Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Wise Counsel

Persius 5.151 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with her note):
Enjoy yourself,35 let's grab our pleasures.

35 Lit. "give your Genius (i.e. appetites) free play."

indulge genio, carpamus dulcia.
R.A. Harvey ad loc.:

As preserved in Montpellier, Bibliothèque universitaire de médecine, ms. 125 (9th century, aka Codex Pithoeanus), fol. 11r (click twice with Chrome browser to enlarge):


Aversion to Bird Song

Obituary of Francis Jacox (1825-1897), in The Eagle: A Magazine Supported by Members of St. John's College 20 (1898) 90-91 (at 90):
He was of somewhat eccentric habits, living almost altogether by himself and avoiding those who lived with him. Latterly his household consisted of but one old housekeeper who often did not see him for days, leaving his meals outside his study or bedroom door. Oddly enough although otherwise fond of country life he detested the song and sounds of birds. He kept a long pole in his bedroom with which he used to frighten away the starlings, which gathered about the eaves and gutters of his cottage, by protruding it through the open window as he lay in bed in the morning.
In the same magazine, there are some verses "Ad Poetas Aquilinos" by "The Wollerer's Ghost" (pp. 22-24), with the following good advice:
At least avoid one subject: 'tis the curse
Of modern, and especially minor verse,—
Yourself: pray don't indecently expose
Your naked soul, with all its passion-throes,
Its chance abrasions, and its foolish fears,
Its whines, its wrigglings, and its sloppy tears.
If passion's pains press potent on your chest,
Sing of your supper: we'll infer the rest.

Then be more private; show not every eye
Your heart's uncouth ill-oiled machinery.
'A human document'? Come, take the hint:
It doesn't follow that it's fit to print.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Must and Mould

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Untimely Meditations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen), II: "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life" ("Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben"), § 3 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale):
Antiquarian history itself degenerates from the moment it is no longer animated and inspired by the fresh life of the present. Its piety withers away, the habit of scholarliness continues without it and rotates in egoistic self-satisfaction around its own axis. Then there appears the repulsive spectacle of a blind rage for collecting, a restless raking together of everything that has ever existed. Man is encased in the stench of must and mould; through the antiquarian approach he succeeds in reducing even a more creative disposition, a nobler desire, to an insatiable thirst for novelty, or rather for antiquity and for all and everything; often he sinks so low that in the end he is content to gobble down any food whatever, even the dust of bibliographical minutiae.

Die antiquarische Historie entartet selbst in dem Augenblicke, in dem das frische Leben der Gegenwart sie nicht mehr beseelt und begeistert. Jetzt dorrt die Pietät ab, die gelehrtenhafte Gewöhnung besteht ohne sie fort und dreht sich egoistisch—selbstgefällig um ihren eignen Mittelpunkt. Dann erblickt man wohl das widrige Schauspiel einer blinden Sammelwuth, eines rastlosen Zusammenscharrens alles einmal Dagewesenen. Der Mensch hüllt sich in Moderduft; es gelingt ihm selbst eine bedeutendere Anlage, ein edleres Bedürfniss durch die antiquarische Manier zu unersättlicher Neubegier, richtiger Alt- und Allbegier herabzustimmen; oftmals sinkt er so tief, dass er zuletzt mit jeder Kost zufrieden ist und mit Lust selbst den Staub bibliographischer Quisquilien frisst.


Either This or Upon This

Plutarch, Moralia 241 F (Sayings of Spartan Women; tr. Frank Cole Babbitt with his note):
Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, "Either this or upon this."b

b Referred to Gorgo as the author by Aristotle in his Aphorisms, as quoted by Stobaeus, Florilegium, vii.31, but it is often spoken of as a regular Spartan custom. Cf., for example, the scholium on Thucydides, ii.39.

Ancient writers were not agreed whether the second half meant to fall upon the shield (dead or wounded) or to be brought home dead upon it. In support of the second (traditional) interpretation cf. Moralia, 235A, and Valerius Maximus, II.7, ext. 2.

ἄλλη προσαναδιδοῦσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα καὶ παρακελευομένη, "τέκνον," ἔφη, "ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς."
Items confiscated by St. Louis police from rioter:

Valerius Maximus 2.7 ext. 2 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
They were not surprised at the general's precept, remembering the maternal coaxing whereby those going forth to battle were told to come back to their mothers' sight alive with their shields or be brought back upon them dead. That was the watchword the Spartan warriors received within the walls of their homes before they fought.

idque a duce praecipi non mirabantur, maternarum blanditiarum memores quibus exituri ad proeliandum monebantur ut aut vivi cum armis in conspectum earum venirent aut mortui in armis referrentur. hoc intra domesticos parietes accepto signo Spartanae acies dimicabant.
See Mason Hammond, "A Famous Exemplum of Spartan Toughness," Classical Journal 75.2 (December 1979-January 1980) 97-109.

Dear Mr. Gilleland,

With regard to your recent post on Spartan women, you might be interested in this monument on the campus of Penn State, commemorating a fallen graduate. It’s a beautiful monument. I pass it 3 times a week on my way to class. It represents a shield, surmounted by the motto.

John Repsher


A House Full of Books

Saraband: The Memoirs of E.L. Mascall (Leominster: Gracewing, 1992; rpt. 1995), pp. 219-220 (on Claude Jenkins, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford):
His sole extravagance was the purchase of books, of which at his death he had, I believe, thirty thousand. He spent his vacations at either Malvern or Tunbridge Wells, in both of which towns there were secondhand bookshops of which he must have been one of the principal customers. Shortly after his return at the beginning of each term several crates full of spoils would be delivered at his lodging; many of these remained unpacked to the time of his death, for they had simply overwhelmed him. Many of them were the kind of books — Victorian parish histories and the like — which one can hardly imagine anyone wanting but which, if anyone did want them, it might be impossible to find. In spite of its size the house was inadequate to accommodate them; in the corners of each room piles of books were thrown down anyhow like sand in the corner of a builder's yard, and the bath, which was not used for its normal purpose, was a kind of dump for odd printed scraps. It was only just possible to push one's way up the staircase, for on every step there were piles of books extending high out of reach; in fact the view of the staircase-wall reminded me of a sectional diagram of geological strata in an atlas, and one could see how the conformation had readjusted itself after a cataclysm had occurred through a removal of the book from one of its lower levels. He was very indignant at the suggestion that books were ever stolen from libraries and insisted that apparent thefts were in fact cases of absent-mindedness; this may be true to some extent, for it would be absurd to give any other explanation for the books which were found in his house after his death. He once showed me a book which contained the plate of a well-known library and in which he had inserted a signed declaration that he had bought it in a shop and not stolen it from the library; otherwise, he said, someone doing research would defame him posthumously. I remarked that I thought this a very poor safeguard, since anyone suspecting him of theft would be equally ready to accuse him of perjury.
Hat tip: Nigel Preston-Jones.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Aftermath of Hurricane Irma


A Petronian Tobspruch

Petronius, Satyricon 92.11:
tanto magis expedit inguina quam ingenia fricare.

expedit Dousa: impedit codd.: impendit: Erhard
In Michael Heseltine's original translation of Petronius for the Loeb Classical Library series (1913), this was left untranslated. In E.H. Warmington's revision (1969), it was translated (with footnote) thus:
So much the greater gain is it to rub groins than geniuses.1

1 The meaning seems to be that it is more important to stir up one's sexual than one's mental powers.
Some have attempted to reproduce the word-play, e.g. J.P. Sullivan:
A polished wick is much more profitable than a polished wit.
Cf. Erich Segal, "Arbitrary Satyricon: Petronius & Fellini," Diacritics 1.1 (Autumn, 1971) 54-57 (at 55):
In life you make it better with a stroke of "penius" than a stroke of genius.
On fricare see J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982; rpt. 1993), p. 184.

Related posts:


A Dying Art

Jonathan Barnes, "Bagpipe music," Topoi 25 (2006) 17–20 (at 17-18; TLG = Thesaurus Linguae Graecae):
You can't do anything at all in ancient philosophy unless you know a bit of Greek and Latin, and you can't do anything worthwhile in ancient philosophy unless you are a semi-decent classical scholar. But classical scholarship is a dying art: there aren't as many scholars as there used to be, and their grasp of the ancient languages and the ancient world weakens and trembles. What's more, fewer and fewer of them care to take up the philosophy of Greece and Rome.

This state of affairs is exacerbated by a device known as the TLG. Load it into your laptop, and you have instant access to virtually the whole of Greek literature. You cut and paste snippets from authors whose very names mean nothing to you. You affirm—and you're right—that a particular word used here by Plato occurs 43 times elsewhere in Greek literature. And you can write an article—or a book—stuffed with prodigious learning. (There are similar things available for Latin.)

The TLG is a lovely little resource (I think that's the word), and I use her all the time. But she's strumpet-tongued: she flatters and she deceives. "What an enormous knowledge you have, my young cock—why not let me make a real scholar of you?" And the young cock crows on his dung-hill: he can cite anything and construe nothing.

"Come, Terence, this is sorry guff ... Exactly a century ago Ingram Bywater wrote this: 'I see the handwriting on the wall everywhere—even in Germany, and am not hopeful as to the future of the old humanities.' How wrong he was. And as for today, see what the editors say in the latest fascicule of the Classical Review: 'for the first time since 2000, the number of items in an issue has topped 200; as usual, the multitude and range testify to the vitality of the discipline.' You see mildew and aphids everywhere; and all the while the roses are blooming in the rose-garden."

Bywater was indeed wrong. (What convinced him that the end was nigh was the fact that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge no longer required students of physics and chemistry to have a firm grounding in Greek.) But today—today things are different. The editors of the Review are whistling in the dark. True, unnumbered slabs of matter are unloaded at the bookshop doors; true, the slabs come in an unprecedentedly broad range of colours. But numbers are no proof of vitality; and the new colours are those of narratology, and metatextuality, and gender studies, and God knows what else.

"Come come, Terence, you're over-egging it. I'll allow that 90% of the books and articles published in ancient philosophy are worthless. But wasn't it always so? I'll allow that there is little which is epoch-making or path-breaking. But epochs aren't made every year nor paths broken once a month. Regard things with a judicious eye: doesn't every year see one or even two thoroughly decent new books, and two or even four thoroughly decent new articles? And were things ever really much better than that?"

Yes, they were. As far as philologically informed work on ancient philosophy is concerned, things were better fifty years ago.

Saturday, September 16, 2017



Robert Byron (1905-1941), The Station: Travels to the Holy Mountain of Greece (1928; rpt. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2011), p. 111:
He was a typical Greek of the middle class, enthralled by politics, religious believer in the Hellenic destiny. Anglophil, anxious to be of assistance, boundlessly conceited, yet, save when enlarging on a favourite subject, unobtrusive. During a conversation, I mistook the meaning of a word for another outside the context in which he had used it. This led him to a new field.

"Every word in Greek," he said, "has ten meanings, and every meaning ten words. You need to know each one. Greek is the most beautiful of all languages. The Bible and all the holy works were written in it."

"The Gospels, for instance," I interpolated, wishing to seem intelligent.

"Yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the Theologian all used it. Yet they were not Greeks. But the Holy Ghost descended with the gift of tongues——"

"Ah! Of course, the Holy Ghost was Greek."

Whereat Father Methodius, handing a dish of stuffed tomatoes, exploded into giggles; and the guest, his peroration marred, groaned, protesting and reiterative, that this was not the case. I recount the anecdote with pride, as it is not easy to hoist a Greek neatly on his own petard.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Modern Education

Petronius, Satyricon 88.6 (tr. Michael Heseltine, rev. E.H. Warmington):
We slander the past, and learn and teach nothing but vices.

accusatores antiquitatis vitia tantum docemus et discimus.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go

Robert Burton (1577-1640), Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. 1, Sect. 2, Memb. 3, Subs. 6:
A grave & learned Minister, and an ordinary Preacher at Alcmar in Holland, was one day (as he walked in the fields for his recreation) suddenly taken with a laske or loosenesse, and thereupon compelled to retire to the next ditch; but being surprised at unawars, by some Gentlewomen of his Parish wandering that way; kwas so abashed, that he did never after shew his head in publike, or come into the Pulpet, but pined away with Melancholy: (Pet. Forestus med. observat. lib. 10, observat. 12.)

k Propter ruborem confusus, statim cepit delirare, &c. ob suspicionem quod vili illum crimine accusarent.
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. lask, n.1, sense 1:
Looseness of the bowels, diarrhoea; an attack of this.
I'm reminded of Diogenes Laertius 6.94 (tr. R.D. Hicks):
Metrocles of Maroneia was the brother of Hipparchia. He had been formerly a pupil of Theophrastus the Peripatetic, and had been so far corrupted by weakness that, when he made a breach of good manners in the course of rehearsing a speech, it drove him to despair, and he shut himself up at home, intending to starve himself to death. On learning this Crates came to visit him as he had been asked to do, and after advisedly making a meal of lupins, he tried to persuade him by argument as well that he had committed no crime, for a prodigy would have happened if he had not taken the natural means of relieving himself. At last by reproducing the action he succeeded in lifting him from his dejection, using for his consolation the likeness of the occurrences. From that time forward Metrocles was his pupil, and became proficient in philosophy.
Euphemisms in the translation obscure somewhat the point of this story. "When he made a breach of good manners" and "by reproducing the action" are both the same word in the original Greek, ἀποπαρδών, aorist participle of ἀποπέρδομαι, fart.

It might seem improbable that shame at this "breach of good manners" would lead Metrocles to the contemplation of suicide. But a similar embarrassment drove Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, into self-imposed exile, according to John Aubrey's Brief Lives:
This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his return the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Summary of Condorcet's Progrès de L'Esprit Humain

David Stove (1927-1994), "The Malthus Check," On Enlightenment (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2003), pp. 57-73 (at 61):
The past is one long hideous night of oppression, greed, cruelty, ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, and imposture, with priests and kings to blame. (To update, substitute "capitalists," "whites," "males," etc., to taste.) But then somehow—it is not clear how, or rather it is, in Condorcet's treatment, an absolute mystery how, but anyway somehow—in Europe, a few years back, light dawned. And this light is soon going to spread everywhere, and irreversibly. Our descendants will all be happy, healthy, free, equal, just, rational, leisured, and cultivated. Condorcet does not actually say that Enlightenment is going to cure wooden legs, though I think it would have pained him to hear it denied. He does say that the length of human life will be indefinitely increased. He never faces, as even ancient Greek fable had faced, the Tithonus-problem: extension of life without reprieve from aging. But no doubt he would have said that, in the future, the progress of medical science will etc., etc.


The Key to the Problem

Robert Byron (1905-1941), The Road to Oxiana (London: Picador, 1994), pp. 376-377:
This morning at the Legation I met a Colonel Porter who asked what my share in the world's work was. I said I had been looking at Mohammadan architecture.

'Mind you,' he replied, 'I've seen a good deal of Mohammadan architecture one way and another, in Palestine, Egypt, and Persia, and I've given a good deal of thought to the matter. I can tell you the key to the problem if you like.'

'Really. What is it?'

'The whole thing's phallic,' he uttered in a ghoulish whisper.

I was surprised at first to note the influence of Freud on the North-West Frontier, but soon discovered that for Colonel Porter the universe itself was phallic.



Gregory of Nyssa, Sermons on the Beatitudes 7.2 (tr. Stuart George Hall):
Which of all the things sought after in this life is sweeter for human beings to enjoy than peace? Whatever pleasure you may name among those which life offers, it needs peace in order to be pleasant. If one had all the things which are valued in our life, wealth, health, wife, children, house, parents, servants, friends, land and sea with the rich contents of each, gardens, hunts, baths, wrestling-rings, gymnasia, luxury clubs and youth clubs, and every thing that pleasure has invented, to which should be added theatrical entertainments and musical performances, and whatever else there is by which life is made pleasant for luxury-lovers, — if one had all these, but lacked the benefit of peace, what would you gain from those things, with war curtailing the enjoyment of their benefits? Peace therefore is itself pleasant to those who take part in it, and it sweetens all the things that are valued in life.

τί γὰρ εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν τῶν κατὰ τὸν βίον σπουδαζομένων τῆς εἰρήνης ἐστὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις γλυκύτερον; ὅτιπερ ἂν εἴπῃς τῶν ἡδέων τῶν κατὰ τὴν ζωὴν εἰρήνης χρῄζει τὸ εἶναι ἡδύ. εἰ γὰρ πάντα εἴη ὅσα κατὰ τὸν βίον τετίμηται, πλοῦτος, εὐεξία, γαμετὴ, παῖδες, οἰκία, γονεῖς, ὑπηρέται, φίλοι, γῆ, θάλασσα, τοῖς οἰκείοις ἑκατέρα πλουτίζουσα, παράδεισοι, θῆραι, λουτρὰ, παλαῖστραι, γυμνάσια, τρυφητήριά τε καὶ ἡβητήρια, καὶ πάντα ὅσα ἐστὶ τῆς ἡδονῆς ἐφευρήματα — προσκείσθω τούτοις τὰ ἡδέα θεάματα καὶ τὰ μουσικὰ ἀκροάματα καὶ εἴ τι ἄλλο δι' οὗ τοῖς τρυφῶσιν ὁ βίος ἡδύνεται — εἰ ταῦτα μὲν εἴη πάντα, τὸ δὲ τῆς εἰρήνης ἀγαθὸν μὴ παρείη, τί κέρδος ἐκείνων, πολέμου τῶν ἀγαθῶν τὴν ἀπόλαυσιν ἐπικόπτοντος; οὐκοῦν ἡ εἰρήνη αὕτη τε ἡδεῖά ἐστι τοῖς μετέχουσι καὶ πάντα καταγλυκαίνει τὰ ἐν τῷ βίῳ τιμώμενα.


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