Monday, August 21, 2017


Enough Time to Learn Italian?

Frank W. Walbank (1909-2008), "Polybius Through the Eyes of Gaetano De Sanctis," Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World: Essays and Reflections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 310-321 (at 310):
May I begin with a personal reminiscence? Fifty years ago, when I was just finishing my second year as a student at Cambridge, my teacher, B.L. Hallward, the author of the chapters on the Punic Wars in The Cambridge Ancient History, came to me and said: 'You have exactly two weeks free of work before the end of term. That will be enough to learn Italian. Then, next year, you can read De Sanctis.' As I soon discovered, he was too optimistic: two weeks is not enough to learn Italian! But I did learn sufficient to enable me (with the help of a dictionary) to read Volume III of the Storia dei Romani. It was a wonderful experience, which I have never forgotten.


Benjamin Oliver Foster

I grew up across the river from Bangor, Maine, and spent much of my time in that city, which was within easy walking distance from my parents' house. When I was kicked out of high school in my senior year, I spent the two weeks of my suspension reading books in the Bangor Public Library (by choice, not compulsion).

I was recently surprised to learn that classical scholar Benjamin Oliver Foster (1872-1938) was born in Bangor. The city should have a statue erected in his honor, or a street named after him. Here is the article on Foster (by Mortimer Chambers) in Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, ed. Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 192:
FOSTER, Benjamin Oliver. Born: 13 Aug. 1872, Bangor, ME, to George Winslow, a physician, & Charlotte Elizabeth Adams F. Married: Anna Lee. Education: A.B. Stanford, 1895; A.M. Harvard, 1897; Ph.D., 1899; Parker fell., Harvard, studying at ASCSR, 1899-1900. Prof Exp.: Teacher, Salt Lake City (UT) HS, 1890-2; actng prof. Lat. & Gk., State Normal College of Michigan, 1900-1; instr. to prof. Stanford, 1901-37; chair dept., 1933-7; vis. prof. U. Chicago, 1925-6; U. California, summer 1908, 1913; pres. PAPC, 1932-3. Died: 22 June 1938, Palo Alto, CA.

Foster was one of the early Stanford alumni who returned to that university for their teaching careers after brief service elsewhere. His chief scholarly contribution was his translation of the first five volumes of Livy, through book 22, for the 14-volume Loeb edition. He based his text on Weissenborn-Müller but took account of the successive volumes of the Oxford text of Conway-Walters. His translation was found accurate and elegant, though W.H. Semple, in CR 43 (1929) 90, invited him to strive for more Livian rhetoric here and there. The fifth volume in particular goes beyond the usual Loeb format of the period by including both a long bibliography, with summaries of many of the papers cited, and useful maps taken from Kromayer's Schlachtenatlas. This latter feature was praised by the leading German scholar of Livy, Alfred Klotz, who declared that no other edition was so well equipped in this respect: PhW 50 (1930) 803.

Foster was known to Stanford undergraduates as an enormously popular teacher of courses in Roman literature of both Republic and Empire. He was an avid swimmer and tennis player and a gourmet cook who enjoyed preparing elaborate meals for colleagues.

DISSERTATION: "De quartae declinationis apud priscos Latinos usu" (Harvard, 1899).

PUBLICATIONS: "Notes on the Symbolism of the Apple in Classical Antiquity," HSCP 10 (1899) 39-55; "On Certain Euphonic Embellishments in the Verse of Propertius," TAPA 40 (1909) 31-62; "On Some Passages in Propertius," CP 2 (1907) 210-8; "The Duration of the Trojan War," AJP 35 (1914) 294-308; "The Latin Grammarians and the Latin Accent," CP 3 (1908) 201-3; "Livy VII.14.6-10," AJP 42 (1921) 174; "On the Force of Hominis in Caesar B.G. V.58.6," CJ 13 (1917-8) 277; "Propertius III 24," AJP 30 (1909) 54-60; "The Trojan War Again," AJP 36 (1915) 298-313; Livy (trans.), LCL (New York & London; vol. 1, 1919; vol. 2, 1922; vol. 3, 1924; vol. 4, 1926; vol. 5, 1929).

SOURCES: Harvard U. Archives; Stanford U. Archives.
Some more publications by Foster (not including book reviews):
There is a very amusing error on the Find a Grave web site concerning Foster:
The title of his PhD dissertation was "De quartae declinationis apud priscos latinos usu" which translates to "About a quarter of the decline in the use of the old Latin."
Screen capture, in case you think I'm kidding:

The correct translation is of course "On the use of the fourth declension in early Latin [writers]."

Benjamin Oliver Foster


Sunday, August 20, 2017


Du Bellay to His Barber

Joachim Du Bellay (1522-1560), Regrets 59 (tr. Richard Helgerson):
You never see me, Pierre, without saying that I study too much, that I should make love, and that always having these books around makes for bleary eyes and a heavy head.

But you do not understand. For that illness comes not from too much reading or from sitting still too long, but from seeing to the office that is open for business every day. That, Pierre my friend, is the book I study.

Then say no more about it, if you wish to give me pleasure and not to annoy me. But while with a skillful hand

You wash my beard and cut my hair, to cheer me up, tell me, if you like, news of the pope and gossip of the town.

Tu ne me vois jamais (Pierre) que tu ne die
Que j'estudie trop, que je face l'amour,
Et que d'avoir tousjours ces livres à l'entour,
Rend les yeux esblouis, et la teste eslourdie.

Mais tu ne l'entens pas: car ceste maladie        5
Ne me vient du trop lire, ou du trop long sejour,
Ains de voir le bureau, qui se tient chascun jour:
C'est, Pierre mon amy, le livre où j'estudie.

Ne m'en parle donc plus, autant que tu as cher
De me donner plaisir, et de ne me fascher:        10
Mais bien en ce pendant que d'une main habile

Tu me laves la barbe, et me tonds les cheveulx,
Pour me desennuyer, conte moy si tu veulx,
Des nouvelles du Pape, et du bruit de la ville.
1 die = dises
2 face = fasse

See Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, Part. I, Sec. 2, Mem. 3, Subs. 15: Love of Learning, or Overmuch Study.

Carl Schleicher, Der Bücherwurm

Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette. Reflections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 171-172:
In a tract of 1795, J.G. Heinzmann listed the physical consequences of excessive reading: "susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."
But Heinzmann (I think) was discussing not the simple physical consequences of too much reading, but rather the debilitating physical and psychical effects of reading the wrong kind of books. See Johann Georg Heinzmann, Über die Pest der deutschen Literatur (Bern, "auf Kosten des Verfassers," 1795), pp. 450-451:
Daher werden unsre Leidenschaften immer starker, immer unregelmäßiger, immer stürmischer. Nach der Erfahrung unserer Stadtärzte sind grosse Empfindlichkeit, leichte Erkältung, Kopfschmerzen, schwache Augen, Hitzblattern, Podagra, Gicht, Hämorrhoiden, Engbrüstigkeit, Schlagflüsse, Lungensnoten, geschwächte Verdauung, Verstopfung der Eingeweide, Nervenschwäche, Migräne, Epilepsie, Hypochondrie, Melankolie, die gewöhnlichsten Krankheiten; unsre Lebenssäfte stocken und faulen; häßliche Leidenschaften: Traurigkeit, Unwillen, Mißvergnügen, Eifersucht und Neid, Trotz und Eigendünkel; Müßiggang und Unzucht, findet man in Strohhütten wie in Pallästen.


Descendunt Statuae

Juvenal 10.56-64 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
Some people are toppled by their power, object of great envy, some are sunk by their long and glorious roll of honours. Down their statues come, dragged by a rope, then even the chariot's wheels are smashed and slashed by the axe, and the legs of the innocent nags are shattered. Now the flames are hissing, now that head idolised by the people is glowing from the bellows and furnace: huge Sejanus is crackling. Then the face that was number two in the whole world is turned into little jugs, basins, frying pans, and chamber pots.

Quosdam praecipitat subiecta potentia magnae
invidiae, mergit longa atque insignis honorum
pagina. descendunt statuae restemque secuntur,
ipsas deinde rotas bigarum inpacta securis
caedit et inmeritis franguntur crura caballis.        60
iam strident ignes, iam follibus atque caminis
ardet adoratum populo caput et crepat ingens
Seianus, deinde ex facie toto orbe secunda
fiunt urceoli, pelves, sartago, matellae.
Edward Courtney ad loc. (Commentary, pp. 404-405):
    56–7 For the INVIDIA to which power is subject cf. Lucr. 5.1126, Sen. Ep. 84.11 and Dial. 11.9.5; Juvenal seems to hint some sympathy for Sejanus.
    MERGIT 'shipwrecks', cf. 13.8; Sen. Ep. 55.3 aliquos ... Seiani odium, deinde amor merserat (aeque enim offendisse illum quam amasse periculosum fuit).
    PAGINA HONORUM A column of distinctions, i.e. tituli on statue bases (1.130, 8.69); pagina of the consular fasti Livy 9.18.12, Pliny Pan. 92.2.
    58 Cf. 8.18 of imagines; Vittinghoff 13; SG 2.279, 286 = 3.59, 66. Juvenal will have seen such scenes after the death of Domitian (Suet. 23, Dio Cass. 68.1, Pliny Pan. 52), as we have in Budapest in 1956.
    DESCENDUNT 14.61.
    SECUNTUR Cf. 1.164; Pliny NH 35.4 ut frangat heres forisque detrahat laqueo (furisque ... laqueum or -us codd.); [Sen.] Oct. 794 sqq. for the RESTIS cf. Libanius Or. 20.4, 22.8.
    59 Chariot statues 7.126, 8.3, SG 2.290 = 3.71; the characteristic triumphal type (Pliny NH 34.19). Though because of the links with the imperial cult the right of having statues was limited (Vittinghoff 14 n. 32), there were many of Sejanus.
    IMMERITIS Cf. Thes. s.v. 456.55 and Juv. 13.156; others are more guilty than they are.
    CABALLIS Cf. on 3.118; but here the word seems to suggest pity rather than contempt.
    62 ADORATUM Dio 58.2.7–8, 4.3–4, 6.2, 8.4, 11.2; Tac. Ann. 4.2; Suet. Tib. 48.2, 65.
    CAPUT ... FACIE The rest of the statue would have been left (Vittinghoff 14 n. 37).
    64 Cf. Pliny quoted on 58.
    URCEOLI 3.203; pitchers.
    PELVES 3.277, 6.441; basins.
    SARTAGO A saucepan, cf. Blümner1 157, Hilgers 269; one of silver is mentioned by Ulpian Dig., but is merely ornamental. For the singular surrounded by plurals cf. 7.11, 9.109, 2.169 and the equally anomalous plural at 11.139.
    MATELLAE Chamber-pots (RE s.v., Blümner1 147), a scabrous anti-climax; cf. Plut. Praec. Reip. Ger. 27.820e (statues of Demades), Diog. Laert. 5.77 and Strabo (of Demetrius of Phalerum), Philo De Vita Contempl. 1.7.


The Negation of Europe

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), "Dedication to F.Y. Eccles," Avril, Being Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance (1904; rpt. London: Duckworth, 1931), pp. 7-14 (at 10):
Not indeed that a vulgar cosmopolitan beatitude can inspire an honest man. To abandon one's patriotism, and to despise a frontier or a flag, is, we are agreed, the negation of Europe.

Saturday, August 19, 2017



A while ago I foolishly asked the rhetorical question, "Can an inanimate object bear witness?" I expected the answer no, but Jaume Ripoll Miralda (per litteras) wrote, "I do not know whether you are familiar with the Eideshort concept, but it is worth a read. An Eideshort is an inanimated object which emphasizes oaths."

See Isabelle C. Torrance, in Oaths and Swearing in Ancient Greece, edd. Alan H. Sommerstein and Isabelle C. Torrance (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 112:
[A] significant group of oaths exists in Greek literature where ostensibly non-divine entities are invoked as sanctifying witnesses. Such entities have normally been referred to in scholarly discussions as sacred oath-objects, sometimes designated by the German term Eideshorte.122

122 Fletcher 2012, 5, S&B 4 n.3.
The references are to Judith Fletcher, Performing Oaths in Classical Greek Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 5:
Occasionally an oath might be guaranteed by an Eideshort or a significant object.7 Achilles swears by his scepter that the Achaeans will miss him (Il. 1.233-46), and his oath is guaranteed by Zeus's nod after Thetis' supplication. In the ephebic oath sworn by all Athenian male citizens, eleven gods or heroes are invoked in addition to "the boundaries of my fatherland, Wheat, Barley, Vines, Olives and Figs" (Rhodes and Osborne 2003, GHI 88.5-16). Antigone swears "by iron" that if she is forced to marry she will become a Danaid (E., Phoen. 1677); in other words she will murder her husband. This unique Eideshort lends a special minatory relevance to her vow. Several of the dramas that we investigate suggest that oaths sworn by objects rather than gods have a subversive potential. Parthenopaeus, one of the seven attackers of Thebes, swore by his spear (ὄμνυσι δ᾿ αἰχμὴν ἣν ἔχει) "which, in his confidence, he honors more than the god and esteems more than his own eyes, that he would take Thebes against the will of Zeus" (A., Sept. 529-32). Aristophanes' Socrates flouts the Olympian gods in Clouds by invoking "Breath, Chaos and Air" (627-9).

7 As Thür suggests (1997: 908), the object would have some prestige or special meaning to the oath-swearer. He gives the racehorses of Antilochus as an example (Il. 23.583-5). Benveniste (1969: 168) argues that horkos, is always to be conceived of as an object (this includes substances such as wine).
and A.H. Sommerstein and A.J. Bayliss, Oath and State in Ancient Greece (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 4, n. 3:
Normally these are divinities, heroes, etc., but sometimes we find sacred or cherished objects (often referred to by the German term Eideshorte) filling the corresponding place in oath-formulae (e.g. the speaker's staff in Iliad 1.233-39).
The word occurs several times in Rudolf Hirzel, Der Eid: Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1902).


Toppled Monuments

Robert Harbison, The Built, the Unbuilt, and the Unbuildable: In Pursuit of Architectural Meaning (1991; rpt. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), p. 37:
A history of toppled monuments might be the most interesting of all, but very hard to tell, because often a studied effort removes the literary and pictorial traces as well as the masses of rock.


Nullius Addictus Iurare in Verba Magistri

Galen, On Diagnosing and Curing the Affections of the Soul 8 (vol. V, p. 43 Kühn; tr. Paul W. Harkins):
These, I said, were the injunctions I received from my father, and I have observed them up to the present day. I did not proclaim myself a member of any of those sects of which, with all earnestness, I made a careful examination ...

ταύτας, ἔφην ἐγὼ, παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς λαβὼν τὰς ἐντολὰς ἄχρι δεῦρο διαφυλάττω, μήτ' ἀφ' αἱρέσεώς τινος ἐμαυτὸν ἀναγορεύσας· ὧν σπουδῇ πάσῃ ἀκριβῆ τὴν ἐξέτασιν ἔχων ...
Related posts:

Friday, August 18, 2017


Happy the Man

Joachim Du Bellay (1522-1560), "In uitae quietioris commendationem, ad I. Morellium Eberod.," Poematum Libri Quattuor (Paris: Féderic Morel, 1558), pp. 9-10 (tr. Philip Ford):
Happy is the man who lives content with his family plot,
and is not always greedily after fearful riches.
This man is kept free from countless dangers
by safe repose; he quietly tends his rich fields.
He is not terrified by the nightmares of the stupid mob,        5
nor the stern ferryman or three-headed Dog,
but, with pure hands, approaches the holy altars,
and bends the Gods, favourable to his prayers.
Truly happy is he, then, and to be counted among the
Gods themselves, whom nurturing Wisdom keeps in her        10
soft bosom. Morel, she has raised you up from the idle
mob and, under her guidance, you seek the stars
with upturned gaze. She also enjoins you to seek the
origins of the vast universe and to raise your mind to
behold God. With her aid, you scorn the threats of sky,        15
land and sea, and control everything with your mighty
mind. Yet your concern is not to rest in idle shade,
or to surrender your heart to flabby sloth.
But since you take on all the duties of civil life
and no aspect is neglected in your functions,        20
you arrange your life to trust nothing to fickle
luck, or to let Fate control your affairs,
just like one who, from the safety of the shore,
looks out on a ship tossed about over the Ocean,
or untroubled looks down on flames from on high,        25
or from a cliff on the rush of raging waters.
Add to this sweet children and a modest wife,
and a home that everyone would rejoice to have.
Why recall the luxury and elegance of the furnishings,
your simple way of life, your faultless taste?        30
Dorat himself will admit how open your home is
to the Muses, he who plucks learned songs on his
golden lyre, so that our century rivals ancient times
equally in the Latin and Greek Muses, and grave
Ronsard, protected by a mighty champion,        35
who frees him at last from a long-standing grudge.
In short, your life is such that, though the Gods have
given you all a wise and sane man needs, no one
envies you and, welcomed by high and low,
you can rival mighty kings.        40
Alas, now, in exile, I am driven from my home
shores, totally unable to enjoy so sweet a life.

Foelix, qui patrio uiuit contentus agello,
    Nec timidas captat semper auarus opes.
Hunc, hunc tuta quies ereptum mille periclis
    Detinet; hic tacitus rura beata colit.
Non illum stulti terrent insomnia uulgi,        5
    Nauita nec tristis, tergeminusue Canis:
Sed puris manibus sanctas accedit ad aras,
    Et flectit facileis in sua uota Deos:
Vere igitur foelix, Diis & numerandus in ipsis,
    Quem Sophia in molli detinet alma sinu.        10
Haec te, Morelli, populo subduxit inerti,
    Hac duce sublimi sidera fronte petis.
Haec te eadem immensi causas perquirere mundi
    Iussit, & erecta cernere mente Deum.
Hac fretus caelique minas, terraeque marisque        15
    Despicis, & magno cuncta domas animo.
Nec tamen hoc studium est, uacua requiescere in umbra,
    Tradere uel molli pectora desidiae:
Sed cum cuncta obeas ciuilis munera uitae,
    Nec pars ulla tuo cesset in officio,        20
Sic uitam instituis, dubiae nil credere sorti,
    Fortunam aut rebus praeposuisse tuis.
Non aliter, tuto quam qui de littore puppim
    Iactari toto prospicit Oceano:
Aut flammam e specula securus despicit alta,        25
    Aut cursum e summa rupe furentis aquae.
Huc dulces nati accedunt, coniuxque pudica,
    Et quam quisque sibi gaudeat esse domum.
Qui memorem quam lauta tibi, quam munda supellex,
    Quam cultus simplex, & sine labe decor?        30
Nam tua quam pateat Musis domus, ipse fatetur,
    Qui ferit aurata carmina docta lyra:
Auratus Latiis pariter Graiisque Camoenis
    Nostra aequans priscis secula temporibus,
Ronsardusque grauis, magno qui vindice tutus        35
    A ueteri tandem se asserit inuidia.
Denique sic uita est, ut cum tibi praestiterint Dii,
    Prudenti, & sano quod satis esse potest,
Inuideat nullus, summis sed gratus, & imis
    Aequalis magnis Regibus esse queas.        40
Hei mihi, quod patriis dum nunc agor exul ab oris,
    Tam dulci uita non licet usque frui.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Scribal Error

John Jackson (1881-1952), Marginalia Scaenica (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 30 (defending his conjecture εὐνᾶν for ἐοῦσαν at Euripides, Andromache 124):
As for εὐνᾶν, it may be admitted that σ and ν have normally little resemblance; but it must also be admitted that the contour of a character traced by a fallible man, under a flickering light, with a reed pen and evanescent ink upon paper not imperishable, may after the lapse of fifteen centuries be deciphered erroneously, if at all, by a fellow creature working under like handicaps with like materials. The possibility is regrettable, and disconcerting to the friends and enemies alike of conjectural criticism in ancient texts, but it is necessary to remember it.


Lover of the Olden Days

Cornelius Nepos, Life of Atticus 18.1 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He was a great imitator of the customs of the men of old and a lover of the early times.

moris etiam maiorum summus imitator fuit antiquitatisque amator.


Please Drop Those Subjects

Cicero, Academica 1.1.2 (tr. H. Rackham):
Here there was first a little conversation, and that arising out of my asking whether Rome happened to have been doing anything new; and then Atticus said, "Do pray drop those subjects, about which we can neither ask questions nor hear the answers without distress ... "

hic pauca primo atque ea percontantibus nobis ecquid forte Roma novi; tum Atticus "omitte ista, quae nec percontari nec audire sine molestia possumus, quaeso," inquit ... "
James S. Reid ad loc.:

Reid's translation:
Here we had first a little talk, merely such as sprang out of my question whether he had brought any news from Rome; then Atticus said: "A truce, pray, to the subject, for we cannot help feeling pain when we put questions about it and hear the answers ... "
Reid cites Cicero, Brutus 42.157, on Atticus' tendency to avoid political discussion. See also Cicero, Brutus 3.11 (tr. G.L. Hendrickson):
Here Atticus broke in: "It was precisely our thought in coming, to avoid talk about public affairs ... "

tum Atticus: "eo, inquit, ad te animo venimus, ut de re publica esset silentium ... "

Wednesday, August 16, 2017



H.D. Jocelyn, review of Edward Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), in Hermathena, No. 159 (Winter 1995) 53-77 (at 70-71):
We may further regret not being told anything at all about ocular diseases, curative springs (pp. 182-3), Roman debt-collecting (p. 193), the general practice of attributing a vice to a whole community (p. 194), the prophetic mind (p. 205), Pompey's sexual proclivities (p. 210), sexually transmitted diseases (pp. 282-3), the smell of the billy-goat (p. 303), the buggery of the young bride (p. 313), ideas linking the marrow, sweat and semen (p. 421), premature baldness (p. 484).


Obesus: An Auto-Antonym

An auto-antonym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself. Latin obesus is such a word, meaning either fat or thin, although the evidence for thin is meagre.

Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, s.v. obedo (from an online version; I don't have the book):
ŏb-ĕdo, ēdi, ēsum, ĕre, to eat, eat away, devour (used only in the part. perf. and P. a.).—Trop.: nec obesa cavamine terra est, AUCT. AETN. 344.—Hence, P. a.: ŏbēsus, a, um.
I. Wasted away, lean, meagre: corpore pectoreque undique obeso, Laev. ap. GELL. 19, 7, 3; and ap. NON. 361, 17: (obesum hic notavimus proprie magis quam usitate dictum pro exili atque gracilento, Gell. ib.: obesum gracile et exile, Non. l.l.).—
II. Mid., that has eaten itself fat; hence, in gen., fat, stout, plump: obesus pinguis quasi ob edendum factus, Paul. ex FEST. p. 188 Müll. (not in Cic.; perh. not ante-Aug.; syn.: opimus, pinguis): corpus neque gracile, neque obesum, CELS. 2, 1; cf. COL. 6, 2, 15: turdus, HOR. Ep. 1, 15, 40: sus, COL. 7, 10, 6: terga, VERG. G. 3, 80: cervix, SUET. Ner. 51.—Sup.: obesissimus venter, PLIN. 11, 37, 79, 200; SUET. Vit. 17; APP. M. 11, p. 263.—Poet.: fauces obesae, swollen, VERG. G. 3, 497.
Félix Gaffiot, Le Dictionnaire illustré latin-français, s.v. obesus:



Problem Solving

Aristophanes, Clouds 740-745 (Socrates to Strepsiades; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Cut loose your thinking and refine it; examine the problem piece by piece, correctly sorting and investigating ... and if you hit a dead end with one of your ideas, toss it aside and abandon it, then later try putting it in play again with your mind and weigh it up.

                                          σχάσας τὴν φροντίδα        740
λεπτὴν κατὰ μικρὸν περιφρόνει τὰ πράγματα
ὀρθῶς διαιρῶν καὶ σκοπῶν ...
... κἂν ἀπορῇς τι τῶν νοημάτων,
ἀφεὶς ἄπελθε, κᾆτα τῇ γνώμῃ πάλιν
κίνησον αὖθις αὐτὸ καὶ ζυγώθρισον.        745

744 τῇ γνώμῃ Reiske: τὴν γνώμην codd.
W.J. Verdenius, "Notes on Aristophanes' Clouds," Mnemosyne 6.3 (1953) 178-180 (at 179):
740-1 σχάσας τὴν φροντίδα / λεπτὴν κατὰ μικρὸν περιφρόνει τὰ πράγματα: κατὰ μικρόν should not be connected with περιφρόνει, but with σχάσας. Socrates adds κατὰ μικρόν as an explanation of λεπτήν (which could be misunderstood as an apposition): "into small pieces". Cp. Xen. An. VII 3, 22 ἄρτους διέκλα κατὰ μικρόν.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ζυγωθρίζω:
weigh, examine, Ar. Nu. 745, acc. to Sch.: but acc. to Poll. 10.26 from ζύγωθρον (the bar of a door), lock up.
On Socrates' suggestion to cut the problem into small pieces, cf. G. Polya, How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method, 2nd ed. (1957; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 35-36:
If your problem is very complex you may distinguish "great" steps and "small" steps, each great step being composed of several small ones. Check first the great steps, and get down to the smaller ones afterwards....Consider the details of the solution and try to make them as simple as you can; survey more extensive parts of the solution and try to make them shorter; try to see the whole solution at a glance. Try to modify to their advantage smaller or larger parts of the solution, try to improve the whole solution, to make it intuitive, to fit it into your formerly acquired knowledge as naturally as possible. Scrutinize the method that led you to the solution, try to see its point, and try to make use of it for other problems. Scrutinize the result and try to make use of it for other problems.
Cf. also id., pp. 75-85, on "Decomposing and Recombining."

On Socrates' suggestion to lay aside the problem until a later time, cf. Polya, op. cit., pp. 197-198:
Subconscious work. One evening I wished to discuss with a friend a certain author but I could not remember the author's name. I was annoyed, because I remembered fairly well one of his stories. I remembered also some story about the author himself which I wanted to tell; I remembered, in fact, everything except the name. Repeatedly, I tried to recollect that name but all in vain. The next morning, as soon as I thought of the annoyance of the evening before, the name occurred to me without any effort.

The reader, very likely, remembers some similar experience of his own. And, if he is a passionate problem-solver, he has probably had some similar experience with problems. It often happens that you have no success at all with a problem; you work very hard yet without finding anything. But when you come back to the problem after a night's rest, or a few days' interruption, a bright idea appears and you solve the problem easily. The nature of the problem matters little; a forgotten word, a difficult word from a crossword-puzzle, the beginning of an annoying letter, or the solution of a mathematical problem may occur in this way.

Such happenings give the impression of subconscious work. The fact is that a problem, after prolonged absence, may return into consciousness essentially clarified, much nearer to its solution than it was when it dropped out of consciousness. Who clarified it, who brought it nearer to the solution? Obviously, oneself, working at it subconsciously. It is difficult to give any other answer; although psychologists have discovered the beginnings of another answer which may turn out some day to be more satisfactory.

Whatever may or may not be the merits of the theory of subconscious work, it is certain that there is a limit beyond which we should not force the conscious reflection. There are certain moments in which it is better to leave the problem alone for a while. "Take counsel of your pillow" is an old piece of advice. Allowing an interval of rest to the problem and to ourselves, we may obtain more tomorrow with less effort. "If today will not, tomorrow may" is another old saying. But it is desirable not to set aside a problem to which we wish to come back later without the impression of some achievement; at least some littIe point should be settled, some aspect of the question somewhat elucidated when we quit working.

Only such problems come back improved whose solution we passionately desire, or for which we have worked with great tension; conscious effort and tension seem to be necessary to set the subconscious work going. At any rate, it would be too easy if it were not so; we could solve difficult problems just by sleeping and waiting for a bright idea.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


A Gloomy Milestone

Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons (June 24, 1952):
I have always considered that the substitution of the internal combustion engine for the horse marked a very gloomy milestone in the progress of mankind.
Winston Churchill, speech to the Royal College of Physicians (July 10, 1951):
It is arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engine. Electricity opens a field of infinite conveniences to ever greater numbers, but they may well have to pay dearly for them. But anyhow in my thought I stop short of the internal combustion engine which has made the world so much smaller. Still more must we fear the consequences of entrusting a human race so little different from their predecessors of the so-called barbarous ages such awful agencies as the atomic bomb. Give me the horse.
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