Sunday, November 23, 2014


Perhaps Not Altogether Good for Us

Timothy Fuller, "The Poetics of the Civil Life," in Jesse Norman, ed., The Achievement of Michael Oakeshott (London: Duckworth, 1993), pp. 67-81 (at 69):
His cottage had no central heating or television and only recently a telephone. The advantages of these amenities he thought exaggerated, perhaps not altogether good for us. To the last, he corresponded in a tiny, rather elegant script, disdaining the typewriter, much less the word-processor.
Dom Adrian Morey, David Knowles: A Memoir (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1979), p. 115:
He did not travel abroad, read novels, smoke, attend the theatre or the cinema. He had watched television only twice in his life and then only for ten minutes.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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A Stirrer-Up of Strife

Bertran de Born, tr. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1971), pp. 159, 161, 163:
Well am I pleased by gay Eastertide which makes leaves and flowers come, and I'm pleased when I hear the birds' blitheness as they make their song ring through the woodland; and I'm pleased when I see tents and pavilions pitched, and I'm greatly cheered when I see lined up on the plain horsemen and horses, armed.

And I'm pleased when I see the skirmishers put people and riches to flight, and it pleases me when I see after them a great mass of armed men come together; and I'm pleased in my heart when I see strong castles besieged, and the ramparts breached and crumbled, and I see the defending host on the bank which is enclosed all round by moats protected by strong palissades.

And I'm likewise pleased by the lord when he's foremost in the attack, on horseback, armed, and fearless; for thus does he make his men grow bold in valiant vassal-service; and then when battle's joined each should be ready to follow him with good heart, for no man's esteemed at all until he's taken and dealt many blows.

Maces and swords, coloured helmets and shields being holed and smashed we shall see when battle is first joined, and many vassals clashing together, from which steeds of the dead and wounded will go riderless. And once he has entered the fray let each man of high birth think of naught but splitting heads and arms, for better it is to be dead than alive and overcome.

I tell you that for me there's no such pleasure in eating or drinking or sleeping as there is when I hear shout 'Get at them!' from all sides, and when I hear riderless horses whinny in the shade, and I hear shout 'Help! Help!' and I see falling alongside the moats both humble and mighty in the grass, and I see the dead who through their ribs have bits of lance with the silk pennons.

Barons! put into pawn your castles and towns and cities sooner than not wage war among yourselves!

Papiol, with good heart go quickly to my Lord Yes-and-No, and tell him that he stands too long in peace.
Ezra Pound, "Sestina: Altaforte," Exultations (London: Elkin Matthews, 1909), pp. 14-15:
LOQUITUR: En Bertrans de Born.
    Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer-up of strife.
    Judge ye!
    Have I dug him up again?
The scene is at his castle, Altaforte. "Papiols" is his jongleur. "The Leopard," the device of Richard (Coeur de Lion).


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let's to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth's foul peace,
And the light'nings from black heav'n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God's swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour's stour than a year's peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there's no wine like the blood's crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might 'gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth's won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There's no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle's rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges 'gainst "The Leopard's" rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry "Peace!"


And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!

Friday, November 21, 2014


We Have Gone Astray

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), The Gay Science, Book III, § 224 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
Animals as critics.—I fear that the animals consider man as a being like themselves that has lost in a most dangerous way its sound animal common sense. They consider him the insane animal, the laughing animal, the weeping animal, and the miserable animal.

Kritik der Thiere.—Ich fürchte, die Thiere betrachten den Menschen als ein Wesen Ihresgleichen, das in höchst gefährlicher Weise den gesunden Thierverstand verloren hat,—als das wahnwitzige Thier, als das lachende Thier, als das weinende Thier, als das unglückselige Thier.
Related post: Lessons from Animals.


Talking Trees

Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for permission to print what follows.

Prince Charles is often mocked for believing that trees can communicate with one another (see e.g. Charles Booth, 'What kind of King will Charles III be?' in The Guardian for 19 Nov. 2014); but scientists have recently verified the fact (see e.g.; and it will not come as any surprise to poets, especially Latin poets. For example:

CLAUDIAN, Epithalamium 65-8 (quoted by Jacob Balde in his Interpretatio Somnii, p. 60):
vivunt in Venerem frondes omnisque vicissim
felix arbor amat: nutant ad mutua palmae
foedera; populeo suspirat populus ictu,
Et platani platanis, alnoque assilibat alnus.

The leaves but live for love; each happy tree
loves its own kind: a palm nods at another,
a poplar sighs, love-smitten for a poplar;
plane-trees to plane-trees, alder to alder whispers.
CASIMIR SARBIEWSKI, Epode 1.127 ff. (the 'maestae aves' are turtledoves and nightingales):
Quaecumque maestae vocibus dicunt aves,
    Respondet argutum nemus.
Affatur alnum quercus, ornum populus,
    Affatur ilex ilicem,                130
Et se vicissim collocuta redditis
    Arbusta solantur sonis.

And to whatever sounds the sad birds sing
    the shapely grove responds.
Oak speaks to alder, poplar to the ash,
    a holm-oak to a holm-oak,
and in responsive whispered conversations
    orchards console themselves.
JACOB BALDE, Lyrica 3.45.37 ff. (echoing Claudian and Sarbiewski):
                              ... Clarius interim
Ventis loquuntur flantibus arbores.
    Quercum salutat prona quercus,
        Contiguam soror alnus alnum.

                               ... Meanwhile brightlier,
as the winds blow, the trees speak: a steep oak
    salutes an oak; an alder,
        a nearby sister alder.
As for plants communing with humans, I suppose that science has not yet 'discovered' this; but of course poetry has; e.g. famously in Horace's enchanting description of Orpheus at c. 1.12.7-12. That is echoed by Balde in Lyr. 2.20.29-40; and I will end with this, because it also describes the 'marriages' among plants, with which I began:
At non et arbor nulla canentibus
Demittit aureis. Vidi ego sibilo
    Crispante ramos, colla ramos
        Flectere, et alloquio moveri.                10
Sentit Poëtas mitius arborum
Genus, sacri non immemor Orphei.
    Agnoscit ex illo Camoenas
        Nutibus, et foliorum acuto
Susurrat imbri. connubialia                15
Vidi Lyaeum tendere brachia:
    Vitesque desponsas, ad ulmum
        Viminibus viduam ligari.

And there are even trees that prick their ears
at singers. I have seen boughs curl, and hiss,
    and bend their necks, excited
    at being spoken to.
The race of trees thinks tenderly of Poets.
They all remember sacred Orpheus.
    When they hear verse they nod
    and sigh, or make a noise
like hissing rain. I have seen Bacchus stretching
a husband's arms; seen vine-sprays, all betrothed,
    clinging tight by their tendrils
    to the unmarried elm-tree.

Thursday, November 20, 2014



Ramsay MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire: Essays in the Ordinary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 136 (end-notes omitted):
What Christianity put forward was the fearful novelty of a God who would burn them alive in perpetuity for their very manner of life, spying out their transgressions wherever committed, as he would correspondingly reward the virtuous. Beginning with John the Baptist's and Jesus' preaching, on through Paul's acknowledgment of "the wrath to come," the flames of hell illuminated the lessons of Christianity quite as much as the light of Grace. Actual scenes of speeches delivered to non-believing crowds show that the message was made plain, for example, by Paul at Iconium very much as Jesus had told His disciples to do; and we know that it got through, at least to Celsus. He remarks that Christians "believe in eternal punishments" and "threaten others with these punishments." Clearest of all is the scene in the amphitheater at Carthage where the martyrs, referring to their coming torment, tell the crowd by sign language, "You, us; but God, you"; but Pionius had elaborated on similar comparisons and warnings of condemnation and suffering, in the city square of Smyrna. It is likely that this particular article of faith was as widely known as any outside the Church. Despite the Apologists' attempts, however, to make eternal hell-fire credible by reference to Tartarus or to Stoic predictions of universal conflagration, non-believers found it novel and hard to accept.


An Unheroic Death

M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 65:
Having praised his patron in life, and having in many cases, no doubt, become bound to him by real ties of affection, the poet would lament him also in death. Jordanes (Getica 257) gives a Latin paraphrase of the praise-song performed at Attila’s funeral. It recalled his achievements, and dealt diplomatically with the fact that he died ignobly of a nosebleed while slumbering in a drunken stupor. It was easier if the man died heroically in battle.



M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 8:
The first speakers of Greek—or rather of the language that was to develop into Greek; I will call them mello-Greeks20—arrived in Greece, on the most widely accepted view, at the beginning of Early Helladic III, that is, around 2300.21

20 From Greek μέλλω, ‘I am going to be’.
21 Cf. West (1997), 1 with n. 2.
One could adapt the term to refer to beginning Greek students.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



Solon, fragment 24 (tr. M.L. West):
Equally rich is he who has abundancy
    of silver, gold, and acres under plough,
horses and mules, and he that only has the means
    to eat well, couch well, and go softly shod,
and by and by enjoy a lad's or woman's bloom,                5
    with youth and strength still his to suit his need.
This is a man's true wealth: he cannot take all those
    possessions with him when he goes below.
No price he pays can buy escape from death, or grim
    diseases, or the onset of old age.                10

ἶσόν τοι πλουτέουσιν, ὅτωι πολὺς ἄργυρός ἐστι
    καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ γῆς πυροφόρου πεδία
ἵπποι θ' ἡμίονοί τε, καὶ ὧι μόνα ταῦτα πάρεστι,
    γαστρί τε καὶ πλευραῖς καὶ ποσὶν ἁβρὰ παθεῖν,
παιδός τ' ἠδὲ γυναικός, ἐπὴν καὶ ταῦτ' ἀφίκηται,                5
    ὥρη, σὺν δ' ἥβη γίνεται ἁρμοδίη.
ταῦτ' ἄφενος θνητοῖσι· τὰ γὰρ περιώσια πάντα
    χρήματ' ἔχων οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδεω,
οὐδ' ἂν ἄποινα διδοὺς θάνατον φύγοι, οὐδὲ βαρείας
    νούσους, οὐδὲ κακὸν γῆρας ἐπερχόμενον.                10
The text is uncertain, especially at lines 5-6. See e.g.:
Thanks very much to Karl Maurer for drawing my attention to Gärtner's article and also to the translation of this fragment in Hermann Fränkel, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy, tr. Moses Hadas and James Willis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975), p. 230:
Equally rich is the man who has gold and silver aplenty,
    acres of golden wheat ripening in the rich plain,
horses and oxen; and he who counts as his only possessions
    something to eat; clothing for his back, and shoes for his feet,
joy when the season comes, in beauty of youth or of maiden,                5
    pleasures in which our youth fitly may take its delight.
This is true wealth for a man: whoever has more to his portion
    leaves all the surplus behind when he goes down to the shades.
No man buys himself off from death or painful diseases,
    and a bribe will not turn back age in its silent approach.                10
Dr. Maurer comments:
Notice that like Fränkel himself, the English translators tried to retain the elegiac meter. At least, they do this in every line except 4 and 10. Their line 4 is metrically a mere chaos, and their line 10 should be I think, 'nor will a bribe turn back age in its silent approach'. Perhaps they did originally write this, and then some un-metrical person 'corrected' it.
Many commentators have noted Horace's imitation of Solon (Epistles 1.12.4-6):
pauper enim non est cui rerum suppetit usus.
si ventri bene, si lateri est pedibusque tuis, nil
divitiae poterunt regales addere maius.
Cf. also Herodotus 1.32.5 (Solon to Croesus; tr. A.D. Godley):
The very rich man is not more fortunate than the man who has only his daily needs...

οὐ γάρ τι ὁ μέγα πλούσιος μᾶλλον τοῦ ἐπ᾽ ἡμέρην ἔχοντος ὀλβιώτερος ἐστί...


Threefold Blight

Sophocles, Oedipus the King 22-27 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
For the city, as you yourself see, is now sorely vexed, and can no longer lift her head from beneath the angry waves of death. A blight has fallen on the fruitful blossoms of the land, the herds among the pastures, the barren pangs of women.

πόλις γάρ, ὥσπερ καὐτὸς εἰσορᾷς, ἄγαν
ἤδη σαλεύει κἀνακουφίσαι κάρα
βυθῶν ἔτ᾽ οὐχ οἵα τε φοινίου σάλου,
φθίνουσα μὲν κάλυξιν ἐγκάρποις χθονός,
φθίνουσα δ᾽ ἀγέλαις βουνόμοις τόκοισί τε
ἀγόνοις γυναικῶν.
There are parallels for the threefold blight on crops, livestock, and offspring.

Herodotus 3.65.7 (tr. A.D. Godley):
And if you do this, may your land bring forth fruit, and your women and your flocks and herds be blessed with offspring, remaining free for all time; but if you do not get the kingdom back or attempt to get it back, then I pray things turn out the opposite for you.

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ποιεῦσι ὑμῖν γῆ τε καρπὸν ἐκφέροι καὶ γυναῖκές τε καὶ ποῖμναι τίκτοιεν, ἐοῦσι ἐς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον ἐλευθέροισι· μὴ δὲ ἀνασωσαμένοισι τὴν ἀρχὴν μηδ᾽ ἐπιχειρήσασι ἀνασώζειν τὰ ἐναντία τούτοισι ἀρῶμαι ὑμῖν γενέσθαι.
Herodotus 6.139.1 (tr. A.D. Godley):
But when the Pelasgians had murdered their own sons and women, their land brought forth no fruit, nor did their wives and their flocks and herds bear offspring as before.

ἀποκτείνασι δὲ τοῖσι Πελασγοῖσι τοὺς σφετέρους παῖδάς τε καὶ γυναῖκας οὔτε γῆ καρπὸν ἔφερε οὔτε γυναῖκές τε καὶ ποῖμναι ὁμοίως ἔτικτον καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 111 (tr. Charles Darwin Adams):
The curse goes on: That their land bear no fruit; that their wives bear children not like those who begat them, but monsters; that their flocks yield not their natural increase...

καὶ ἐπεύχεται αὐτοῖς μήτε γῆν καρποὺς φέρειν, μήτε γυναῖκας τέκνα τίκτειν γονεῦσιν ἐοικότα, ἀλλὰ τέρατα, μήτε βοσκήματα κατὰ φύσιν γονὰς ποιεῖσθαι...
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3.20 (tr. F.C. Conybeare):
Well, at that time of which I speak, the Ethiopians lived here, and were subject to King Ganges, and the land was sufficient for their sustenance, and the gods watched over them; but when they slew this king, neither did the rest of the Indians regard them as pure, nor did the land permit them to remain upon it; for it spoiled the seed which they sowed in it before it came into ear, and it inflicted miscarriages on their women, and it gave a miserable feed to their flocks...

ὃν μὲν δὴ χρόνον ᾤκουν ἐνταῦθα οἱ Αἰθίοπες ὑποκείμενοι βασιλεῖ Γάγγῃ, ἥ τε γῆ αὐτοὺς ἱκανῶς ἔφερβε καὶ οἱ θεοὶ σφῶν ἐπεμελοῦντο, ἐπεὶ δὲ ἀπέκτειναν τὸν βασιλέα τοῦτον, οὔτε τοῖς ἄλλοις Ἰνδοῖς καθαροὶ ἔδοξαν, οὔτε ἡ γῆ ξυνεχώρει αὐτοῖς ἵστασθαι, τήν τε γὰρ σποράν, ἣν ἐς αὐτὴν ἐποιοῦντο, πρὶν ἐς κάλυκα ἥκειν, ἔφθειρε τούς τε τῶν γυναικῶν τόκους ἀτελεῖς ἐποίει καὶ τὰς ἀγέλας πονήρως ἔβοσκε...
Deuteronomy 28.17-18:
Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
I owe most of the parallels to Bernard M.W. Knox, "The Date of the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles," American Journal of Philology 77 (1956) 133-147 (at 135-136), although his citation of Philostratus at p. 136, n. 17, is faulty—for "Vita Apollodori, III, 20" read "Vita Apollonii, III, 20".


Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Not Just Any Wine

Helen Waddell (1889-1965), tr., More Latin Lyrics, from Virgil to Milton (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1977), pp. 184-185:

         Inscriptio in refectorio fratrum

Qui de rore dapes dedit et de petra bibendum,
Qui convertit aquas liquidas in vina Falerna,
Qui siccis pelagi pedibus superambulat undas,
Augeat ipse suis famulis sua dona benignus.
                                                                    PLC I, p. 331


         Inscription in monastic refectory

He who made a feast of dew, drink from a rock,
Turned flowing water to Falernian wine,
And walked dry-shod across the waves of the sea—
May he in kindness bless his gifts to his servants.
Not just any wine, but Falernian!

This would make a suitable table grace, although the third line seems a bit out of place.

PLC is Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini, ed. Ernst Dümmler et al., 4 vols. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1881-1923).

Wedding feast at Cana
(fresco from Visoki Dečani)

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Books Picked Up by Chance

Herman Melville (1819-1891), White-Jacket, chapter 41:
My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much.

Cornelis Springer (1817-1891), Bookstall

Monday, November 17, 2014


Scholarly Writing

Theodor Mommsen, letter to Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (May 18, 1878), tr. Ramsay MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire: Essays in the Ordinary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 26:
Scholarly writing is almost as corrupting a trade as play-acting. The great majority of one's colleagues are vulgar and petty and devoted to the business of bringing these characteristics to ever fuller bloom. Anyone who enters it with any idealistic notions will have a hard time controlling his disgust and hatred.


On the Road

Fan Chengda (1126-1193), "On the Road to Nanxu," tr. J.D. Schmidt:
I despise these travels, so contrary to my heart's desires:
Again I speed on a lone sailboat that cleaves the waves in its flight.
I strain eyes to espy Wu's peaks behind the roiling clouds;
The moon that bobs on Chu's River chills my traveling robe.
My long song is more mournful than the dripping of tears;
A short-lived dream rushes me back home in a daze.
If I only had a plot of land and a gate I could shut,
I wouldn't exchange a hermit's hut for this bamboo boat!

Sunday, November 16, 2014


What a Good Boy Am I!

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012), The House of Intellect (1959; rpt. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), p. 220:
The pedant is really not looking at the object, but going through the motions or technique he has learned. At bottom he is thinking about himself and the relation of his results to himself—'What a good boy am I!' Pedantry is affectation and pretense. The pedant uses knowledge to fashion himself a poultice against the world, to show off virtuosity, to remind himself and others of his industry and skill, and to ogle the reward for sitting in libraries when he might have been sitting in bars.


A Puzzle

The only unidentified poem in Kenneth Rexroth, Poems from the Greek Anthology. Expanded Edition...Introduction by David Mulroy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999; rpt. 2002), is the following (p. 10):
I know I am poor,
Neither do I have to be reminded
Of my own name or
the day of the week.
All your bitterness will get us nowhere.
Wash the anchovies
While I pour the wine.
Naked and drunk, we'll find riches in bed.
Neither Mulroy in his Index (pp. 113-114) nor Otto Steinmayer, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.11.06, was able to track down the original. I can't either.


A Nervous Disorder

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), quoted by Andrew Sullivan, "Taking the world as it is," The Spectator (December 18, 2010):
I've always thought the need to know the news every day is a nervous disorder.
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