱ παραδείγματα ποιούμενοι τὰ γεγονότα τῶν ἐσομένων.
μὴ πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν ἔχθραν ἢ χάριν reminds me of Tacitus' sine ira et studio.


The Tar-Pot of English Literature

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 38.3 (1917) 333-342 (at 334):
There is an old story which in old days I loved to embroider for my intimates, that in a circle of devout Emersonians the hierophant read aloud a sentence in which the seer declared Chaucer to be the 'tar-pot' of English literature. The mystic word was variously interpreted by various members until one skeptical soul demanded to see the text wherein was written not 'tar-pot' but 'tap-root'. The same process goes on everywhere in exegesis.


Affirmative Nescire

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Sudelbücher A 5 (my translation):
If someone thinks he understands something that he doesn't (the normal procedure of metaphysicians), one can call this positive ignorance.

Wenn man, wie die Metaphysiker oft verfahren, glaubt man verstehe etwas, das man nicht versteht, so kann man dieses nennen affirmative nescire.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


Unfaithful to Sophocles

Sophocles, Oedipus the King 1011 (tr. Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay):
I am afraid, afraid
Apollo's prediction will come true, all of it,
as god's sunlight grows brighter on a man's face at dawn
when he's in bed, still sleeping,
and reaches into his eyes and wakes him.

ταρβῶν γε μή μοι Φοῖβος ἐξέλθῃ σαφής.
Richard C. Jebb's translation:
Aye, I dread lest Phoebus prove himself true for me.
The fault lies with Berg, not Clay. I owe my knowledge of this mess to a review by Bernard Knox.

Cf. Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Andrew F. West, ed., Value of the Classics (Princeton: Princetin University Press, 1917), p. 233:
It seems to me that people who think they are enjoying Euripides, for instance, in the charming translations that we know, probably are getting their pleasure from a modern atmosphere that is precisely what is not in the original.


Exulting in a Massacre

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 38.3 (1917) 333-342 (at 334):
In the medley of books with which my cage is littered there is a volume bound in pigskin, that wonderful material which is proof against superheated houses and noxious gases,—M.A. Mureti Orationes, Epistolae Hymnique Sacri, Lipsiae, Sumptibus Viduae Gothofredi Grossii MDCLX, acquired in the early days when I had a mania for Latin composition, an art in which Muretus was a past master. I soon tired of Muretus and his elegances. Justus Lipsius was more to my native bad taste. Perhaps I was prejudiced against Muretus because in one of his letters he warned young scholars against the art of dipping in which Andrew Lang was to shew himself such an adept, an art without which there would have been no joy in my own life. If some of my friends think that I have lost myself in Brief Mention, others are of the opinion that I have found myself there. And what else, pray, are Muretus' own 'Variae Lectiones'? Now apropos of the commonplace as to the divergent points of view, which I have been illustrating, one of Muretus' orations came up to my mind. Not long ago I was looking with undisguised horror at the Lusitania medal—horror heightened by the sight of the wonderful model of the boat, when I bethought me of the words in which Muretus extolled what some people still call the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. And this is the way in which the gentle humanist, who was capable of writing affectionate letters, almost deliquescent letters, to his young friends, spoke of that dreadful night: 'Qua nocte stellas equidem ipsas luxisse nitidius arbitror et flumen Sequanae maiores undas volvisse quo citius illa impurorum hominum cadavera evolveret et exoneraret in mare.' And then we are told not to believe in the wholesale butchery of the Peloponnesian War and taught to juggle with the Greek numerals.
A translation of this oft-quoted sentence from Muretus is probably superflous, but nevertheless:
On which night I think the stars themselves shone the brighter, and the River Seine rolled greater waves the quicker to remove and unload into the sea those corpses of foul men.
The sentence occurs in Muretus' Oration XXII (Post Lanienem Parisiensem, addressed to Pope Gregory XIII), vol. I, p. 229 of the Tauchnitz edition of his Orationes.

David Irving, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of George Buchanan, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1817), p. 64 (on Muretus):
[H]is elaborate encomium on the massacre of St. Bartholomew must be remembered to his eternal infamy. The guilt of those execrable politicians who produced this unparalleled scene of butchery, is hardly to be compared to that of the enlightened scholar who could calmly extol so damnable a deed.
Walter Savage Landor, "King James I and Isaac Casaubon," Imaginary Conversations:
Medals were coined by order of Gregory XIII. to commemorate Saint Bartholomew's day: on one side is the pope, on the other is the slaughter. He commanded it also to be painted in the Vatican, where the painting still exists. In popes no atrocity is marvellous or remarkable; but how painful is it to find a scholar like Muretus exulting in a massacre!
Gildersleeve was partly Huguenot by extraction, and Huguenots were the victims of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.


A Greek Limerick on C.M. Bowra by Douglas Young

Ward Briggs, "Douglas Young, Hellenist," Studies in Scottish Literature 47.2 (2021) 113-132 (at 116):
Βάβαξ τις ὀνόματι Βαῦρα
ἐπίσταθ' Ἑλληνικὰ παῦρα,
   καὶ ταῦτα κακῶς,
   ἔγραψε δ' ὅμως
βιβλία πολλὰ καὶ φλαῦρα.

8 "A certain chatterer named Bowra / knew few things Greek / and those very things badly, / he nonetheless wrote / books both numerous and bad." In 1938, when Bowra was named Warden of Wadham, Young made an author's emendation in the first line to Φύλαξ τις… ("A certain guardian…").
Thanks to Gonzalo Jerez Sánchez for correcting a Greek accent (a typographical error in the article).


Labor and Sorrow

Psalms 90:10 (KJV):
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Monday, May 15, 2023


Cleopatra's Complexion

Adrian Goldsworthy, Antony and Cleopatra (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), page numbers unknown (from Chapter IX):
The poet Lucan is the only ancient author to make any reference at all to the queen's complexion. It comes in a scene emphasising the ambition of the queen, the decadent luxury of her court and overpowering ambition of Julius Caesar. He depicts Cleopatra wearing a dress of silk, the material brought originally from China having been rewoven to make it finer and semi-translucent. Such a filmy garment is reminiscent of Ptolemy Physcon. In this case Lucan talks of it revealing much of Cleopatra's 'white breasts' (candida pectora). Lucan wrote in Rome some ninety years after the queen's death and it is hard to know whether or not he had seen accurate images of her appearance, let alone her colouring. Much of his poem is highly fanciful. In addition, candida normally means white or fair — and in the case of hair can mean blonde — and this begs the question of white or light in comparison to what? Earlier in the same passage he talks of the variety of slaves attending to the guests, contrasting blondes with ruddy complexions (or just possibly red hair) from northern Europe, with dark slaves with curly hair from Africa. This could perhaps imply that Cleopatra was not like either of these in her own appearance, but that is surely pushing the evidence too far. The whole passage is a slender reed on which to rest confident assertions about Cleopatra's appearance.20

Apart from this, there is not a shred of evidence about Cleopatra's complexion or the colour of her eyes or hair. This is worth stating bluntly, because so many people keep trying to deduce these or claim to have discovered evidence. At the time of writing two separate TV documentaries have presented reconstructions presenting her as relatively dark-skinned and with brown eyes and black hair. This is all conjecture. As we have seen, there is uncertainty about the identity of Cleopatra's mother and grandmother (or indeed grandmothers if her parents were not siblings).21

The Ptolemies were Macedonians, with an admixture of a little Greek and via marriage with the Seleucids a small element of Syrian blood. (There is no evidence to make us question the paternity of any of the line and suggest that they were the product of an illicit liaison between the queen and a man other than her husband. This remains possible, if not very likely, but an uncertain basis for any argument.) The Macedonians were not an homogenous people and seem to have varied considerably in appearance and colouring. Alexander the Great was fair-haired, although it is always difficult to know precisely what this meant. A Roman copy of an earlier mosaic shows him with medium-brown hair. Fair might simply mean not black or very dark brown. On the other hand, several of the early Ptolemies were blond and comparisons of their hair to gold suggest this was more than simply not black-haired.

For most of the Ptolemies, including Auletes, there is no mention of the shade of their hair or the colour of their eyes. It is unclear how common blond hair was in the family. (If Cleopatra's mother was a mistress then we know nothing at all about her appearance or ethnic background, although the probability would always be that she was from the Greek or Macedonian aristocracy.) A painting from Herculaneum in the Bay of Naples, which shows a woman wearing the headband of a Hellenistic queen, has sometimes been identified as Cleopatra. She has dark, distinctly red hair. This is not impossible, but there is actually no very strong reason to believe that the image is supposed to be Cleopatra.22

Absolutely nothing is certain. Cleopatra may have had black, brown, blonde, or even red hair, and her eyes could have been brown, grey, green or blue. Almost any combination of these is possible. Similarly, she may have been very light skinned or had a darker more Mediterranean complexion. Fairer skin is probably marginally more likely given her ancestry. Greek art traditionally represented women and goddesses as very pale, and a fair skin seems to have been part of the ideal of beauty. Roman propaganda never suggested that Cleopatra was dark-skinned, although this may simply mean that she was not exceptionally dark or simply that the colour of her skin was not important to her critics.

20 Lucan, Pharsalia 10.127-143; Candida Sidonio perlucent pectora filo, quod Nilotis acus impressum pectine serum, solvit et extenso laxavit stamina velo, 10.140-142.

21 These were Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer (Lion TV) shown on BBC television in the UK, and an episode on Cleopatra from the series Egypt Unwrapped (Atlantic TV) shown on Channel 5 in the UK.

22 See J. Fletcher, Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend (2008), p. 87, and Walker & Higgs (2001), pp. 314-315, n. 325.



Turtles seen yesterday:
Thanks to Mrs. Laudator for taking the photograph.


Meaningless Words

Plautus, Casina 347 (tr. Wolfgang de Melo, with his note):
I wouldn't buy that kind of talk for total tripe.9

non ego istuc uerbum empsim tittibilicio.

9 According to Fulgentius (serm. ant. 117. 13–16 Helm), tittibilicium refers to dirty threads in weaving. Paul the Deacon (p. 504 Lindsay) thinks that the word has no meaning.
Rudolf Helm, ed., Fabii Planciadis Fulgentii V.C. Opera (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1908), p. 117 (Expositio Sermonum Antiquorum ad Calcidium 20):
Tittiuilicium dici uoluerunt fila putrida quae de telis cadunt; ut Plautus in Cassina ait: 'Non ego hoc rerbum empsim tittiuilicio', id est re admodum uilissima. Nam et Marcus Cornutus in satyra sic ait: 'Tittiuiles Flacce do tibi'.
Wallace M. Lindsay, ed., Sexti Pompei Festi De verborum significatu quae supersunt cum Pauli epitome (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1913), p. 504:
Tittibilicium nullius significationis est, ut apud Graecos βλίτυρι et σκινδαψός. Plautus (Cas. 347) „non ego istud verbum empsi cum tittibilicio.”
See Pedro Redondo Reyes, "Nuevas consideraciones sobre las ἄσημοι φωναί: βλίτυρι, σκινδαψός, κνάξ et similia," Myrtia: Revista de Filología Clásica 31 (2016) 291-316.

Related posts:


A Phrase in Pindar

Pindar, Isthmian Odes 2.6-8 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
The Muse in those days was not mercenary nor worked for hire,
nor was the sweetness of Terpsichore's honeyed singing for sale
nor her songs with faces silvered over for their soft utterance.

ἁ Μοῖσα γὰρ οὐ φιλοκερδής πω τότ᾽ ἦν οὐδ᾽ ἐργάτις·
οὐδ᾽ ἐπέρναντο γλυκεῖαι μελιφθόγγου ποτὶ Τερψιχόρας
ἀργυρωθεῖσαι πρόσωπα μαλθακόφωνοι ἀοιδαί.
Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 38.1 (1917) 110-117 (at 110):
I have grateful memories of Mr. PATON'S other work and especially of his striking illustration of the famous dictum of Goethe that a knowledge of the poet's country is essential to the understanding of the poet himself. Pindar's ἀργυρωθεῖσαι πρόσωπα μαλθακόφωνοι ἀοιδαί (I. 2, 8) lay hid in night until Mr. PATON published a paper in the Classical Review (June 1888, p. 180) from which it appeared that the personified songs, like Eastern dancers, 'plastered their faces with silver coins'. This paper was followed by J.G. Frazer in the C.R. for Oct. of the same year, p. 261; and in A.J.P. XXX 358 I gave yet another illustration from Hichens's Garden of Allah. Of this evident explanation, Sir John Sandys has nothing better to say than 'Probably'. Eastern dancers, after all, he might urge, are not Greek dancers and Goethe's dictum does not apply with full force. But Southern Italy is Magna Graecia and it is interesting to read in Briggs's 'In the Heart of Italy' that in Lecce 'every guest that danced with the bride gave her a handkerchief or a piece of silver. In the latter case she spat on it and stuck it on her forehead.' Now Lecce is not far from Calimera and Thumb has given us a specimen of the Greek of Calimera, recorded by Morosi and Comparetti. The origin of the custom may be Eastern, the tradition is certainly Greek. An interpretation based on actual vision carries or ought to carry conviction, and I am sorry that Sir John Sandys is not quite convinced.

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