Friday, January 30, 2015
As Best You Can
Even if you cannot make your life the way you want,
try this, at least,
as best you can: do not demean it
by too much contact with the crowd,
by too much movement and idle talk.
Do not demean it by dragging it along,
by wandering all the time and exposing it
to the daily foolishness
of social relations and encounters,
until it becomes an importunate stranger.
A Marvelous Invention
What, you might wonder, do I do with all the time I don't spend in endless swamp of ephemeral news? Well, I've made a little rediscovery of a marvelous invention called books, which I'm told are going out of style but which give a satisfaction much deeper than any other means of communication I know. You might want to turn off your computer, trash your newspaper, flick off your television, and give them a shot.
Train Up a Child
Soon when thou couldst stand upright and walk with firm step thy sire forbade thee enervating sloth, luxurious ease, time-wasting slumbers. He strengthened thy young limbs with hard toils and rude was the training wherewith he exercised thy tender powers. Thou wert taught to bear winter's cruel cold, to shrink not before storm and tempest, to face the heat of summer, to swim across loud-roaring torrents, to climb mountains, to run o'er the plain, to leap ravines and hollows, to spend sleepless nights of watching under arms, to drink melted snow from thy casque, to shoot the arrow from the bow or hurl the acorn-missiles with a Balearic sling.Horace, Odes 3.2.1-3 (tr. Niall Rudd):
Mox ubi firmasti recto vestigia gressu,
non tibi desidias molles nec marcida luxu 40
otia nec somnos genitor permisit inertes,
sed nova per duros instruxit membra labores
et cruda teneras exercuit indole vires:
frigora saeva pati, gravibus non cedere nimbis,
aestivum tolerare iubar, transnare sonoras 45
torrentum furias, ascensu vincere montes,
planitiem cursu, valles et concava saltu,
nec non in clipeo vigiles producere noctes,
in galea potare nives, nunc spicula cornu
tendere, nunc glandes Baleari spargere funda. 50
A youngster should be toughened by the rigours of a soldier's life, and learn how to put up with the constraints of poverty cheerfully.
Angustam amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail, the slender blade of green corn upon the ground, the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.
Tri cóil ata ferr folongat in mbith: cóil srithide hi folldeirb, cóil foichne for tuinn, cóil snáithe tar dorn dagmná.
Let us summon from the shades the immortal soul of James Harlan, born in 1820, entered into rest in 1899. In the year 1865 this Harlan resigned from the United States Senate to enter the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of the Interior. One of the clerks in that department, at $600 a year, was Walt Whitman, lately emerged from three years of hard service as an army nurse during the Civil War. One day, discovering that Whitman was the author of a book called "Leaves of Grass," Harlan ordered him incontinently kicked out, and it was done forthwith. Let us remember this event and this man; he is too precious to die. Let us repair, once a year, to our accustomed houses of worship and there give thanks to God that one day in 1865 brought together the greatest poet that America has ever produced and the damndest ass.
The Courage to Make a Mistake
[H]e epitomized this view by borrowing the phrase of the late Jochem Schindler: to be a productive scholar, one needs to have “Mut zum Irrtum” (1999: 11-12).Id. (at 509-510):
His own openness to new ideas included the ability to change his mind, and one of the most important lessons he taught his students was that one must never invest too much of one's ego (much less one's sense of self-worth) in any of one's hypotheses. When asked about something he had written that he now rejected, he repeatedly cited with relish a quotation he attributed to Rudolf Thurneysen: "Das, was ich da geschrieben habe, ist Quatsch."Mut zum Irrtum: Courage to err.
Das, was ich da geschrieben habe, ist Quatsch: What I've written there is nonsense.
Related post: In the Wrong.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
A Frugal Life Is Best
The greedy man is always poor. Fabricius, happy in his honourable poverty, despised the gifts of monarchs; the consul Serranus sweated at his heavy plough and a small cottage gave shelter to the warlike Curii. To my mind such poverty as this is richer than thy wealth, such a home greater than thy palaces. There pernicious luxury seeks for the food that satisfieth not; here the earth provides a banquet for which is nought to pay. With thee wool absorbs the dyes of Tyre; thy patterned clothes are stained with purple; here are bright flowers and the meadow's breathing charm which owes its varied hues but to itself. There are beds piled on glittering bedsteads; here stretches the soft grass, that breaks not sleep with anxious cares. There a crowd of clients dins through the spacious halls, here is song of birds and the murmur of the gliding stream. A frugal life is best. Nature has given the opportunity of happiness to all, knew they but how to use it. Had we realized this we should now have been enjoying a simple life, no trumpets would be sounding, no whistling spear would speed, no ship be buffeted by the wind, no siege-engine overthrow battlements.Here is a snapshot of some of these lines from the new digital Loeb Classical Library:
semper inops quicumque cupit. contentus honesto 200
Fabricius parvo spernebat munera regum
sudabatque gravi consul Serranus aratro
et casa pugnaces Curios angusta tegebat.
haec mihi paupertas opulentior, haec mihi tecta
culminibus maiora tuis. ibi quaerit inanes 205
luxuries nocitura cibos; hic donat inemptas
terra dapes. rapiunt Tyrios ibi vellera sucos
et picturatae saturantur murice vestes;
hic radiant flores et prati viva voluptas
ingenio variata suo. fulgentibus illic 210
surgunt strata toris; hic mollis panditur herba
sollicitum curis non abruptura soporem.
turba salutantum latas ibi perstrepit aedes;
hic avium cantus, labentis murmura rivi.
vivitur exiguo melius; natura beatis 215
omnibus esse dedit, si quis cognoverit uti.
haec si nota forent, frueremur simplice cultu,
classica non gemerent, non stridula fraxinus iret,
nec ventus quateret puppes nec machina muros.
Note that line 201 is wrongly numbered 121. In the actual hard-copy book (1922; rpt. 1990) the numbering is correct.
Should Education Be Fun?
Now it is not difficult to see that one must not make amusement the object of the education of the young; for amusement does not go with learning—learning is a painful process.
ὅτι μὲν οὖν δεῖ τοὺς νέους μὴ παιδιᾶς ἕνεκα παιδεύειν, οὐκ ἄδηλον· οὐ γὰρ παίζουσι μανθάνοντες, μετὰ λύπης γὰρ ἡ μάθησις.
A Phalanx of Inferior Minds
May the Muses forgive me if I seem ungrateful to that race of scholars who have given us access to the literature of Greece and Rome. When I am cross with them, the child scratches his nurse. For where should I have been without the protection and the solicitude of these great drudges who have been at work over my education for centuries? Nevertheless, there is something in a child, when he scratches his nurse, that is justified. She annoys him by her fussiness: she straightens his bib, corrects his manners, rules him in the bathtub, and bothers him with external attention. Is it not in spite of the attentions of the nurse that the inner, baffled, struggling spirit of the child comes into its own?At the risk of annoying by fussiness, I would correct Wilamouwitz Mollendorff to Wilamowitz-Moellendorff.
Literature is for our immediate happiness and for the awakening of more literature; and the life of it lies in the very seed and kernel of the grain. Footnotes and critical information attack the creative instinct. The spirit is daunted, the tongue tied by them. Many a lad has known less about Shakespeare after a college course on Shakespeare than he did when the only phrase he knew was 'Aroint thee, witch'—and he didn't know where that came from. Now he can write the etymology of the words on an examination paper; but the witch herself has vanished. Information is the enemy to poetry. If the old Greeks had known as much about Achilles as we do, the Iliad would never have been written. There was a certain professor at one of our colleges who for many years made it a practice to read aloud to his classes bits from the old English classics. In this way he gave the boys a taste for letters. Speaking of this man, William James once said to me, 'Oh, the authorities will never make X a full professor, because he doesn't know the critical stuff; yet X has done more for the cultivation of the Harvard boys than all the rest of us put together.'
The Nineteenth Century has left a hedge of critical literature about every writer of antiquity. By the time a student has bored his way through the treatises, he is old, and he is dull. He cannot taste the honey, for he has exhausted himself in cutting down the tree. Let us climb and sip. Three generations of modern scholars have befogged and begoggled their wits over Æschylus and Horace. Let us never read the learning of these investigators. Let us be ignorant, nimble, and enthusiastic. Let us never drink of that cup of delusion, critical knowledge. A scholar reads the books of other scholars, lest he shall say something that shows ignorance. Conscience and professional ambition keep him at it. He dare not miss a trick; just as the social climber dare not miss a party. Jaded and surfeited, both scholar and climber accept the servitude. They must know all these dull people, because these dull people are in the game that they are playing. Thus, one result of scholars and scholarship is to interpose a phalanx of inferior minds between the young intelligence and the great wits of the past. Must the novice read those forty pages of Wilamouwitz Mollendorff which cover each dialogue of Plato like the grease on a Strasbourg pâté?
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Obey Nature's Urgent Calls
If thou to health and vigor wouldst attain,The Latin is more explicit about Nature's urgent calls:
Shun weighty cares—all anger deem profane,
From heavy suppers and much wine abstain.
Nor trivial count it, after pompous fare,
To rise from table and to take the air.
Shun idle, noonday slumber, nor delay
The urgent calls of Nature to obey.
These rules if thou wilt follow to the end,
Thy life to greater length thou mayst extend.
Si vis incolumem, si vis te reddere sanum,
Curas tolle graves, irasci crede profanum.
Parce mero—coenato parum, non sit tibi vanum
Surgere post epulas; somne fuge meridianum;
Ne mictum retine, nec comprime fortiter anum;
Haec bene si serves, tu longo tempore vives.
I do not hesitate to announce that I am a reactionary. I take a deep pride in the fact. I see no more virtue in looking forward longingly to an unknown future than in looking backward nostalgically to known and proven values.
The term "reactionary" as I use it does not stand for a definite and immutable set of ideas. It stands for an attitude of mind. As a reactionary I resent and oppose the spirit and the trends of the epoch I am forced to live in, and seek to restore the spirit which had its finest embodiment in by-gone periods.
The Pursuit of Utility
To seek for utility everywhere is entirely unsuited to men that are great-souled and free.
τὸ δὲ ζητεῖν πανταχοῦ τὸ χρήσιμον ἥκιστα ἁρμόττει τοῖς μεγαλοψύχοις καὶ τοῖς ἐλευθερίοις.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Burial Wishes of Robinson Jeffers
I have told you in another poem, whether you've read it or not,1 "in another poem": with the title "The Deer Lay Down Their Bones" (id., pp. 407-408)
About a beautiful place the hard-wounded
Deer go to die in; their bones lie mixed in their little graveyard
Under leaves by a flashing cliff-brook, and if
They have ghosts they like it, the bones and mixed antlers are well content.
Now comes for me the time to engage
My burial place: put me in a beautiful place far off from men,
No cemetery, no necropolis,
And for God's sake no columbarium, nor yet no funeral.
But if the human animal were precious
As the quick deer or that hunter in the night the lonely puma
I should be pleased to lie in one grave with 'em.
Robert Zaller, Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 368:
Like Una, he was cremated, and his ashes were buried beneath a yew tree in the courtyard of Tor House, where Una's had been laid twelve years before.Related posts:
- Burial Wishes of Cyril Connolly
- Burial Wishes of Samuel Butler
- Burial Wishes of Richard Burton
- Burial Wishes of James Howell
- Disregard of Funeral Instructions
- My Bed of Death
- Funeral of a Lover of Horace
- Cactus Ed's Funeral Instructions
- Kierkegaard's Tomb
What Use Is Gold?
If Wealth offered life to mortals for gold, then I would persevere in hoarding it, so that if Death came he could take some and pass on. But since mortals cannot buy life, why should I groan in vain, why weep and wail? If I am fated to die, what use is gold? Let me drink, then, and when I have drunk the sweet wine join my friends or on a soft bed perform Aphrodite's rites.
ὁ Πλοῦτος εἴ γε χρυσοῦ
τὸ ζῆν παρεῖχε θνητοῖς,
ἵν᾿, ἂν Θάνατος ἐπέλθῃ,
λάβῃ τι καὶ παρέλθῃ.
εἰ δ᾿ οὖν μὴ τὸ πρίασθαι
τὸ ζῆν ἔνεστι θνητοῖς,
τί καὶ μάτην στενάζω;
τί καὶ γόους προπέμπω;
θανεῖν γὰρ εἰ πέπρωται,
τί χρυσὸς ὠφελεῖ με;
ἐμοὶ γένοιτο πίνειν,
πιόντι δ᾿ οἶνον ἡδὺν
ἐμοῖς φίλοις συνεῖναι,
ἐν δ᾿ ἁπαλαῖσι κοίταις
τελεῖν τὰν Ἀφροδίταν.
A Professor of Greek and Latin
A professor of Greek and Latin, therefore, according to Tertullian, is a necessary evil; that is more courteous than what most people consider him to-day — an unnecessary evil.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Dr. Buzby Examines the Class in the Bishop's Presence
Suddenly the doctor raised his head, and said, in a quick loud tone, "Wiggins."
Poor Wiggins started from his seat exactly as if he had been shot. He had to descend from the top-most tier of seats, and walk across the schoolroom to a kind of stool, upon which lessons were said into the doctor's left ear. He tried to look composed and confident; but the attempt was decidedly a failure. It was evident that he had lost all presence of mind, and might be guilty of any absurdity. He was a clever lad, but so exceedingly nervous that the doctor could not have made a worse choice, if his object was to exhibit to the bishop the proficiency of his second-class scholars.
"Shew me what you have been reading this last fortnight," said the doctor.
Wiggins gave him his book, devoutly hoping he might be asked to do what he had read yesterday or the day before.
"Is this the way you employ your time in school?" asked Dr. Buzby, turning to the end of Wiggins' book, and holding up a sketch of a bandy-legged pedagogue, in a portentous bag-wig, in the act of flogging the bare posteriors of a boy. Underneath was written: "Old Bandy walloping Jem Stumps." Poor Wiggins turned pale as death. It really was too bad; it was a breach of honour in the doctor.
"Go on, sir," thundered the doctor, "at Ecce puer."
Wiggins coughed, gasped, stammered, and began:
"Ecce, behold, puer, the boy, Veneris, of Venus—"
"Read it first," interposed the doctor.
"Ecce puer Veneris fert eversamque pharetram,
Et fractos arcus, et sine luce facem;
Aspice demissus ut eat miserabilis alis,
Pectoraque infesta tundat aperta manu."
"Now," said the doctor. And Wiggins contrived to put the four verses of Ovid's beautiful Elegy to Tibullus into respectable English.
"From what is pharetra derived?" asked the doctor, looking hard at him. "From the Greek, sir," answered Wiggins, very readily.
Hereupon the Bishop was distinctly seen to nod assent, as much as to say "Not so bad."
"And what is the Greek word from?" added the head master.
"From the Hebrew, sir," said Wiggins. This was a guess, but he thought he couldn't be far wrong. The doctor looked a little disconcerted.
"The root of it has been deduced ultimately from the cognate Sanscrit para," said the doctor, leaning back in his seat with a very pedantic air. "I mean, however, what Greek verb does the substantive come from?"
Wiggins was at fault. Another boy who sat near him, but out of the doctor's ken, promptly wrote on a piece of paper φέρω in very large letters, and held it up to him.
Alas! Wiggins was very shortsighted! He could only discern a dim outline on the paper; so in desperation he answered, after a moment's pause, "φιμόω, sir."
The doctor looked as black as his own ink-pot. The bishop didn't seem exactly to comprehend whether the answer was right or wrong, so he looked amiably neutral.
"And what is φιμόω?" he asked. Wiggins knew this, and answered "to muzzle."
"What then has a muzzle to do with a quiver?" said the doctor. A bright thought seemed to illumine Wiggins' brain. He doubted not but he had read the word aright; and there could be but one explanation—though it did seem rather odd—it was a hazard.
"Because quivers are tied up at the end to prevent the arrows from falling out at the mouth."
"Bah!" bellowed the doctor, in a voice of thunder. The bishop smiled good-naturedly.
"And pray, fool, can you tell me why Cupid carries your muzzled quiver, and a torch in his hand?" continued the doctor.
Wiggins couldn't doubt this at all. He had seen it a hundred times in Valentines, and in French picture books about love. So he unhesitatingly answered, "To toast and stick lovers' hearts, sir."
"You may go down, sir," said the doctor. Poor Wiggins descended, and caught a glimpse of the bishop holding his handkerchief to his mouth to prevent laughing. He felt that he must have said something very absurd, though he couldn't for his life conceive what it was.
After a short pause and interval of suspense, the doctor exclaimed, "Wicks."
A short dry cough was heard somewhere in the region of the furthermost form, and Wicks rose deliberately, descended, and walked slowly across the school with his hands in his pockets, and a closed book under his arm. He had been cracking nuts, or rather splitting them with a penknife, by a convenient process well known to schoolboys. He was both audibly and visibly chewing a plump kernel as he advanced towards the doctor's desk.
Now Wicks was, as we have already intimated, a boy of invincible impudence, audacity, and composure, under the most trying circumstances. Nothing could disturb his equanimity and self-possession. Not even the presence of a real live bishop shook his confidence. He was cool as a cucumber as he ascended the stool.
A companion and rival in impudence he had, who, being a bosom friend, had been sitting by him during the examination. A slip of white paper (commonly called a "pig-tail") had been playfully introduced by him under the collar of his friend's coat, just at the moment of the fearful summons, so that as he walked away from us towards the doctor, we could not help laughing at the ridiculous figure he made. The doctor, however, saw it not, but only cried out "Silence!"
Having finished his nut, and gulped down the accumulated débris of many others, of which he had a considerable store reserved in his cheek, to the great impediment of distinct articulation, Master Wicks opened his book, and winked at his schoolfellows. It was really irresistible. Three or four boys instantaneously exploded, and were ordered to write out a book of Homer on the spot.
"Now, sir," said the doctor, "Read."
Wicks commenced in a harsh unpoetical voice:
"Ferte per extremas gentes, et ferte per undas,
Qua non ulla meum fœmina norit iter."
"Construe," said the doctor.
"Ferte, carry me, per extremas gentes, over extreme nations, et, and, ferte, carry me, per undas, over waves, qua, where, non ulla fœmina, never a female, norit, will know, meum iter, my path."
This was said all in a breath, without the least stop, and of course without the slightest appreciation of the exquisite sentiment conveyed by those lines of Propertius.
"A little coarse, sir, a little coarse," said the doctor, "especially at non ulla fœmina. What part of speech is qua?
"An adverb, sir."
"A pronoun relative," growled Dr. Buzby, "in the ablative case, agreeing with parte or via understood."
"The grammar says it's an adverb," retorted Wicks, nothing daunted, and at the same time producing a thumbed Latin grammar, bound in coarse canvas, from his coat pocket. "Here's the rule."
The doctor could not stand this. He turned red with rage, and dashed the grammar at Wicks's head, who adroitly avoided it by a scientific ducking of that important member.
"What! shew me a grammar," he exclaimed, "a dirty, stupid, ignorant child's grammar! I'll teach you to know better. Write out two hundred lines, beginning at the First Book."
"Please, sir, you told us last time never to come up without our grammars, and you set me the same imposition before for not having one with me at the time."
"What is it to you what I did the last time time?" demanded the doctor. "I may do one thing to day and the contrary tomorrow, for all I know."
"Very likely, sir," responded Wicks.
"Don't be insolent, you beast, or I'll flog you on the spot. Go down, sir, and take care how you answer me."
Wicks jumped nimbly down, and turned away. Here the doctor caught a glance of the pig-tail. "Come back!" he exclaimed.
The unconscious Wicks felt himself roughly seized by the hair, which was pulled so unmercifully by the doctor, that he put up his hands in an agony, and felt the pig-tail. "It wasn't me, sir; and I don't deserve to be treated so, for it wasn't my fault."
The next morning Dr. Buzby's desk was found to have been broken open. It contained a very putrid cat, an old wig with the hair singed off it, two or three chopped onions (the doctor never could bear the smell of them), a living rat, and certain other substances which I cannot mention. Of course Wicks proved an alibi, and knew nothing at all of the matter.
They judged rather by their own illusive wishes than by the safe rule of prudence. For such is the manner of men; what they like is always seen by them in the light of unreflecting hope, what they dislike they peremptorily set aside by an arbitrary conclusion.Caesar, Gallic War 3.18 (tr. T. Rice Holmes):
τὸ δὲ πλέον βουλήσει κρίνοντες ἀσαφεῖ ἢ προνοίᾳ ἀσφαλεῖ, εἰωθότες οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὗ μὲν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν ἐλπίδι ἀπερισκέπτῳ διδόναι, ὃ δὲ μὴ προσίενται λογισμῷ αὐτοκράτορι διωθεῖσθαι.
In most cases men willingly believe what they wish.Caesar, Civil War 2.27 (tr. A.G. Peskett):
Fere libenter homines id, quod volunt, credunt.
For what we desire we gladly believe.Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 1.7.3 (tr. P.A. Brunt)
Nam, quae volumus, et credimus libenter.
In ignorance of the facts, they conjectured (as often happens in such cases) what they most desired.
ὅπερ φιλεῖ ἐν τοῖς τοιοῖσδε, οὐ γιγνώσκοντες τὰ ὄντα τὰ μάλιστα καθ᾽ ἡδονήν σφισιν εἴκαζον.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Proper Pursuits for an Old Man
The ladies say, 'Anacreon, you are old. Take a mirror and look: your hair is no longer there, and your brow is bare.' But I do not know whether my hair is still there or has gone; I do know that the closer Fate is, the more fitting it is for the old man to enjoy his fun and games.
λέγουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες·
'Ἀνάκρεον, γέρων εἶ·
λαβὼν ἔσοπτρον ἄθρει
κόμας μὲν οὐκέτ᾿ οὔσας,
ψιλὸν δέ σευ μέτωπον.'
ἐγὼ δὲ τὰς κόμας μέν,
εἴτ᾿ εἰσὶν εἴτ᾿ ἀπῆλθον,
οὐκ οἶδα· τοῦτο δ᾿ οἶδα,
ὡς τῷ γέροντι μᾶλλον
πρέπει τὸ τερπνὰ παίζειν,
ὅσῳ πέλας τὰ Μοίρης.
A Liberal Education
Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested.
First Day at School
I was hoisted on to a chair, where I sat with my legs dangling, whilst my mother was garrulously expatiating on my brilliant talents and hopeful qualities. At length, turning sharply round to me, with a suddenness that made me drop my cap within the fender from the mere shock, he addressed me thus:
"Well, you little devil, can you tell me the future tense of τύπτω yet?"
I felt rather flattered than otherwise at being called a devil by so distinguished a man. There was something playful and friendly in such an appellation, which pleased me mightily. I wished, indeed, he had selected a less ominous verb than τύπτω for conjugation; but there was no help for it; so summoning up courage, and collecting my wandering faculties, I answered faintly, "τέτυφα, sir."
Dr. Buzby gave me a peculiar look, which seemed to say, "you and I shall have something more to do with that little verb before I have done with you."
It was only on going out again that my egregious blunder flashed upon me. I almost fainted with horror at the commission of it.