Saturday, April 29, 2017


Uplifters and Reformers

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 84, § 113:
Uplifters of all sorts spend their time cadging money from A to save the so-called underprivileged B. Once they settle down to their business the cadging of this money becomes an end in itself, and they'd keep on doing it even if all the underprivileged were succored. Even setting aside considerations of their private profit, it must be manifest that they are moved largely by mere professional zeal. Every quack always ends by convincing himself that his quackery is a boon to humanity. It is impossible to convince any given uplifter that the world would still go on if his graft were abolished.
Id., pp. 113-115, § 156:
Of all varieties of men, the one who is least comprehensible to me is the fellow who immolates himself upon the altar of what he conceives to be the public interest—in other words, the reformer, the uplifter, the man, so-called, of public spirit. What I am chiefly unable to understand is his oafish certainty that he is right—his almost pathological inability to grasp the notion that, after all, he may be wrong. As for me, I am never absolutely certain that I am right, and for the plain reason that I am never absolutely certain that anything is true. It may seem to me to be true, and I may be quite unable to imagine any proof of its falsity—but that is simply saying that my imagination is limited, not that the proposition itself is immovably sound. Some other man, better born than I was or drinking better liquor, may disprove it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then day after tomorrow, or maybe next week, or next year. I know of no so-called truth that quite escapes this possibility. Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one.

But even if the truth were not wobbly I should still hesitate a long while before sacrificing any of my comfort or security to it. The man who does so seems to me to be one who deceives himself doubly. First, as I have noted, he convinces himself that he cannot be wrong, which is nonsense. And then he convinces himself that he is disinterested, which is also nonsense. Actually altruism simply does not exist on earth, at least in our present glorious age. Even the most devoted nun, laboring all her life in the hospitals, is sustained by the promise of a stupendous reward—in brief, billions of centuries of undescribable bliss for a few years of unpleasant but certainly not unendurable drudgery and privation. What passes for altruism among lesser practitioners is even less praiseworthy; in most cases, indeed, it is only too obviously selfish and even hoggish. In the case of the American reformer, in his average incarnation, the motive seldom gets beyond the yearning for power, the desire to boss things, the itch to annoy his neighbors. If they really wanted to be saved from their iniquities he would let them alone; if they bawled to give up their money he would not press them for it; if they did not flee him he would not pursue them. Well, this happens to be a motive that burns in my own breast very feebly, so I am not a reformer. Like all other men, of course, I pant for power—but not the power to afflict and dominate a rabble of my inferiors. I have had the job, in the past, of bossing them, but it gave me no joy, and I got rid of it as soon as possible. Thus I lack altogether the messianic hankering, and to that extent must remain a bad American. When people seem to me to be immersed in error and sin, I can discover no impulse to save them, but only a gentle hope that their follies will soon translate them to bliss eternal, and I'll be rid of the nuisance of their presence.



Xenophon, Hellenica 4.1.35 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
And being free is worth, in my opinion, as much as all manner of possessions.

καίτοι ἐλεύθερον εἶναι ἐγὼ μὲν οἶμαι ἀντάξιον εἶναι τῶν πάντων χρημάτων.


Grounds for Hope

Xenophon, Hellenica 3.4.18 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
For where men reverence the gods, train themselves in deeds of war, and practise obedience to authority, may we not reasonably suppose that such a place abounds in high hopes?

ὅπου γὰρ ἄνδρες θεοὺς μὲν σέβοιντο, τὰ δὲ πολεμικὰ ἀσκοῖεν, πειθαρχεῖν δὲ μελετῷεν, πῶς οὐκ εἰκὸς ἐνταῦθα πάντα μεστὰ ἐλπίδων ἀγαθῶν εἶναι;

Friday, April 28, 2017


Dedication of a Grammar Book

Rev. John B. Tabb (1845-1909), Bone Rules; or, Skeleton of English Grammar (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1901):

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Adam's Library

Isaac Disraeli (1766-1848), Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1824), p. 17:
The Irish antiquaries mention public libraries that were before the flood; and Paul Christian Ilsker, with profounder erudition, has given an exact catalogue of Adam's.
Paul Christian Ilsker is really Paul Christian Hilscher (1666-1730), and the work is De Bibliotheca Adami Schediasma (Dresden: Johann Michael Funcke, 1703), which is not a serious catalogue of Adam's books, but rather a list of what various scholars claimed to be books owned, read, or written by Adam. Hilscher's own low opinion of these scholars is evident throughout and especially when (on p. 12) he quotes Horace, Satires 1.5.100 (Credat Iudaeus Apella).

Related post: Books and Felicity.



David Whitehead, The Ideology of the Athenian Metic (Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1977), p. 7:
At all events, while an adequate translation of metoikos may elude us, its flavour is better captured by 'immigrant' than by such tired translationese as 'resident alien', which makes no attempt to come to grips with the word itself.


Libera Nos, Domine

Owen Hatteras (i.e. H.L. Mencken), "Petition," The Smart Set 36.2 (April, 1912) 157:
From pale parsons with translucent ears and from little girls who speak pieces; from the scent of tuberoses and from medicated lingerie; from dinner invitations from friends who have wives who have sisters who have no living husbands; from tight collars and from "No Smoking" signs; from elderly ladies who have sure cures for toothache, and from barbers with perfumed fingers; from the nocturnes of Chopin, and from the New Thought; from persons who pasture their children in the hallways of hotels, and from postage-due stamps; from the harsh cacophony of liquorish snoring, and from imitation mahogany furniture; from professional G.A.R. men, and from squeaky piano pedals; from adult males who wear diamonds, and from all high functionaries in fraternal orders; from bier-fisch, and from loose rugs on hardwood floors; from obscene novels by lady novelists, and from eczema; from grass butter, and from detachable cuffs; from fat women who loll grotesquely in automobiles, and from theater orchestras; from female bachelors of arts and from drizzly Sundays; from Fletcherism and from actors who speak of their "art;" from transcendentalism and from delirium tremens; from the Declaration of Independence and from cold dinner plates; from the key of B flat minor and from the struggle for existence; from pedants who denounce split infinitives, and from chemical purity; from canned book reviews and from German adverbs; from basso-profundos with prominent Adam's apples, and from platitudes; from Asiatic cholera and from the Harvardocentric theory of the universe—good Lord, deliver us!
Compose your own petition to fit the present day.


Call for an End to Civil Strife

Alcaeus, fragment 70, lines 9-12 (tr. David A. Campbell, with his Greek text and apparatus):
... and may we forget this anger; and let us relax from the heart-eating strife and civil warring, which one of the Olympians has aroused among us, leading the people to ruin ...

... ἐκ δὲ χόλω τῶδε λαθοίμεθ . . [·
χαλάσσομεν δὲ τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας
ἐμφύλω τε μάχας, τάν τις Ὀλυμπίων
ἔνωρσε, δᾶμον μὲν εἰς ἀυάταν ἄγων ...

9 λαθώμεθ᾿ Wilamowitz fort. -μεθ᾿ αὖ Lobel
The same, tr. M.L. West:
                          Let's put rage out of mind,
and let's wind down this spirit-gnawing strife
of kith and kin that some Olympian's roused,
bringing the people to calamity ...
Elementary notes to aid my feeble understanding (I don't have access to a commentary):
ἐκ ... λαθοίμεθ: tmesis for middle optative of ἐκλανθάνω (forget utterly, with genitive)
χόλω τῶδε: Aeolic for Attic χόλου τοῦδε
τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας: Aeolic for Attic τῆς θυμοβόρου λύης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν (LSJ s.v. χαλάω, sense II: have a remission of)
ἐμφύλω ... μάχας: Aeolic for Attic ἐμφύλου ... μάχης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν
ἀυάταν: Aeolic for Attic ἄτην

Wednesday, April 26, 2017



[Lucian,] Loves 27 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
For, generally speaking, unlike irrational animals we do not find solitary existences acceptable, but we are linked by a sociable fellowship and consider blessings sweeter and hardships lighter when shared. Hence was instituted the table that is shared, and, setting before us the board that is the mediator of friendship, we mete out to our bellies the enjoyment due to them, not drinking Thasian wine, for example, by ourselves, or stuffing ourselves with expensive dishes on our own, but each man thinks pleasant what he enjoys along with another, and in sharing our pleasures we find greater enjoyment.

σχεδὸν γὰρ οὐ κατὰ ταὐτὰ τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις τὰς μονήρεις διατριβὰς ἀσμενίζομεν, ἀλλά πως φιλεταίρῳ κοινωνίᾳ συζυγέντες ἡδίω τά τε ἀγαθὰ σὺν ἀλλήλοις ἡγούμεθα καὶ τὰ δυσχερῆ κουφότερα μετ᾿ ἀλλήλων. ὅθεν εὑρέθη τράπεζα κοινή· καὶ φιλίας μεσῖτιν ἑστίαν παραθέμενοι γαστρὶ τὴν ὀφειλομένην ἀπομετροῦμεν ἀπόλαυσιν, οὐ μόνοι τὸν Θάσιον, εἰ τύχοι, πίνοντες οἶνον οὐδὲ καθ᾿ αὑτοὺς τῶν πολυτελῶν πιμπλάμενοι σιτίων, ἀλλὰ δοκεῖ περπνὸν ἑκάστῳ τὸ μετ᾿ ἄλλου, καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς κοινωσάμενοι μᾶλλον εὐφραινόμεθα.
Related posts:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Inferiority Complex

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Ralph the Heir, chapter XVI:
With all his scorn for gentry, Ontario Moggs in his heart feared a gentleman. He thought that he could make an effort to punch Ralph Newton's head if they two were ever to be brought together in a spot convenient for such an operation; but of the man's standing in the world, he was afraid. It seemed to him to be impossible that Polly should prefer him, or any one of his class, to a suitor whose hands were always clean, whose shirt was always white, whose words were soft and well-chosen, who carried with him none of the stain of work. Moggs was as true as steel in his genuine love of Labour,—of Labour with a great L,—of the People with a great P,—of Trade with a great T,—of Commerce with a great C; but of himself individually,—of himself, who was a man of the people, and a tradesman, he thought very little when he compared himself to a gentleman. He could not speak as they spoke; he could not walk as they walked; he could not eat as they ate. There was a divinity about a gentleman which he envied and hated.



Solon, fragment 23 West = Theognis 1253-1254 (tr. Ivan M. Linforth):
Happy is he who hath children dear and horses of uncloven hoof
and dogs for the chase and a friend to receive him in a foreign land.

ὄλβιος, ᾧ παῖδές τε φίλοι καὶ μώνυχες ἵπποι
    καὶ κύνες ἀγρευταὶ καὶ ξένος ἀλλοδαπός.
Others interpret παῖδες sensu erotico as boys. See Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1919), pp. 175-178, and Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi, Solon the Athenian, the Poetic Fragments (Leiden; Brill, 2010), pp. 343-346. A friend in a foreign land is useful in case one is exiled.

Related post: Recipes for Happiness.


Superior to Any Commentary

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, tr. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. x:
I have chosen to quote the Meditations abundantly. I hate those monographs which, instead of letting the author speak and staying close to the text, engage in obscure elucubrations which claim to carry out an act of decoding and reveal the "unsaid" of the thinker, without the reader's having the slightest idea of what that thinker really "said." Such a method unfortunately permits all kinds of deformations, distortions, and sleight of hand. Our era is captivating for all kinds of reasons: too often, however, from the philosophical and literary point of view, it could be defined as the era of the misinterpretation, if not of the pun: people can, it seems, say anything about anything. When I quote Marcus Aurelius, I want my reader to make contact with the text itself, which is superior to any commentary. I would like him to see how my interpretation tries to base itself on the text, and that he can verify my affirmations directly and immediately.


How Can Man Die Better?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), "Horatius. A Lay Made about the Year of the City CCCLX," stanza 28, Lays of Ancient Rome:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods...
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), "Last Words On Translating Homer":
But Lord Macaulay's
Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The captain of the gate:
'To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.' ...
(and here, since I have been reproached with undervaluing Lord Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, let me frankly say that, to my mind, a man's power to detect the ring of false metal in those Lays is a good measure of his fitness to give an opinion about poetical matters at all)—I say, Lord Macaulay's
To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late,
it is hard to read without a cry of pain.
Cf. Arnold's "On Translating Homer," Lecture II: continual falsetto, like the pinchbeck Roman Ballads of Lord Macaulay...
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), Studies in Literature: Third Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p. 191
Or we may take Macaulay's Lays. Matthew Arnold was utterly wrong in suggesting that these encourage bad taste, or that a liking for them supposes bad taste. So far as they go the Lays are sound, sane, clean as a whistle; and it is a poor game, anyhow, to discourage a boy's thrill over Horatius at the bridgehead and teach him to feel like a little prig...

Monday, April 24, 2017


All the Necessary Ingredients for a Political Career

Aristophanes, Knights 217-219 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You've got everything else a demagogue needs:
a repulsive voice, low birth, marketplace morals—
you've got all the ingredients for a political career.

τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα σοι πρόσεστι δημαγωγικά,
φωνὴ μιαρά, γέγονας κακῶς, ἀγοραῖος εἶ·
ἔχεις ἅπαντα πρὸς πολιτείαν ἃ δεῖ.


If I Could Only Read

H.L. Mencken, after suffering a stroke, to his brother, quoted in Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 320:
"If I could only read," he would say to August. "The rest of it doesn't matter. But if I could just read I'd be the happiest man in the world."
The source (from p. 386) is Robert Allen Durr, "The Last Days of H.L. Mencken," Yale Review (Autumn, 1958), which is unavailable to me.


Philosophy and the Teaching of Philosophy

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, tr. Michael Chase (1995; rpt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), pp. 278-279:
The idea of a conflict between philosophy and the teaching of philosophy goes back to my youth. I think I came across it in Charles Péguy, who said: "Philosophy doesn't go to philosophy classes," and certainly in Jacques Maritain, who wrote: "Thomist metaphysics is called 'Scholastic' after its most severe trial. Scholastic pedagogy is its own worst enemy: it always has to triumph over its intimate adversary, the professor." Ever since I started doing philosophy, I've always believed that philosophy was a concrete act, which changed our perception of the world, and our life: not the construction of a system. It is a life, not a discourse.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


So-Called News

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), pp. 73-74, § 94:
Much more than half of the matter the American newspapers print every day is interesting only to relatively small minorities, and it is thus no wonder that the average reader reads only a small part, and falls into the mental habit of taking that small part lightly. The more reflective reader goes further: he reads next to nothing, and believes the same amount precisely. Why should he read or believe more? Every time he alights upon anything that impinges upon his own field of knowledge he discovers at once that it is inaccurate and puerile. The essential difficulty here is that journalism, to be intellectually respectable, requires a kind of equipment in its practitioner that is necessarily rare in the world, and especially rare in a country given over to the superficial. He should have the widest conceivable range of knowledge, and he should be the sort of man who is not easily deluded by the specious and the fraudulent. Obviously, there are not enough such men to go round. The best newspaper, if it is lucky, may be able to muster half a dozen at a given moment, but the average newspaper seldom has even one. Thus American journalism (like the journalism of any other country) is predominantly paltry and worthless. Its pretensions are enormous, but its achievements are insignificant.

Even at its fundamental business of ascertaining and reporting what has happened in the world it fails miserably. Four-fifths of the so-called news it prints is dubious, and a very large proportion is downright false. Whenever a fraud with something to sell is afoot, whether in war or in peace, the great majority of journalists succumb to his blather very easily, for second- and third-rate men are always willing to follow anyone who has a loud voice, a cocksure manner, and a resilient conscience.


An Old Chinese Custom

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VI (tr. Richard Howard):
In ancient China, women suffering from anger or grief would climb onto platforms specially constructed for them in the street, and there would give free rein to their fury or their lamentations. Such confessionals should be revived and adopted the world over, if only to replace the obsolete ones of the Church, or the ineffectual ones of various therapeutics.

Dans l'ancienne Chine, les femmes, lorsqu'elles étaient en proie à la colère ou au chagrin, montaient sur de petites estrades, dressées spécialement pour elles dans la rue, et y donnaient libre cours à leur fureur ou à leurs lamentations. Ce genre de confessionnal devrait être ressuscité et adopté un peu partout, ne fût-ce que pour remplacer celui, désuet, de l'Église, ou celui, inopérant, de telle ou telle thérapeutique.
Not just for women, but for men, too.


Stop Bickering

[Lucian,] Loves 17 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
This occasioned much snarling argument, till I put an end to the confusion and uproar by saying, "Friends, you must keep to orderly enquiry, as is the proper habit of educated people. You must therefore make an end of this disorderly, inconclusive contentiousness and each in turn exert yourself to defend your own opinion..."

πολλῶν οὖν ἀκρίτων ἀφυλακτουμένων λόγων τὸν συμμιγῆ καταπαύσας ἐγὼ θόρυβον, Ἄνδρες, εἶπον, ἑταῖροι, τῆς κατὰ κόσμον ἔχεσθε ζητήσεως, ὡς εὐπρεπὴς νόμος ἐστὶν παιδείας. ἀπαλλαγέντες οὖν τῆς ἀτάκτου καὶ πέρας οὐδὲν ἐχούσης φιλονεικίας ἐν μέρει ὑπὲρ τῆς αὐτὸς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἑκάτερος ἀποτείνασθε...


A Pervasive Despair

Mary R. Lefkowitz, The Victory Ode: An Introduction (Park Ridge: Noyes Press, 1976), "Preface" (no page number):
Anyone who tries to read the odes of Pindar and Bacchylides in the original Greek experiences at first a pervasive despair. Memorable words and phrases strike the ear; the narration of a myth intrigues; but the satisfaction of being able to understand another language and another's process of thought that draws us to the study of antiquity remains tantalizingly unattainable.

Much of the trouble derives from the way we go about reading this difficult literature, armed with dictionaries, surrounded by commentaries and translations.
Id., p. 3:
[N]ot even experienced classicists can comfortably read Pindar and Bacchylides at "sight"...
Related post: Difficulty of Pindar.


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