Monday, August 03, 2015


Shroud of Inattention

Donald Richie (1924-2013), Journals (May 12, 1992):
In Japan I interpret, assess an action, infer a meaning. Every day, every hour, every minute. Life here means never taking life for granted, never not noticing. For me alone I wonder? I do not see how a foreigner can live here and construct that shroud of inattention, which in the land from whence he came is his natural right and his natural tomb.

E.M. Forster used to say, "...only connect..." and it is with this live connection that the alert foreigner here lives. The electric current is turned on during all the waking hours: he or she is always occupied in noticing, evaluating, discovering and concluding.

Maybe in another country the resemblances to where one came from would be strong enough that such continual regard would not be necessary and would not be rewarding. But Japan, which now so seems to resemble the worst of the land I came from, is actually so different that none of my habits protect, none of my prior assumptions are valid.

Denied, fortunate foreigner, the tepid if comfortable bath which is daily life back "home," he cannot sink back and let the music flow over, mindless, transparent; he must listen, score in hand.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


Temperance and Intemperance: A Greek Auto-Antonym

Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. ἀκορία:
not eating to satiety, moderation in eating, Hp.Epid.6.4.18.

ἀ. ποτοῦ insatiable desire of drink, Aret.CD2.2.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


Saturday, August 01, 2015


The Eleventh Commandment

Kallistos Ware, "Through Creation to the Creator," in John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz, edd., Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature and Creation (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 86-115 (at 86-87; footnotes omitted):
On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: "Love the trees." Fr. Amphilochios (d. 1970), the geronta or "elder" on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. "Do you know," he said, "that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment 'love the trees.'" Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. "When you plant a tree," he insisted, "you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God's blessing." An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them as penance the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. His example and influence have transformed Patmos: photographs of the hillside near the Cave of the Apocalypse, taken at the start of the twentieth century, show bare and barren slopes; today there is a thick and flourishing wood.

Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and In one of his "prophecies" he stated, "People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees." We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. Another saying attributed to him—not in this instance about trees—is equally applicable to the present age: "The time will come when the devil puts himself inside a box and starts shouting; and his horns will stick out from the roof-tiles." That often comes to my mind as I survey the skyline in London, with its serried ranks of television masts.
St. Kosmas was born, fittingly, in the village of Mega Dendron.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also supplies the Greek originals of the quotations from St. Kosmas:

Friday, July 31, 2015


You Can't Please Everyone

Theognis 801-804 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
There never has been nor will there be a man
who will please everyone before he goes down to Hades.
For not even he who is lord of mortals and immortals,
Zeus the son of Cronus, can please all men.

οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων οὔτ᾿ ἔσσεται οὔτε πέφυκεν
  ὅστις πᾶσιν ἁδὼν δύσεται εἰς Ἀΐδεω·
οὐδὲ γὰρ ὃς θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάσσει,
  Ζεὺς Κρονίδης, θνητοῖς πᾶσιν ἁδεῖν δύναται.


Are You Truly a Library?

Donald Richie (1924-2013), Journals (May 19, 1992):
Went to the American Center Library to look up what they have on Jack Kerouac. A large, empty room filled with viewers and TV buzz and persons in frameless glasses, who look up up and ask, "Who? Never heard of him. Will you please use our deck?" One pointed to a keyboard. I did not know how to use it. It was a computer of some sort. With ill grace and an unbelieving expression she pecked out after again asking, K/E/R/O/A/C. Pushed a button. Machine clicked. Nothing.

"We have nothing," she said. "You do not seem seem to have any books at all," I mildly remarked. "Would you care to see our magazine file?" "Can you really see it, or do you conjure that up too from buttons?" I asked, now revealing nastiness. She narrowed her eyes in irritation. "Are you truly a library?" I pursued. "Yes, we call ourselves a library," she said. "You are wrong," I said. "You are a database."

I do not know what a database is, but my chagrin and rage at finding out what had happened to what was once a perfectly good library was not immediately to be denied. Storming out was OK, but it still left me with my Kerouac problem. One which became even more complicated when I returned home and discovered that I had spelled the writer's name wrong. There is a U in Kerouac which I had left out. The computer, not being able to make allowances, could not find him, even if he was there, lying in the dark. Shall I go back? I think not.

A friend writes:
The last public library I set foot in was in Inverness and I was shocked by how few books were on display, anachronistic encumbrances, it seemed, in what was fast becoming a community-centre-cum-cyber-café. A lot of the books I buy second-hand through Amazon bear the ugly stamp DISCARD or WITHDRAWN and I think of some thin-lipped little Hitler of a librarian stamping them not in sorrow but with relish, aiding and abetting the cultural suicide of the community out of whose public funds the book had been bought in the first place.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Pedimental Composition

John L. Myres (1869-1954), Herodotus: The Father of History (1953; rpt. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1971), pp. 81-82:
In a Latin 'period' the subject stands first, conditions, accessions, even subordinate agents, are enunciated next, in order; the principal verb comes at the end, immediately preceded by the object and its attributes and qualifications. In unconstrained Greek, as in English, normal syntax places the verb between subject and object, but a more significant word may be substituted in the central position. In the motto of the Academy
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω
the significant word could be central without disturbance of normal syntax. In the English line
All hope abandon, ye who enter here
normal order is inverted to centralize the significant word abandon. But complete the iambic line
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω, Κλέον
and it becomes part of a larger composition—a comedian's snub to a rabble-rouser. presuming either a previous question, or a retort such as
ὁ Νικίας δ' ἄπειρὀς ἐστι μουσικῆς
which is the same 'pedimental' form, and balances it in the whole couplet around the significant words Κλέον and Νικίας.

Herodotus was not the inventor of this mode of composition. It is in the genius of the Greek language and of Greek art. In Greek verse the hexameter and the iambic line are balanced about their caesura; in the geometric art of the Early Iron Age, centre-piece and pendant side-panels are fundamental. The structure of the Iliad and Odyssey has similar culminations and counterparts.1 The same design is characteristic of the dithyramb, and fundamental in another archaic survival, the stichomythia of tragedy; not only in Aeschylus2 with whom it is invariable, but, with growing laxity, in Sophocles and Euripides. Aeschylus also employs this structure in his choral odes. It reappears, after Herodotus, throughout the formal prologue of Thucydides.3 In the graphic arts, rhythm and balance dominate vase-painting; their simplest expression, 'heraldic symmetry', goes back indeed into Minoan and into Oriental design; it is frequent on the 'Chest of Cypselus' at Olympia,4 on the engraved bowls known as 'Phoenician',5 and in the Hesiodic 'Shield of Heracles'.6 Its best-known expression is, of course, in the pedimental sculpture of Greek temples; at Aegina it is employed in commemorative designs of Greeks and Barbarians in combat about the central figure of Athena; this was evidently a war-memorial, like the Preface of Herodotus.

1 Myres, J.H.S. lxii (1942), 204 (Iliad); J.H.S. lxxii (Odyssey); lxxiii (Iliad),
2 Myres, Proc. Brit. Acad. xxxv (1949)
3 i.1-23. E. Täubler, Die Archäologia des Thukydides.
4 Myres, J.H.S. lxvi (1946), 122.
5 Myres, J.H.S. liii (1933), 25.
6 Myres, J.H.S. lxi (1941), 33.


Wholesome Fare

Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), The World of Herodotus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), p. 293:
Odysseus was one type of the Greek ideal, as Achilles was another. Neither was exactly what we should describe as a gentleman; but what matter? Both had a healthy appetite for life, and both lived familiarly with death. On the whole Greek boys were lucky to be brought up on Homer: he was more wholesome fare than much which is provided nowadays.


Humiliating Self-Exposures

David Ellis, Memoirs of a Leavisite: The decline and fall of Cambridge English (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), pp. 23-24:
By the time of my first year with [F.R.] Leavis, his sheets of anonymous texts for analysis and dating included quite a lot of prose. Very early on, I can remember being confronted with a passage of what seemed to me lively polemical writing. After some analysis of its qualities, he asked us to suggest who might have been its author. To this day I have no idea how I managed to come up with the name of Cobbett or in what context I had stumbled upon the Rural Rides, which is still the only text of his I have ever read. Yes, said Leavis, after some hesitation, I can see why you might think that, and he went on to talk at some length about colloquial vigour before revealing that the author of the passage in question was Thomas Nashe. Nashe's best known work appeared in 1592 and Rural Rides was published in 1830 so that, if I had been looking for comfort, I could have said that, as far as dating was concerned, I was only 238 years out.

One method I have for dividing people is to imagine that there are those who, as they look back on their life, remember it chiefly in terms of the happy moments when they were congratulated, received an award, or said some something to which the response was peculiarly gratifying. Set against these are those whose progress is remembered as a series of humiliating self-exposures, occasions when they did or said the wrong thing. As an instance of saying the wrong thing in a public context, my 'Cobbett' must rank pretty high. There is a story told by Stanley Cavell about the time he attended the music theory class given by Ernst Bloch at Berkeley. Bloch would apparently play a piece by Bach, 'with one note altered by a half a step from Bach's rendering', and then play the piece as it was written. After repeating this process, he would challenge the students to hear the difference, tell them that if they could not hear it they could not call themselves musicians, and then remind them that there were after all many 'honourable trades. Shoe-making, for example.' It would have been reasonable of Leavis to suggest that anyone who could not tell the difference between Cobbett and Nashe ought to be thinking of something other than the study of English literature. The enormity of my mistake became more painful with the passage of time as I gained more familiarity with Elizabethan prose writing, its often strange vocabulary and loose grammatical structures trailing off God knows where. The consolation was that at the time I made the error I had no idea how serious it was. There is another consolation which comes from those Proustian moments when a word pronounced in a special way, a chance glimpse of certain features, or the atmosphere in a room suddenly brings back an episode when we behaved in a particularly foolish manner. It strikes me then that the number of humiliating episodes which we remember, and which constitute our private store of psychological pain or discomfort, is as nothing compared to those we have either forgotten or were not even aware of at the time, and that Nature can sometimes be kind after all.

The way Leavis dealt with my mistake was a model for me later when I had to respond to similarly foolish suggestions. The technique is no doubt common as well as considerate, but I once witnessed an uncomfortable reductio of it at a lecture by [H.A.] Mason, whose Oxford classics degree was often adduced as the reason for his being the most urbane of all the Leavisites. At the lecture was someone from my year who had suffered a breakdown and whose behaviour had become mildly psychotic. When Mason had finished speaking he was asked by this student a whole series of increasingly mad questions to each of which he replied with the usual 'I can see why you might say that', 'that would be one way of looking at it' etc. until every other member of the audience was in an agony of embarrassment and silently begging him to cut their pain short with, 'No, I'm afraid what you have just said is complete rubbish'.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


A Prayer to Artemis

Theognis 11-14 (tr. Douglas E. Gerber):
Artemis, slayer of wild beasts, daughter of Zeus, for whom Agamemnon set up a temple when he was preparing to sail on his swift ships to Troy, give ear to my prayer and ward off the evil death-spirits. For you, goddess, this is a small thing, but for me it is critical.

Ἄρτεμι θηροφόνη, θύγατερ Διός, ἣν Ἀγαμέμνων
    εἵσαθ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἐς Τροίην ἔπλεε νηυσὶ θοῇς,
εὐχομένῳ μοι κλῦθι, κακὰς δ᾿ ἀπὸ κῆρας ἄλαλκε·
    σοὶ μὲν τοῦτο, θεά, σμικρόν, ἐμοὶ δὲ μέγα.
Carolus Ausfeld, "De Graecorum Precationibus Quaestiones," Jahrbüch für classische Philologie, Suppl. 28 (1903) 503-547, recognized three parts of Greek prayers, which he called invocatio, pars epica, and precatio. Theognis' prayer to Artemis is a succinct example of this tripartite form:
See Jules Labarbe, "Une prière de Théognis (11-14)," L'Antiquité Classique 62 (1993) 23-33.


Competition in Demagoguery

Aristophanes, Knights 910-911 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Blow your nose, Demos, and then wipe your hand on my head!
No, on mine!
No, on mine!

ἀπομυξάμενος, ὦ Δῆμέ, μου πρὸς τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀποψῶ.
ἐμοῦ μὲν οὖν.
ἐμοῦ μὲν οὖν.
Aristophanes could be writing about the current crop of presidential candidates, of both political parties. Mutato nomine de te / fabula narratur (Horace, Satires 1.1.69-70).

Monday, July 27, 2015


A Lesson Learned

Donald Richie (1924-2013), Companions of the Holiday (New York, Walker/Weatherhill, 1968), p. 85:
Laying down the pencil, she decided that she had learned one thing, and that this was all the philosophy that she contained: the meaning of work lay in the working, so the meaning of life lay only in the living; one added one day upon the next, and this was sufficient; whether one served oneself or served a master, it was the same; to fill the day was important; what filled it was of small importance.


Death March

Horace, Odes 1.28.15-20 (tr. Niall Rudd, with his note):
But one common night awaits us all, and the road to death can be trodden only once. The Furies hand over some to provide entertainment for grim Mars; to sailors destruction comes from the hungry sea. Young and old alike crowd together in death; merciless Proserpine never shuns a head.51

51 Proserpine was said to cut a lock of hair from each of her victims.

                        sed omnes una manet nox        15
        et calcanda semel via leti.
dant alios Furiae torvo spectacula Marti;
        exitio est avidum mare nautis;
mixta senum ac iuvenum densentur funera; nullum
        saeva caput Proserpina fugit.        20
On the poem as a whole:


What More Could I Want?

Kenneth Burke (1897-1993), "Temporary Wellbeing," Book of Moments: Poems 1915-1954 (Los Altos: Hermes Publications, 1955), p. 36:
The pond is plenteous
The land is lush,
And having turned off the news
I am for the moment mellow.

With my book in one hand
And my drink in the other
What more could I want

But fame,
Better health,
And ten million dollars?
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


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