Sunday, March 03, 2024


Jeremy Taylor's First Law of Friendship

Cedric C. Brown, Friendship and its Discourses in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 215 (quoting Taylor):
1. That the first law of friendship is, they must either ask of their friend what is indecent; nor grant it if themselves be asked. For it is no good office to make my friend more vicious or more a fool; I will restrain his folly, but not nurse it. . . . I should be unwilling my friend should know I am vicious; but if he could be brought to minister to it, he is not worthy to be my friend: and if I could offer it to him, I do not deserve to clasp hands with a virtuous person.
Surely "either" here is a misprint for "neither".



Haute Vulgarisation

M.I. Finley (1912-1986), The Use and Abuse of History (New York: The Viking Press, 1975), p. 212, with note on p. 246:
The mandarins should perhaps be reminded that at the University of Berlin the patron saint of twentieth-century classical scholarship, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, gave two-hour public lectures every week which were events in the life of the city. 'Philology,' he once wrote, 'is for philologists; whatever is immortal in Hellenism is for every man who wishes to come, to see and to grasp.'64

64. Quoted from Hölscher, Chance des Unbehagens p. 24.
Wilamowitz, Reden und Vorträge, 3. Aufl. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1913), p. 3:
Die Philologie für die Philologen: das Hellenentum, das was darin unsterblich ist, für jedermann, der kommen, sehen, erfassen will.


A Pleasure Greater Than Reading

The Council of Love at Remiremont, lines 121-126 (the nun Adeleyt speaking; tr. Reuben R. Lee):
From the time when I was first able, I have always kept this style of life,
and I desire always to do so while I shall still be able,
to serve the knights that serve me.

Indeed such a pursuit pleases me more than the psalter,
union with such men pleases me more than reading.
For the sake of union with them, I place small value on our rule.

Semper, ex quo potui,    sectam illam tenui,
et semper desidero,    dum habere potero,
seruire militibus    mihi seruientibus.

Tale uero studium    magis quam psalterium,
talibus me iungere    placet plus quam legere.       125
Propter horum copulam    parui pendo regulam.

Saturday, March 02, 2024



M.I. Finley (1912-1986), The Use and Abuse of History (New York: The Viking Press, 1975), pp. 15-16, with note on p. 215:
Timelessness is reflected in still another way, in the individual characters. Death is one main topic of their lives (along with honour from which it is inseparable), and fate is often the chief propelling power. In that sense they live in time, but in no other way. It ought not escape any reader of the Odyssey that when the hero returns after twenty years, he and Penelope are exactly what they were half a generation earlier. It escaped Samuel Butler, to be sure, when he wrote: 'There is no love-business in the Odyssey except the return of a bald elderly married man to his elderly wife and grown-up son after an absence of twenty years, and furious at having been robbed of so much money in the meantime. But this can hardly be called love-business; it is at the utmost domesticity.'11

The poet does not say that Odysseus was bald and elderly; Butler says it, and this is presumably what he called reading the Homeric lines 'intelligently' by reading 'between them'. It goes against common sense and 'intelligence' for Odysseus not to be bald and elderly by the time of his return. The flaw—and Samuel Butler is only a convenient whipping-boy for a frequent practice—is to apply modern historical thinking in the guise of common sense to a mythical, non-historical tale. Historical husbands and wives grow old, but the plain fact is that neither Odysseus nor Penelope has changed one bit; they have neither developed nor deteriorated, nor does anyone else in the epic. Such men and women cannot be figures in history: they are too simple, too self-enclosed, too rigid and stable, too detached from their backgrounds. They are as timeless as the story itself.

11. The Humour of Homer and Other Essays, ed. R.A. Streatfeild (London 1913) p. 77. Perhaps I should say that I have not the slightest doubt that in this lecture, delivered in 1892, Butler was speaking in earnest.
Archelaos of Priene, Apotheosis of Homer, crowned by Time and the World (London, British Museum, number 1819,0812.1; click once or twice to enlarge):
Andrew Stewart, Art in the Hellenistic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 135-136:
Apotheosis of Homer and the Mountain of the Muses, inscribed marble relief from Bovillae (Italy), signed by Archelaos of Priene, ca. 200-150, perhaps after a painting in the poet's shrine, the Homereion, at Alexandria. Time and the World crown Homer; the Iliad and Odyssey kneel beside him; Myth and History sacrifice to him; and personifications of the literary genres that he inspired (Poetry, Tragedy, and Comedy) and his work's core ingredients (Human Nature, Virtue, Mindfulness, Trustworthiness, and Wisdom) acclaim him. Time and the World, diademed, are identifiable as Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221-205) and Arsinoe III, who founded the Homereion. In the upper part, the nine Muses, Memory (their mother), and Zeus (at top), are joined by Apollo (at center, holding his kithara) and a poet standing before a victory tripod (at right).

Dear Mike,

A couple of bones of contention:

1) “Perhaps I should say that I have not the slightest doubt that in this lecture, delivered in 1892, Butler was speaking in earnest.”

Consider how the passage goes on, as if Butler were summarising a cheap Victorian novel: “There is a charming young princess, Nausicaa, but though she affects a passing tenderness for the elderly hero of her creation as soon as Minerva has curled his bald old hair for him and titivated him up all over, she makes it abundantly plain that she will not look at a single one of her actual flesh and blood admirers.There is a leading young gentleman, Telemachus, who is nothing if he is not πεπνυμένος, or canny, well-principled, and discreet; he has an amiable and most sensible young male friend who says that he does not like crying at meal times—he will cry in the forenoon on an empty stomach as much as anyone pleases, but he cannot attend properly to his dinner and cry at the same time.” Hardly a man writing in dire earnest.

2) “neither Odysseus nor Penelope has changed one bit; they have neither developed nor deteriorated, nor does anyone else in the epic.”

True, it’s futile to speculate about Odysseus’s head of hair on his return to Ithaca, it being a “mythical, non-historical tale”. At 13.431-2, his stylist (Athene) leaves him glabrous, as well as playing havoc with his skin tone.

ξανθὰς δ᾽ ἐκ κεφαλῆς ὄλεσε τρίχας, ἀμφὶ δὲ δέρμα
πάντεσσιν μελέεσσι παλαιοῦ θῆκε γέροντος.

Then ten books later comes follicular restoration with interest:

αὐτὰρ κὰκ κεφαλῆς κάλλος πολὺ χεῦεν Ἀθήνη
μείζονά τ᾽ εἰσιδέειν καὶ πάσσονα· κὰδ δὲ κάρητος
οὔλας ἧκε κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας.
(Od. 23.156-8)

But at least one figure in the Odyssey has deteriorated. Without the pathos of ordinary human ageing, would the scene of Odysseus’s reencounter with his father be so poignant? After so many years’ absence Odysseus finds Laertes squalid and γήραϊ τειρόμενον (Od. 24.233)? He'd hardly say “ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα γῆρας / λυγρὸν ἔχεις” (249-50) if Laertes were just as he’d left him before setting out for Troy.

Remember too the ancient flea-bitten mutt whose life-span is mapped onto Odysseus’s absence, able to wag his tale but not to get up.

ἔνθα κύων κεῖτ᾽ Ἄργος, ἐνίπλειος κυνοραιστέων.
δὴ τότε γ᾽, ὡς ἐνόησεν Ὀδυσσέα ἐγγὺς ἐόντα,
οὐρῇ μέν ῥ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἔσηνε καὶ οὔατα κάββαλεν ἄμφω,
ἆσσον δ᾽ οὐκέτ᾽ ἔπειτα δυνήσατο οἷο ἄνακτος
(Od. 17.300-4)

Odysseus’s reaction (ὁ νόσφιν ἰδὼν ἀπομόρξατο δάκρυ (304)) betrays an acute sense of “living in time” and being aware of its passage.

Although Odysseus and Penelope change little, it’s as if they age by proxy in Laertes and Argos, or at least it is those two that carry the burden of dispelling the notion of timelessness.

So two cheers only for Finley.

Best wishes,

Eric [Thomson]

Friday, March 01, 2024


Our Age

E.R. Curtius (1886-1956), Essays on European Literature, tr. Michael Kowal (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 369:
The waste land, the desolate, barren, rocky, terrible land, is our age. This at any rate is one side of the symbol that cannot be ignored. It is an age of self-despair, in all its hopelessness, its deadly lassitude, its memories of the song and story and beauty of former ages which it is almost too ashamed of itself to dare to recall.


A Time to Keep Silence

Sophocles, Oedipus the King 569 (Creon speaking; tr. Oliver Taplin):
I've no idea. And when I do not know, I hold my tongue.

οὐκ οἶδ’· ἐφ’ οἷς γὰρ μὴ φρονῶ σιγᾶν φιλῶ.
Id. 1520:
When I'm short of knowledge, I don't idly chatter.

ἃ μὴ φρονῶ γὰρ οὐ φιλῶ λέγειν μάτην.



Terence, Heauton Timorumenos 563-564 (tr. John Barsby):
Didn't I see you just now putting your hand inside that woman's bosom?

vidin ego te modo manum in sinum huic meretrici
Prostitute (meretrici), not woman. Peter Brown's translation is closer to the Latin in that respect:
Did I see you just now putting your hand in over the breasts of that tart?

Thursday, February 29, 2024


Being Mistaken and Lying

Augustine, Sermons 133.4 (Patrologia Latina, vol. 38, col. 738; tr. Edmund Hill):
Now let me state very briefly the difference between being mistaken and lying. You are mistaken when you think what you say is true, and it's because you think it's true that you say it. However, if what you say when you are mistaken were true, you wouldn't be mistaken; if it were not only true, but you also knew it to be true, you wouldn't be lying. So you are mistaken, because it's untrue, and you think it's true; you only say it because you think it's true. There is error in human weakness, but there isn't any in a healthy conscience. But if ever you think that what you assert as true is in fact false, then of course you are lying.

Quid autem intersit inter falli et mentiri, breviter dico. Fallitur qui putat verum esse quod dicit, et quia verum putat, ideo dicit. Hoc autem quod dicit qui fallitur, si verum esset, non falleretur: si non solum verum esset, sed etiam verum esse sciret, non mentiretur. Fallitur ergo, quia falsum est, et verum putat; dicit autem nonnisi quia verum putat. Error est in humana infirmitate, sed non est in conscientiae sanitate. Quisquis autem falsum putat esse et pro vero asserit, ipse mentitur.
A good example of differentiae verborum.


Degrees of Affection

Homer, Odyssey 8.581-586 (tr. Peter Green):
Did some kinsman of yours, perhaps, lose his life before Ilion?
Some fine warrior, wife's father or son-in-law, those
who are closest to you after your own flesh and blood? Or was it
a comrade maybe, one especially dear to you,
this fine warrior? For in no way less than a brother
is he who's a comrade and whose mind embraces wisdom.

ἦ τίς τοι καὶ πηὸς ἀπέφθιτο Ἰλιόθι πρὸ
ἐσθλὸς ἐών, γαμβρὸς ἢ πενθερός, οἵ τε μάλιστα
κήδιστοι τελέθουσι μεθ᾽ αἷμά τε καὶ γένος αὐτῶν;
ἦ τίς που καὶ ἑταῖρος ἀνὴρ κεχαρισμένα εἰδώς,
ἐσθλός; ἐπεὶ οὐ μέν τι κασιγνήτοιο χερείων        585
γίγνεται, ὅς κεν ἑταῖρος ἐὼν πεπνυμένα εἰδῇ.
A.F. Garvie ad loc.:

Wednesday, February 28, 2024



Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.4.16 (tr. Hugh Tredennick, rev. Robin Waterfield):
Moreover, concord is accepted to be the greatest blessing in a State, and very commonly in a State the senate and aristocracy call upon the citizens to agree; and everywhere in Greece there is a law laid down that the citizens take an oath to agree, and everywhere this oath is taken. I presume that the purpose of this is not that the citizens may come to the same decision about plays, or praise the same musicians, or choose the same poets, or take pleasure in the same things, but that they may obey the laws; for it is when the inhabitants abide by these that countries become strongest and happiest, but without agreement a State cannot be well organized nor an estate well managed.

ἀλλὰ μὴν καὶ ὁμόνοιά γε μέγιστόν τε ἀγαθὸν δοκεῖ ταῖς πόλεσιν εἶναι καὶ πλειστάκις ἐν αὐταῖς αἵ τε γερουσίαι καὶ οἱ ἄριστοι ἄνδρες παρακελεύονται τοῖς πολίταις ὁμονοεῖν, καὶ πανταχοῦ ἐν τῇ Ἑλλάδι νόμος κεῖται τοὺς πολίτας ὀμνύναι ὁμονοήσειν, καὶ πανταχοῦ ὀμνύουσι τὸν ὅρκον τοῦτον· οἶμαι δ᾽ ἐγὼ ταῦτα γίγνεσθαι οὐχ ὅπως τοὺς αὐτοὺς χοροὺς κρίνωσιν οἱ πολῖται, οὐδ᾽ ὅπως τοὺς αὐτοὺς αὐλητὰς ἐπαινῶσιν, οὐδ᾽ ὅπως τοὺς αὐτοὺς ποιητὰς αἱρῶνται, οὐδ᾽ ἵνα τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἥδωνται, ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα τοῖς νόμοις πείθωνται. τούτοις γὰρ τῶν πολιτῶν ἐμμενόντων, αἱ πόλεις ἰσχυρόταταί τε καὶ εὐδαιμονέσταται γίγνονται· ἄνευ δὲ ὁμονοίας οὔτ᾽ ἂν πόλις εὖ πολιτευθείη οὔτ᾽ οἶκος καλῶς οἰκηθείη.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024


Play Your Part

Teletis Reliquiae, ed. Otto Hense, 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1909), p. 52 (tr. J.B. Bury):
Fortune is like a playwright who designs a number of parts — the shipwrecked man, the poor man, the exile, the king, the beggar. What the good man has to do is to play well any part with which Fortune invests him. You have been shipwrecked; very well, give a fine rendering of the part 'Shipwrecked man.' You were rich and have become poor. Play the part 'Poor man' as it ought to be played.

Ἡ τύχη ὥσπερ ποιήτριά τις οὖσα παντοδαπὰ ποιεῖ πρόσωπα, ναυαγοῦ, πτωχοῦ, φυγάδος, ἐνδόξου, ἀδόξου. δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα πᾶν ὅ τι ἂν αὕτη περιθῇ καλῶς ἀγωνίζεσθαι. ναυαγὸς γέγονας, εὖ τὸν ναυαγόν· πένης ἐξ εὐπόρου, εὖ τὸν πένητα.
For ἐνδόξου, ἀδόξου "of high esteem, of no esteem" is more literal than "the king, the beggar".

Monday, February 26, 2024


Without Limits

Terence, Heauton Timorumenos 483-485 (tr. John Barsby):
We're all worse when there are no restraints.
Everyone wants whatever comes into his head;
he doesn't weigh whether it is good or bad, he goes after it.

nam deteriores omnes sumus licentia.
quod quoique quomque inciderit in mentem volet,
neque id putabit pravom an rectum sit; petet.        485

484-485 secl. Bentley
More literally, "Everyone will want..." and "he won't weigh whether it is good or bad, he'll go after it."


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