Thursday, December 31, 2015


A Little Breed

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), "Maud," part I, lines 126-131:
We are puppets, Man in his pride, and Beauty fair in her flower;
Do we move ourselves, or are we moved by an unseen hand at a game
That pushes us off from the board, and others ever succeed?
Ah yet, we cannot be kind to each other here for an hour;
We whisper, and hint, and chuckle, and grin at a brother's shame;        130
However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.


Classics in Translation

John St. Loe Strachey (1860-1927), The Adventure of Living: A Subjective Autobiography (1860-1922) (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1922), pp. 155-160:
Owing to having been forced to try to learn the Greek Grammar instead of reading the books written by the Greeks in a language which I could understand, I very nearly made an intellectual shipwreck. Indeed, it was only by a series of lucky accidents that I escaped complete ignorance of the Greek spirit, though retaining a certain knowledge of the grammar.

It was only after I had miserably squirmed my way through Mods., as a man may squirm through some hole in a prison wall, that I had the slightest idea of what was meant by the Greek spirit.

I closed my grammar, with all the miserable and complicated stuff about τύπτω and its aorists, the enclitic and the double-damned Digamma, to open my Jowett's Plato, my Dakyns' Xenophon, and, later, Gilbert Murray's Dramatists and Mackail's Anthology. It is true that in the squirming process I have described I had to read a portion of the Anabasis and of the Odyssey and Memorabilia, as well as books of Caesar, Livy, Horace, and Virgil.

In the case of these books I acquired nothing but a distaste so deep that it has only just worn off. Only after an interval of forty years could I bear to read these kill-joys in translation. No doubt some of the fault was mine. Possibly I was born with an inability to learn languages. But if that is so it is a misfortune, not a crime for which one should be put on the rack!

By the time I realised fully the glory of Greek letters, I was a very busy man, and bitter indeed was the thought that the well-meaning persons who maintain our university system had actually been keeping me all those years from the divine wells of grace and beauty. But for them, how many more years of enjoyment might I have drawn from the Socratic Dialogues, from the Apology, and from the Republic! Think of it! It was not till four years ago that I read Thucydides and had my soul shaken by the supreme wickedness, the intellectual devilry of the Melian controversy. How I thrilled at the awful picture of the supreme tragedy at Syracuse! How I saw! How I perished with the Greek warriors standing to arms on the shore, and watching in their swaying agony the Athenian ships sink one by one, without being able to lift a hand, or cast a long or short spear to help them! Yet the watchers knew that the awful spectacle on which they gazed meant death, or a slavery worse than death, for every one of them!

Almost worse to me than the denial of Plato, the dramatists, Thucydides, and Homer, was the refusal to allow me to walk or hunt with Xenophon, and to saunter through his kitchen or his grounds. And all because I could not show the requisite grammatical ticket. Could anything be more fascinating than the tale of Xenophon's prim yet most lovable young wife, or the glorious picture of the boy and girl lovers with which Xenophon closes his Symposium?

My sense of a deprivation unnecessary and yet deliberate was as great in regard to Latin literature. It was only in 1919, owing to what I had almost called a fortunate illness, that I took to reading Cicero's Letters and came under an enchantment greater than that cast even by Walpole, Madame de Sévigné, or Madame du Deffand.

For forty years I was kept in ignorance of a book which painted the great world of Rome with a touch more intimate than even that of St. Simon. Cicero in his Letters makes the most dramatic moment in Roman history, the end of the Oligarchic Republic, live before one. Even Macaulay's account of the Revolution of 1688 seems tame when called in comparison.

I know that by the time some Greek or Latin scholar has got as far as this he will ask with a smile,
Why is this self-dubbed ignoramus making all this pother about being deprived of the classics? Surely he cannot have failed to realise that it is impossible to understand and appreciate the classics properly without having learnt Latin and Greek? But you cannot learn Latin and Greek without learning the grammar. He not only on his own showing has no grievance, but is giving support to those who desire that the classics should remain the centrepiece of our educational system.
For all such objections I have one, and I think a final, argument. When people ask me how I propose to enjoy Plato without knowing Greek, I ask them to tell me, in return, how they manage to enjoy reading one of the greatest poets in the world, Isaiah, without knowing Hebrew. How have they found consolation in the Psalms; how have they absorbed the worldly wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; how have they read the lyric choruses of the Song of Solomon; how have they followed the majestic drama of the Book of Job? They read them in translations. That is the way in which they have filled their minds with the noble deeds and thoughts of the Hebrew history and Hebrew literature. That is the answer, the true answer, and the only answer.

A good, practical, commonsense proof of what I am saying is to be found in the fact that the ordinary man and also the man of brains who has gone through the good old fortifying classical curriculum, to quote Matthew Arnold once more, and who theoretically can read the great Greek and Latin authors in their own languages, and without translations, hardly reads them at all. Those who know that it is a translation or nothing will be found to be far closer and more constant readers of Plato and Thucydides. Certainly that is my case. To this day I find myself reading the Greek and Latin authors in translation when many of my friends, who took Honours Mods. and Honours Greats, would no more think of opening books which they are supposed to have read than they would attempt to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. The man with a classical education will still worry himself over an accidental false quantity or a wrongly-placed Greek accent, but it is extraordinary how seldom, unless he is a schoolmaster, you hear of him enjoying the classics or applying knowledge drawn from the classics to modern literature or to modern politics.

A further proof of this view, which I admit sounds strange, may be registered. The only man I have known who habitually read Greek in the original was Lord Cromer, and he had not had a classical education. He left a private day-school in London to go straight to Chatham, where he was prepared for entry into the artillery. And at Chatham they did not teach Greek. Therefore when, as a gunner subaltern, he went to the Ionian Islands on the staff of Sir Henry Storks, he was without any knowledge of Greek. He wanted, however, as he told me, to know modern Greek, as the language of the islands. Also, like the natural Englishman he was, to be able to talk with the Albanian hunters with whom he went shooting in the hills of the mainland. But when he had mastered enough modern Greek to read the newspaper and so forth, he began to wonder whether he could not use his knowledge to find out what Homer was like.

He very soon found out that he could read him as one reads Chaucer. From this point he went on till he made himself—I will not say a Greek scholar, but something much better—a person able to read Greek and enjoy it in the original. Throughout the period of my friendship with him, which lasted for nearly a quarter of a century, he was constantly reading and translating from Greek authors and talking about them in an intimate and stimulating way.

Once more, it is because I want people to study and to love classical literature and to imbibe the Greek spirit that I desire that the ordinary man should not be forced to grind away at Greek grammar when he might be getting in touch with great minds and great books. I am not blind, of course, to the gymnastic defence of the classics, though I do not share it. All I say is, do not let us make a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages a sine qua non in our educational system, on the ground that such knowledge brings the ordinary man into touch with the Greek spirit. It does nothing of the kind.



Walter Savage Landor, letter to Rose Paynter (June 5, 1840):
Take my word for it, if we fondle and pamper our griefs, they grow up to an unwieldy size and become unmanageable. Melancholy, which at first was only the ornament of a verse, becomes at last a habit and a necessity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Raving Politics

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), "Vastness," lines 3-4:
Raving politics, never at rest—as this poor earth’s pale history runs,—
What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?


A Reading Plan

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785):
It is time for you now to begin to be choice in your reading; to begin to pursue a regular course in it; and not to suffer yourself to be turned to the right or left by reading any thing out of that course. I have long ago digested a plan for you, suited to the circumstances in which you will be placed. This I will detail to you, from time to time, as you advance. For the present, I advise you to begin a course of antient history, reading every thing in the original and not in translations. First read Goldsmith's history of Greece. This will give you a digested view of that field. Then take up antient history in the detail, reading the following books, in the following order: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophontis Hellenica, Xenophontis Anabasis, Arrian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, Justin. This shall form the first stage of your historical reading, and is all I need mention to you now. The next, will be of Roman history*. From that, we will come down to modern history. In Greek and Latin poetry, you have read or will read at school, Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles. Read also Milton's Paradise Lost, Shakspeare, Ossian, Pope's and Swift's works, in order to form your style in your own language. In morality, read Epictetus, Xenophontis Memorabilia, Plato's Socratic dialogues, Cicero's philosophies, Antoninus, and Seneca.

* Livy, Sallust, Caesar, Cicero's epistles, Suetonius, Tacitus, Gibbon.


The Acquisition of Languages

Charlotte Smith (1749-1806), Rural Walks: In Dialogues. Intended for the Use of Young Persons (Philadelphia: Thomas Stephens, 1795), p. 77 (Mrs. Woodfield speaking):
[O]f all those acquirements, that are called accomplishments, there is none that, were I now a young person, would excite my ambition so much as the acquisition of languages. It not only makes a person useful on a thousand occasions, but enlarges their minds, and goes a great way towards curing them of narrow and disgraceful prejudices.


An Assigned Task

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), My Recollections, 1848-1914, tr. G.C. Richards (London: Chatto & Windus, 1930), p. 210:
[S]cholars are too apt to pursue only what pleases them, if possible also in their lectures. So each of them should at the outset have a task assigned to him, which he is to perform, because it has got to be performed. It must be finished, too, a chef-d'oeuvre in our craft.

[D]ie Gelehrten sind zu leicht geneigt, nur zu treiben, wozu sie Lust haben; womöglich auch in den Vorlesungen. Darum sollte jeder zu Anfang eine Aufgabe zugewiesen erhalten, die er machen soll, weil sie gemacht werden muß. Fertig werden muß sie auch: das Meisterstück in unserm Handwerk.
Cf. Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-1999), "Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Reflections of a Scholar," Speculum 52.1 (January, 1977) 1-4 (at 3):
Younger scholars may be encouraged to pursue scholarly desiderata, but should not be pressed to do so. Each individual scholar, young or old, has the right and the duty to pursue those subjects and problems that are of genuine interest to him. Each of them should stubbornly follow that natural curiosity which is the ultimate source and justification of our quest.
Wilamowitz was one of Kristeller's teachers.


On an Inferior Doctoral Thesis

Herbert H. Huxley (1916-2010), "On an Inferior Doctoral Thesis," Greece & Rome 20.1 (April, 1973) 78:
Hic nihil invenies dignum; surrepta priorum
   Ossa libellorum semisepulta iacent.
In English:
Here you will find nothing worthwhile; pilfered remains of previous pamphlets lie half-buried.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


A Reminder

B.L. Gildersleeve (1831-1924), "Brief Mention," American Journal of Philology 20.1 (1899) 108-113 (at 108):
With all our advance in scientific astronomy, the average modern man is not so familiar with the sky as was his antique brother, and some of the blunders in modern works of fiction that are scored from time to time in scientific journals would hardly have been possible for a ploughman of antiquity, not to say a sailor. The world needs every now and then a reminder that the modern head holds different things from the ancient brain-pan, not necessarily more.

Monday, December 28, 2015


December Chores

Gervase Markham (1568?-1637), Markhams farwell to Husbandry (London: Printed by I.B. for Roger Iackson, 1620), pp. 159-160:
In the moneth of December, put your sheepe and swine to the Pease reeks, and fat them for the slaughter and market; now kill your small Porks and large Bacons, lop hedges and trees, saw out your timber for building, and lay it to season, and if your land be exceeding stiffe, and rise vp in an extraordinary furrow, then in this moneth begin to plow vp that ground whereon you meane to sow cleane Beans onely, now couer your dainty fruit trees al ouer with canuase and hide al your best flowers from frost and stormes with rotten old horse litter; now draine al your corn-fields and as occasion shal serue, so water and keepe moyst your medows; now become the Fowler with piece, nets and al maner of engin, for in this moneth no foule is out of season: Now fish, for the Carpe, the Breame, Pyke, Tench, Barbel, Peale and Salmon. And lastly for your health, eate meates that are hot and nourishing; drinke good wine that is neat, sprighty and lusty, keep thy body wel clad, and thy house warme, forsake what soeuer is flegmatick, and banish al care from thy heart, for nothing is now more vnwholesome, then a troubled spirit.



E.V. Lucas (1868-1938), Fireside and Sunshine (London: Methuen & Co., 1906), p. 119:
And what, I seem to hear you ask, what are hartogs? Old clothes that are less imposing and more comfortable than any others are hartogs. To be old is not sufficient; nor is it enough that they are easy. To be hartogs they must combine both these merits. Good clothes when they grow baggy and faded become hartogs; bad clothes, never. Inferior and ill-fitting clothes become merely "old clo." The derivation of hartogs is a secret; but all philologists, and all who, like R.L. Stevenson, have a "love of lovely words," will recognise in the term a neologue of singular fitness and attraction. Think about it for a minute or two, and you will realise that clothes of the kind described above could not possibly be known in any other way. They are hartogs—just hartogs, and nothing else. Old clothes of the common type one thinks of without affection, but hartogs are beloved. Anything is good enough to cover nakedness; hartogs do more—they confer cheerfulness and irresponsibility, they fit the wearer for a freer life.


Inscriptions in Latin

James Boswell (1740-1795), Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (September 5, 1773):
I went into the church, and saw the monument of Sir James Macdonald, which was elegantly executed at Rome, and has the following inscription, written by his friend, George Lord Lyttelton....Dr. Johnson said, the inscription should have been in Latin, as every thing intended to be universal and permanent should be.
John Wilson Croker (1780-1857), note on this passage in his edition of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:
What a strange perversion of language!—universal! Why, if it had been in Latin, so far from being universally understood, it would have been an utter blank to one (the better) half of the creation, and, even of the men who might visit it, ninety-nine will understand it in English for one who could in Latin. Something may be said for epitaphs and inscriptions addressed, as it were, to the world at large—a triumphal arch—the pillar at Blenheim—the monument on the field of Waterloo; but a Latin epitaph, in an English church, appears, in principle, as absurd as the dinner, which the doctor gives in Peregrine Pickle, after the manner of the ancients. A mortal may surely be well satisfied if his fame lasts as long as the language in which he spoke or wrote.
Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (October 28, 1773):
By the side of the high road to Glasgow, at some distance from his house, he had erected a pillar to the memory of his ingenious kinsman, Dr. Smollet; and he consulted Dr. Johnson as to an inscription for it. Lord Kames, who, though he had a great store of knowledge, with much ingenuity, and uncommon activity of mind, was no profound scholar, had it seems recommended an English inscription. Dr. Johnson treated this with great contempt, saying, 'An English inscription would be a disgrace to Dr. Smollet;' and, in answer to what Lord Kames had urged, as to the advantage of its being in English, because it would be generally understood, I observed, that all to whom Dr. Smollet's merit could be an object of respect and imitation, would understand it as well in Latin; and that surely it was not meant for the Highland drovers, or other such people, who pass and repass that way.
Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Landor, English Visitor, and Florentine," Imaginary Conversations:
Florentine. I wish, sir, you would favor us with a Latin inscription for the tombs of the gentlemen whose names you mentioned, since the pathetic is not requisite in that species of composition.

Landor. Although I have written at various times a great number of such inscriptions, as parts of literature, yet I think nothing is so absurd if you only inscribe them on a tomb. Why should extremely few persons, the least capable perhaps of sympathy, be invited to sympathize, while thousands are excluded from it by the iron grate of a dead language? Those who read a Latin inscription are the most likely to know already the character of the defunct, and no new feelings are to be excited in them; but the language of the country tells the ignorant who he was that lies under the turf before them; and, if he was a stranger, it naturalizes him among them: it gives him friends and relations; it brings to him and detains about him some who may imitate, many who will lament, him. We have no right to deprive any one of a tender sentiment, by talking in an unknown tongue to him when his heart would listen and answer to his own: we have no right to turn a chapel into a library, locking it with a key which the lawful proprietors cannot turn.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


A Lover of Peace and Quiet

Theodoret, Letter 62 (tr. Blomfield Jackson):
A saying of one of the men who used to be called wise was, Live unseen. I applaud the sentiment, and have determined to confirm the word by deed, for I see no impropriety in gathering what is good from others, just as bees, it is said, gather their honey and draw forth the sweet dew from bitter herbs as well as from them that are good to eat, and I myself have seen them settling on a barren rock and sucking up its scanty moisture. Far more reasonable is it for them that are credited with reason to harvest what is good from every source; so, as I said, I try to live unseen, and above all men am I a lover of peace and quiet.
The Greek, slightly modified from Patrologia Graeca vol. 83, col. 1233 A-B:
τὸ 'λάθε βιώσας' εἴρηκε μέν τις τῶν πάλαι καλουμένων σοφῶν, ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν γνώμην ἐπαινέσας ἐβουλήθην ἔργῳ βεβαιῶσαι τὸν λόγον. οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀπεικὸς ᾠήθην ποιεῖν καὶ παρὰ τῶν ἄλλων συλλέγων τὸ χρήσιμον. καὶ γὰρ τὰς μελίττας φασὶν οὐκ ἀπὸ τῶν ἐδωδίμων μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν πικρῶν βοτανῶν, καὶ τὰ κηρία συλλέγειν καὶ τὴν γλυκεῖαν δρόσον ἀρύεσθαι. εἶδον δὲ ἔγωγε καὶ πέτραις ἀγόνοις ἐνιζανούσας καὶ τὴν νοτίδα τὴν ὀλίγην ἀνιμωμένας. πολλῷ δὲ δήπουθεν δικαιότερον τοὺς τῷ λόγῳ τετιμημένους πάντοθεν καρποῦσθαι τὴν ὠφέλειαν. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν, ὡς ἔφην, πειρῶμαι λανθάνειν καὶ πάντων μάλιστα τὴν ἡσυχίαν ἀσπάζομαι.
"One of the men who used to be called wise" — this is of course a reference to Epicurus, and the quotation (λάθε βιώσας = live unknown) is fragment 551 in Usener's Epicurea.


Would You Keep Reading?

Ada Palmer, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. xi:
If you were told that reading this book could send you to Hell, would you keep reading? If you believed that heresy was contagious, that you could acquire a lethal mental illness from contact with incorrect ideas, would you choose to study them? Would you cross dangerous mountain ranges searching for unorthodox texts, and spend years working to correct and copy them? Would you publish such a book, and put your name on the title page as you turned one copy of a dangerous contagion into a thousand? Would you risk prosecution for it? And would you go through all this to preserve a book whose fundamental claims you thought were wrong?


Thomas Fitz Hugh

Ward W. Briggs, Jr., article on Thomas Fitz Hugh in Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 184:
FITZ HUGH, Thomas. Born: 12 Oct. 1862, Longwood, VA, to William Henry & Mary Anne Harrison F. Married: Catherine Lefevre, 23 June 1902. Education: M.A. U. Virginia, 1883; study at Berlin, 1892-3, 1899-1902. Prof Exp.: Instr. Lat. Bingham's School (NC), 1881-2; prof. Lat. Central U. (Richmond, KY), 1881-2; first asst. Bellevue HS (VA), 1884-9; prof. Lat. U. Texas, 1889-99; prof. Lat. U. Virginia, 1901-27. Died: 1957.

Thomas Fitz Hugh was born of colonial Virginia stock and after a decade's sojourn in Austin, TX, returned to his old school as the hand-picked successor of Col. William E. Peters. In Charlottesville, he devoted himself to his accentual theory of Latin metrics, a theory he ingrained in his students and first published in 1909, but which he recanted late in his life. He edited the letters of his predecessor George Long and those on classical subjects by Thomas Jefferson.

PUBLICATIONS: The Philosophy of the Humanities (Chicago, 1897); The Outlines of a System of Classical Pedagogy (Berlin, 1900); The Sacred Tripudium, the Accentual and Rhythmic Norm of Italico-Romanic Speech and Verse (Charlottesville, 1909); The Literary Saturnian, the Stichic Norm of Italico-Keltic, Romanic, and Modern Rhythm (Charlottesville, 1910); Indoeuropean Rhythm (Charlottesville, 1912); The Letters of George Long (Charlottesville, 1917); The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Concerning Philology and the Classics (Charlottesville, 1918).
Although I'm unqualified to judge, Fitz Hugh (also spelled FitzHugh or Fitz-Hugh) seems to have been a bit of a crank, ignored or mocked by other scholars for his heterodox metrical theories. Most of his publications appeared in the Bulletin of the School of Latin, University of Virginia (Charlottesville). I've compiled the following list, but I haven't seen some of the publications, and I can't guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the list:
A few other publications by Fitz Hugh not published in the Bulletin of the School of Latin:
The "J. Fraser" who unfavorably reviewed a couple of Fitz Hugh's works was (I think) John Fraser (1882-1945), Professor of Celtic, Jesus College, Oxford, from 1921 until his death. Here is an excerpt from one of Fraser's reviews (Classical Review 38 [1924] 45):
[T]he details of Professor Fitzhugh's theory have really nothing to support them. The introduction into the argument of the hypothesis of an Italo-Celtic unity involving common principles of metre appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the terminology of linguistic science. The examples of Irish verse which Professor Fitzhugh produces to illustrate the theory merely prove that he should carefully avoid the subject.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Meliores Erimus Singuli

Seneca, On Leisure 1.1 (tr. John W. Basore):
Although we attempt nothing else that would be beneficial, nevertheless retirement in itself will do us good; we shall be better by ourselves.

licet nihil aliud, quod sit salutare, temptemus, proderit tamen per se ipsum secedere; meliores erimus singuli.


Jumping to Conclusions

Terence, The Self-Tormentor 237 (tr. John Barsby):
Do you insist on prejudging the situation before you know the truth?

pergin istuc prius diiudicare quam scis quid veri siet?
The same, tr. John Sargeaunt (with the stage direction "sarcastically"):
That's right, settle the point before you have heard the evidence.


A Little Ringing Sound

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), The Immense Journey (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), p. 25:
Every spring in the wet meadows and ditches I hear a little shrilling chorus which sounds for all the world like an endlessly reiterated "We're here, we're here, we're here." And so they are, as frogs, of course. Confident little fellows. I suspect that to some greater ear than ours, man's optimistic pronouncements about his role and destiny may make a similar little ringing sound that travels a small way out into the night. It is only its nearness that is offensive. From the heights of a mountain, or a marsh at evening, it blends, not too badly, with all the other sleepy voices that, in croaks or chirrups, are saying the same thing.


A Foolish Modern Fashion

James Willis, review of P. Venini, P. Papini Stati Thebaidos liber undecimus. Introduzione, testo critico, commenta e traduzione (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1970), in Mnemosyne 25.3 (1972) 320-323 (at 322-323):
It would be wrong to blame V. herself for the dropsical state of this commentary. It arises rather from a foolish modern fashion in scholarship which regards acquaintance with secondary literature as the prime quality in a classical scholar, and confounds the knowledge of many books about a subject with the understanding of the subject itself. The editor is only an intermediary between the author and the reader; he is there to help the one to understand the other, not to draw attention to his own erudition, and his maxim should be bene qui latuit, bene vixit.
Related post: The Weakness of Modern Latin Studies.

Friday, December 25, 2015


A Holy Time

Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "Christmas Day," Fantasticks (London: Printed for Francis Williams, 1626):
It is now Christmas, and not a Cup of drinke must passe without a Caroll, the Beasts, Fowle, and Fish, come to a generall execution, and the Corne is ground to dust for the Bakehouse, and the Pastry: Cards and Dice purge many a purse, and the Youth shew their agility in shooing of the wild Mare: now good cheere and welcome, and God be with you, and I thanke you, and against the new yeare, prouide for the presents: the Lord of Mis-rule is no meane man for his time, and the ghests of the high Table must lacke no Wine: the lusty bloods must looke about them like men, and piping and dauncing puts away much melancholy: stolne Venison is sweet, and a fat Coney is worth money: Pit-falles are now set for small Birdes, and a Woodcocke hangs himselfe in a gynne: a good fire heats all the house, and a full Almes-basket makes the Beggers Prayers: the Maskers and the Mummers make the merry sport: but if they lose their money, their Drumme goes dead: Swearers and Swaggerers are sent away to the Ale-house, and vnruly Wenches goe in danger of Judgement: Musicians now make their Instruments speake out, and a good song is worth the hearing. In summe, it is a holy time, a duty in Christians, for the remembrance of Christ, and custome among friends, for the maintenance of good fellowship: In briefe, I thus conclude of it. I hold it a memory of the Heauens Loue, and the worlds peace, the myrth of the honest, and the meeting of the friendly. Farewell.


A Christmas Wish

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Under the Greenwood Tree, Part I, Chapter VIII:
'I like a party very well once in a while,' said Mrs. Dewy, leaving off the adorned tones she had been bound to use throughout the evening, and returning to the natural marriage voice; 'but, Lord, 'tis such a sight of heavy work next day! What with the dirty plates, and knives and forks, and dust and smother, and bits kicked off your furniture, and I don't know what all, why a body could a'most wish there were no such things as Christmases.'

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Who and What You Are

Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Beatitudes 1.5-6 (tr. Stuart George Hale, with Greek interspersed by me):
Do you not see at each end the limits of human life,
how it begins and where it ends?

οὐχ ὁρᾷς εἰς ἀμφότερα τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τὰ πέρατα,
καὶ ὅπως ἄρχεται καὶ εἰς ὅτι λήγει;

Yet you glory in your youth,
you look to the blossom of your fresh years,
and you boast of your full bloom,
because your hands are strong for lifting,
your feet agile for jumping,
your curls blow about in the wind,
the first beard lines your cheek,
and because your clothes grow bright with purple dye,
and your dresses of silk are embroidered,
with embroidery of wars or hunts or legends.

ἀλλὰ γαυριᾷς τῇ νεότητι,
καὶ πρὸς τὸ ἄνθος τῆς ἡλικίας βλέπεις,
καὶ ἐγκαλλωπίζῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ,
ὅτι σοι ὑπερσφριγῶσιν αἱ χεῖρες πρὸς κίνησιν,
καὶ κοῦφοι πρὸς τὸ ἅλμα οἱ πόδες,
καὶ περισοβεῖ ταῖς αὔραις ὁ βόστρυχος,
καὶ τὴν παρειὰν ὑπογράφει ὁ ἴουλος,
καὶ ὅτι σοι ἡ ἐσθὴς τῇ βαφῇ τῆς πορφύρας ὑπερανθίζεται,
καὶ πεποίκιλταί σοι τὰ ἐκ σηρῶν ὑφάσματα,
πολέμοις ἢ θήραις ἤ τισιν ἱστορίαις πεποικιλμένα.

Yes, perhaps you look even to your shoes, carefully polished with blacking
and smart with extravagantly stitched lines,
yet do you not look at yourself?
I will shew you your reflection, who you are and what you are.

ἢ τάχα καὶ πρὸς τὰ πέδιλα βλέπεις ἐπιμελῶς ἐν τῷ μέλανι στίλβοντα,
καὶ περιέργως ταῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ῥαφίδων γραμμαῖς ἐπιτέρποντα;
πρὸς ταῦτα βλέπεις, πρὸς δὲ σεαυτὸν οὐχ ὁρᾷς;
δείξω σοι ὥσπερ ἐν κατόπτρῳ, τίς εἶ καὶ οἷος εἶ.

Have you not seen in the burial ground the mysteries of our existence?
Have you not seen the heap of bones piled on each other,
skulls stripped of flesh,
staring fearsome and horrible from empty eye-sockets?
Have you seen the grinning mouths
and the rest of the limbs lying casually about?
If you have seen those things, then in them you have observed yourself.

οὐκ εἶδες ἐν πολυανδρίῳ τὰ τῆς φύσεως ἡμῶν μυστήρια;
οὐκ εἶδες τὴν ἐπάλληλον τῶν ὀστέων σωρείαν,
κρανία σαρκῶν γεγυμνωμένα,
φόβερόν τι καὶ εἰδεχθὲς ἐν διακένοις δεδορκότα τοῖς ὄμμασιν;
εἶδες στόματα σεσηρότα,
καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν μελῶν πρὸς τὸ συμβὰν πεφορημένα;
εἰ ἐκεῖνα εἶδες, σεαυτὸν ἐν ἐκείνοις τεθέασαι.

Where are the signs of your present flowering?
Where is the colour on your cheek?
Where is the bloom on your lips?
Where are the lovely eye-lashes pointed up by the curve of the eyebrows?
Where is the straight nose fixed between the beautiful cheeks?
Where is the hair upon the neck?
Where the curls round the temples?

ποῦ τοῦ παρόντος ἄνθους τὰ σύμβολα;
ποῦ ἡ εὔχροια τῆς παρειᾶς;
ποῦ τὸ ἐπὶ τοῦ χείλους ἄνθος;
ποῦ τὸ βλοσυρὸν ἐν τοῖς ὄμμασι κάλλος τῇ περιβολῇ τῶν ὀφρύων ὑπολαμπόμενον;
ποῦ ἡ εὐθεῖα ῥὶς, ἡ τῷ κάλλει τῶν παρειῶν μεσιτεύουσα;
ποῦ αἱ ἐπαυχένιοι κόμαι;
ποῦ οἱ περικροτάφιοι βόστρυχοι;

Where are the archer's arms,
the rider's legs,
the purple, the linen, the fine wool, the girdle, the shoes,
the horse, the race, the snorting,
all that now goes to swell your pride?

ποῦ αἱ τοξαζόμεναι χεῖρες;
οἱ ἱππαζόμενοι πόδες;
ἡ πορφύρα; ἡ βύσσος; ἡ χλανίς; ἡ ζώνη; τὰ πέδιλα;
ὁ ἵππος; ὁ δρόμος; τὸ φρύαγμα;
πάντα, δι' ὧν σοι νῦν ὁ τῦφος αὔξεται;

Where among the bones, tell me, are the things over which you are now conceited and arrogant?
What dream is so insubstantial?
What fantasies from sleep are like these?
What faint shadow so escapes our grasp
as the dream of youth, no sooner appearing than instantly flown?

ποῦ ταῦτα ἐν ἐκείνοις, εἰπὲ, ὑπὲρ ὧν νῦν ἐπαίρῃ καὶ μεγαλοφρονεῖς;
ποῖον οὕτως ἀνυπόστατον ὄναρ;
ποῖα τοιαῦτα ἐξ ὕπνου φαντάσματα;
τίς οὕτως ἀδρανὴς σκιὰ τὴν ἁφὴν ὑποφεύγουσα,
ὡς τὸ τῆς νεότητος ὄναρ ὁμοῦ τε φαινόμενον καὶ εὐθὺς παριπτάμενον;
For his translation Hale used the Greek text as edited by John F. Callahan, Gregorii Nysseni De Oratione Dominica, De Beatitudinibus (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992), which is unavailable to me. The Greek text above is substantially that found in Patrologia Graeca, vol. 44, cols. 1204 C - 1205 A.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


The State of Humanity Today

Juvenal 15.70-71 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
Nowadays the earth produces humans who are nasty and puny,
so any god that takes a look is filled with laughter and loathing.

terra malos homines nunc educat atque pusillos;
ergo deus, quicumque aspexit, ridet et odit.


Advice on Choosing a Mate

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Under the Greenwood Tree, Part II, Chapter VIII:
When you've made up your mind to marry, take the first respectable body that comes to hand—she's as good as any other; they be all alike in the groundwork; 'tis only in the flourishes there's a difference.


There's No Point in Arguing with You

Cyprian, To Demetrianus 1 (tr. Robert Ernest Wallis):
For when you used often to come to me with the desire of contradicting rather than with the wish to learn, and preferred impudently to insist on your own views, which you shouted with noisy words, to patiently listening to mine, it seemed to me foolish to contend with you; since it would he an easier and slighter thing to restrain the angry waves of a turbulent sea with shouts, than to check your madness by arguments. Assuredly it would be both a vain and ineffectual labour to offer light to a blind man, discourse to a deaf one, or wisdom to a brute; since neither can a brute apprehend, nor can a blind man admit the light, nor can a deaf man hear.

Nam cum ad me saepe studio magis contradicendi quam voto discendi venires, et clamosis vocibus personans malles tua impudenter ingerere quam nostra patienter audire, ineptum videbatur congredi tecum, quando facilius esset et levius turbulenti maris concitos fluctus clamoribus retundere quam tuam rabiem tractatibus coercere. Certe et labor irritus et nullius effectus, offerre lumen caeco, sermonem surdo, sapientiam bruto; cum nec sentire brutus possit, nec caecus lumen admittere, nec surdus audire.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015



W.H. Auden (1907-1973), Introduction to Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1979), pp. 21-22:
Again a digression, on the meaning of Carnival as it was known in the Middle Ages and persisted in a few places, like Rome, where Goethe witnessed and described it in February of 1788. Carnival celebrates the unity of our human race as mortal creatures, who come into this world and depart from it without our consent, who must eat, drink, defecate, belch, and break wind in order to live, and procreate if our species is to survive. Our feelings about this are ambiguous. To us as individuals, it is a cause for rejoicing to know that we are not alone, that all of us, irrespective of age or sex or rank or talent, are in the same boat. As unique persons, on the other hand, all of us are resentful that an exception cannot be made in our own case. We oscillate between wishing we were unreflective animals and wishing we were disembodied spirits, for in either case we should not be problematic to ourselves. The Carnival solution of this ambiguity is to laugh, for laughter is simultaneously a protest and an acceptance. During Carnival, all social distinctions are suspended, even that of sex. Young men dress up as girls, young girls as boys. The escape from social personality is symbolized by the wearing of masks. The oddity of the human animal expresses itself through the grotesque—false noses, huge bellies and buttocks, farcical imitations of childbirth and copulation. The protest element in laughter takes the form of mock aggression: people pelt each other with small, harmless objects, draw cardboard daggers, and abuse each other verbally, like the small boy Goethe heard screaming at his father, "Sia ammazzato il Signore Padre!" Traditionally, Carnival, the days of feasting and fun, immediately precedes Lent, the days of fasting and prayer. In medieval carnivals, parodies of the rituals of the Church were common, but what Lewis Carroll said of literary parody—"One can only parody a poem one admires"—is true of all parody. One can only blaspheme if one believes.


Respectable Speech

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Under the Greenwood Tree, Part I, Chapter VIII:
Mrs. Dewy sighed, and appended a remark (ostensibly behind her husband's back, though that the words should reach his ears distinctly was understood by both): 'Such a man as Dewy is! Nobody do know the trouble I have to keep that man barely respectable. And did you ever hear too—just now at supper-time—talking about "taties" with Michael in such a work-folk way. Well, 'tis what I was never brought up to! With our family 'twas never less than "taters," and very often "pertatoes" outright; mother was so particular and nice with us girls: there was no family in the parish that kept theirselves up more than we.'


Stubborn Facts

Walter Burkert (1931-2015), Greek Religion, tr. John Raffan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985; rpt. 2001), pp. 217-218 (on structuralist explanations of the pantheon):
The danger of this approach is, of course, that the historically given reality will perforce be curtailed for the sake of the system and its logical structure. Such relationships are good for thinking, but reality does not always follow suit; a certain stubbornness of the facts remains. Just as the Greek mind does not exist as a unified and definable structure, so the Greek pantheon cannot be regarded as a closed and harmonized system.

Monday, December 21, 2015


A Worthless, Idle Brood

Byron, Journal (November 24, 1813):
I do think the preference of writers to agents—the mighty stir made about scribbling and scribes, by themselves and others—a sign of effeminacy, degeneracy, and weakness. Who would write, who had any thing better to do? 'Action—action—action'—said Demosthenes: 'Actions—actions,' I say, and not writing,—least of all, rhyme. Look at the querulous and monotonous lives of the 'genus;'—except Cervantes, Tasso, Dante, Ariosto, Kleist (who were brave and active citizens), Aeschylus, Sophocles, and some other of the antiques also—what a worthless, idle brood it is!
The 'genus' is probably a reference to Horace, Epistles 2.2.102: genus inritabile vatum.


The Summer of a Dormouse

Byron, Journal (December 7, 1813):
When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), — sleep, eating, and swilling — buttoning and unbuttoning — how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.
Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator.


Acanthian Cicada

Stephanus of Byzantium (i 57 Meineke = Simonides, Poetae Melici Graeci, no. 610; on Acanthus; tr. David A. Campbell):
The ethnic adjective is Acanthian, whence the proverb 'Acanthian cicada' used of silent people; for the cicadas of that land are silent, according to Simonides.

τὸ ἐθνικὸν τῆς Ἀκάνθου Ἀκάνθιος, ἐξ οὗ καὶ παροιμία Ἀκάνθιος τέττιξ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀφώνων· τοιοῦτοι γὰρ οἱ τῆς χώρας τέττιγες, ὡς Σιμωνίδης.
Campbell's note:
cf. Hdn. i 119 Lentz, Diogenian. cent. i 22, Apostol. cent. i 100a, xvi 32
See also Erasmus, Adagia I v 14 (Acanthia cicada). The proverb is discussed by Maria Spyridonidou-Skarsouli, Der Erste Teil der fünften Athos-Sammlung griechischer Sprichwörter: kritische Ausgabe mit Kommentar (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), p. 311 (non vidi).

Related posts:

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Rome's Mission

"A pamphlet of 1904," quoted by Nicholas Purcell, "The City of Rome," in Richard Jenkyns, ed., The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 421-453 (at 449):
When Man is wholly remade as Pagan, then and only then will he be able to undertake an unerring flight towards the Future. In this spiritual palingenesis Rome as symbol of Paganism can and must have a mission. So excavate all her stones; re-erect all her columns; mark out all the traces and indications of her greatness. Those who made lime from her statues and columns for churches and palaces, monasteries and brothels, did not understand the necessities of the human spirit, of history, of social evolution.
Purcell doesn't give a more precise citation, and I can't locate the pamphlet.


A Calamity

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), "'Locksley Hall' and the Jubilee," The Nineteenth Century, No. CXIX (January, 1887):
Each generation or age of men is under a twofold temptation: the one to overrate its own performances and prospects, the other to undervalue the times preceding or following its own. No greater calamity can happen to a people than to break utterly with its Past.


What I Care About

Anacreontea 8 (tr. Patricia A. Rosenmeyer):
I do not care about the gold of Gyges
the Sardian king,
nor does any envy seize me,
nor am I jealous of tyrants.
But I do care        5
to drench my beard with myrrh,
and I do care
to wreathe my head with roses.
Today is what I care about —
who knows what comes tomorrow?        10
So now, while it is still good weather,
drink up, toss the dice,
and pour out an offering to Lyaios,
in case some disaster should arrive
and allow you to drink no more.        15

οὔ μοι μέλει τὰ Γύγεω,
τοῦ Σάρδεων ἄνακτος·
οὐδ᾿ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος,
οὐδὲ φθονῶ τυράννοις.
ἐμοὶ μέλει μύροισιν        5
καταβρέχειν ὑπήνην,
ἐμοὶ μέλει ῥόδοισιν
καταστέφειν κάρηνα·
τὸ σήμερον μέλει μοι,
τὸ δ᾿ αὔριον τίς οἶδεν;        10
ὡς οὖν ἔτ᾿ εὔδι᾿ ἔστιν,
καὶ πῖνε καὶ κύβευε
καὶ σπένδε τῷ Λυαίῳ,
μὴ νοῦσος, ἤν τις ἔλθῃ,
λέγῃ, 'σὲ μὴ δεῖ πίνειν.'        15

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Haec Studia Senectutem Oblectant

David A. Campbell, ed. and tr., Greek Lyric, Vol. II: Anacreon, Anacreontea, Choral Lyric from Olympus to Alcman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 143 (Anacreon, fragment 503, from Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum, Papyrus 13407, aka P. Schubart 38, here with Campbell's note):
Old age without the arts is admittedly foul, but old age with the arts—Apollo1, how delightful it is!

1 Schubart thought the words of Anacreon might be represented from here onwards.
The Greek (id., p. 142):
γῆρ[ας] ἄμουσον μὲν [ὁμο]λογουμένως [αἰσ]χρόν, μουσικὸ[ν δ]ὲ Ἄπολλον ὡς χαρίεν.
Here is an image of the portion of the papyrus containing the words quoted. Start with the last three letters of the top line (ΓΗΡ):



Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "December," Fantasticks (London: Printed for Francis Williams, 1626):
It is now December, and hee that walkes the streets, shall find durt on his shooes, Except hee goe all in bootes: Now doth the Lawyer make an end of his haruest, and the Client of his purse: Now Capons and Hennes, beside Turkies, Geese and Duckes, besides Beefe and Mutton, must all die for the great feast, for in twelue dayes a multitude of people will not bee fed with a little: Now plummes and spice, Sugar and Honey, square it among pies and broth, and Gossip I drinke to you, and you are welcome, and I thanke you, and how doe you, and I pray you bee merrie: Now are the Taylors and the Tiremakers full of worke against the Holidayes, and Musicke now must bee in tune, or else neuer: the youth must dance and sing, and the aged sit by the fire. It is the Law of Nature, and no Contradiction in reason: The Asse that hath borne all the yeare, must now take a little rest, and the leane Oxe must feed till hee bee fat: The Footman now shall haue many a foule step, and the Ostler shall haue worke enough about the heeles of the Horses, while the Tapster, if hee take not heed, will lie drunke in the Seller: The prices of meat will rise apace, and the apparell of the proud will make the Taylor rich: Dice and Cardes, will benefit the Butler: And if the Cooke doe not lacke wit, hee will sweetly licke his fingers: Starchers and Launderers will haue their hands full of worke, and Periwigs and painting wil not bee a little set by, Strange stuffes will bee well sold, Strange tales well told, Strange sights much sought, Strange things much bought, and what else as fals out. To conclude, I hold it the costly Purueyour of Excesse, and the after breeder of necessitie, the practice of Folly, and the Purgatory of Reason. Farewell.

Friday, December 18, 2015


A Prying Busybody of a God

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.20.54 (the Epicurean Velleius speaking; tr. H. Rackham):
[A]nd so [you] have saddled us with an eternal master, whom day and night we are to fear; for who would not fear a prying busybody of a god, who foresees and thinks of and notices all things, and deems that everything is his concern?

itaque inposuistis in cervicibus nostris sempiternum dominum, quem dies et noctes timeremus: quis enim non timeat omnia providentem et cogitantem et animadvertentem et omnia ad se pertinere putantem curiosum et plenum negotii deum?


Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta

Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, writes about the proverb Hic Rhodus, hic salta:
Perhaps an erudite classicist such as Mike Gilleland could say more on this topic. He would have to do at least the following: dig up all the ancient sources in Greek and Latin; trace the saying in Erasmus and Goethe; comment on Hegel's variation on the saying in the Vorrede zur Philosophie des Rechts, explaining why he has saltus for salta; find and comment on Marx's comment on Hegel's employment of the saying.
I have already done some of what Bill asks here, in an earlier post. I would have sent the link to that post in an email to Bill, but I've lost his email address.

By the way, I have known a few truly erudite people in my life, and I am an ignoramus compared with them.


Explanation of an Error

T. Lucreti Cari De Rerum Natura Libri Sex. Edited with Introduction and Commentary by William Ellery Leonard, Stanley Barney Smith (1942; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970), p. 204 (on 1.50: quod superest, [ut] uacuas auris animumque sagacem):
[ut]. The erroneous intrusion seems to have arisen from a repetition and transposition of the final letter of superest and the initial letter of uacuas.
An unlikely explanation. A simpler and more likely explanation is that superest is often followed in Latin by ut.

Thursday, December 17, 2015



Archilochus, fragment 11 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
For I shall cure nothing by weeping nor shall I make matters worse by pursuit of pleasures and festivities.

οὔτε τι γὰρ κλαίων ἰήσομαι, οὐτε κάκιον
    θήσω τερπωλὰς καὶ θαλίας ἐφέπων.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


A Model I Try to Follow

Callimachus, fragment 612 (tr. C.A. Trypanis):
I sing nothing that is not attested.

ἀμάρτυρον οὐδὲν ἀείδω.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ἀμάρτυρος: "without witness, unattested...unsupported by evidence."


What to Say When Someone Farts

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 115 (tr. Alan H. Sommerstein):
What sound, what scent has been wafted to me, unseen,
from gods, from mortals, or from both together?

τίς ἀχώ, τίς ὀδμὰ προσέπτα μ᾿ἀφεγγής,
θεόσυτος, ἢ βρότειος, ἢ κεκραμένη;
Simonides, Poetae Melici Graeci, no. 638 (my translation):
A flight-causing smell.

φύξιμος ὀδμή.
Ennius, Annals 451 Skutsch (tr. E.H. Warmington):
And the trumpet in terrible tones taratantara blared.

at tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit.
Titinius, fragment 20 Ribbeck (my translation):
Meanwhile a stinking breeze assaults the nose.

interea foetida anima nasum oppugnat.
Vergil, Aeneid 3.228 (my translation):
An awful sound amid foul stench.

vox taetrum dira inter odorem.
Dante, Inferno 21.139 (tr. John D. Sinclair):
And he made a trumpet of his rear.

ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.
William Shakespeare, King John 5.2.117:
What lusty trumpet thus doth summon us?
John Milton, Paradise Lost 1.236-237 (where singéd = scorched and involved = surrounded):
A singéd bottom all involved
With stench and smoke.
Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Roderick Random, Vol. I, Chap. XXXIV:
Heaven preserve me! I am suffocated! Fellow! fellow! away with thee. Curse thee, fellow! get thee gone: I shall be stunk to death!
Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Orpheus," lines 35-37:
What wondrous sound is that, mournful and faint,
But more melodious than the murmuring wind
Which through the columns of a temple glides?



Doubts About the Classics

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), "Punch in the East, III: Athens," Punch (January 25, 1845):
I always had my doubts about the classics. When I saw a brute of a schoolmaster, whose mind was as coarse-grained as any ploughboy's in Christendom; whose manners were those of the most insufferable of Heaven's creatures, the English snob trying to turn gentleman; whose lips, when they were not mouthing Greek or grammar, were yelling out the most brutal abuse of poor little cowering gentlemen standing before him: when I saw this kind of man (and the instructors of our youth are selected very frequently indeed out of this favoured class) and heard him roar out praises, and pump himself up into enthusiasm for, certain Greek poetry,—I say I had my doubts about the genuineness of the article. A man may well thump you or call you names because you won't learn—but I never could take to the proffered delicacy; the fingers that offered it were so dirty. Fancy the brutality of a man who began a Greek grammar with 'τύπτω, I thrash!' We were all made to begin it in that way.
On the meaning of snob here see the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 3.c:
One who meanly or vulgarly admires and seeks to imitate, or associate with, those of superior rank or wealth; one who wishes to be regarded as a person of social importance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Simonides' Advice

Simonides, Poetae Melici Graeci, no. 646, from Theon, Progymnasmata 33 (tr. David A. Campbell):
Simonides' advice is harmful, that we should play throughout our lives and take nothing quite seriously.

βλαβερῶς παραινεῖ Σιμωνίδης παίζειν ἐν τῷ βίῳ καὶ περὶ μηδὲν ἁπλῶς σπουδάζειν.
Not harmful, but beneficial and wise, or so it seems to me.


The Graves of the Rich and the Proud

Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 31.2 (tr. Mary Magdeleine Mueller):
I beseech you, brethren, look at the graves of the rich, and as often as you pass them reflect and carefully see where their riches are, where their ornaments, rings, earrings, precious diadems, the vanity of honors, the pleasure of dissipation, their mad or bloody or shameful spectacles. Certainly they have all passed like a shadow, and, unless repentance came to the rescue, only endless reproaches and crimes have remained. Consider more carefully and behold the graves of the proud; realize that nothing has remained in them but only ashes and the stinking remains of worms.

Rogo vos, fratres, aspicite ad sepulchra divitum, et quotiens iuxta illa transitis, considerate et diligenter inspicite, ubi sunt illorum divitiae, ubi ornamenta, ubi anuli vel inaures, ubi diademata pretiosa, ubi honorum vanitas, ubi luxuriae voluptas, ubi spectacula vel furiosa vel cruenta vel turpia. Certe transierunt omnia tamquam umbra; et si paenitentia non subvenerit, sola in perpetuum obprobria et crimina remanserunt. Considerate diligentius et videte superborum sepulchra, et agnoscite quia nihil in eis aliud nisi soli cineres et foetidae vermium reliquiae remanserunt.

Monday, December 14, 2015


A Shadow and a Dream

Isidore of Seville, Synonyma de Lamentatione Animae Peccatricis 2.91 (Patrologia Latina 83.865 C; tr. Claudia Di Sciacca):
This world's happiness is short, this world's glory is scanty, secular power is fleeting and temporary. Tell me, where are the kings? Where (are) the princes? Where (are) the emperors? Where (are) the rich in possessions? Where (are) the powerful of this world? They passed away as if they were a shadow, they vanished like a dream.

Brevis est hujus mundi felicitas, modica est hujus saeculi gloria, caduca est et fragilis temporalis potentia. Dic ubi sunt reges? ubi principes? ubi imperatores? ubi locupletes rerum? ubi potentes saeculi? ubi divites mundi? quasi umbra transierunt, velut somnium evanuerunt.


You Can Take It With You

Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga Saga 8 (tr. Lee M. Hollander):
In his country Óthin instituted such laws as had been in force among the Æsir before. Thus he ordered that all the dead were to be burned on a pyre together with their possessions, saying that everyone should arrive in Valholl with such wealth as he had with him on his pyre and that he would also enjoy the use of what he had himself hidden in the ground.



Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. wretch, sense A.1: "One driven out of or away from his native country; a banished person; an exile." Perhaps only in Old English (wrecca, wræcca). The OED notes, "The Middle English instances are doubtful; they may be contextual uses of sense A.2," i.e. "One who is sunk in deep distress, sorrow, misfortune, or poverty; a miserable, unhappy, or unfortunate person; a poor or hapless being."

Michael Alexander, The Earliest English Poems: A Bilingual Edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), p. 83 (introduction to Wanderer and Seafarer):
Exile is the theme of the more personal poetry of Anglo-Saxon England, as it is of ancient Chinese poetry. An exile (wraecca, also meaning 'wretch, stranger, wanderer, pilgrim, unhappy man') is the protagonist of all the Old English elegies.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), p. 293:
wrecca means in origin an 'exile', a man driven out from the land of his home — for any reason: crime, collapse or conquest of his people or princely line, economic pressure or the desire for more opportunity, and often (if he was of high birth) dynastic struggles among members of the 'royal family'.
Scott Gwara, Heroic Identity in the World of Beowulf (Leiden: Brill, 2009), p. 74:
Often translated "exile" or "fugitive," OE wrecca is related to a host of Old English nouns and verbs with meanings of "force" or "misery," that is a man "driven" or "expelled" (from his people) and consequently "suffering" in exile. In fact, a verse from Maxims I attributes misery to isolation in general, and confirms the duality of OE wrecca as "exile" and "wretch":
Earm biþ se þe sceal      ana lifgan,
wineleas wunian;      hafaþ him wyrd geteod. (172a-3b)

He who must live alone, dwell friendless, will be wretched; destiny is decreed for him.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Tenderest of Roman Poets?

Alfred Tennyson, "Frater Ave atque Vale," The Nineteenth Century, No. LXXIII (March 1883) 357:
Row us out from Desenzano, to your Sirmione row!
So they row'd, and there we landed—'O venusta Sirmio!'
There to me thro' all the groves of olive in the summer glow,
There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,
Came that 'Ave atque Vale' of the Poet's hopeless woe,
Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen-hundred years ago,
'Frater Ave atque Vale'—as we wander'd to and fro
Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda-Lake below
Sweet Catullus's all-but-island, olive-silvery Sirmio!
Harold Nicolson, diary (March 31, 1957):
In bed I read Catullus. It passes my comprehension why Tennyson could have called him 'tender'. He is vindictive, venomous, and full of obscene malice. He is only tender about his brother and Lesbia, and in the end she gets it hot as well.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


A Weeping Hamadryad

Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory 9.2 (tr. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb):
Consider too that a poet, if he wishes to work out and accomplish a worthy result, must leave the society of his friends, and the attractions of the capital; he must relinquish every other duty, and must, as poets themselves say, retire to woods and groves, in fact, into solitude.

adice quod poetis, si modo dignum aliquid elaborare et efficere velint, relinquenda conversatio amicorum et iucunditas urbis, deserenda cetera officia utque ipsi dicunt, in nemora et lucos, id est in solitudinem secedendum est.
If woods and groves are cut down, poets will lose their solitary retreats, and poetry will as a result languish. This is the argument of Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), "To a Gentleman. On his intending to cut down a Grove to enlarge his prospect," Poems by the Most Eminent Ladies of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I (London: W. Stafford, 1785), pp. 52-53:
In plaintive sounds, that turn'd to woe
    The sadly-sighing breeze,
A weeping Hamadryad mourn'd
    Her fate-devoted trees.

Ah! stop thy sacrilegious hand,
    Nor violate the shade,
Where nature form'd a silent haunt
    For contemplation's aid.

Can'st thou, the son of science, bred
    Where learned Isis flows,
Forget that, nurs'd in shelt'ring groves,
    The Grecian genius rose?

Within the plantane's spreading shade,
    Immortal Plato taught;
And fair Lyceum form'd the depth
    Of Aristotle's thought.

To Latian groves reflect thy views,
    And bless the Tuscan gloom;
Where eloquence deplor'd the fate
    Of Liberty and Rome.

Retir'd beneath the beechen shade,
    From each inspiring bough
The Muse's wove th' unfading wreathes,
    That circled Virgil's brow.

Reflect, before the fatal ax
    My threaten'd doom has wrought;
Nor sacrifice to sensual taste
    The nobler growth of thought.

Not all the glowing fruits that blush
    On India's sunny coast,
Can recompense thee for the worth
    Of one idea lost.

My shade a produce may supply,
    Unknown to solar fire;
And what excludes Apollo's rage,
    Shall harmonize his lyre.
On the poem see Richard Pickard, "Environmentalism and 'Best Husbandry': Cutting Down Trees in Augustan Poetry," Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 17 (1998) 103–126 (at 113-117).

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.



The View from Above

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.48 (tr. C.R. Haines):
Moreover he who discourses of men should, as if from some vantage-point above, take a bird's-eye view of the things of earth, in its gatherings, armies, husbandry, its marriages and separations, its births and deaths, the din of the law-court and the silence of the desert, barbarous races manifold, its feasts and mournings and markets, the medley of it all and its orderly conjunction of contraries.

καὶ δὴ περὶ ἀνθρώπων τοὺς λόγους ποιούμενον ἐπισκοπεῖν δεῖ καὶ τὰ ἐπίγεια, ὥσπερ ποθὲν ἄνωθεν, κατὰ ἀγέλας, στρατεύματα, γεώργια, γάμους, διαλύσεις, γενέσεις, θανάτους, δικαστηρίων θόρυβον, ἐρήμους χώρας, βαρβάρων ἔθνη ποικίλα, ἑορτάς, θρήνους, ἀγοράς, τὸ παμμιγὲς καὶ τὸ ἐκ τῶν ἐναντίων συγκοσμούμενον.
Id., 9.30:
Take a bird's-eye view of the world, its endless gatherings and endless ceremonials, voyagings manifold in storm and calm, and the vicissitudes of things coming into being, participating in being, ceasing to be.

ἄνωθεν ἐπιθεωρεῖν ἀγέλας μυρίας καὶ τελετὰς μυρίας καὶ πλοῦν παντοῖον ἐν χειμῶσι καὶ γαλήναις καὶ διαφορὰς γινομένων, συγγινομένων, ἀπογινομένων.

Friday, December 11, 2015



John Montague, "For the Hillmother," Selected Poems (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1991), p. 128:
Hinge of silence
            creak for us
Rose of darkness
            unfold for us
Wood anemone
            sway for us
Blue harebell
            bend to us
Moist fern
            unfurl for us
Springy moss
            uphold us
Branch of pleasure
            lean on us
Leaves of delight
            murmur for us
Odorous wood
            breathe on us
Evening dews
            pearl for us
Freshet of ease
            flow for us
Secret waterfall
            pour for us
Hidden cleft
            speak to us
Portal of delight
            inflame us
Hill of motherhood
            wait for us
Gate of birth
            open for us
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), "The Sense of Place," Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978 (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980), pp. 131-149 (at 142-143):
But in this poem by John Montague which also celebrates the flora of his fields, the common and humble vegetation of the hedgerows and headlands assumes all kinds of learning into it. The poem does not elude the learned intelligence but calls upon it. There is first of all the echo of the Marian litany and through that an appeal to the whole gorgeous liturgy of the Catholic Church; then behind that there is, I feel, an appeal to our sense of early Irish nature poetry, that glorified fern and branch and waterfall; and behind that again there is the notion that the curve of the hill is the curve of a loved one's beauty, its contour the contour of a woman with child.


Language Change

Calvert Watkins (1933-2013), "Language and Its History," Daedalus 102.3 (Summer, 1973) 99-111 (at 100):
The great Irish philologist Osborn Bergin once remarked wryly that no language had changed so much in the last fifty years as Indo-European.


Docta Puella

Montagu Pennington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, with a New Edition of her Poems, 3rd ed., Vol. I (London: F.C. and J. Rivington, 1816), p. 22:
[S]he was never idle. She rose very early, generally between four and five o'clock; and this custom she continued through life; her latest time of rising, when in tolerable health, being between six and seven o'clock, even to the very close of life. When young, she also sat up very late, so that her father, in one of his letters commends her for having formed a resolution of going to bed not later than twelve o'clock, and desired her to adhere to it. Hence she was accustomed to use various means to keep herself awake*, to the great injury of her health, for she was always very much inclined to sleep, slept soon, and very soundly even in her chair.

* Besides the taking snuff, she owned that she used to bind a wet towel round her head, put a wet cloth to the pit of her stomach, and chew green tea and coffee. To oblige her father, she endeavoured to conquer the habit of taking snuff, and would not resume it without his consent. This he at length reluctantly gave, finding how much she suffered from the want of it.
Id., p. 140:
Before this time indeed, when she was acquiring the immense stock of learning which she possessed, she studied very hard, and for many hours together. But great study was not required to keep what she had gained; and indeed her frequent head-achs, and other complaints, did not admit of it. Her general rule, when in health, was to read before breakfast two chapters in the Bible, a sermon, (among which she gave the preference to Clarke's, Secker's, some of Sherlock's, and all those of the late Bishop of London) some Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. After breakfast she read some part of every language with which she was acquainted, so that she never allowed herself to forget what she had once known. These occupations were of course varied according to circumstances; and when her health and the weather permitted her to take long walks before breakfast, some part of this course of reading was obliged to be deferred till later in the day.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


The Alien and the Unfamiliar

T.P. Wiseman, Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985; rpt. 1998), p. 4 (footnote omitted):
Because we find some parts of the late-Republican scene immediately intelligible and accessible (notably Cicero in his letters, Catullus in his love poems), it is easy to treat their world as if it were in general familiar to us, and to assume that their vàlues were essentially similar to our own. I think we shall get closer to understanding the ancient world if we make the opposite assumption, always looking for, and trying to come to terms with, the alien and the unfamiliar.


Studying ancient Rome should be like visiting some teeming capital in a dangerous and ill-governed foreign country; nothing can be relied on, most of what you see is squalid, sinister, or unintelligible, and you are disproportionately grateful when you find something you can recognise as familiar.
Id., p. 244:
We owe it to the dead not to use their world just as a mirror for our own preoccupations.


Two Welsh Poems on Arboricide

Dafydd ap Gwilym (14th century), "Y Draenllwyn" ("The Hawthorn Bush," tr. A. Cynfael Lake, found here):
'The dignified green hawthorn bush,
lovely dwelling where praise grows,
you are dressed in leaves and bark,
enchanted youth, you are armoured.
You change your appearance frequently,
your form is varied, dear one of the Lord.
Your burden in May is lovely,
colour of fine snow, better than money.
Truly radiant manner, armed tower,
your armour is a fine coat of many colours.

[You have had] a war–wound from your enemy.
Woe is me! Where are you? How grim!
There isn't half of you left here
nor even a third, colour of sparkling cherries.
He cut off your legs, my treasure,
vicious deed, and your thick branches.
Tell me, colour of a spray of foam,
you have been punished, who did this.'

'I know no cause,
I am weak and grievously wounded,
except the arch–scoundrel who came here
(a shock for me yesterday)
with an applewood–handled axe
to chop and beat me from my quarter
and drag one of my legs off with him
(woe is me, Mary!)
and steal my goods and my branches
and the fine tips and my precious stones.'

'I saw you growing coral.
Your top was fairer than an Englishman's shop.
Be quiet, don't worry soldier,
you shall have proper compensation for a man:
the churl will be killed by a song
and strung up as dead as a dog.'
I don't see this poem in Dafydd ap Gwilym, The Poems. Translation and Commentary by Richard Morgan Loomis (Binghamton: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1982). I think it's in Helen Fulton, ed., Selections from the Dafydd ap Gwilym Apocrypha (Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1996), but that book is unavailable to me.

Gruffudd ab Adda (14th century), "I'r Fedwen," ("The Birch"), tr. Joseph P. Clancy, Medieval Welsh Poems (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), pp. 208-209 (with the title "The Maypole," text pieced together from Google Books' snippet view, should be double-checked against the actual book):
Green birch whose hair's unsightly.
You're long exiled from the slope.
Fine lance fostered in woodlands,
Green veil, you’ve betrayed your grove.
Lodging for me and love's envoy
Was your close, in May's short nights.
Frequent once, it's a foul journey.
The tunes on your fine green twigs;
Songs of all sorts, roads' signpost,
I heard to your bright green house;
Herbs of all kinds grew under
Your leaves among hazel boughs,
When for a maiden's trysting
You dwelt last year in the grove.
You contemplate love no longer;
Deaf stay your branches above.
Completely you've forsaken
The green field, despite the cost,
From the hill and height of honour
To town by a swift exchange.
Though your resting-place be good,
Idloes town, Idloes town, crowded concourse,
Not good, my birch-tree, to me
Your rape, your region, your dwelling;
Not good for you there, long of face,
Your place, for bearing green leaves.
Green-plumed each city garden.
Was it not, birch, a foolish thing
To bring you there to wither,
Sad pole, near the pillory?
In leaftime, had you not come
To stand in the dry crossroad,
Though you're pleasing there, they say,
Better, tree, the brook's heaven.
Not a bird will sleep or sing,
Shrill chirp, on your fair branches,
So constant, dark woods' daughter,
People's noise about your tent,
Fierce wound, and grass will not grow,
With the town's trampling, beneath you
More than once on the windswept way
Of Adam and the the first woman.
You've been made to deal in trade;
You look like a market-woman
Fair-goers, gleeful language,
Point their fingers at your pain,
Your old fur and one grey garment
Amidst petty merchandise.
No more, while your sister stays,
Will fern hide your bold seedlings;
No privacy, no secrets,
No shelter beneath your eaves.
You'll not shield, high piercing look,
The primroses of April:
You will not think of wishing,
Fair warden, for the valley's birds.
God, it grieves us, land's lean coldness,
Sudden shame, that you're ensnared.
Taller than noble Tegwedd
You tower, fine is your crest.
Make your choice, captive branches,
Foolish is your city life,
To leave for the fine home hillside
or wither there in the town.
The same, tr. H. Idris Bell, "Translations from the Cywyddwyr," Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, Session 1940 (1941) 221-253 (at 227, 229, with the title "To a Birch Tree Cut Down for Transport to Llanidloes"):
Long exiled, birch, from your woodland height,
Those green locks in evil plight,
Your gleaming stem has left forlorn,
Traitress, the wood where you were born.
Through the brief May night your branches were
A house for me and my messenger,
And your lovely top, that endured this wrong,
Was loud then with birds' song.
In your lush green house many a bird
Tracing song's winding ways was heard,
And 'mid the hazels in your shade
A myriad flowers their carpet spread
When last year my sweet with me
In your pleasance loved to be.
Of love's traffic you think not now;
Mute dumbness holds every bough.
You are gone, all your beauty lost,
From the verdant glade, with toil and cost,
From the hill lands that were your own
To a changed life in the strange town.
Though your moot-hill, Idloes, make brave show,
Where your busy crowds drift to and fro,
To see my birch in such ill state
Your town and your folk and their foray I hate.
Vengeance, town, you shall surely feel
If thus the fresh young leaves you steal.
The town has gardens green-leaved, fair,
And churlish was it, birch, to bear
Your form, fast withering, hence to be
A bare pole by the pillory!
In the leafy time if you went not down
To the arid carfax in the town,
Though the place is pleasant, men aver,
Yet better, tree, your dingle were.
No bird will sleep, no clear voice sing
On your slender summit all the spring,
Such din your wounded branches round,
Dear sister of the trees, will sound,
Nor under you will the green grass grow,
Where all day long the townsmen go,
No more than where in wind-swift haste
Adam and the first woman passed.
For commerce, seems it, you were made;
Henceforth you'll ply the huxter's trade,
And many a finger in the rout
Of the fair's jollity will point you out,
Your gray shirt and coat threadbare,
Mid pedlars' wares sad-hearted there.
The ferns no more, where your sisters rise,
Will shroud your saplings from prying eyes
Nor will hid love the magic know
Of secret hour your eaves below,
Nor clumps of April primrose hide
From eager gazers at your side.
You'll never wonder how they thrive,
The birds that in your dingle live.
Ah, God! the whole land makes ado
That such foul wrong is wrought on you—
Your mien so courtly and so staid,
Your head in loveliest leaves arrayed!
Nay, choose you now, poor captive wood—
For folly is your burgesshood—
To come back home to your fair down
Or wither yonder in the town.
Thanks to Eric Thomson for help.

Related post: All Rhuthyn's Woods are Ravaged.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015


Varied Knowledge and Skill

J.M. Synge (1871-1909), The Aran Islands (Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 1907), pp. 115-116 (from Part III):
It is likely that much of the intelligence and charm of these people is due to the absence of any division of labour, and to the correspondingly wide development of each individual, whose varied knowledge and skill necessitates a considerable activity of mind. Each man can speak two languages. He is a skilled fisherman, and can manage a curagh with extraordinary nerve and dexterity. He can farm simply, burn kelp, cut out pampooties, mend nets, build and thatch a house, and make a cradle or a coffin. His work changes with the seasons in a way that keeps him free from the dulness that comes to people who have always the same occupation. The danger of his life on the sea gives him the alertness of the primitive hunter, and the long nights he spends fishing in his curagh bring him some of the emotions that are thought peculiar to men who have lived with the arts.


From Absurd Speculations to Unchallengeable Dogma

Kenneth Jackson (1909-1991), "Fifty Years of Celtic Philology," Modern Language Review 71.4 (October, 1976) xxiii-xxxvii (at xxiii-xxiv):
Celtic studies are peculiarly dangerous for the amateur, but there has recently been an unfortunate tendency for scholars, even good scholars, in other fields such as the history of Roman Britain, post-Roman archaeology and history, or in the study of English place-names, to venture rashly into the Celtic field where they are not qualified to do so. This is apparently on the principle that 'After all, no one knows anything about Celtic anyway, so why shouldn't I have a stab?'. Unluckily for them, some people do know something about Celtic. The result has too often been that where Celtic seems to impinge on their own subject, the writers just mentioned dream up and publish ideas which the Celticist knows to be absurd speculations, which nevertheless tend to be taken for fact when a sufficient number of other unqualified persons have repeated them as such in print, so that eventually they become unchallengeable dogma.


Optative Mood

Vase inscription, Poetae Melici Graeci, no. 938f (tr. David A. Campbell):
Oh father Zeus, if only I could become wealthy!

ὦ Ζεῦ πάτερ, αἴθε πλούσιος γεν[οίμαν.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Full of Individuality

J.M. Synge (1871-1909), The Aran Islands (Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 1907), p. 14 (from Part I):
Every article on these islands has an almost personal character, which gives this simple life, where all art is unknown, something of the artistic beauty of mediaeval life. The curaghs and spinning-wheels, the tiny wooden barrels that are still much used in the place of earthenware, the home-made cradles, churns, and baskets, are all full of individuality, and being made from materials that are common here, yet to some extent peculiar to the island, they seem to exist as a natural link between the people and the world that is about them.



Homer, Iliad 23.313-319 (Nestor to his son Antilochus; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
Remember then, dear son, to have your mind full of every
resource of skill, so that the prizes may not elude you.
The woodcutter is far better for skill than he is for brute strength.        315
It is by skill that the sea captain holds his rapid ship
on its course, though torn by winds, over the wine-blue water.
By skill charioteer outpasses charioteer.

ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε δὴ σύ, φίλος, μῆτιν ἐμβάλλεο θυμῷ
παντοίην, ἵνα μή σε παρεκπροφύγῃσιν ἄεθλα.
μήτι τοι δρυτόμος μέγ᾿ ἀμείνων ἠὲ βίηφι·        315
μήτι δ᾿ αὖτε κυβερνήτης ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ
νῆα θοὴν ἰθύνει ἐρεχθομένην ἀνέμοισι·
μήτι δ᾿ ἡνίοχος περιγίγνεται ἡνιόχοιο.
Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, tr. Janet Lloyd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 12-13 (footnotes omitted; non vidi; text from here):
The text of Homer most suited to reveal the nature of mêtis comes in Book XXIII of the Iliad, in the episode of the Games. Everything is ready for the chariot race. Old Nestor, the very model of the Sage, the advisor expert in mêtis, lavishes advice upon his son Antilochus. The boy is still very young but Zeus and Poseidon have taught him 'all the ways of dealing with horses'. Unfortunately, his race horses are not very fast; his rivals are better equipped. The young man seems bound to lose. How could he triumph over his adversaries with their faster horses when he drives slower ones? In just such a context mêtis comes into its own. Placed at a disadvantage so far as his horses are concerned, Antilochus, as a true son of his father, has more tricks of mêtis up his sleeve than his rivals dream of. 'It's up to you, my lad', says Nestor, 'to fill your head with a mêtin pantoiên ('manifold') so as not to let the prize elude you'. Then follows a passage which sings the praises of mêtis: 'It is through mêtis rather than through strength that the wood-cutter shows his worth. It is through mêtis that the helmsman guides the speeding vessel over the wine-dark sea despite the wind. It is through mêtis that the charioteer triumphs over his rival'. In the case of Antilochus his mêtis as a driver conceives a manoeuvre which is more or less a cheat and which enables him to reverse an unfavourable situation and to triumph over competitors who are stronger than he is. Nestor puts it like this: 'The man who knows the tricks (kerdê) wins the day even with mediocre horses'. So what are these tricks of Antilochus? Following the advice of his father, the young man takes advantage of a sudden narrowing of the track, which has been worn away by storm rains, and drives his chariot obliquely across in front of that of Menelaus at the risk of causing a crash: the manoeuvre takes his adversary by surprise and he is forced to rein in his horses. Taking full advantage of his disarray, Antilochus gains the advantage necessary to outstrip him in the last stretch of the race.

However ordinary the episode may appear it nevertheless demonstrates certain essential features of mêtis. Firstly, it shows the opposition between using one's strength and depending on mêtis. In every confrontation or competitive situation—whether the adversary be a man, an animal or a natural force—success can be won by two means, either thanks to a superiority in 'power' in the particular sphere in which the contest is taking place, with the stronger gaining the victory; or by the use of methods of a different order whose effect is, precisely, to reverse the natural outcome of the encounter and to allow victory to fall to the party whose defeat had appeared inevitable. Thus success obtained through mêtis can be seen in two different ways. Depending on the circumstances it can arouse opposite reactions. In some cases it will be considered the result of cheating since the rules of the game have been disregarded. In others, the more surprise it provokes the greater the admiration it will arouse, the weaker party having, against every expectation, found within himself resources capable of putting the stronger at his mercy. Certain aspects of mêtis tend to associate it with the disloyal trick, the perfidious lie, treachery—all of which are the despised weapons of women and cowards. But others make it seem more precious than strength. It is, in a sense, the absolute weapon, the only one that has the power to ensure victory and domination over others, whatever the circumstances, whatever the conditions of the conflict.


A Donkey Carrying Books

Koran 62.5 (tr. Arthur J. Arberry):
The likeness of those who have been loaded with the Torah then they have not carried it, is as the likeness of an ass carrying books.

J.-J. Grandville, (1803-1847), Les savants
envoyèrent un académicien armé de ses ouvrages

Monday, December 07, 2015


Greek Examination

J.M. Synge (1871-1909), The Aran Islands (Dublin: Maunsel & Co., Ltd., 1907), pp. 138-139 (from Part III):
On one voyage he had a fellow-sailor who often boasted that he had been at school and learned Greek, and this incident took place:—

One night we had a quarrel, and I asked him could he read a Greek book with all his talk of it.

'I can so,' said he.

'We'll see that,' said I.

Then I got the Irish book out of my chest, and I gave it into his hand.

'Read that to me,' said I, 'if you know Greek.'

He took it, and he looked at it this way, and that way, and not a bit of him could make it out.

'Bedad, I've forgotten my Greek,' said he.

'You're telling a lie,' said I.

'I'm not,' said he; 'it's the divil a bit I can read it.'

Then I took the book back into my hand, and said to him—

'It's the sorra a word of Greek you ever knew in your life, for there's not a word of Greek in that book, and not a bit of you knew.'


Patrick Kavanagh as a Farmer

Dear Mike,

Your extract on local newspapers from Collected Pruse reminds me of an Irish programme devoted to Kavanagh, which has a charming vignette of him as an absent-minded local-newspaper-reading farmer worthy of being set beside the accounts of Wordsworth by Lake District locals collected by Canon Rawnsley. See:

Click on "Home in Inniskeen" and then on "Locals not impressed by Kavanagh's farming" to get the rustic viewpoint. I found it almost incomprehensible, but fortunately an Irish friend provided a transcription. Here is what he was able to decipher of it:
And he was reading the paper behind the cart, and with a ?? he never thought that he had the mare and cart with him, and the mare and cart turning at the grape?? Damn, I said Paddy that's an awful mess. ?? I says.

[Recitation of Kavanagh's poem "Kerr's Ass":]
We borrowed the loan of Kerr's big ass
To go to Dundalk with butter,
Brought him home the evening before the market
And exile that night in Mucker.

We heeled up the cart before the door,
We took the harness inside —
The straw-stuffed straddle, the broken breeching
With bits of bull-wire tied;

The winkers that had no choke-band,
The collar and the reins . . .
In Ealing Broadway, London Town
I name their several names

Until a world comes to life —
Morning, the silent bog,
And the God of imagination walking
In a Mucker fog.
He was good for nothing as regards a farmer. He was good for nothing.

He had no idea about farming.

How do you know?


How do you know?

Because he went down the old road with the old mare, and he might go around about half an hour, and come back, and he sat thinking, and he'd finish up, leave the old horse there, and he'd land here to the village for the paper, and away home with him, and forget about where the horse was at all, and didn't know whether he had a horse at all or a ??, until he went home to the mother.

He left the horse in the field . . .


And the name of the horse was Old Glug.

Old Glug!

That's the name on, ah, the horse knew the way home better than he did.


... with the harness.

And when he'd be going home, he'd have the paper with him as usual, and he'd be reading the paper, and the train went from Inniskeen to Carrickmacross, and he had to cross the level crossing and the gates could be closed. If the gates were closed the horse would stop itself and Paddy would drop straight out of the horse's back and he'd waken up then.
As ever,

Ian [Jackson]


Post Mortem

Anonymous, Poetae Melici Graeci, no. 1009 (tr. David A. Campbell):
Then he will lie in the deep-wooded
earth with no share in drinking-parties and lyres
and the all-delightful cry of the pipes.

ἔπειτα κείσεται βαθυδένδρῳ
ἐν χθονὶ συμποσίων τε καὶ λυρᾶν ἄμοιρος
ἰαχᾶς τε παντερπέος αὐλῶν.
Cf. Theognis 973-978.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Sillier than Praxilla's Adonis

Praxilla, fragment 1, preserved in Zenobius, Proverbs 4.21 (i 89 Leutsch-Schneidewin; tr. David A. Campbell):
'Sillier than Praxilla's Adonis': used of stupid people. Praxilla of Sicyon was a lyric poetess, according to Polemon. In her hymn this Praxilla represents Adonis as being asked by those in the underworld what was the most beautiful thing he left behind when he came, and giving as his answer:
The most beautiful thing I leave behind is the sun's light;
second, the shining stars and the moon's face;
also ripe cucumbers and apples and pears.
For anyone who lists cucumbers and the rest alongside sun and moon can only be regarded as feeble-minded.

ἠλιθιώτερος τοῦ Πραξίλλης Ἀδώνιδος· ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνοήτων. Πράξιλλα Σικυωνία μελοποιὸς ἐγένετο, ὥς φησι Πολέμων· αὕτη ἡ Πράξιλλα τὸν Ἄδωνιν ἐν τοῖς ὕμνοις εἰσάγει ἐρωτώμενον ὑπὸ τῶν κάτω τί κάλλιστον καταλιπὼν ἐλήλυθεν, ἐκεῖνον δὲ λέγοντα οὕτως·
κάλλιστον μὲν ἐγὼ λείπω φάος ἠελίοιο,
δεύτερον ἄστρα φαεινὰ σεληναίης τε πρόσωπον
ἠδὲ καὶ ὡραίους σικύους καὶ μῆλα καὶ ὄγχνας.
εὐηθὴς γάρ τις ἴσως ὁ τῷ ἡλίῳ καὶ τῇ σελήνῃ τοὺς σικύους καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ συναριθμῶν.
I'm sillier than, or at least as silly as, Praxilla's Adonis. His words, I think, would make a good epitaph.

Some manuscripts have figs (σῦκα) instead of cucumbers (σικύους).

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