Monday, April 24, 2017
All the Necessary Ingredients for a Political Career
You've got everything else a demagogue needs:
a repulsive voice, low birth, marketplace morals—
you've got all the ingredients for a political career.
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα σοι πρόσεστι δημαγωγικά,
φωνὴ μιαρά, γέγονας κακῶς, ἀγοραῖος εἶ·
ἔχεις ἅπαντα πρὸς πολιτείαν ἃ δεῖ.
If I Could Only Read
"If I could only read," he would say to August. "The rest of it doesn't matter. But if I could just read I'd be the happiest man in the world."The source (from p. 386) is Robert Allen Durr, "The Last Days of H.L. Mencken," Yale Review (Autumn, 1958), which is unavailable to me.
Philosophy and the Teaching of Philosophy
The idea of a conflict between philosophy and the teaching of philosophy goes back to my youth. I think I came across it in Charles Péguy, who said: "Philosophy doesn't go to philosophy classes," and certainly in Jacques Maritain, who wrote: "Thomist metaphysics is called 'Scholastic' after its most severe trial. Scholastic pedagogy is its own worst enemy: it always has to triumph over its intimate adversary, the professor." Ever since I started doing philosophy, I've always believed that philosophy was a concrete act, which changed our perception of the world, and our life: not the construction of a system. It is a life, not a discourse.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Much more than half of the matter the American newspapers print every day is interesting only to relatively small minorities, and it is thus no wonder that the average reader reads only a small part, and falls into the mental habit of taking that small part lightly. The more reflective reader goes further: he reads next to nothing, and believes the same amount precisely. Why should he read or believe more? Every time he alights upon anything that impinges upon his own field of knowledge he discovers at once that it is inaccurate and puerile. The essential difficulty here is that journalism, to be intellectually respectable, requires a kind of equipment in its practitioner that is necessarily rare in the world, and especially rare in a country given over to the superficial. He should have the widest conceivable range of knowledge, and he should be the sort of man who is not easily deluded by the specious and the fraudulent. Obviously, there are not enough such men to go round. The best newspaper, if it is lucky, may be able to muster half a dozen at a given moment, but the average newspaper seldom has even one. Thus American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominantly paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous, but its achievements are insignificant.
Even at its fundamental business of ascertaining and reporting what has happened in the world it fails miserably. Four-fifths of the so-called news it prints is dubious, and a very large proportion is downright false. Whenever a fraud with something to sell is afoot, whether in war or in peace, the great majority of journalists succumb to his blather very easily, for second- and third-rate men are always willing to follow anyone who has a loud voice, a cocksure manner, and a resilient conscience.
An Old Chinese Custom
In ancient China, women suffering from anger or grief would climb onto platforms specially constructed for them in the street, and there would give free rein to their fury or their lamentations. Such confessionals should be revived and adopted the world over, if only to replace the obsolete ones of the Church, or the ineffectual ones of various therapeutics.Not just for women, but for men, too.
Dans l'ancienne Chine, les femmes, lorsqu'elles étaient en proie à la colère ou au chagrin, montaient sur de petites estrades, dressées spécialement pour elles dans la rue, et y donnaient libre cours à leur fureur ou à leurs lamentations. Ce genre de confessionnal devrait être ressuscité et adopté un peu partout, ne fût-ce que pour remplacer celui, désuet, de l'Église, ou celui, inopérant, de telle ou telle thérapeutique.
This occasioned much snarling argument, till I put an end to the confusion and uproar by saying, "Friends, you must keep to orderly enquiry, as is the proper habit of educated people. You must therefore make an end of this disorderly, inconclusive contentiousness and each in turn exert yourself to defend your own opinion..."
πολλῶν οὖν ἀκρίτων ἀφυλακτουμένων λόγων τὸν συμμιγῆ καταπαύσας ἐγὼ θόρυβον, Ἄνδρες, εἶπον, ἑταῖροι, τῆς κατὰ κόσμον ἔχεσθε ζητήσεως, ὡς εὐπρεπὴς νόμος ἐστὶν παιδείας. ἀπαλλαγέντες οὖν τῆς ἀτάκτου καὶ πέρας οὐδὲν ἐχούσης φιλονεικίας ἐν μέρει ὑπὲρ τῆς αὐτὸς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἑκάτερος ἀποτείνασθε...
A Pervasive Despair
Anyone who tries to read the odes of Pindar and Bacchylides in the original Greek experiences at first a pervasive despair. Memorable words and phrases strike the ear; the narration of a myth intrigues; but the satisfaction of being able to understand another language and another's process of thought that draws us to the study of antiquity remains tantalizingly unattainable.Id., p. 3:
Much of the trouble derives from the way we go about reading this difficult literature, armed with dictionaries, surrounded by commentaries and translations.
[N]ot even experienced classicists can comfortably read Pindar and Bacchylides at "sight"...Related post: Difficulty of Pindar.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
The Desire to Know
While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning how to play a new tune on the flute. "What will be the use of that?" he was asked. "To know this tune before dying."
If I dare repeat this reply long since trivialized by the handbooks, it is because it seems to me the sole serious justification of any desire to know, whether exercised on the brink of death or at any other moment of existence.
Alors qu'on préparait la ciguë, Socrate était en train d'apprendre un air de flûte. "À quoi bon cela te servira-t-il?" lui demande-t-on. — "À savoir cet air avant de mourir."
Si j'ose rappeler cette réponse trivialisée par les manuels, c'est parce qu'elle me paraît l'unique justification sérieuse de toute volonté de connaître, qu'elle s'exerce au seuil de la mort ou à n'importe quel autre moment.
Reading the Gospels
One cannot read these Gospels too warily; there are difficulties behind every word.
Diese Evangelien kann man nicht behutsam genug lesen; sie haben ihre Schwierigkeiten hinter jedem Wort.
Friends Don't Let Friends Make Grammatical Errors
For one should not let a friend make a grammatical error, but instruct him how to avoid it.
οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρεπτέον σολοικίζοντι τῷ φίλῳ, ἀλλὰ διδακτέον ὅπως τοῦτο μὴ πείσεται.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Translation as Exercise
What is the excuse for translating a poem? Is not a poem by definition something that cannot be translated? Every word is immutable; every sound, once it has been brought into a poetic order, is immovable. Every language, like every land, has its own genius. I recall Elinor Wylie's words on turning Latin into English:
Alembics turn to stranger thingsElinor Wylie, as I recall it, wrote those lines only after spending some time trying to do what she had to admit in the end could not be done. And I have spent some time, over a period of twenty years, trying to turn, now Latin lines, now lines written in some speech derived from the Latin, into an English that could be read without displeasure and without distrust. I ought to have some excuse for an activity whose aim I have felt impelled to put down in these negative terms.
Strange things, but never while we live
Shall magic turn this bronze that sings
To singing water in a sieve.
The positive gain for the translator is that he keeps his pencil sharp. There are times with all of us when we are dull, when there is nothing within which wants to come out, and yet when, uneasy with idleness, we need to write, if only to keep the hand in. Translation is an excellent exercise; it is a test, I believe, which tries less the knowledge of the foreign speech than of our own. The limits of English cannot be accurately determined until we have ventured beyond its borders. We can compute our wealth at home the better for having been abroad.
How little the subject matters! It is the spirit that gives life! What stuffy and sickroom air arises from all that excited chatter about "redemption," love, blessedness, faith, truth, "eternal life"! Take, on the other hand, a really pagan book, e.g., Petronius, where fundamentally nothing is done, said, desired and valued but what by peevish Christian standards is sin, mortal sin even. And yet how pleasant is the purer air, the superior spirituality of its quicker pace, the liberated and overflowing strength that feels sure of the future! In the entire New Testament there is not one single bouffonnerie: but that fact refutes a book—
Wie wenig liegt am Gegenstand! Der Geist ist es, der lebendig macht! Welche kranke und verstockte Luft mitten aus all dem aufgeregten Gerede von »Erlösung«, Liebe, »Seligkeit«, Glaube, Wahrheit, »ewigem Leben«! Man nehme einmal ein eigentlich heidnisches Buch dagegen, z. B. Petronius, wo im Grunde nichts gethan, gesagt, gewollt und geschätzt wird, was nicht, nach einem christlich-muckerischen Wertmaaß, Sünde, selbst Todsünde ist. Und trotzdem: welches Wohlgefühl in der reineren Luft, der überlegenen Geistigkeit des schnelleren Schrittes, der freigewordenen und überschüssigen zukunftsgewissen Kraft! Im ganzen Neuen Testament kommt keine einzige Bouffonnerie vor: aber damit ist ein Buch widerlegt...
When two poets produce a hymn,
the Muses are wont to work strife between them.
τεκόντοιν θ᾿ ὕμνον ἐργάταιν δυοῖν
ἔριν Μοῦσαι φιλοῦσι κραίνειν.
476 τεκόντοιν θ᾿ ὕμνον Goram: τεκτόνοιν θ᾿ ὕμνοιν (vel -οι vel -οις) fere C
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Tests of a Civilization
For the South, whatever may be said, had at least passed those two tests which the French have devised for a civilization and to which they admit only themselves and the Chinese. It had devised a code of etiquette and created a native cookery.Id., p. 5:
For it is to be noted that the Confederacy, for all the brevity of its formal existence, achieved more surely the qualities of a nation than the enduring Republic has been able to do. There were more emotions shared; its soldiers knew how to speak to one another or without speaking to arrive at a common understanding. Their attitude toward life was alike, and when they faced death it was in the same way.Id., p. 6:
For when all is said and done, a myth is far more exciting to the mind than most discoveries of mere things.Id., p. 7:
But what distinguishes an aristocracy is that the government is directed in the interests of a class which acts together and whose individuals do not, as plutocrats do, destroy one another—and eventually the state—in a mean competition for privileges. It is this which gives it stability. A government by businessmen, as we have seen, not only corrupts government, but, being a cut-throat affair, frequently ends by destroying business.Id., p. 8:
What is necessary, if a tradition is to be carried on, is that it should be inculcated in children before they have acquired minds of their own. It is too late to teach a child morality at seven. And in modern America, where the parents have given up all hope of controlling their progeny and have thrust the moral task on the school—which, in the more modern classes, is now passing it on to the children themselves—we have not only a great number of unmannerly brats, but a constantly increasing host of youthful criminals.Id., p. 9:
The assumption commonly made in America is that the machine has so altered the present from the past that nothing our parents knew is of any use to us. The answer to that, which may be a futile one, is that had we retained our integrity as men, we should never have allowed mechanization to proceed so rapidly as to destroy all that accumulated wisdom. How meagre life is without it, needs no demonstration by me.
Political Leadership Today
No, political leadership's no longer a job for a man of education and good character, but for the ignorant and disgusting.
ἡ δημαγωγία γὰρ οὐ πρὸς μουσικοῦ
ἔτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἀνδρὸς οὐδὲ χρηστοῦ τοὺς τρόπους,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς ἀμαθῆ καὶ βδελυρόν.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
The Difference Between Irregular and Regular Verbs
But as for the Latin, Madame, you can really have no idea how muddled it is. The Romans would never have found time to conquer the world if they had been obliged first to learn Latin. Those happy people knew in their cradles the nouns with an accusative in -im. I, on the contrary, had to learn them by heart, in the sweat of my brow, but still it is well that I knew them. For if, for example, when I publicly disputed in Latin, in the College Hall of Göttingen, on the 20th of July 1825—Madame, it was well worth while to hear it—if, I say, I had said sinapem instead of sinapim, the blunder would have been evident to the Freshmen, and an endless shame for me. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis—these words, which have attracted so much attention in the world, effected this, because they belonged to a determined class, and yet were exceptions; on that account I value them highly, and the fact that I have them ready at my finger's ends when I perhaps need them in a hurry affords me in many dark hours of life much internal tranquillity and consolation. But, Madame, the verba irregularia—they are distinguished from the verbis regularibus by the fact that in learning them one gets more whippings—are terribly difficult. In the damp arches of the Franciscan cloister near our school-room there hung a large crucified Christ of grey wood, a dismal image, that even yet at times marches through my dreams and gazes sorrowfully on me with fixed bleeding eyes—before this image I often stood and prayed, "Oh thou poor and equally tormented God, if it be possible for thee, see that I get by heart the irregular verbs!"Hat tip: Ian Jackson.
I will say nothing of Greek; I should irritate myself too much. The monks of the Middle Ages were not so very much in the wrong when they asserted that Greek was an invention of the devil. Lord knows what I suffered through it.
Was abei das Lateinische betrifft, so haben Sie gar keine Idee davon, Madame, wie das verwickelt ist. Den Römern würde gewiß nicht Zeit genug übrig geblieben sein, die Welt zu erobern, wenn sie das Latein erst hätten lernen sollen. Diese glücklichen Leute wußten schon in der Wiege, welche Nomina den Akkusativ auf -im haben. Ich hingegen mußte sie im Schweiße meines Angesichts auswendig lernen; aber es ist doch immer gut, daß ich sie weiß. Denn hätte ich z.B. den 20. Juli 1825, als ich öffentlich in der Aula zu Göttingen lateinisch disputierte — Madame, es war der Mühe wert, zuzuhören—hätte ich da sinapem statt sinapim gesagt, so würden es vielleicht die anwesenden Füchse gemerkt haben, und das wäre für mich eine ewige Schande gewesen. Vis, buris, sitis, tussis, cucumis, amussis, cannabis, sinapis—diese Wörter, die soviel Aufsehen in der Welt gemacht haben, bewirken dieses, indem sie sich zu einer bestimmten Klasse schlugen und dennoch eine Ausnahme blieben; deshalb achte ich sie sehr, und daß ich sie bei der Hand habe, wenn ich sie etwa plötzlich brauchen sollte, das gibt mir in manchen trüben Stunden des Lebens viel innere Beruhigung und Trost. Aber, Madame, die verba irregularia—sie unterscheiden sich von den verbis regularibus dadurch, daß man bei ihnen noch mehr Prügel bekömmt—, sie sind gar entsetzlich schwer. In den dumpfen Bogengängen des Franziskanerklosters, unfern der Schulstube, hing damals ein großer, gekreuzigter Christus von grauem Holze, ein wüstes Bild, das noch jetzt zuweilen des Nachts durch meine Träume schreitet und mich traurig ansieht mit starren, blutigen Augen—vor diesem Bilde stand ich oft und betete: »O du armer, ebenfalls gequälter Gott, wenn es dir nur irgend möglich ist, so sieh doch zu, daß ich die verba irregularia im Kopfe behalte.«
Vom Griechischen will ich gar nicht sprechen; ich ärgere mich sonst zuviel. Die Mönche im Mittelalter hatten so ganz unrecht nicht, wenn sie behaupteten, daß das Griechische eine Erfindung des Teufels sei. Gott kennt die Leiden, die ich dabei ausgestanden.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Rooted to the Land
I think it is the lonely, without a fireside or an affection they may call their own, those who return not to a dwelling but to the land itself, to meet its disembodied, eternal, and unchangeable spirit — it is those who understand best its severity, its saving power, the grace of its secular right to our fidelity, to our obedience. Yes! few of us understand, but we all feel it though, and I say all without exception, because those who do not feel do not count. Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.
Let Us Drink
Greetings to our king, our saviour and father1; and for us let the wine-pouring attendants mix the bowl from silver pitchers; and let him who holds in his hands the golden jug wash our hands on to the floor.2 Let us make holy libation to Heracles and Alcmena, to Procles and Perseus' descendants,3 beginning with Zeus, and let us drink and play; let the singing last all night, let there be dancing; begin the jollity with a will; and if any one has a shapely woman waiting to share his bed, he will drink more confidently than the rest.Gentili and Prato, edd., Poetae Elegiaci, 2nd ed., Vol. II (2002; rpt. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), pp. 65-66:
1 Dionysus or wine (cf. 'king wine' in 26.16) rather than the Spartan king.
2 Text of this sentence very insecure.
3 Ion lists the ancestors of the Spartan king Archidamus: Perseus was great-grandfather of Heracles (son of Alcmena), whose descendants, the Heracleidae, carried out the Dorian invasion of the Peloponnese; Procles established the Eurypontid line of kings. Jacoby, C.Q. 41 (1947) 9 dated the poem to 463/2, when Cimon led Athenian troops to help Archidamus against the Messenians; West, B.I.C.S. 32 (1985) 74 to c. 450, when Cimon was in Sparta to negotiate the 5-year truce.
χαιρέτω ἡμέτερος βασιλεὺς σωτήρ τε πατήρ τε·
ἡμῖν δὲ κρητῆρ᾿ οἰνοχόοι θέραπες
κιρνάντων προχύταισιν ἐν ἀργυρέοις· †ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς
οἶνον ἔχων χειρῶν νιζέτω εἰς ἔδαφος.†
σπένδοντες δ᾿ ἁγνῶς Ἡρακλεῖ τ᾿ Ἀλκμήνῃ τε, 5
Προκλεῖ Περσείδαις τ᾿ ἐκ Διὸς ἀρχόμενοι
πίνωμεν, παίζωμεν· ἴτω διὰ νυκτὸς ἀοιδή,
ὀρχείσθω τις· ἑκὼν δ᾿ ἄρχε φιλοφροσύνης.
ὅντινα δ᾿ εὐειδὴς μίμνει θήλεια πάρευνος,
κεῖνος τῶν ἄλλων κυδρότερον πίεται. 10
See Edmund Stewart, "Ion of Chios: The Case of a Foreign Poet in Classical Sparta."
The older I grow, the more I am persuaded that hedonism is the only sound and practical doctrine of faith for the intelligent man.