Friday, October 28, 2016
Poetry and Real Life
In the modern world it is a familiar idea that a poem has its normal place in a book and that it is primarily to the potential reader of the book that the poem addresses itself. This idea is correct so far as the literature of highly advanced societies is concerned. In the Greek world the conditions under which a poem came into existence were, at least from the fourth century B.C., not fundamentally dissimilar to the conditions prevailing in the Renaissance or in our own time. But we are confronted with an entirely different situation when we turn to the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the period during which, on the one hand, certain types of recitative poetry, such as elegy and iambics (the latter term covering poems in trochaic tetrameters as well), and, on the other hand, lyrics proper evolved their forms and became for a time the most productive and most significant genres of Greek poetry. If we are to form an idea of the life out of which iambics, elegies, and various types of song grew and of the function which poetry fulfilled within that life, we shall first of all have to cast off some conventional conceptions.
Nowadays it is natural for many educated persons to open a book of verse when they want a rest or a change from the humdrum of their daily occupations, and hope to be diverted or, perhaps, exalted by lofty thoughts and the spell of noble rhythms and sounds. Whatever their motives, these modern readers look on poetry as something clearly separated from any practical activities and from the whole sphere of 'real life'. That, however, was not so during the early period of Greek literature. At that stage poetry, far from belonging to a domain remote from man's practical life, rather formed an integral, and indeed a highly important, part of it. This phenomenon may be illustrated by the position allotted to elegiac and iambic poems in the social life of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. A work of one of those early elegists and iambists was originally destined not to be read but to be listened to as it was being recited, as a rule probably by the poet himself. Such a recitation could take place wherever the men whom the poet wished to address were likely to be found together. A most suitable opportunity was at hand in the banquet or symposium, which played such a prominent part in the normal life of a Greek and which provided special advantages for the undisturbed delivery of poetry, whether recited (often with the accompaniment of an instrument) or actually sung. From time immemorial some kind of poetical entertainment had been considered an all but indispensable element of a symposium. It would not be sufficient merely to say that the symposium provided an excellent opportunity for the performance of many types of poetry, for the existence of symposia as an established institution was in fact one of the main incentives for the composing of poems.
The banquet, however, was not the only occasion on which an elegist or iambist could hope to find an audience. The male inhabitants of southern cities have always been in the habit of spending a large portion of their time in some open square. There they will stand or sit in groups for hours on end, apparently doing nothing at all, and in fact sometimes without any definite purpose, chatting and listening, while, according to the season, they either bask in the sun or enjoy the shade of a sheltered corner. But often they are not really being idle: they may be waiting for a profitable chance, una combinazione, to turn up, or discussing something with their companions, a bit of business, the prospects of the harvest, politics, a journey to foreign lands, in short anything that is of importance to them. An almost unlimited scope of topics presents itself; from a harmless joke to the most dangerous intrigue, from a casual remark to serious deliberations on the nature of the universe and man's precarious fate. As you go past the motley groups, you may, out of the sea of voices, pick up incoherent snatches of arguing, persuading, cheating, and instructing. Anyone familiar with the life of Piazza Signoria in Florence or Piazza Colonna in Rome or the Σύνταγμα in Athens will find it easy to elaborate the picture, especially if he remembers that Greek townspeople always εἰς οὐδὲν ἕτερον ἠυκαίρουν ἢ λέγειν τι ἢ ἀκούειν τι καινότερον. There was always, in the cities of Ionia and of the Greek mainland, an audience for the poet who felt himself capable of catching and holding the attention of a crowd or some smaller group. It was in all probability at such informal gatherings of the citizens that harangues like μέχρις τεῦ κατάκεισθε; or ὦ λιπερνῆτες πολῖται, τἀμὰ δὴ ξυνίετε ῥήματα and many of Solon's poems were first delivered. Such harangues and manifestoes were different from anything that in the modern world would be likely to be put into verse. Their natural place was not somewhere outside the practical life of the people but in its very centre.
On a Certain Scholar
He never completed his History of Ephesus,
But his name got mentioned in numerous prefaces.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Expulsion of Foreigners
Lycurgus also introduced the practice of banning all foreigners from the country, so that these should not filter in and serve to teach the citizens something bad.See Thomas J. Figueira, "Xenēlasia and Social Control in Classical Sparta," Classical Quarterly 53.1 (May, 2003) 44-74.
καὶ ξενηλασίας δὲ εἰσηγήσατο, ὅπως οἱ παρεισρέοντες μὴ διδάσκαλοι κακοῦ τινος τοῖς πολίταις ὑπάρχωσι.
Agreement and Disagreement
Of course, I like agreement, it warms the heart, but I don’t expect it; and I like disagreement too, when it is intelligent and carries a thought further, rather than contradicts it a priori, from a different point of departure. These different points of departure make discussion futile and unpleasant.
A Fresh Look
The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life. How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me? Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes? How much can I take in at a single glance? Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced?
Die Sache ist, daß ich wieder Interesse an der Welt nehme, meinen Beobachtungsgeist versuche und prüfe, wie weit es mit meinen Wissenschaften und Kenntnissen geht, ob mein Auge licht, rein und hell ist, wieviel ich in der Geschwindigkeit fassen kann, und ob die Falten, die sich in mein Gemüt geschlagen und gedrückt haben, wieder auszutilgen sind.
The American Dream
Money means power, not merely wealth. Money gives us power over others—to command their labor, their minds, even their souls. Even their behavior, conduct, attitudes. No wonder money possesses such glittering attraction for those who crave power. If all people were self-reliant—a nation of artisans, craftsmen, hunters, trappers, farmers, ranchers—the rich would have no means to dominate us. Their wealth would be useless.
Cities: The realm of masters and slaves.
Our dream is to escape the hierarchical order: neither to serve nor to rule. The classic American dream. A society of equals.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Une fille nue nage dans la merThis isn't included in Jacques Prévert, Paroles: Selected Poems. Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1990 = Pocket Poets Series No. 9). Cf. Gardiner M. Weir, "Which," A Life of Memories: A Collection of Poetry (Frederick: American Star Books, 2014), page number unknown:
Un homme barbu marche sur l'eau
Où est la merveille des merveilles
Le miracle annoncé plus haut?
There needs to be an accent on Prevert, and the French title should close with a quotation mark, as it opens with one. This is a clever adaptation, whose first couplet reminds me more of Botticelli than Prévert though.
Here is a somewhat more literal version:
A naked girl swims in the sea,The second line of course refers to Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-53, Matthew 14:22-43, John 6:15-21).
A bearded man walks on the water.
Which is the wonder of wonders,
The miracle proclaimed on high?
Thanks to friends who went beyond the call of duty in answering questions, offering suggestions, and otherwise providing generous help. Some of them still don't agree with my translation.
To Goethe, a man who looks at a beautiful cloud without knowing, or wishing to know, any meteorology, at a landscape without knowing any geology, at a plant without studying its structure and way of growth, at the human body without studying anatomy, is imprisoning himself in that aesthetic subjectivity which he deplored as the besetting sin of the writers of his time.
Interpretation of Horace
Those kind readers who from time to time feel tempted to supplement a Horatian poem by reading into it what in their opinion the poet has failed to say himself are respectfully but firmly asked to shut this book and never to open it again: it could only disappoint and distress them. My interpretations are, without exception, based on the conviction that Horace, throughout his work, shows himself both determined and able to express everything that is relevant to the understanding and the appreciation of a poem, either by saying it in so many words or by implying it through unambiguous hints.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Another, as if determined to escapeLines 84-85 (Ahi ahi, s'asside / Su l'alte prue la negra cura) recall Horace, Odes 3.1.37-40 (tr. Niall Rudd):
unhappy human fate by spending his days
in other lands and climates, wandering the seas and hills, 80
travels the whole globe, and, as he journeys, comes
to every end of the earth that nature opened to man
in the boundless spaces of the universe.
Alas, black care sits on his ship's high prow, 85
and in every climate, under every sky,
where we seek hopelessly for happiness,
sadness lives and reigns.
Altri, quasi a fuggir volto la trista
Umana sorte, in cangiar terre e climi
L'età spendendo, e mari e poggi errando, 80
Tutto l'orbe trascorre, ogni confine
Degli spazi che all'uom negl'infiniti
Campi del tutto la natura aperse,
Peregrinando aggiunge. Ahi ahi, s'asside
Su l'alte prue la negra cura, e sotto 85
Ogni clima, ogni ciel, si chiama indarno
Felicità, vive tristezza e regna.
But Fear and Foreboding climb as high as the owner; black Anxiety does not quit the bronze-beaked galley, and sits behind the horseman.Related posts:
sed Timor et Minae
scandunt eodem quo dominus, neque
decedit aerata triremi et
post equitem sedet atra Cura.
- Fickleness (Seneca)
- Difficult to Escape from Oneself (Gottfried Benn)
- Travel (Basil, Augustine)
- No Escape from Oneself (Seneca)
- Escape from Oneself (C.P. Cavafy)
- Crossing the Seas (Henry David Thoreau)
- From Dan to Beersheba (Horace, Montaigne, Sterne)
- Travel (Lucretius, Horace, Seneca)
Thinking on Your Feet
[I]nstead of saying that the possession of hands has given man his superiority, it would go much deeper to say that man and all other animals owe their intelligence to their feet. No wonder, then, that a peripatetic philosophy should be the best. Thinking while you sit, or while you kneel with the eyes closed or fixed upon vacancy, the mind lapses into dreams; images of things remote and miscellaneous are merged in the haze of memory, in which facts and fancies roll together almost indistinguishably, and you revert to the vegetative state, voluminous and helpless. Thinking while you walk, on the contrary, keeps you alert; your thoughts, though following some single path through the labyrinth, review real things in their real order; you are keen for discovery, ready for novelties, laughing at every little surprise, even if it is a mishap; you are careful to choose the right road, and if you take the wrong one, you are anxious and able to correct your error. Meantime, the fumes of digestion are dissipated by the fresh air; the head is cleared and kept aloft, where it may survey the scene; attention is stimulated by the novel objects constantly appearing; a thousand hypotheses run to meet them in an amiable competition which the event soon solves without ambiguity; and the scene as a whole is found to change with the changed station of the traveler, revealing to him his separate existence and his always limited scope, together with the distinction (which is all wisdom in a nutshell) between how things look and what they are.Related post: Walking and Thinking.
Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners
A companion who happens to be badly bred trains his companions to be like himself, while a good one makes them good; come then, young men, make sure you seek the company of honourable men.
ὁ γὰρ ξυνὼν κακὸς μὲν ἢν τύχῃ γεγώς,
τοιούσδε τοὺς ξυνόντας ἐκπαιδεύεται,
χρηστοὺς δὲ χρηστός· ἀλλὰ τὰς ὁμιλίας
ἐσθλὰς διώκειν, ὦ νέοι, σπουδάζετε.
Monday, October 24, 2016
I think I should like Quito, and the existence of some superior minds in such a remote and isolated place does not surprise me. If there were more intellectual retreats there would be more intellectual power. The mediocrity of everything in the great world of today is simply appalling. We live in intellectual slums.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Buying and Selling
Merchants as such are not the first men among us; though it perhaps be open to a merchant to become one of them. Buying and selling is good and necessary; it is very necessary, and may, possibly, be very good; but it cannot be the noblest work of man; and let us hope that it may not in our time be esteemed the noblest work of an Englishman.Hat tip: Mrs. Laudator, who has been reading Doctor Thorne aloud to me.
Friday, October 21, 2016
A gadget industry pads the bumps against nature-in-the-raw; woodcraft becomes the art of using gadgets.Id., pp. 42-43:
The recreationist arrives in the wilds draped and festooned with gadgets, each tending to destroy the contrast value of his vacation. I am not such a purist as to disdain all of them, but I do claim that the presence or absence of gadget inhibitions is a delicate test of any man's outdoor education. Most tourists have no gadget inhibitions whatever.Id., p. 43:
Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them. Gadgets fill the pockets, they dangle from neck and belt. The overflow fills the auto-trunk, and also the trailer. Each item of outdoor equipment grows lighter and often better, but the aggregate poundage becomes tonnage.
Hither no bloodless Diseases come, no sickly Eld, 15
nor cruel Death nor desperate Fear
nor nameless Crime nor maddened Lust for wealth
or Wrath or Frenzy afire with the love of murder;
bitter Grief is absent and Beggary beset with rags
and sleepless Cares and violent Hunger. 20
No tempest raveth there nor savage force of wind:
nor does the hoar-frost shroud the ground in chilly damp.
Above the plains no cloud stretches its fleece,
nor falleth from on high the stormy moisture of rain.
non huc exsangues Morbi, non aegra Senectus 15
nec Mors crudelis nec Metus asper adest
nec Scelus infandum nec opum vesana Cupido
aut Ira aut ardens caedis amore Furor;
Luctus acerbus abest et Egestas obsita pannis
et Curae insomnes et violenta Fames. 20
non ibi tempestas nec vis furit horrida venti
nec gelido terram rore pruina tegit;
nulla super campos tendit sua vellera nubes
nec cadit ex alto turbidus umor aquae.