Saturday, December 31, 2016


I Ask No More

Anonymous, "To Fortune," in Witt's Recreations (London: Printed by M. S(immons) sould by I. Hancock, 1650):
Since Fortune thou art become so kinde,
To give me leave to take my mind,
                                 Of all thy store.
First it is needfull that I finde
Good meat and drink of every kinde;
                                 I ask no more.
And then that I may well digest
Each severall morsell of the feast:
                                 See thou my store.
To ease the care within my breast,
With a thousand pound at least:
                                 I ask no more.
A well born and a pleasing Dame,
Full of beauty, void of shame;
                                 Let her have store
Of wealth, discretion, and good fame;
And able to appease my flame.
                                 I ask no more.
Yet one thing more doe not forget,
Afore that I doe doe this feat,
                                 Forgot before;
That she a Virgin be, and neat,
Of whom two sonnes I may beget;
                                 I aske no more.
Let them be Barons, and impart
To each a Million for his part;
                                 I thee implore.
That when I long life have led,
I may have heaven when I am dead:
                                 I ask no more.



H.J. Massingham (1888-1952), Letters to X (London: Constable & Company Ltd., 1919), pp. 115-116:
O huckstering generation of booksellers, how long shall we suffer you? How often in the place of barter have I seen you, snuffling and rooting over your prey like jackals! Round the long green table you sit, pawing and fumbling the sacred relics, like apostate, butter-slamming grocers. The auctioneer pipes to you, and the guineas come tumbling from your mouths, like frogs from the Princess in the fairy-story, in a sinister dance of covetous sound. Are there none among you reverent stewards of the ancient treasures committed to your charge—O dragons that guard the golden apples and traffic them for a too ample consideration? It is an old tale that you will set traps for the unwary and sell him imperfect books as perfect, common books as "excessively rare"; that you will make facsimiles of first-edition title-pages and insert them into second-edition books; that you will tear a portrait out of a book and sell it for double the price of the book; that you will forge autographs and signatures; that you will tear a book limb from limb rather than let your rival have the benefit of it; that you will advertise under the heading of "Facetiae" books of bawdiness and amorous intrigue. Is it not so, cozening coney-catchers? At times, indeed, you are caught in your own dull-witted guile, O doddypoles! A bookseller once placed in his catalogue under "Facetiae" Rowe's translation of Lucan's Pharsalia, a miracle of dullness! My theory is that Master Bookseller thought Pharsalus a derivative of phallus.


The New Dark Ages

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms, rev. ed. (New York: Random House, 2016), p. 68:
The information-rich Dark Ages: in 2010, 600,000 books were published, just in English, with few memorable quotes. Circa AD zero, a handful of books were written. In spite of the few that survived, there are loads of quotes.

Friday, December 30, 2016



Isocrates, Areopagiticus 30 (tr. George Norlin):
For their only care was not to destroy any institution of their fathers and to introduce nothing which was not approved by custom, believing that reverence consists, not in extravagant expenditures, but in disturbing none of the rites which their ancestors had handed on to them. And so also the gifts of the gods were visited upon them, not fitfully or capriciously, but seasonably both for the ploughing of the land and for the ingathering of its fruits.

ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνο μόνον ἐτήρουν, ὅπως μηδὲν μήτε τῶν πατρίων καταλύσουσι μήτ᾿ ἔξω τῶν νομιζομένων προσθήσουσιν· οὐ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πολυτελείαις ἐνόμιζον εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν τῷ μηδὲν κινεῖν ὧν αὐτοῖς οἱ πρόγονοι παρέδοσαν. καὶ γάρ τοι καὶ τὰ παρὰ τῶν θεῶν οὐκ ἐμπλήκτως οὐδὲ ταραχωδῶς αὐτοῖς συνέβαινεν, ἀλλ᾿ εὐκαίρως καὶ πρὸς τὴν ἐργασίαν τῆς χώρας καὶ πρὸς τὴν συγκομιδὴν τῶν καρπῶν.
In the Digital Loeb Classical Library there is a misprint in the last word (καρπῶν is corrupted to καρῶν), as the following screen capture shows:

The mistake does not occur in the physical book (1929 edition).




George Sturt (1863-1927), aka George Bourne, The Wheelwright's Shop (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), p. 202:
But no higher wage, no income, will buy for men that satisfaction which of old — until machinery made drudges of them — streamed into their muscles all day long from close contact with iron, timber, clay, wind and wave, horse-strength. It tingled up in the niceties of touch, sight, scent. The very ears unawares received it, as when the plane went singing over the wood, or the exact chisel went tapping in (under the mallet) to the hard ash with gentle sound. But these intimacies are over. Although they have so much more leisure men can now taste little solace in life, of the sort that skilled hand-work used to yield to them. Just as the seaman to-day has to face the stoke-hole rather than the gale, and knows more of heat-waves than of sea-waves, so throughout. In what was once the wheelwright's shop, where Englishmen grew friendly with the grain of timber and with sharp tool, nowadays untrained youths wait upon machines, hardly knowing oak from ash or caring for the qualities of either.
Robert Garioch (1909-1981), "Perfect," Complete Poetical Works (Edinburgh: MacDonald Publishers, 1983), pp. 40-41:
I'm daft. They say I'm daft, and they're richt!
Listen afore I speak.
I like to turn out a bit of wark that is perfect,
or raither wad be perfect
if only the customer had perfect patience.

I like to mak, say, a table out of a tree.
That table maun be perfectly flat and smooth.
I maun see my face in it.
Ken whit I mean? — see my face perfect,
no blurred, nor twisty-weys, not wan iota.

When I say a tree, of course, I mean some boards —
I'm no Robinson Crusoe.

Wuid is sweirt. It's no willin.
Its naitur is to haud up a lot of leaves
and swee about in the wind.

Wuid doesnae want to be flat.
It wants to rax itsel and twist about.
I choose timmer, that auld and seasont,
that muckle droukit and dried and blaffert about,
it has lost aa ambition to dae as it likes.

Wuid doesnae want to be smooth.
I plane it and sand it and try it
on a deid-flat surface.
I sand it and try it and sand it finer.
And when I'm finished I dae it again.

Wuid wants to bide the colour it started.
I stain it wi dragon's bluid or turmeric,
burnt sienna, Pernambuco wuid, burnt umber,
indigo, even, if I'm in the mood.

Wuid wants to be reuch and grainy.
I rub in f1lling, and sand it finer and finer.

Thair again, raw linseed yle and shellac in spirits
are sweirt to mix. I mix them.
And thair's yer polish. Or anither wey,
byled linseed yle and pouthert tripoli
and twa days' wark, thon's better still.
Polish-daft I am, polish without end:
pottie pouther, pomas, crocus, jewellers' rouge,
and every job sent out afore it's duin,
naethin-like perfect yet.

I ken I'm daft. I wark wi naitur agen naitur.
But aa that is in fact a thing of the past.
I hae been Moved On wi the times.
I'm in chairge of a machine as big as our hous.
I set the haunnles on the dials, press a button.
Out comes, say, Honduras mahogany, shade nine.
I dinnae ken hou it got thair.
I dinnae ken whit it's made of.
But it's perfect,
perfect every time.
And I dinnae like it.

It's daft I am,
no donnart.
Robert Garioch, letter to a friend (December 11, 1970), in A Garioch Miscellany. Selected and Edited by Robert Fulton (Edinburgh: MacDonald Publishers, 1986), pp. 46-47:
That wood-polishing poem ["Perfect," Complete Poetical Works, p. 40] turned out better than I expected, at least it pleases people a good deal at poetry-readings, which is something to go by, though there is a lot more to it, of course. It is easy to follow and repetitive, so easy to take in at one reading. I went to a Nelson Hall concert and admired the gloss that some Corporation painter had got on the panelling, and that started the thing off. I don't really know about polishing and staining wood, but my father knew a lot about it, and there is plenty of information about it in one of his books that is still in the house. He made two violins and varnished them beautifully. One of them is considered to have a pretty good tone, very good, in fact, by people who know....
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Thursday, December 29, 2016


Mountains and Valleys: Weather Report

Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel III.28 (Friar John speaking to Panurge; tr. J.M. Cohen):
When the snows are on the mountains—the head and the chin, I mean—there's no great heat in the valleys of the cod-piece.

Quand les neiges sont ès montaignes, je diz la teste et le menton, il n'y a pas grand chaleur par les vallées de la braguette!


The Scholar to the Ashes of His Library

C.W. Brodribb (1878-1945), "Valedictory," Poems. With an Introduction by Edmund Blunden (London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1946), p. 6:
The Scholar to the Ashes of his Library.

Gone the books of many names,
Eaten up by hostile flames;
Loss of all his store at once
Leaves him a senescent dunce.

Tecum habita et noris
What your freightage at three score is.
Where is now a lifetime's reading?
Is aught left for years succeeding?
Just a few scraps often quoted,
Or a fragment vaguely noted;
All is ash and burnt-out embers
But what one poor brain remembers.
Yet he sees the friendly faces
Row on row in their set places;
Knows exactly what is in them,
Could he wake up and re-win them.
Nay; they're ghosts, and they are gone
Into charred oblivion.

Fortune of the war, old man;
Play the Stoic if you can;
In the breast the heart be hid
Of the Second Aeneid,
Known and conned too many years
Not to transubstantiate tears.
"Studies into manners pass"—
So the sage's saying was.
Studies are for virtue's sake;
Be the man that they should make.
Id., p. ix, from Blunden's Introduction, quoting one of Brodribb's colleagues:
The war years—including as they did the loss of his home and library in Lincoln's Inn, which he bore so bravely and mourned so movingly in one of his poems—told gradually on Brodribb's health.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Leaping In and Out of Texts

Matthew Leigh, From Polypragmon to Curiosus: Ancient Concepts of Curious and Meddlesome Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 2:
In order to answer the questions that I set myself it has been necessary to adopt the methods of the lexicographer. I have made no little use of the various electronic resources that have so accelerated the first stages of any word search, but am also in debt to the work of those less technologically privileged inquirers who issued the first concordances to individual authors or composed the meticulous entries to be found in Stephanus' Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. More often than not, however, I have found that to leap in and out of a text only where a particular word is to be found can lead to but a superficial understanding, and have therefore taken the time to read whole works through where it seemed important to do so.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Fahrenheit 451

Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, prologue to Book II (tr. J.M. Cohen):
So far as I am concerned, I would have every man put aside his proper business, take no care for his trade, and forget his own affairs, in order to devote himself entirely to this book. I would have him allow no distraction or hindrance from elsewhere to trouble his mind, until he knows it by heart; so that if the art of printing happened to die out, or all books should come to perish, everyone should be able, in time to come, to teach it thoroughly to his children, and to transmit it to his successors and survivors, as if from hand to hand, like some religious Cabala.

Et à la mienne volunté que un chascun laissast sa propre besoine, ne se souciast de son mestier et mist ses affaires propres en oubly, pour y vacquer entierement sans que son esperit feust de ailleurs distraict ny empesché, jusques à ce que l'on les tînt par cueur, affin que, si d'adventure l'art de l'imprimerie cessoit ou en cas que tous livres périssent, on temps advenir un chascun les peust bien au net enseigner à ses enfants, et à ses successeurs et survivens bailler comme de main en main, ainsy que une religieuse caballe.


Like a Photographic Plate

Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012; rpt. 2014), p. 506 (footnote omitted):
In fact, lay power had by no means withered away in the sixth-century West. If we think that this happened, it is because of the peculiar quality of our sources for the period. The literature of the age was overwhelmingly clerical and mainly hagiographic. Like a photographic plate, which privileges blue tones over red, a literature devoted to the deeds of saints and bishops did not register certain colors as clearly as others. The vivid blues of a bishop's activities stand out sharply, while the great red mass of lay life against which these deeds were set remains subdued—much as, in astronomers' photographs of the constellation of Orion, the vivid blue of a dwarf star tends to swamp the prodigious red globe of Betelgeuse.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Dinner with the Family over the Holidays

Menander, fragment 186 (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
It's hard work to be thrown into a family dinner party.
The father picks up the cup and makes the first speech,
and after giving some advice, has a drink; the mother's second;
then an aunt rambles on, followed by a deep-voiced old man,
who's the aunt's father; then comes an old woman who calls him "dearest."
And he nods his head, agreeing with them all.

¯˘ ἔργον εἰς τρίκλινον συγγενείας εἰσπεσεῖν.
οὗ λαβὼν τὴν κύλικα πρῶτος ἄρχεται λόγου πατὴρ
καὶ παραινέσας πέπωκεν, εἶτα μήτηρ δευτέρα,
εἶτα τηθὶς παραλαλεῖ τις, εἶτα βαρύφωνος γέρων,
τηθίδος πατήρ, ἔπειτα γραῦς καλοῦσα φίλτατον.        5
ὁ δ᾿ ἐπινεύει πᾶσι τούτοις.

1 <δεινὸν>
Schweighäuser, <οἷον> Kassel


Keep Out

Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel I.54 (beginning of the inscription over the gate of the Abbey of Thélème; tr. J.M. Cohen):
Enter not here, vile hypocrites and bigots,
Pious old apes, and puffed-up snivellers,
Wry-necked creatures sawnier than the Goths,
Or Ostrogoths, precursors of Gog and Magog,
Woe-begone scoundrels, mock-godly sandal-wearers,
Beggars in blankets, flagellating canters,
Hooted at, pot-bellied, stirrers up of troubles,
Get along elsewhere to sell your dirty swindles.

Cy n'entrez pas, hypocrites, bigotz,
Vieux matagotz, marmiteux, borsoufléz,
Torcoulx, badaux, plus que n'estoient les Gotz
Ny Ostrogotz, précurseurs des magotz
Haires, cagotz, caffars empantoufléz,
Gueux mitoufléz, frappars escornifléz,
Beffléz, enfléz, fagoteurs de tabus,
Tirez ailleurs pour vendre vos abus.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Helpless Against the Onslaught

Goethe, Hermann and Dorothea 4.81-86 (tr. Ellen Frothingham):
But, alas, how near is the foe! The Rhine with its waters
Guards us, indeed; but, ah, what now are rivers and mountains
'Gainst that terrible people that onward bears like a tempest!
For they summon their youths from every quarter together,
Call up their old men too, and press with violence forward.
Death cannot frighten the crowd: one multitude follows another.

Aber, ach! wie nah ist der Feind! Die Fluten des Rheines
Schützen uns zwar; doch ach! was sind nun Fluten und Berge
Jenem schrecklichen Volke, das wie ein Gewitter daherzieht!
Denn sie rufen zusammen aus allen Enden die Jugend
Wie das Alter und dringen gewaltig vor, und die Menge
Scheut den Tod nicht; es dringt gleich nach der Menge die Menge.


Lines on the Jordan

Anonymous, "Lines on the Jordan," in A Garioch Miscellany. Selected and Edited by Robert Fulton (Edinburgh: MacDonald Publishers, 1986), p. 88 (line numbers added):
In poes o' gold great kings mak' watter,
An' poorer folk in wooden platter.
Mony as 'twere a shameful matter
    Dae't withoot grace,
Like soakit souters aff a batter,        5
    Jist ony place.

Let me, in neuks where laden bees
Lilt love sangs tae the simmer breeze,
A blether fou, a mind at ease,
    Free o' a' chairge,        10
Shak' loose ma member as I please
    An' pish at lairge.

E'en sae did Adam, ere he fell
Tae secret piddlin'; Eve hersel'
Stroned guileless in a flowery dell        15
    Beside her jo—
Till Sawtan wi' a leer frae hell
    Brocht them a poe.

Wad ye seek Paradise,
Ye piddlin' mortals? Gin ye're wise        20
Shun platters, poes, an' a' sic vice:
    Seek Nature fair,
An' while yer tuneful prayers uprise
    Pish blissfu' there.
My notes (with help from Eric Thomson):
jordan (title): chamber pot
1 poes, 18 poe, 21 poe: Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. po, n.4: "colloq. (orig. and chiefly Brit.). A chamber pot." My father, born in America but educated in the 1920s-1930s at a school in China run by Christian Brothers from the British Isles, used this word almost exclusively to refer to this thing (occasionally with reduplication—po-po).
5 soakit souters aff a batter: drunken cobblers at the tail end of (or, as a result of) a spree
9 blether: bladder
15 stroned: urinated
17 Sawtan: Satan


Friday, December 23, 2016


Vale of Tears

Voltaire, letter to Rousseau (August 30, 1755; tr. William F. Fleming):
That which makes, and will always make, of this world a vale of tears is the insatiable cupidity and the indomitable pride of men...

Ce qui fait et fera toujours de ce monde une vallée de larmes, c'est l'insatiable cupidité et l'indomptable orgueil des hommes...


The True End of the Life of Man

Christian August Lobeck, letter to August Meineke (April 10, 1821), tr. J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. III: The Eighteenth Century in Germany, and the Nineteenth Century in Europe and the United States of America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), p. 104:
What is this that I hear, my dear friend? I can hardly believe my ears. Are you really wanting to visit Italy? Why Italy, of all parts of the world? Simply to see a few statues with broken noses? NO! If I cannot visit Niagara, or the Mississippi, or Hekla, I prefer sitting here beside my own warm stove, reading GREEK SCHOLIASTS,—which is, after all, the true end of the life of man5.

5 Mittheilungen aus Lobecks Briefwechsel, ed. Friedländer, 67 (1861).
The German:
Was höre ich, mein theurer Freund! Kann ich meinen Ohren trauen? Sie wollen nach Italien reisen? Ich bitte Sie um Alles in der Welt, nach Italien? um einige Statuen mit abgeschlagenen Nasen zu sehen? Nein, wenn ich nicht den Niagara und den Missisippi, oder den Hekla zu sehen bekommen kann, bleibe ich lieber hinter meinem warmen Ofen sitzen und lese griechische Scholiasten, was doch eigentlich die Bestimmung des menschlichen Lebens ist.


That Old-Time Religion

Propertius 4.1.17-18 (tr. G.P. Goold):
No one then felt the need of foreign gods,
when the tense crowd thrilled at the ritual of their fathers...

nulli cura fuit externos quaerere divos
    cum tremeret patrio pendula turba sacro...

18 pendula codd.: credula Livineius, sedula Heimreich
Dio Cassius 52.36.1-2 (Maecenas supposedly advising Augustus; tr. Earnest Cary):
Do you not only yourself worship the Divine Power everywhere and in every way in accordance with the traditions of our fathers, but compel all others to honour it. Those who attempt to distort our religion with strange rites you should abhor and punish, not merely for the sake of the gods (since if a man despises these he will not pay honour to any other being), but because such men, by bringing in new divinities in place of the old, persuade many to adopt foreign practices, from which spring up conspiracies, factions, and cabals, which are far from profitable to a monarchy.

τὸ μὲν θεῖον πάντῃ πάντως αὐτός τε σέβου κατὰ τὰ πάτρια καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους τιμᾶν ἀνάγκαζε, τοὺς δὲ δὴ ξενίζοντάς τι περὶ αὐτὸ καὶ μίσει καὶ κόλαζε, μὴ μόνον τῶν θεῶν ἕνεκα, ὧν ὁ καταφρονήσας οὐδ᾿ ἄλλου ἄν τινος προτιμήσειεν, ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι καὶ καινά τινα δαιμόνια οἱ τοιοῦτοι ἀντεσφέροντες πολλοὺς ἀναπείθουσιν ἀλλοτριονομεῖν, κἀκ τούτου καὶ συνωμοσίαι καὶ συστάσεις ἑταιρεῖαί τε γίγνονται, ἅπερ ἥκιστα μοναρχίᾳ συμφέρει.
[Aelius Spartianus,] Life of Hadrian 22.10 (tr. David Magie):
He despised foreign cults, but native Roman ones he observed most scrupulously.

sacra Romana diligentissime curavit, peregrina contempsit.

Cf. Dio Cassius 6.24.1 (tr. Earnest Cary):
The Romans, after meeting with many reverses as well as successes in the course of the numerous battles they fought with the Faliscans, came to despise their ancestral rites and turned eagerly to foreign ones with the idea that these would help them. Human nature is for some reason accustomed in trouble to scorn what is familiar, even though it be divine, and to admire the untried. For, believing that they are not helped by the former in their present difficulty, men expect no benefit from it in the future either; but from what is strange they hope to accomplish whatever they may desire, by reason of its novelty.

Ὅτι πρὸς Φαλίσκους οἱ Ῥωμαῖοι πολλὰς μάχας μαχεσάμενοι καὶ πολλὰ καὶ παθόντες καὶ δράσαντες, τῶν μὲν πατρίων ἱερῶν ὠλιγώρησαν, πρὸς δὲ τὰ ξενικὰ ὡς καὶ ἐπαρκέσοντά σφισιν ὥρμησαν. φιλεῖ γάρ πως τὸ ἀνθρώπειον ἐν ταῖς συμφοραῖς τοῦ μὲν συνήθους, κἂν θεῖον ᾖ, καταφρονεῖν, τὸ δὲ ἀπείρατον θαυμάζειν. παρ᾿ ἐκείνου μὲν γὰρ ἅτε μηδὲν ἐς τὸ παρὸν ὠφελεῖσθαι νομίζοντες οὐδὲ ἐς τὸ ἔπειτα χρηστὸν οὐδὲν προσδέχονται, παρὰ δὲ δὴ τοῦ ξένου πᾶν ὅσον ἂν ἐθελήσωσιν ὑπὸ τῆς καινοτομίας ἐλπίζουσιν.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Great Books

Daniel Sanderson, "An Interview with Pierre Ryckmans," Chinese Studies Association of Australia Newsletter, No. 41 (February 2011), rpt. China Heritage Quarterly, No. 26 (June 2011), Ryckmans speaking:
We are often tempted to do research on topics that are somewhat marginal and lesser-known, since, on these, it is easier to produce original work. But one of my Chinese masters gave me a most valuable advice: 'Always devote yourself to the study of great works—works of fundamental importance—and your effort will never be wasted.'


Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 1088

Sophocles, Ajax. Electra. Oedipus Tyrannus. Edited and Translated by Hugh-Lloyd Jones (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994; reprinted with corrections, 1997 = Loeb Classical Library, 20), p. 439 (lines 1086-1095):
If I am a prophet and wise in my judgment, O Cithaeron, you shall not fail to know that tomorrow's full moon exalts you as the fellow-native and nurse and mother of Oedipus, and that you are honoured by us with dances, as doing kindness to our princes.
The Greek on p. 438:
εἴπερ ἐγὼ μάντις εἰ-
μι καὶ κατὰ γνώμαν ἴδρις,
οὐ τὸν Ὄλυμπον ἀπείρων,
ὦ Κιθαιρών, οὐκ ἔσῃ τὰν αὔριον
πανσέληνον μὴ οὐ σέ γε καὶ πατριώταν Οἰδίπου        1090
καὶ τροφὸν καὶ ματέρ᾿ αὔξειν,
καὶ χορεύεσθαι πρὸς ἡ-
μῶν ὡς ἐπίηρα φέροντα
τοῖς ἐμοῖς τυράννοις.        1095
Lloyd-Jones didn't translate οὐ τὸν Ὄλυμπον ἀπείρων. The omission persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library. Cf. David Grene's translation (emphasis added):
If I am a prophet and wise of heart
you shall not fail, Cithaeron,
by the limitless sky, you shall not!—
to know that tomorrow's full moon
shall honor you as Oedipus' compatriot,
his mother and nurse at once;
and that you shall be honored in dancing by us,
for rendering service to our king.
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Edited by R.D. Dawe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 158 (on line 660):
[T]he accusative of that by which the oath is sworn need not be accompanied by μά ...


Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A Critic of the Universe

Melville B. Anderson (1851-1933), "The Conversation of John Muir," American Museum Journal 15 (1915) 117-121 (at 119):
Much later on in the same conversation, he chanced to be speaking with humorous indignation, but not unkindly, of certain differences he had had with an Eastern naturalist, and wound up about as follows:
....But I got the better of him once. A number of us, botanists and foresters and others, were examining the mountain region of Tennessee and North Carolina and on down the ridge. The autumn frosts were just beginning, and the mountains and higher hilltops were gorgeous. My friend and the rest were making a little fun of me for my enthusiasm. We climbed slope after slope through the trees till we came out on the bare top of Grandfather Mountain. There it all lay in the sun below us, ridge beyond ridge, each with its typical tree-covering and color, all blended with the darker shades of the pines and the green of the deep valleys.— I couldn't hold in, and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all. Then I happened to look round and catch sight of ———— standing there as cool as a rock, with a half amused look on his face at me, but never saying a word.

"Why don't you let yourself out at a sight like that?" I said.

"I don't wear my heart upon my sleeve," he retorted.

"Who cares where you wear your little heart, man?" I cried. "There you stand in the face of all Heaven come down on earth, like a critic of the universe, as if to say, Come, Nature, bring on the best you have: I'm from BOSTON!" —
The Eastern naturalist was Charles Sprague Sargent, director of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum. See Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 327.

Hat tip: Heather Mackay Roberts.


Adjectives and Adverbs

The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene by Marie-Francoise Allain, tr. Guido Waldman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. 123 (Greene speaking):
Adjectives are to be avoided unless they are strictly necessary; adverbs too, which is even more important. When I open a book and find that so and so has 'answered sharply' or 'spoken tenderly', I shut it again: it's the dialogue itself which should express the sharpness or the tenderness without any need to use adverbs to underline them.



Hesiod, Works and Days 342 (tr. M.L. West):
Invite to dinner him who is friendly, and leave your enemy be.

τὸν φιλέοντ᾿ ἐπὶ δαῖτα καλεῖν, τὸν δ᾿ ἐχθρὸν ἐᾶσαι.

Monday, December 19, 2016



Simon Leys (1935-2014), The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (New York: New York Review Books, 2013), p. 42:
[T]rue Philistines are not people who are incapable of recognising beauty; they recognise it all too well; they detect its presence anywhere, immediately, and with a flair as infallible as that of the most sensitive aesthete—but for them, it is in order to be able better to pounce upon it at once and to destroy it before it can gain a foothold in their universal empire of ugliness. Ignorance is not simply the absence of knowledge, obscurantism does not result from a dearth of light, bad taste is not merely a lack of good taste, stupidity is not a simple want of intelligence: all these are fiercely active forces, that angrily assert themselves on every occasion; they tolerate no challenge to their omnipresent rule. In every department of human endeavour, inspired talent is an intolerable insult to mediocrity. If this is true in the realm of aesthetics, it is even more true in the world of ethics. More than artistic beauty, moral beauty seems to exasperate our sorry species. The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.


The Hawk and the Nightingale

Hesiod, Works and Days 203-211 (tr. Glenn W. Most):
This is how the hawk addressed the colorful-necked nightingale,
carrying her high up among the clouds, grasping her with its claws,
while she wept piteously, pierced by the curved claws;
he said to her forcefully,
"Silly bird, why are you crying out? One far superior to you is holding you.
You are going wherever I shall carry you, even if you are a singer;
I shall make you my dinner if I wish, or I shall let you go.
Stupid he who would wish to contend against those stronger than he is:
for he is deprived of the victory, and suffers pains in addition to his humiliations."

ὧδ᾿ ἴρηξ προσέειπεν ἀηδόνα ποικιλόδειρον,
ὕψι μάλ᾿ ἐν νεφέεσσι φέρων, ὀνύχεσσι μεμαρπώς·
ἡ δ᾿ ἐλεόν, γναμπτοῖσι πεπαρμένη ἀμφ᾿ ὀνύχεσσιν,        205
μύρετο· τὴν ὅ γ᾿ ἐπικρατέως πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπεν·
"δαιμονίη, τί λέληκας; ἔχει νύ σε πολλὸν ἀρείων·
τῇ δ᾿ εἶς ᾗ σ᾿ ἂν ἐγώ περ ἄγω καὶ ἀοιδὸν ἐοῦσαν·
δεῖπνον δ᾿ αἴ κ᾿ ἐθέλω ποιήσομαι ἠὲ μεθήσω.
ἄφρων δ᾿ ὅς κ᾿ ἐθέλῃ πρὸς κρείσσονας ἀντιφερίζειν·        210
νίκης τε στέρεται πρός τ᾿ αἴσχεσιν ἄλγεα πάσχει."

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Intellectual Leprosy

Simone Weil (1909-1943), "On the Abolition of All Political Parties" (tr. Simon Leys):
Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion of goodness, it follows inevitably that the party will exert a collective pressure upon people's minds. This pressure is very real; it is openly displayed; it is professed and proclaimed. It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it.


Just imagine: if a member of the party (elected member of parliament, candidate or simple activist) were to make a public commitment, 'Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.'

Such words would not be welcome. His comrades and even many other people would accuse him of betrayal.


Political parties are a marvellous mechanism which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true. As a result — except for a very small number of fortuitous coincidences — nothing is decided, nothing is executed, but measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth.

If one were to entrust the organisation of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.


In fact — and with very few exceptions — when a man joins a party, he submissively adopts a mental attitude which he will express later on with words such as, 'As a monarchist, as a Socialist, I think that ...' It is so comfortable! It amounts to having no thoughts at all. Nothing is more comfortable than not having to think.


Even in school, one can think of no better way to stimulate the minds of children than to invite them to take sides — for or against. They are presented with a sentence from a great author and asked, 'Do you agree, yes or no? Develop your arguments.' At examination time, the poor wretches, having only three hours to write their dissertations, cannot, at the start, spare more than five minutes to decide whether they agree or not. And yet it would have been so easy to tell them, 'Meditate on this text, and then express the ideas that come to your mind.'

Nearly everywhere — often even when dealing with purely technical problems — instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking.

This leprosy is killing us; it is doubtful whether it can be cured without first starting with the abolition of all political parties.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Nescio, Ergo Taceo

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex 569 (Creon speaking; tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I do not know; when I do not understand I like to say nothing.

οὐκ οἶδ᾿· ἐφ᾿ οἷς γὰρ μὴ φρονῶ σιγᾶν φιλῶ.
This is a good rule to follow. Observed strictly, however, it would reduce most people, myself included, to absolute silence.

Related post: Silence.


A Source of Excitement

John Garth, "The Storyteller," Oxford Today (May 22, 2013):
Garner was able to go to grammar school only because means-testing meant his fees were waived. It was a culture shock, not least for his family. They were thrilled that "Alan was going to get an education" but, he says, "There was no concept of what that was. I soon learnt that it was not a good idea to come home excited over irregular verbs." They felt threatened; he felt alienated: the classic pickle of the first-generation educated...
This is often misquoted, e.g. by Wikipedia, as "excited over regular verbs."



Paying Attention

Simone Weil (1909-1943), "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God" (tr. Emma Crauford):
If we have no aptitude or natural taste for geometry this does not mean that our faculty for attention will not be developed by wrestling with a problem or studying a theorem. On the contrary it is almost an advantage.

It does not even matter much whether we succeed in finding the solution or understanding the proof, although it is important to try really hard to do so. Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted.


If we concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if at the end of an hour we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul.


The second condition is to take great pains to examine squarely and to contemplate attentively and slowly each school task in which we have failed, seeing how unpleasing and second-rate it is, without seeking any excuse or overlooking any mistake or any of our tutor's corrections, trying to get down to the origin of each fault. There is a great temptation to do the opposite, to give a sideways glance at the corrected exercise if it is bad, and to hide it forthwith. Most of us do this nearly always. We have to withstand this temptation. Incidentally, moreover, nothing is more necessary for academic success, because, despite all our efforts, we work without making much progress when we refuse to give our attention to the faults we have made and our tutor's corrections.

Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort. If one says to one's pupils: "Now you must pay attention," one sees them contracting their brows, holding their breath, stiffening their muscles. If after two minutes they are asked what they have been paying attention to, they cannot reply. They have not been paying attention. They have been contracting their muscles.


Will power, the kind that, if need be, makes us set our teeth and endure suffering, is the principal weapon of the apprentice engaged in manual work. But contrary to the usual belief, it has practically no place in study. The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire, there must be pleasure and joy in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade.


Attention is an effort, the greatest of all efforts perhaps, but it is a negative effort. Of itself, it does not involve tiredness. When we become tired, attention is scarcely possible any more, unless we have already had a good deal of practice. It is better to stop working altogether, to seek some relaxation, and then a little later to return to the task; we have to press on and loosen up alternately, just as we breathe in and out.

Twenty minutes of concentrated, untired attention is infinitely better than three hours of the kind of frowning application which leads us to say with a sense of duty done: "I have worked well!"


All wrong translations, all absurdities in geometry problems, all clumsiness of style and all faulty connection of ideas in compositions and essays, all such things are due to the fact that thought has seized upon some idea too hastily and being thus prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth. The cause is always that we have wanted to be too active; we have wanted to carry out a search. This can be proved every time, for every fault, if we trace it to its root. There is no better exercise than such a tracing down of our faults, for this truth is one of those which we can only believe when we have experienced it hundreds and thousands of times.


Academic work is one of those fields which contain a pearl so precious that it is worth while to sell all our possessions, keeping nothing for ourselves, in order to be able to acquire it.
Hat tip: Duggan Phillips.

Friday, December 16, 2016


A Strange Conversation

Pseudo-Dositheus, Colloquia Monacensia-Einsidlenia 10 e-f, tr. Eleanor Dickey, The Colloquia of the Hermaneumata Pseudodositheana, Vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 126-127:
'Do you want to come
to the privy?'
'You reminded me well;
my belly urges [Lat.: compels] me
[to go].
Let's go now.'
Μήτι θέλεις ἐλθεῖν
'ς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα;
Καλῶς με ὑπέμνησας,
ἡ κοιλία με ἐπάγει.
ἄγωμεν λοιπόν.
Numquid vis venire
ad secessum?
Bene me admonuisti,
venter me cogit.
eamus iam.



A Hike on the Downs

John Betjeman (1906-1984), "A Hike on the Downs," Collected Poems (London: John Murray, 1988), p. 30:
"Yes, rub some soap upon your feet!
    We'll hike round Winchester for weeks—
Like ancient Britons—just we two—
    Or more perhaps like ancient Greeks.

"You take your pipe—that will impress
    Your strength on anyone who passes;
I'll take my Plautus (non purgatus)
    And both my pairs of horn-rimmed glasses.

"I've got my first, and now I know
    What life is and what life contains—
For, being just a first year man
You don't meet all the first-class brains.

"Objectively, our Common Room
    Is like a small Athenian State—
Except for Lewis: he's all right
    But do you think he's quite first rate?

Hampshire mentality is low,
    And that is why they stare at us.
Yes, here's the earthwork—but it's dark;
    We may as well return by bus."
John Dougill, Oxford in English Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), p. 109:
The differing sensibilities among the all-male community could lead to friction no less than affection, as is illustrated by the strained relationship which developed between C.S. Lewis and one of his pupils at Magdalen, John Betjeman. The solid-minded Lewis was irked by his student's giggling manner and affectations, and his distaste was exacerbated by Betjeman's preference for extra-curricular activities at the expense of his studies. For his part, the young aesthete disliked Lewis's tastes both in literature and lifestyle, for he did not share his tutor's love of myth and the medieval, and he was upset by the austere furnishings of his rooms ('arid' he calls them in Summoned by Bells [1960]). Even humour separated the two men, and Betjeman complained peevishly that his tutor had forever ruined Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan' by wondering whether the 'pants' in the line, 'As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing', were made of wool or fur. When Betjeman left (without a degree) and applied for a teaching post, Lewis denied him a favourable testimonial, which led the poet to harbour a lifelong grudge. In his poetry collection Continual Dew (1937), he thanked Lewis for a footnote on page 256, though the book contained no such page...
See also Judith Priestman, "The dilettante and the dons," Oxford Today 18.3 (Trinity 2006) 20-23.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus: The Lacuna After Line 227

Sophocles, Ajax. Electra. Oedipus Tyrannus. Edited and Translated by Hugh-Lloyd Jones (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994; reprinted with corrections, 1997 = Loeb Classical Library, 20), p. 345 (bottom of page, from critical apparatus to Oedipus Tyrannus):

You might think, looking at the note, that "hunc v." (i.e. hunc versum) refers to line 221. You would be mistaken. It actually refers to line 227. Cf. the Greek on p. 346, where a lacuna is indicated after line 227:

The critical apparatus on p. 347 has an almost identical note:

The note at the bottom of p. 345 (from "post hunc v." onwards) should be deleted. The mistake persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library.

I have the 1994 edition, in which the note appears only on p. 345, not on p. 347. The 1997 edition partially corrected the mistake, by putting the note on p. 347, where it belongs, but it also erroneously kept the note on p. 345. I would also give Groeneboom credit on p. 347 for detecting the lacuna. See Petrus Groeneboom, Studia praesertim critica et epicritica in Sophoclis Oedipum Regem (Utrecht: C.H.E. Breijer, 1898), p. 45. The critical apparatus in Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Edited by R.D. Dawe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 38, says:
227 lacunam sequentem nescio quis primum statuerit.
Likewise in Dawe's revised 2006 edition, but the "nescio quis" is Groeneboom.

See also Bernd Manuwald, "Sophokles, OT 227-229," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 154.1 (2011) 125-127.



Ex Oriente Trux, or Divided We Fall

Guilhem de Montanhagol (13th century), poem no. 14 Ricketts, first stanza, tr. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971), p. 275:
Throughout the world men find fault with one another, the clerics with the laymen and the laymen with them, likewise; and the people complain of their lords' excesses, and the lords often of them. Thus is the world full of ill-will, but now there come from out of the East the Tartars who, unless God forbids it, will reduce them all to a common measure.
The Provençal, id., p. 274:
Per lo mon fan li un dels autres rancura,
Li clerc dels laycx e.l laic d'elhs yssamen;
E li poble.s planhon de desmezura
De lor senhors, e.l senhor d'elhs, söen.
Aissi es ples lo mons de mal talen,
Mas ar venon sai deves Orïen
Li Tartari, si Dieus non o defen, faran totz estar d'una mensura.
I don't have access to Peter T. Ricketts, ed., Les poésies de Guilhem de Montanhagol: troubadour provençal du XIIIe siècle (Toronto: Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, 1964).

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


The Urge to Create

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), "What Do We Believe?" Unpopular Opinions (1946; rpt. London: Victor Gollancz, 1951), pp. 17-20 (at 18):
The men who create with their minds and those who create (not merely labour) with their hands will, I think, agree that their periods of creative activity are those in which they feel right with themselves and the world. And those who bring life into the world will tell you the same thing. There is a psychological theory that artistic creation is merely a "compensation" for the frustration of sexual creativeness; but it is more probable that the making of life is only one manifestation of the universal urge to create. Our worst trouble today is our feeble hold on creation. To sit down and let ourselves be spoon-fed with the ready-made is to lose our grip on our only true life and our only real selves.



Dear Mike,

As is well known in medical circles, the hunchbacked, crabbed scribbling of marginalia may lead to scholiosis; and any asinine practitioner of the same is a scholiass.

As you're a connoisseur of Loeb blunders, have a look at p. 270 of Shackleton Bailey's Martial vol II, bk ix, 49, 9 (just spotted this morning — I try to read two or three a day):
quid non long (sic) dies, quid non consumitis anni?
Ask the same question of the purblind old crone Loeb compositors — quid non consumitis anūs?


Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

The blunder also appears in the Digital Loeb Classical Library.



Scholiasts on Aristophanes

Henry Jackson, letter to F.W. Maitland (January 27, 1904), in Henry Jackson, O.M. Vice-Master of Trinity College & Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Cambridge. A Memoir by R. St John Parry (1926; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 129:
I had thought that the scholiasts on Aristophanes would have interesting things to say, if one did but read them seriously. Lo and behold, they are no better than the barn-door commentator of this twentieth century. They write down obvious statements derived from reading the text, and very seldom have a scrap of tradition to add. Now and then they are palpably wrong. About real difficulties they know no more than we do, and I trust that most of us have rather more judgment.
Henry Jackson, letter to D'Arcy Thompson (September 27, 1904), op. cit., p. 53:
I am sorry to say that the scholiasts on Aristophanes appear to me to be incompetent asses.


The Throne of Artemis

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex 159-164 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
On you first I call, daughter of Zeus, immortal Athena, and I implore your sister who protects the land, Artemis, seated on her round throne, far-famed, in the market-place, and Phoebus the far-darter; appear to me, all three, to ward off doom!

πρῶτα σὲ κεκλόμενος, θύγατερ Διός, ἄμβροτ᾿ Ἀθάνα,
γαιάοχόν τ᾿ ἀδελφεὰν        160
Ἄρτεμιν, ἃ κυκλόεντ᾿ ἀγορᾶς θρόνον εὐκλέα θάσσει
καὶ Φοῖβον ἑκαβόλον, ἰώ,
τρισσοὶ ἀλεξίμοροι προφάνητέ μοι.
One doesn't expect to find humor in a commentary on this dark play, but I was amused by a note on line 161 in Sophocles, Oedipus Rex. Edited by R.D. Dawe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 108:
161 ἀγορᾶς one manuscript has ἀγοραῖς, which will fit θάσσει 'sit on a round throne in the market-place' just as ἀγοραῖσι suits θακεῖ at 20. If the genitive ἀγορᾶς is read, as editors prefer, the meaning is 'belonging to the market-place'. In spite of Eur. Or. 919 ἀγορᾶς (-αῖς; three MSS!) κύκλον 'the round market-place' it is inconceivable that the genitive here could be constituent, i.e. the throne consisting of the market-place, as if the throne and the market-place were one and the same thing. Such an interpretation is uncomplimentary to the physique of the divine huntress.
In other words, Artemis is not "broad in the beam," as we might say, or, to use a word of Greek origin, she is not steatopygous. Unfortunately (in my opinion) Dawe removed the last sentence in his revised edition of the play (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 88, and replaced it with:
Archaeology has yet to discover any such thing as a round market-place from the classical period.

Monday, December 12, 2016


School Meals

Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), Tudor School-Boy Life: The Dialogues of Juan Luis Vives, tr. Foster Watson (London: J.M. Dent & Company, 1908), pp. 27-29 (from Dialogue VII = Refectio Scholastica—School Meals; division numbers and headings omitted):
Piso. Our early breakfast is a piece of coarse bread and some butter or some fruit as the time of the year supplies. For lunch, there are cooked vegetables or pottage in pottage-vessels, and meat with relishes. Sometimes turnips, sometimes cabbages, starch-food, wheat-meal, or rice. Then on fish-days, buttermilk from butter which has been turned out in deep dishes, with some cakes of bread, and a fresh fish, if it can be bought fairly cheap in the fish-market, or if not, a salt-fish, well soaked. Then pease, or pulse, or lentils, or beans, or lupines.

Nep. How much of these does each get?

Piso. Bread as much as he wishes; of viands as much as is necessary not for satiety, but for nourishment. For elaborate feasts, you must seek elsewhere, not in the school, where the aim is to form minds to the way of virtue.

Nep. What, then, do you drink?

Piso. Some drink fresh, clear water; others light beer; some few, but only seldom, wine, well diluted. The afternoon meal (merenda) or before-meal consists of some bread and almonds or nuts, dried figs and raisins; in summer, of pears, apples, cherries, or plums. But when we go into the country for the sake of our minds (recreation), then we have milk, either fresh or congealed, fresh cheese, cream, horse-beans soaked in lye, vine-leaves, and anything else which the country house affords. The chief meal begins with a salad with closely-cut bits, sprinkled with salt, moistened with drops of olive-oil, and with vinegar poured on it.

Nep. Can you have nut or turnip oil?

Piso. Ugh! the unsavoury and unhealthy stuff! Then there is in a great vessel a concoction of mutton broth with sauce, and to it, dried plums, roots, or herbs as supplements, and at times a most savoury pie.

Nep. What sort of sauces do you have?

Piso. The best and wisest of sauces, hunger. Besides, on appointed week-days we get roasted meat—as a rule, veal; in spring sometimes, some young kid. As an after-dish a little bit of radish and cheese, not old and decayed, but fresh cheese, which is more nourishing than the old, pears, peaches, and quinces. On the days on which no meat may be eaten, we have eggs instead of meat, either broiled, fried, or boiled, either singly by themselves or mingled in one pan with vinegar or oil, not so much poured on as dropped in; sometimes a little fish, and nuts follow on cheese.


A Little-Known Ancient Military Tactic

An Essay Upon Wind; With Curious Anecdotes of Eminent Peteurs (Potsdam: Peter Puffendorf, [1800]), pp. 32-35:
The ancients were prodigious great Farters, particularly the Grecians. Peditorius, the elder, hath recorded, that a very important post of the Grecian army was once saved from being surprized by the Persian army, in the following remarkable manner.—The Persians had a dangerous river to ford, and knew that a small opposition from the Grecians would defeat them, if they were attacked in passing the river; they therefore made the attempt in the dead silence of a dark night, at some distance below the out-post of the Grecian army; here they began to ford the river, and several of the Persian soldiers in front had actually made good the landing; but, fortunately for the Grecian army, one of the sentries of their advanced posts had strayed from his station, to this very spot where the Persians made the attempt.

Now, whether this Grecian was seized with a panic, or whether he tried the experiment from former success, cannot now be ascertained, as Peditorius, and all the other historians of that period, are silent in respect to his former notoriety in farting; however, the man did fart, and so loud, and so many,* that the Persians, thinking the Grecian army was in motion, and their artillery coming up, were, at once, seized with a general panic, and retreated in such confusion, that numbers of them were drowned. The Grecian camp was, by this time, alarmed; they soon assembled their army, pursued the disordered Persians, came up with and fiercely attacked them, and, in a very short time, gained a complete victory.—Thus, by the most noble faculty of farting, was the Grecian army saved from being surprized.—Thus, by the vigorous exertion of one farting Grecian soldier, did the Persian army fly.—And thus, by the effect of astonishing preternatural farting, did the Grecian army obtain a glorious victory over the numerous and powerful Persians.

* Crepitus Juvenis says, six thousand or more; but, I think, he must be mistaken, or have exaggerated, as the strength of the most able Farter could not possibly stand so many thundering convulsions.



A Pretty Boy, Not a Warrior

In the third book of the Iliad, Paris (or Alexander, as he is also known) puts himself forward as champion of the Trojans. But when on the Greek side Menelaus steps forth to accept the challenge, Paris shrinks back in fright, like a man suddenly encountering a snake. Paris' brother Hector chides him (3.39-57; tr. Peter Green):
Wretched Paris, so handsome, so mad for women, seducer,
I wish you had never been born or had died unmarried!        40
Yes, that I'd prefer: far better than being left with you
as this object of other men's ridicule and contempt.
Oh, they'll snigger aloud, indeed, will the long-haired Achaians,
and say, here's a leading man who gets to be champion
on good looks alone, without strength or courage in his heart.        45
Were you such a one when in your seafaring vessels
you sailed the deep, with the trusty comrades you'd mustered,
consorted with foreigners, brought back a beautiful woman
from a far-off land, the child of warrior spearmen,
a great grief to your father, your city, your whole nation:        50
a delight to our enemies, to yourself a cause of shame?
So will you not, then, confront the warlike Menelaös,
find out the kind of man whose lusty bedmate you've taken?
No help for you from the lyre, or the gifts of Aphrodītē,
or your hair or your good looks, when you're laid low in the dust.        55
The Trojans are arrant cowards: otherwise by now
you'd be wearing a shower of stones for all your evil deeds.

Δύσπαρι, εἶδος ἄριστε, γυναιμανές, ἠπεροπευτά,
αἴθ᾿ ὄφελες ἄγονός τ᾿ ἔμεναι ἄγαμός τ᾿ ἀπολέσθαι.        40
καί κε τὸ βουλοίμην, καί κεν πολὺ κέρδιον ἦεν
ἢ οὕτω λώβην τ᾿ ἔμεναι καὶ ὑπόψιον ἄλλων.
ἦ που καγχαλόωσι κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοί,
φάντες ἀριστῆα πρόμον ἔμμεναι, οὕνεκα καλὸν
εἶδος ἔπ᾿, ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἔστι βίη φρεσὶν οὐδέ τις ἀλκή.        45
ἦ τοιόσδε ἐὼν ἐν ποντοπόροισι νέεσσι
πόντον ἐπιπλώσας, ἑτάρους ἐρίηρας ἀγείρας,
μιχθεὶς ἀλλοδαποῖσι γυναῖκ᾿ εὐειδέ᾿ ἀνῆγες
ἐξ ἀπίης γαίης, νυὸν ἀνδρῶν αἰχμητάων,
πατρί τε σῷ μέγα πῆμα πόληί τε παντί τε δήμῳ,        50
δυσμενέσιν μὲν χάρμα, κατηφείην δὲ σοὶ αὐτῷ;
οὐκ ἂν δὴ μείνειας ἀρηίφιλον Μενέλαον;
γνοίης χ᾿ οἵου φωτὸς ἔχεις θαλερὴν παράκοιτιν·
οὐκ ἄν τοι χραίσμῃ κίθαρις τά τε δῶρ᾿ Ἀφροδίτης,
ἥ τε κόμη τό τε εἶδος, ὅτ᾿ ἐν κονίῃσι μιγείης.        55
ἀλλὰ μάλα Τρῶες δειδήμονες. ἦ τέ κεν ἤδη
λάινον ἕσσο χιτῶνα κακῶν ἕνεχ᾿ ὅσσα ἔοργας.
This reminds me of Archilochus, fragment 114 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
I have no liking for a general who is tall, walks with a swaggering gait, takes pride in his curls, and is partly shaven. Let mine be one who is short, has a bent look about the shins, stands firmly on his feet, and is full of courage.

οὐ φιλέω μέγαν στρατηγὸν οὐδὲ διαπεπλιγμένον
οὐδὲ βοστρύχοισι γαῦρον οὐδ᾿ ὑπεξυρημένον,
ἀλλά μοι σμικρός τις εἴη καὶ περὶ κνήμας ἰδεῖν
ῥοικός, ἀσφαλέως βεβηκὼς ποσσί, καρδίης πλέως.

Sunday, December 11, 2016



Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), "Christian Morality," Unpopular Opinions (1946; rpt. London: Victor Gollancz, 1951), pp. 9-12 (at 11):
Perhaps if the Churches had had the courage to lay their emphasis where Christ laid it, we might not have come to this present frame of mind in which it is assumed that the value of all work and the value of all people are to be assessed in terms of economics. We might not so readily take for granted that the production of anything (no matter how useless or dangerous) is justified so long as it issues in increased profits and wages; that so long as a worker is well paid, it does not matter whether his work is worthwhile in itself or good for his soul; that so long as a business deal keeps on the windy side of the law, we need not bother about its ruinous consequences to society or the individual. Or at any rate, now that we have seen the chaos of bloodshed that follows upon economic chaos, we might at least be able to listen with more confidence to the voice of an untainted and undivided Christendom. Doubtless it would have needed courage to turn Dives from the church door along with Mary Magdalen. (Has any prosperously fraudulent banker, I wonder, ever been refused communion on the grounds that he was, in the words of the English Prayerbook, "an open and notorious evil liver"?) But lack of courage, and appeasement in the face of well-organized iniquity, do nothing to avert catastrophe or to secure respect.


A Defense of Drinking

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), The Blithedale Romance, chapter XXI:
Human nature, in my opinion, has a naughty instinct that approves of wine, at least, if not of stronger liquor. The temperance-men may preach till doom's day; and still this cold and barren world will look warmer, kindlier, mellower, through the medium of a toper's glass; nor can they, with all their efforts, really spill his draught upon the floor, until some hitherto unthought-of discovery shall supply him with a truer element of joy. The general atmosphere of life must first be rendered so inspiriting that he will not need his delirious solace. The custom of tippling has its defensible side, as well as any other question. But these good people snatch at the old, time-honored demijohn, and offer nothing—either sensual or moral—nothing whatever to supply its place; and human life, as it goes with a multitude of men, will not endure so great a vacuum as would be left by the withdrawal of that big-bellied convexity. The space, which it now occupies, must somehow or other be filled up. As for the rich, it would be little matter if a blight fell upon their vineyards; but the poor man—whose only glimpse of a better state is through the muddy medium of his liquor—what is to be done for him? The reformers should make their efforts positive, instead of negative; they must do away with evil by substituting good.
Millicent Bell's note, in the Library of America edition of Hawthorne's Novels (1983), p. 1266:
This considerable passage, a defense of drinking, is deleted in the Morgan manuscript and absent from all printed editions until the Centenary, which restores it.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Such Is Human Life

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia," lines 21-38 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Little old white-haired man,
weak, half naked, barefoot,
with an enormous burden on his back,
up mountain and down valley,
over sharp rocks, across deep sands and bracken,        25
through wind and storm,
in burning, freezing weather,
runs on, running till he's out of breath,
crosses rivers, wades through swamps,
falls and climbs and rushes on        30
ever faster, no rest or relief,
battered, bloodied; till at last he comes
to where his way
and all his effort led him:
terrible, immense abyss        35
into which he falls, forgetting everything.
This, O virgin moon,
is human life.
The Italian:
Vecchierel bianco, infermo,
Mezzo vestito e scalzo,
Con gravissimo fascio in su le spalle,
Per montagna e per valle,
Per sassi acuti, ed alta rena, e fratte,        25
Al vento, alla tempesta, e quando avvampa
L'ora, e quando poi gela,
Corre via, corre, anela,
Varca torrenti e stagni,
Cade, risorge, e piú e piú s'affretta,        30
Senza posa o ristoro,
Lacero, sanguinoso; infin ch'arriva
Colà dove la via
E dove il tanto affaticar fu volto:
Abisso orrido, immenso,        35
Ov'ei precipitando, il tutto obblia.
Vergine luna, tale
È la vita mortale.
The same, tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth:
A hoary, weak, old man,
Half-clothed, with naked feet,
A load exceeding heavy on his shoulders,
O'er hill, o'er dale, o'er boulders
Sharp-pointed and deep desert-sand and brambles,        25
In wind and storm, beneath the raging heat
And later when 'tis chill,
Runs, runs on, never still;
O'er pools and torrents scrambles
Breathless; falls, rises, more and more doth haste,        30
Without pause, without rest,
Mangled and bleeding; till at length he comes
Where is the limit set
Unto his journey and so great distress:
A gulf, dread, bottomless,        35
Wherein he plunges and doth all forget.
Moon-maiden, such the way
We mortals live our day.
Related post: What Is Life?


God Mend Their Ears

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), "The English Language," Unpopular Opinions (1946; rpt. London: Victor Gollancz, 1951), pp. 89-97 (at 95):
There are pedants, God mend their ears, who, having read some cheap-jack, rule-of-thumb, cramp-wit folly in a sixpenny text-book, would like to break our free idiom to the bit of an alien fashion. These are not the Latinists (who know better), but the Latinisers; they remember the Latin bones of language, and will have them dry bones. These are the pinching misers, who will hoard their gold, but will not put it out to gain. Of such are the dreary little men who write to the papers protesting—in the teeth of Chaucer, Bacon, Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson, the English Bible, Milton, Burton, Congreve, Swift, Burke, Peacock, Ruskin, Arnold and the whole tradition of English letters—that a sentence must not end with a preposition. This is no matter of syntax; it is a matter of idiom; and the freedom to handle our prepositions is among the most glorious in our charter of liberties.

Friday, December 09, 2016


The Harvester of Mactar: A Self-Made Man

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.11824 = Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 7457 (Mactar, Tunisia, 3rd century A.D.), tr. Tim G. Parkin and Arthur J. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 39-40 (line numbers added in brackets by me):
I was born into a poor dwelling and of a poor father, who had no property or household. [5] From the time of my birth, I lived in the country looking after my business; there was no time off in the countryside and none for me at any time. And when the time of year had brought forth the grain ready for harvest, then I was the first reaper of the stalks. When the sickle-bearing gangs of men had made their way to the fields, [10] whether heading for The Nomads of Cirta or The Fields of Jupiter, as harvester I preceded them all, first into the fields, leaving the packed bands behind my back. I reaped twelve harvests under the raging sun, and afterwards became a work gang leader instead of a labourer. [15] We led the gangs of harvesters for eleven years and our band cut down the Numidian fields. This effort and my frugal lifestyle brought success and made me master of a household and gained me a house, and my home itself lacks nothing. [20] And my life gained the rewards of office: I was myself enrolled among the conscript councillors. Elected by the order [of the decurions], I had a seat in the order's temple and, starting out as a humble country boy, I too became censor. I produced children and saw them grow into young men and saw their children too. [25] In accord with our services in life, we have enjoyed years of fame, which no bitter tongue has hurt with any reproach. People, learn to pass your lives without giving reason for reproach. The man who has lived without deceit has earned meeting his death in such a manner.
The Latin (first two fragmentary lines omitted):
paupere progenitus lare sum parvoq(ue) parente
   cuius nec census neque domus fuerat.
ex quo sum genitus, ruri mea vixi colendo;        5
   nec ruri pausa nec mihi semper erat.
et cum maturas segetes produxerat annus,
   demessor calami tunc ego primus eram.
falcifera cum turma virum processerat arvis,
   seu Cirtae Nomados seu Iovis arva petens,        10
demessor cunctos anteibam primus in arvis,
   pos(t) tergus linquens densa meum gremia.
bis senas messes rabido sub sole totondi,
   ductor et ex opere postea factus eram.
undecim et turmas messorum duximus annis,        15
   et Numidiae campos nostra manus secuit.
hic labor et vita parvo con(ten)ta valere
   et dominum fecere domus et villa paratast,
et nullis opibus indiget ipsa domus.
   et nostra vita fructus percepit honorum;        20
inter conscriptos scribtus et ipse fui.
   ordinis in templo delectus ab ordine sedi,
   et de rusticulo censor et ipse fui.
et genui et vidi iuvenes carosq(ue) nepotes.
vitae pro meritis claros transegimus annos        25
   quos nullo lingua crimine laedit atrox.
discite, mortales, sine crimine degere vitam.
   sic meruit, vixit qui sine fraude, mori.


The Principle of Sound Learning

F.B. Cornford (1874-1943), Microcosmographia Academica (Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes, 1908), page number unknown (librum non vidi):
The Principle of Sound Learning is that the noise of vulgar fame should never trouble the cloistered calm of academic existence. Hence, learning is called sound when no one has ever heard of it; and 'sound scholar' is a term of praise applied to one another by learned men who have no reputation outside the University, and a rather queer one inside it. If you should write a book (you had better not), be sure that it is unreadable; otherwise you will be called 'brilliant' and forfeit all respect.

University printing presses exist, and are subsidised by the Government for the purpose of producing books which no one can read; and they are true to their high calling. Books are the sources of material for lectures. They should be kept from the young; for to read books and remember what you read well enough to reproduce it is called 'cramming', and this is destructive of all true education. The best way to protect the young from books is, first, to make sure that they shall be so dry as to offer no temptation; and, second, to store them in such a way that no one can find them without several years' training. A lecturer is a sound scholar, who is chosen to teach on the ground that he was once able to learn. Eloquence is not permissible in a lecture; it is a privilege reserved by statute for the Public Orator.


A Spelling Mistake

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), The Elgin Marbles. Should they be returned to Greece? with essays by Robert Browning and Graham Binns, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 1997), p. x:
In towns and villages all over Greece, and in Greek tavernas all over the world, the spirit of phylloxenia prevails and no British guest is allowed to pay his or her bill.
For phylloxenia read philoxenia (hospitality).

Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who notes that the error suggests that "C.H. is more familiar with pre-phylloxera Bordeaux than with the Greek language." Hitchens' first wife (to whom he was still married in 1987, when the first edition of the book appeared) was Greek.


Thursday, December 08, 2016


The Field

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), "Strawberry," Wild Fruits, ed. Bradley P. Dean (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), pp. 10-17 (at p. 15, with editor's note on p. 289):
In the vicinity of Bangor, as I am told, they are found at the roots of grass where it is up to your knees, and they are smelled before they are seen, in hot weather—also on mountains whence you see the Penobscot fifteen miles off and the white sails of a hundred schooners flapping. There, sometimes, where silver spoons and saucers are scarce but everything else is plentiful, they empty countless quarts into a milk pan, stir in cream and sugar, while the party sits around with each a big spoon.

as I am told: Thoreau was probably told this by his cousin, George Thatcher, who lived in Bangor, Maine.
I grew up "in the vicinity of Bangor," just across the Penobscot River from Bangor, in fact. Behind our house was an unimproved area we called "The Field," bordered by four streets—Washington Street, Eastern Avenue, Chamberlain Street, State Street—and partially bisected by Holyoke Street. Someone owned it, I suppose, but to us it was the village commons, and we had the usufruct of it.

We neighborhood boys, without adult supervision, mowed part of the knee-high grass for a baseball field in the summer, and in the winter, where the field sloped downwards towards Holyoke and Washington Streets, we went sledding after school until it was too dark to see. I once threw a snowball at a passing car, and when the driver got out and chased me, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me into the safety of the field.

Wild strawberries grew in abundance in the field, and I spent many hours in late spring and early summer on my hands and knees, picking them. Most of those I picked went immediately into my mouth, not into my pail, but enough were saved so that my mother (who let nothing go to waste) could make strawberry jam, in quantities sufficient to last us until the following year. Some of the berries we ate with milk and sugar for breakfast, but most became jam.

The field no longer exists in the form in which I knew it. New streets now run through it, and it is filled with houses.

Id., p. 17:
But let us not call it by the mean name of "strawberry" any longer because in Ireland or England they spread straw under their garden kinds. It is not that to the Laplander or the Chippewayan; better call it by the Indian name of heart-berry, for it is indeed a crimson heart which we eat at the beginning of summer to make us brave for all the rest of the year, as Nature is.
Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.13.12 (on old men; tr. John Henry Freese):
They live in memory rather than in hope; for the life that remains to them is short, but that which is past is long, and hope belongs to the future, memory to the past. This is the reason of their loquacity; for they are incessantly talking of the past, because they take pleasure in recollection.
Thanks to the generous reader who sent me a copy of Thoreau's Wild Fruits

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Condemnation of Trifles

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (June 16?, 1838):
The Unbelief of the age is attested by the loud condemnation of trifles. Look at our silly religious papers. Let a minister wear a cane, or a white hat, go to a theatre, or avoid a sunday school, let a school book with a Calvinistic sentence or a sunday schoolbook without one, be heard of, & instantly all the old grannies squeak & gibber & do what they call sounding an alarm, from Bangor to Mobile. Alike nice & squeamish is its ear; you must on no account say "stink" or "damn."
The old grannies, of whatever age and sex, are still squeaking, gibbering, and sounding the alarm today. Only the forbidden words and deeds have changed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


A Fable for Our Time

Phaedrus 4.20 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
He who brings aid to the wicked afterwards suffers for it.
A man picked up a venomous serpent benumbed by the cold
and warmed it in his bosom, showing pity to his own cost;
for when the serpent revived he immediately killed the man.
When another serpent asked him why he did this,        5
he replied: "To teach men not to be good to those who are no good."

Qui fert malis auxilium, post tempus dolet.
Gelu rigentem quidam colubram sustulit
sinuque fovit, contra se ipse misericors;
namque, ut refecta est, necuit hominem protinus.
hanc alia cum rogaret causam facinoris,        5
respondit "Ne quis discat prodesse improbis."
Babrius 143 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A farmer picked up a viper that was almost dead from the cold, and warmed it. But the viper, after stretching himself out, clung to the man's hand and bit him incurably, thus killing (the very one who wanted to save him). Dying, the man uttered these words, worthy to be remembered: "I suffer what I deserve, for showing pity to the wicked."

Ἔχιν γεωργὸς ἐκπνέοντ᾿ ὑπὸ ψύχους
λαβὼν ἔθαλπεν· ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνος ἡπλώθη
τῇ χειρὶ προσφύς, καὶ δακὼν ἀνιήτως
ἔκτεινεν [αὐτὸν τὸν θέλοντ᾿ ἀνστῆσαι.]†
θνῄσκων δὲ μῦθον εἶπεν ἄξιον μνήμης·        5
"δίκαια πάσχω τὸν πονηρὸν οἰκτείρας."
Aesop 82 Chambry (my translation):
A farmer in winter time found a serpent stiff with cold. After pitying the serpent and picking it up, he placed it beneath his garment's fold. The serpent, warmed up and reverting to its nature, struck and killed its benefactor. As he was dying, the man said, "I'm getting what I deserve for having taken pity on a wicked creature."

Γεωργός τις χειμῶνος ὥρᾳ ὄφιν εὑρὼν ὑπὸ κρύους πεπηγότα, τοῦτον ἐλεήσας καὶ λαβὼν ὑπὸ κόλπον ἔθετο. Θερμανθεὶς δὲ ἐκεῖνος καὶ ἀναλαβὼν τὴν ἰδίαν φύσιν ἔπληξε τὸν εὐεργέτην καὶ ἀνεῖλε· θνῄσκων δὲ ἔλεγε· Δίκαια πάσχω, τὸν πονηρὸν οἰκτείρας.
This is what happens to those who obey Matthew 5.44:
Do good to them that hate you.


What Else Does a Gentleman Need?

Adam Makkai, "Meeting Tibor and the Wlassics Family," In remembrance of Tibor Wlassics, savio gentil (Charlottesville: The Graduate Students of the Department of Italian, University of Virginia, 1999), pp. 1-2 (bracketed material in original):
(7) Just a few weeks before the National Uprising of 1956 his father, Dr. Géza Wlassics, who instilled in Tibor the love of Dante and that of the Italian language, commits suicide in deep depression. We roam the streets of Budapest for many nights reciting poetry to one another and dream of a better world.

(8) Not knowing what happened to him, I stumble across him at midnight in the Stefanskirche in Vienna in early December of 1956. When I ask him what he brought with him, he answers: "One white shirt, and the Dramas of Sophokles [in Hungarian translation by János Arany, Hungary's Goethe (1817-1882)], after all, what else does a gentleman need?" This becomes proverbial among Hungarian literati in the West.
In the title of the Gedenkschrift, the phrase savio gentil comes from the description of Vergil in Dante's Inferno 7.3—quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe (that noble sage, who knew everything).

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, December 05, 2016


De Officiis

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), The Blithedale Romance, chapter XX (Zenobia to Coverdale):
"Oh, this stale excuse of duty!" said Zenobia, in a whisper so full of scorn that it penetrated me like the hiss of a serpent. "I have often heard it before, from those who sought to interfere with me, and I know precisely what it signifies. Bigotry; self-conceit; an insolent curiosity; a meddlesome temper; a cold-blooded criticism, founded on a shallow interpretation of half-perceptions; a monstrous scepticism in regard to any conscience or any wisdom, except one's own; a most irreverent propensity to thrust Providence aside, and substitute one's self in its awful place—out of these, and other motives as miserable as these, comes your idea of duty!"


You Lie!

Dear Mike,

I was reading Hubert Bost and Antony McKenna’s edition of Les “Éclaircissements” de Pierre Bayle (Paris, Champion, 2010) last night. These are the four articles he added to the second edition (1702) of his Dictionnaire historique et critique in response to criticism from the Walloon Church of Rotterdam. His subjects are Atheists, Manicheans, Pyrrhonians and Obscenities. Under Obscenities, Bayle writes:
La perfection d’une histoire est d’être desagréable à toutes les sectes & à toutes les nations: car c’est une preuve que l’auteur ne flate ni les unes ni les autres, & qu’il a dit à chacune ses véritez. Il y a beaucoup de lecteurs qui se fâchent à un tel point lorsqu’ils rencontrent certaines choses, qu’ils déchirent le feuillet ou qu’ils écrivent à la marge tu as menti, coquin, & tu meriterois les étrivieres. (Bost & McKenna, p. 101).

An historical work attains perfection when it manages to annoy every sect and every nation: for that proves that the author has flattered neither side, and has told home truths to each. There are many readers who become so annoyed when they read certain remarks that they tear out the page or write in the margin you have lied, you rogue, and deserve a thrashing.
He adds a footnote to that last sentence:
J’ai vu de telles choses écrites à la main à la marge de quelques livres.

I have seen such things written by hand in the margins of some books.
I need hardly tell you that “You are lying” is an essential element in the vocabulary of Odium Theologicum. A heresiarch is not merely carelessly and innocently mistaken in his views, but willfully and sinfully leading the faithful into error. My rough sense is that Odium Philologicum, as practiced by the “the gladiators of literature” in the 16th and 17th century, was more inclined to apply the verb “lie” to a scholar’s personal conduct rather than to his philological errors, at least in classical philology — sacred philology was naturally quite another matter.

Since the days of Bentley (and Bayle) there has been no finer exponent of Odium Philologicum than Housman. I do not suggest that he ever read Bayle’s Éclaircissements, but he was certainly familiar with old editions of the classics, and may well have come across contemporary marginalia similar to those recorded by Bayle, found their style and sentiments congenial, and not bothered to reflect on how appropriate they might be for revival two centuries later.

“You lie” appears, on the evidence of the surviving annotated books, to have been Housman’s favorite marginal excoriation, followed closely by “liar”. By Paul Naiditch’s count, “you lie” occurs 273 times merely in the books from Housman’s library published during his Cambridge career. He gives a list of the appearances of “you lie” and “liar” in an appendix to Additional Problems in the Life and Writings of A. E. Housman (Los Angeles, Sam: Johnson’s, 2005), pp. 174-9, along with such variants as “impudent liar”, “you liar” and “damned liar”. Naiditch adds:
The words “you lie” are extremely harsh; they were one of Housman’s favourite censures; psychologically, since he employed the word “lie” at times when a simple “false” would have sufficed, his use is of considerable importance; for to affirm that one lies is to attack morality, where to say that one is mistaken is to attack competence. (Additional Problems, p. 63).
As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

Sunday, December 04, 2016


For All Things Merry, Quaint and Strange

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), "Hymn in Contemplation of Sudden Death," Op. I (Oxford: Blackwell, 1916), pp. 39-40:
Lord, if this night my journey end,
I thank Thee first for many a friend,
The sturdy and unquestioned piers
That run beneath my bridge of years.

And next, for all the love I gave
To things and men this side the grave,
Wisely or not, since I can prove
There always is much good in love.

Next, for the power thou gavest me
To view the whole world mirthfully,
For laughter, paraclete of pain,
Like April suns across the rain.

Also that, being not too wise
To do things foolish in men's eyes,
I gained experience by this,
And saw life somewhat as it is.

Next, for the joy of labour done
And burdens shouldered in the sun;
Nor less, for shame of labour lost,
And meekness born of a barren boast.

For every fair and useless thing
That bids men pause from labouring
To look and find the larkspur blue
And marigolds of a different hue;

For eyes to see and ears to hear,
For tongue to speak and thews to bear,
For hands to handle, feet to go,
For life, I give Thee thanks also.

For all things merry, quaint and strange,
For sound and silence, strength, and change,
And last, for death, which only gives
Value to every thing that lives;

For these, good Lord that madest me,
I praise Thy name; since, verily,
I of my joy have had no dearth
Though this night were my last on earth.
To be read at my memorial service.


A German Folksong

J.K. Annand (1908-1993), "Snaw," Selected Poems 1925-1990 (Edinburgh: James Thin / The Mercat Press, 1992), p. 52:
Es ist ein Schnee gefallen Anon. 16th century

It's snawin cats and dugs,
Winter's owre early,
Hailstanes blatter my lugs
The road is smoorit fairly.

My gavel-end is sindert
My hous has growne auld
My ruif-tree is nou flindert
My room is owre cauld.

Ach lassie, show some pitie,
I'm dowie, and I pyne.
Tak me to your hert
And fleg the winter hyne.
This is a translation of the first three stanzas of a lyric from the song book of Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), now in the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München (Cgm 810, f. 146r). For the collection see Martin Kirnbauer, "Liederbuch des Hartmann Schedel," Historisches Lexikon Bayerns.

The German, from Rochus von Liliencron, ed., Deutsches Leben im Volkslied um 1530 (Berlin: W. Spemann, [1885] = Deutsche National-Litteratur, Bd. 13), p. 209 (# 64):
Es ist ein schne gefallen
und ist es doch nit zeit,
man wirft mich mit den pallen,
der weg ist mir verschneit.

Mein haus hat keinen gibel
es ist mir worden alt,
zerbrochen sind die rigel,
mein stüblein ist mir kalt.

Ach lieb, laß dichs erparmen
daß ich so elend pin,
und schleuß mich in dein arme!
so vert der winter hin.
Here is an image of the manuscript page, from

For a discussion of the folksong see Lucia Mor, "...Und ist es doch nit czeit: La percezione dell'individualità in un Volkslied del XV secolo," Aevum 72.3 (Settembre-Dicembre 1998) 671-684.

The German folksong reminds me of a famous English one (British Museum, Royal Appendix MS. 58, fol. 5):
Westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can Rayne
Cryst yf my love were in my Armys
And I yn my bed Agayne.
Thanks to Ian Jackson for introducing me to J.K. Annand.

Related post: The Old Sappho.


Forsaking One's Native Language

Helen B. Cruickshank (1886-1975), "To An Aberdeen Poet Who Writes Solely In English," in David McCordick, ed., Scottish Literature in the Twentieth Century: An Anthology (Dalkeith: Scottish Cultural Press, 2002), pp. 252-253 (line numbers added):
What ails ye at yer mither tongue?
Hae ye forgot the tang o' it?
The gurly guttrals, malmy soonds,
The dirly words, the sang o' it?
An wad ye cuist it a awa,        5
Like bauchles on a midden-heid?
Man, think agen afore ye sell
Yer saul tae saft-like English leid.

Wad ye forget the ballad-speik,
Melodeon's chord and fiddle's clink,        10
Forsweir yer grandad's wey o' life,
Swap uisge-beatha for Kola drink?
Say 'Shinty is too rough a game
And cricket's more my cup of tea.'
Weel, hyne awa fae Aiberdeen,        15
For feich, ye'e owre genteel for me!
The "wey o' life" and language of my Scottish ancestors are too distant and mysterious for me to understand at first sight, so I need some notes:
3 gurly: rough; malmy: soft, mellow
4 dirly: thrilling?
6 bauchles: old shoes
8 leid: language
16 feich: exclamation of disgust, cf. faugh
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Saturday, December 03, 2016


Xenophon's Anabasis

Hartmut Erbse (1915-2004), "Xenophon's Anabasis," in Vivienne J. Gray, ed., Xenophon: Oxford Readings in Classical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 476-501 (at 476-477):
Whoever sets out to speak about Xenophon's Anabasis runs the risk of arousing unpleasant memories in the audience. The very fact that each of them had to cover every parasang of Cyrus the Younger's march through the rocky mountain ranges and desert plains of the Near East as a student in high school means that they do not think back with fondness on the prosaic chronicle of an unsuccessful incident of minor historical importance. The stereotypical sentence beginning ἐντεῦθεν ἐξελαύνει ['thence he marched'], which is engraved on every reader's memory, appropriately heralds the dryness of an account which may well be conducive to the acquisition of Greek syntax, but which excludes from the outset any of the stirring of enthusiasm or feelings of engagement that are aroused through contact with the great works of world literature in a receptive heart. This disfavour also predominates in academia: Xenophon's works, and not least the Anabasis, are believed to have been well enough studied in one's school years and so, being apparently unproblematic and unimaginative, are left, without reluctance, to the care of school-teachers. Those who discard this learned view however, and reread the short work in their later years will be somewhat surprised. As long as the old prejudices have been shed, they will immediately realize that a rather special side of the Greek character is being revealed here, an aspect that should seize our interest due to its very one-sidedness.
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Modern Obsessions

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), Introduction to The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine, Cantica II: Purgatory (1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 29:
Every generation of readers is liable to fasten upon the poet of another age its own peculiar associative obsessions; and there are nearly always hooks in his work on which such associations can plausibly be hung.



John Betjeman (1906-1984), "Saint Cadoc," second stanza:
Somewhere the tree, the yellowing oak,
Is waiting for the woodman's stroke,
Waits for the chisel saw and plane
To prime it for the earth again
    And in the earth, for me inside,
    The generous oak tree will have died.

Friday, December 02, 2016



H.G. Wells (1866-1946), Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, Book I, Chapter II, §4:
Dimly he perceived the thing that had happened to him — how the great, stupid machine of retail trade had caught his life into its wheels, a vast, irresistible force which he had neither strength of will nor knowledge to escape. This was to be his life until his days should end. No adventures, no glory, no change, no freedom.


The Word Sincere

Essays and Tales, by John Sterling, Collected and Edited, with a Memoir of His Life, by Julius Charles Hare, Vol. I (London: John W. Parker, 1848), p. v (from Hare's "Sketch of the Author's Life"):
He used to relate that, when he was about nine years old, he was much struck by his master's telling him that the word sincere was derived from the practice of filling up flaws in furniture with wax, whence sine cera came to mean pure, not vampt up. This explanation, he said, gave him great pleasure, and abode in his memory, as having first shown him that there is a reason in words as well as in other things: nor was it the worse for this purpose from having been drawn from the practice of Monmouth Street, rather than of the primeval upholsterers of ancient Italy.
The etymology is bogus. See Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Latine. Histoire des Mots, 4th ed. (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 627, and Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), p. 565.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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