Friday, May 27, 2016
Wisdom is a fox, who, after long hunting, will at last cost you the pains to dig out. It is a cheese, which, by how much the richer, has the thicker, the homelier, and the coarser coat; and whereof, to a judicious palate, the maggots are the best. It is a sack-posset, wherein the deeper you go, you will find it the sweeter. Wisdom is a hen, whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg; but then lastly, it is a nut, which, unless you choose with judgment, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm.
Sack-posset recipes, from Mrs. Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, new ed., (London: A. Millar et al., 1789), pp. 177-178:
BEAT fifteen eggs, whites and yolks very well, and strain them; then put three quarters of a pound of white sugar into a pint of canary, and mix it with your eggs in a bason; set it over a chafing-dish of coals, and keep continually stirring it till it is scalding hot. In the mean time grate some nutmeg in a quart of milk and boil it; then pour it into your eggs and wine, they being scalding hot. Hold your hand very high as you pour it, and somebody stirring it all the time you are pouring in the milk; then take it off the chafing-dish, set it before the fire half an hour, and serve it up.
Take a quart of new-milk, four Naples biscuits, crumble them, and when the milk boils throw them in. Just give it one boil, take it off, grate in it some nutmeg, and sweeten to your palate; then pour in half a pint of sack, stirring it all the time, and serve it up. You may crumble white-bread, instead of biscuit.
BOIL a quart of cream, or new-milk, with the yolks of two eggs; first take a French roll, and cut it as thin as possibly you can in little pieces; lay it in the dish you intend for the posset. When the milk boils (which you must keep stirring all the time), pour it over the bread, and stir it together; cover it close, then take a pint of canary, a quarter of a pound of sugar, and grate in some nutmeg. When it boils pour it into the milk, stirring it all the time, and serve it up.
Blessings of Peace
There's a riddle wise men spend much time about;
So I've been told, and no one's yet found out.
What's meant by Good. Virtue, they say, or wit,
Any fudge rather than what's really it.
Out on my land, digging it spit by spit,
I've found the answer — Peace. Dear Zeus above,
What a Goddess! full of kindliness and love.
She gives us weddings, feasts, and friends, and wealth,
Offspring and kindred, corn, wine, pleasure, health;
And these are the things the loss of which implies
That all the life of all the living dies.
οἱ φιλόσοφοι ζητοῦσιν, ὡς ἀκήκοα,
περὶ τοῦτό τ' αὐτοῖς πολὺς ἀναλοῦται χρόνος,
τί ἐστιν ἀγαθόν, κοὐδὲ εἰς εὕρηκέ πω
τί ἐστιν. ἀρετὴν καὶ φρόνησίν φασι, καὶ
πλέκουσι πάντα μᾶλλον ἢ τί τἀγαθόν. 5
ἐν ἀγρῷ διατρίβων τήν τε γῆν σκάπτων ἐγὼ
νῦν εὗρον· εἰρήνη 'στίν· ὦ Ζεῦ φίλτατε,
τῆς ἐπαφροδίτου καὶ φιλανθρώπου θεοῦ.
γάμους, ἑορτάς, συγγενεῖς, παῖδας, φίλους,
πλοῦτον, ὑγίειαν, σῖτον, οἷνον, ἡδονὴν 10
αὕτη δίδωσι· ταῦτα πάντ' ἂν ἐκλίπῃ,
τέθνηκε κοινῇ πᾶς ὁ τῶν ζώντων βίος.
There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation: such most admire what they fail to understand.
nihil tam facile, quam vilem plebiculam et indoctam contionem linguae volubilitate decipere, quae, quidquid non intellegit, plus miratur.
Modern critics of Vergil would strike Vergil himself as lunatics, who ought to be restrained....And God himself, who gave man language, must regard some modern linguists (or would be linguists) in the same light.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
The Medical Version of the Platonic Ideal
No organ, however, came under closer scrutiny than the gut, regarded with particular suspicion by Sir Arbuthnot [Lane] because of the large number of bacteria found there. His view was taken to heart by the general public, largely owing to the fact that any malfunction was so readily apparent. Anyone could tell if his gut was in good working order, or not. No specialist knowledge was required, no examination by another person necessary to know if Sir Arbuthnot's one vital criterion for a healthy colon — a regular daily motion — had been met. Every true-born Briton, of whatever age, social class, sex, or metier, was able to tell almost without thinking whether he or she had had 'a movement' that morning.Hat tip: Eric Thomson.
Such was the power of Sir Arbuthnot's proselytizing that the alternative spelt — quite literally, for many — doom and despair. Almost every complaint that did not actually kill was laid at the door of the sluggish bowel. Constipation, ran the accepted wisdom, caused not only migraine, lethargy, indigestion, halitosis and a poor complexion, but also more esoteric conditions such as difficulty in childbirth, depression, permanent fatigue, frigidity and impotence. Liquid paraffin sold by the gallon, and no bathroom cupboard was complete without a wardrobe of laxatives, frequently compared as to taste and effectiveness. Children were sent to the lavatory after breakfast to 'go', and were asked immediately afterwards if they had 'been', a metronomic punctuality being held up as the medical version of the Platonic ideal. At some preparatory schools, boys had to put a tick or cross against their names on a notice board, and thus it followed that everyone knew the state of his neighbour's bowels — information which occasionally followed them inconveniently into later life. In the greater delicacy of girls' boarding schools, those unable to mumble or nod the required affirmative were summoned that night to matron for a spoonful of Milk of Magnesia, Syrup of Figs or, in recalcitrant cases, a foul-tasting dose of castor oil.
But this was nothing compared to the remedies advertised in the popular press. Nowhere was Sir Arbuthnot Lane's influence so apparent as in the advertisement columns. If the Fuehrer had studied these, he could have been forgiven for thinking the entire British nation was so obsessed with its bowels, let alone so incapacitated by constipation, so as to render the rumble of war a mere irrelevant twittering on the sidelines.
Labels: noctes scatologicae
Dinner with Atticus
No one at a dinner-party of his heard anything but a reader, which is the most agreeable form of entertainment, at least in my opinion; and dinner was never served at his house without reading of some kind, so that his guests enjoyed the gratification of the mind as well as of the appetite.
nemo in convivio eius aliud acroama audivit quam anagnosten, quod nos quidem iucundissimum arbitramur; neque umquam sine aliqua lectione apud eum cenatum est, ut non minus animo quam ventre convivae delectarentur.
The Blind Led by the Blind
Every day of the week I observe students using Loeb—the blind led by the blind.Id.:
Dictionaries are no help, for the people who make them usually no longer do their own reading, and translators more often are found with dictionaries in their hands, and students with translations in theirs, than either of them with knowledge of Greek or Latin in their heads.Id.:
I suspect most moderns of a Babu knowledge of Greek and Latin...
There are three virtues you should practise, child:
to honour the gods, the parents who begot you,
and the common laws of Greece. If you do these things,
you will always have good repute, the fairest of crowns.
τρεῖς εἰσιν ἀρεταὶ τὰς χρεών σ᾿ ἀσκεῖν, τέκνον,
θεούς τε τιμᾶν τούς τε φύσαντας γονῆς
νόμους τε κοινοὺς Ἑλλάδος· καὶ ταῦτα δρῶν
κάλλιστον ἕξεις στέφανον εὐκλείας ἀεί.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
A Misprint in the Loeb Classical Library
Tantum abest ut ego magistram esse putem vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem, ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. Video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore et continentia praecipiant argutissime, eosdem in omnium ibidinum cupiditatibus vivere.For ibidinum read libidinum. The error persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library. Here is an image of the sentence containing the error from the physical book (screen shot from Google Books):
So far am I from thinking that philosophy can teach how to live and is the perfecter of a happy life, that I believe that none have more need of learning how to live than the greater number of those who are engaged in teaching philosophy. In fact, I observe that a great part of those same men who in the schools argue most subtly about moderation and self-restraint pass their lives a prey to all the passions.
Labels: typographical and other errors
The Art of Political Lying
I have been sometimes thinking, if a man had the art of the second sight for seeing lies, as they have in Scotland for seeing spirits, how admirably he might entertain himself in this town, by observing the different shapes, sizes, and colours of those swarms of lies which buzz about the heads of some people, like flies about a horse's ears in summer; or those legions hovering every afternoon in Exchange-alley, enough to darken the air; or over a club of discontented grandees, and thence sent down in cargoes to be scattered at elections.Id. (on Thomas Wharton):
The superiority of his genius consists in nothing else but an inexhaustible fund of political lies, which he plentifully distributes every minute he speaks, and by an unparalleled generosity forgets, and consequently contradicts, the next half hour. He never yet considered whether any proposition were true or false, but whether it were convenient for the present minute or company to affirm or deny it; so that, if you think fit to refine upon him, by interpreting everything he says, as we do dreams, by the contrary, you are still to seek, and will find yourself equally deceived whether you believe or not: the only remedy is to suppose that you have heard some inarticulate sounds, without any meaning at all; and besides, that will take off the horror you might be apt to conceive at the oaths wherewith he perpetually tags both ends of every proposition: although, at the same time, I think he cannot with any justice be taxed with perjury when he invokes God and Christ, because he has often fairly given public notice to the world that he believes in neither.Id.:
Few lies carry the inventor's mark, and the most prostitute enemy to truth may spread a thousand without being known for the author: besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers: and it often happens that, if a lie be believed only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect: like a man who has thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed or the company parted; or like a physician who has found out an infallible medicine after the patient is dead.
Considering that natural disposition in many men to lie, and in multitudes to believe, I have been perplexed what to do with that maxim so frequent in everybody's mouth, that truth will at last prevail. Here has this island of ours, for the greatest part of twenty years, lain under the influence of such counsels and persons, whose principle and interest it was to corrupt our manners, blind our understanding, drain our wealth, and in time destroy our constitution both in church and state, and we at last were brought to the very brink of ruin; yet by the means of perpetual misrepresentations, have never been able to distinguish between our enemies and friends.
A Climax in St. Jerome
But where there is no honor there is contempt; and where there is contempt there is frequent rudeness; and where there is rudeness there is vexation; and where there is vexation there is no rest; and where there is no rest the mind is apt to be diverted from its purpose.Related posts:
sed ubi honor non est, ibi contemptus est; ubi contemptus, ibi frequens iniuria; ubi autem iniuria, ibi et indignatio; ubi indignatio, ibi quies nulla; ubi quies non est, ibi mens a proposito saepe deducitur.
- The Long and the Short of It
- A Climax in Epicharmus
- Two Passages from Plutarch
- The Ladder Revisited
- Rhetorical Device
For we cannot do everything by ourselves; each has his part to play, in which he can be more useful than others. That is why friendships are formed—that the common interest may be furthered by mutual services.
non enim possumus omnia per nos agere; alius in alia est re magis utilis. idcirco amicitiae comparantur, ut commune commodum mutuis officiis gubernetur.
Latin Texts Suitable for Children?
By the common methods of discipline, at the expence of many tears and some blood, I purchased the knowledge of the Latin syntax; and not long since I was possessed of the dirty volumes of Phaedrus and Cornelius Nepos, which I painfully construed and darkly understood. The choice of these authors is not injudicious.
The Lives of Cornelius Nepos, the friend of Atticus and Cicero, are composed in the style of the purest age; his simplicity is elegant, his brevity copious; he exhibits a series of men and manners; and with such illustrations as every pedant is not indeed qualified to give, this Classic biographer may initiate a young Student in the history of Greece and Rome.
The use of fables or apologues has been approved in every age, from ancient India to modern Europe; they convey in familiar images the truths of morality and prudence, and the most childish understanding (I advert to the scruples of Rousseau) will not suppose either that beasts do speak, or that men may lye. A fable represents the genuine characters of animals, and a skillful master might extract from Pliny and Buffon some pleasing lessons of Natural history, a science well adapted to the taste and capacity of children. The Latinity of Phaedrus is not exempt from an alloy of the Silver age; but his manner is concise, terse, and sententious; the Thracian slave discreetly breathes the spirit of a freeman, and when the text is sound, the style is perspicuous. But his fables, after a long oblivion, were first published by Peter Pithou, from a corrupt manuscript: the labours of fifty editors confess the defects of the copy, as well as the value of the original; and a schoolboy may have been whipt for misapprehending a passage which Bentley could not restore, and which Burman could not explain.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Cavern of Fear and Sorrow
A school is the cavern of fear and sorrow; the mobility of the captive youths is chained to a book and a desk; an inflexible master commands their attention which every moment is impatient to escape; they labour like the soldiers of Persia under the scourge, and their education is nearly finished before they can apprehend the sense or utility of the harsh lessons which they are forced to repeat. Such blind and absolute dependence may be necessary, but can never be delightful.
City Vices and Country Virtues
The city creates luxury, from which avarice inevitably springs, while from avarice audacity breaks forth, the source of all crimes and misdeeds. On the other hand, this country life, which you call boorish, teaches thrift, carefulness, and justice.
in urbe luxuries creatur, ex luxurie existat avaritia necesse est, ex avaritia erumpat audacia, inde omnia scelera ac maleficia gignuntur; vita autem haec rustica, quam tu agrestem vocas, parsimoniae, diligentiae, iustitiae magistra est.
Burning Books Written by Epicurus
Hitting upon the "Established Beliefs" of Epicurus, which is the finest of his books, as you know, and contains in summary the articles of the man's philosophic creed, he brought it into the middle of the market-place, burned it on fagots of fig-wood just as if he were burning the man in person, and threw the ashes into the sea, even adding an oracle also:Aelian, fragment 89 Hercher, tr. Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (1945; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 201-202 (brackets in original):
"Burn with fire, I command you, the creed of a purblind dotard!"But the scoundrel had no idea what blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.
εὑρὼν γὰρ τὰς Ἐπικούρου κυρίας δόξας, τὸ κάλλιστον, ὡς οἶσθα, τῶν βιβλίων καὶ κεφαλαιώδη περιέχον τῆς τἀνδρὸς σοφίας τὰ δόγματα, κομίσας εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν μέσην ἔκαυσεν ἐπὶ ξύλων συκίνων ὡς δῆθεν αὐτὸν καταφλέγων, καὶ τὴν σποδὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐξέβαλεν, ἔτι καὶ χρησμὸν ἐπιφθεγξάμενος·
Πυρπολέειν κέλομαι δόξας ἀλαοῖο γέροντος·οὐκ εἰδὼς ὁ κατάρατος ὅσων ἀγαθῶν τὸ βιβλίον ἐκεῖνο τοῖς ἐντυχοῦσιν αἴτιον γίγνεται, καὶ ὅσην αὐτοῖς εἰρήνην καὶ ἀταραξίαν καὶ ἐλευθερίαν ἐνεργάζεται, δειμάτων μὲν καὶ φασμάτων καὶ τεράτων ἀπαλλάττον καὶ ἐλπίδων ματαίων καὶ περιττῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, νοῦν δὲ καὶ ἀλήθειαν ἐντιθὲν καὶ καθαῖρον ὡς ἀληθῶς τὰς γνώμας, οὐχ ὑπὸ δᾳδὶ καὶ σκίλλῃ καὶ ταῖς τοιαύταις φλυαρίαις, ἀλλὰ λόγῳ ὀρθῷ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ καὶ παρρησίᾳ.
The man Euphronius, a wretched creature, took pleasure in the silly talk of Epicurus and acquired two evils from this: being impious and intemperate.I can't find Aelian's Greek in Unicode format on the Internet, I'm unaware of any reliable and convenient optical character recognition tool for ancient Greek, and I'm too lazy to type it out myself, so faute de mieux here's an image of the Greek from Edelstein and Edelstein, pp. 200-201:
He did not forget, when in such a wicked state, that shameless and impious treatise which the Gargettian [sc., Epicurus], like an offspring of the Titan brood, inflicted as a blot upon the life of men.
Being grievously afflicted with a disease (the sons of the Asclepiads call it pneumonia), he first besought the healing aid of mortals and clung to them.
The disease was stronger than the knowledge of the physicians.
When he was already tottering on the brink of death, his friends brought him to the temple of Asclepius. And as he fell asleep one of the priests seemed to say to him that there was one road to safety for the man, and only one remedy for the evils upon him, namely, if he burned the books of Epicurus, moistened the ashes of the impious, unholy, and effeminate books with melted wax and, spreading the plaster all over his stomach and chest, bound bandages all around them.
What he had heard he communicated to his friends and they were straightway filled with excessive joy because he did not come out, disdained and dishonored by the god.
And having learned a lesson from him, they followed him forthwith in a good and honorable life.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Qualifications Essential to a Traveller
But after supposing the previous and indispensable requisites of age, judgment, a competent knowledge of men and books, and a freedom from domestic prejudices, I will briefly describe the qualifications which I deem most essential to a traveller. He should be endowed with an active, indefatigable vigour of mind and body, which can seize every mode of conveyance, and support with a careless smile every hardship of the road, the weather, or the inn. It must stimulate him with a restless curiosity, impatient of ease, covetous of time and fearless of danger, which drives him forth, at any hour of the day or night, to brave the flood, to climb the mountain, or to fathom the mine on the most doubtful promise of entertainment or instruction. The arts of common life are not studied in the closet; with a copious stock of classical and historical learning, my traveller must blend the practical knowledge of husbandry and manufactures; he should be a Chymist, a botanist, and a master of mechanics. A musical ear will multiply the pleasures of his Italian tour; but a correct and exquisite eye, which commands the landscape of a country, discerns the merit of a picture, and measures the proportions of a building, is more closely connected with the finer feelings of the mind, and the fleeting image shall be fixed and realized by the dexterity of the pencil. I have reserved for the last a virtue which borders on a vice; the flexible temper which can assimilate itself to every tone of society from the court to the cottage; the happy flow of spirits which can amuse and be amused in every company and situation. With the advantage of an independent fortune and the ready use of national and provincial idioms, the traveller should unite the pleasing aspect and decent familiarity which makes every stranger an acquaintance, and the art of conversing with ignorance and dullness on some topic of local or professional information.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Spending time with the monarch gave Swift lasting immunity to hero worship, not that he was ever very susceptible to it. He once said in a sermon, "Princes are born with no more advantages of strength or wisdom than other men, and by an unhappy education are usually more defective in both than thousands of their subjects." According to Orrery, "his aversion to kings was invincible," and he was often heard to say that "he should be glad to see half a dozen kings dissected, that he might know what it was that stamped a greater value upon one prince than upon eleven millions of people."Related posts:
A Rural Retreat
Therefore, as to-day we have traversed a great part of life's journey through rough seas, and as our barque has been now shaken by tempestuous winds, now holed upon rugged rocks, let us take this first chance and make for the haven of a rural retreat. Let us live there on coarse bread and on the green-stuff that we water with our own hands, and on milk, country delicacies, cheap and harmless. If thus we spend our days, sleep will not call us away from prayer, nor overfeeding from study. In summer the shade of a tree will give us privacy. In autumn the mild air and the leaves beneath our feet point out a place for rest. In spring the fields are gay with flowers, and the birds' plaintive notes will make our psalms sound all the sweeter. When the cold weather comes with winter's snows, I shall not need to buy wood: whether I keep vigil or lie asleep, I shall be warmer there, and certainly as far as I know, I shall escape the cold at a cheaper rate. Let Rome keep her bustle for herself, the fury of the arena, the madness of the circus, the profligacy of the theatre, and—for I must not forget our Christian friends—the daily meetings of the matrons' senate.I wonder if "de vestris" or "de vostris" might be read for "de nostris," i.e. "your female friends," not "our Christian friends." On the matron's senate see "Aelius Lampridius", Life of Elagabalus 4.3-4 (tr. David Magie):
quapropter, quia multum iam vitae spatium transivimus fluctuando et navis nostra nunc procellarum concussa turbine, nunc scopulorum inlisionibus perforata est, quam primum licet, quasi quendam portum secreta ruris intremus. ibi cibarius panis et holus nostris manibus inrigatum, lac, deliciae rusticanae, viles quidem, sed innocentes cibos praebeant. ita viventes non ab oratione somnus, non saturitas a lectione revocabit. si aestas est, secretum arboris umbra praebebit; si autumnus, ipsa aeris temperies et strata subter folia locum quietis ostendit. vere ager floribus depingitur et inter querulas aves psalmi dulcius decantabuntur. si frigus fuerit et brumales nives, ligna non coemam: calidius vigilabo vel dormiam, certe, quod sciam, vilius non algebo. habeat sibi Roma suos tumultus, harena saeviat, circus insaniat, theatra luxurient et, quia de nostris dicendum est, matronarum cotidie visitetur senatus.
He also established a senaculum, or women’s senate, on the Quirinal Hill. Before his time, in fact, a congress of matrons had met here, but only on certain festivals, or whenever a matron was presented with the insignia of a "consular marriage"—bestowed by the early emperors on their kinswomen, particularly on those whose husbands were not nobles, in order that they might not lose their noble rank. But now under the influence of Symiamira absurd decrees were enacted concerning rules to be applied to matrons, namely, what kind of clothing each might wear in public, who was to yield precedence and to whom, who was to advance to kiss another, who might ride in a chariot, on a horse, on a pack-animal, or on an ass, who might drive in a carriage drawn by mules or in one drawn by oxen, who might be carried in a litter, and whether the litter might be made of leather, or of bone, or covered with ivory or with silver, and lastly, who might wear gold or jewels on her shoes.
fecit et in colle Quirinali senaculum, id est mulierum senatum, in quo ante fuerat conventus matronalis, sollemnibus dumtaxat diebus et si umquam aliqua matrona consularis coniugii ornamentis esset donata, quod veteres imperatores adfinibus detulerunt et iis maxime quae nobilitatos maritos non habuerant, ne innobilitatae remanerent. sed Symiamira facta sunt senatus consulta ridicula de legibus matronalibus: quae quo vestitu incederet, quae cui cederet, quae ad cuius osculum veniret, quae pilento, quae equo, quae sagmario, quae asino veheretur, quae carpento mulari, quae boum, quae sella veheretur, et utrum pellicia an ossea an eborata an argentata, et quae aurum vel gemmas in calciamentis haberent.
Attendance at conferences must cease to be defined as professional activity. It should be seen for what it is: prestige-hunting and long-range job-seeking junkets, meat-rack mini-vacations. The phrase "He or she is just a conference-hopper" (cf. "just a gigolo") must enter the academic vocabulary. I look for the day when conference-hopping leads to denial of employment or promotion on the grounds that it is a neglect of professional duties to scholarship and one's institution. Energies have to be reinvested at home. The reform of education will be achieved when we all stay put and cultivate our own garden, instead of gallivanting around the globe like migrating grackles. Furthermore, excessive contact with other academics is toxic to scholarship. Reading and writing academic books and seeing academics every day at work are more than enough exposure to academe. The best thing for scholars is contact with nonacademics, with other ways of thinking and seeing the world. Most of the absurdities of women's studies and French theory would have been prevented by close observation of ordinary life outside the university.Id. (at 202):
Rushing people into print right after grad school just leads to portentous fakery, which no one reads anyhow. Maynard Mack was already saying in 1969 to our graduate seminar that "95% of what is published in any given year should be ritually burned at the end of that year." The pressure on shaky novices to sound important and authoritative makes for guano mountains of dull rubbish. Good writing and teaching require a creative sense of play. In American academe, as opposed to Great Britain, playfulness and humor, as well I know, are suspect, suggesting you aren't "serious" enough. But comedy is a sign of balanced perspective on life and thought. Humorlessness should be grounds for dismissal. Eccentric individualism, in the style of the old German scholars, must be tolerated.Id. (at 205-206):
The spiritual vacuum of recent academe is responsible for the popularity of false teachers like the mushy Joseph Campbell, who gives people the long view of traditional mythology, and for the spread of New Age mysticism, whose hoaxer channelers satisfy the craving for ancestral voices. We need back-to-basics reform on every level of education. Old German philology was culture criticism at its learned, comprehensive best.
The material of the world is not what it seems to be. A solid, like a rock, or a fluid, like water, is only apparently solid or fluid. Both the rock and the water are composed of myriads of invisible particles which are associated by laws of their own and are in constant movement.
This earth and the sun and moon and planets, all our universe, in fact, is made up of atoms. The atoms came together to form them, as tiny drops of water come together to form a river. In time, the atoms will separate again, and our universe will cease to exist, as a river does when it runs into the desert and evaporates. But the atoms will never cease to exist. They, and they alone, are eternal.
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and such disasters are not caused by God's anger. They are natural phenomena and can be explained scientifically.
Sensation and thought are functions of the body. The soul is not immortal, but is born in the body, develops with it, and will cease to exist when the other physical functions, such as respiration, and heartbeat, stop.
Of these four propositions, most civilized people in the Western world nowadays believe the first and the third. Many believe the second. Some believe the fourth. All four were accepted as unquestionable truth by many Greeks and Romans; they became the theme of a magnificent Latin poem; they were maintained for at least five centuries; and thereafter, for a thousand years, they were buried in oblivion. The first and second, if anyone had even thought of them in the Middle Ages, would have been dismissed as ridiculous; the third and fourth as blasphemous. And yet the Latin poem built on these statements somehow survived. That such a book, opposed to all the tenets of medieval Christianity and common sense, should have been laboriously copied out in the ninth century, obviously by monks who understood some of what they read and transcribed, is truly surprising. The poem itself, and the character of its author, are something of a mystery too. But one thing is certain: it is a superb poem and it was written by a great poet. His name was Lucretius. He wrote it about sixty years before the birth of Jesus, and he called it The Nature of Things, i.e., The Nature of the Universe.
The Devils' Cauldron
[T]riumphing devils thrust the sinners, naked, along the road to the bottomless pit. One devil has a second face in his stomach, like the monsters of the Cologne school of painters; another has a tail which ends in a dog's head, reaching forward through his legs and biting the legs of a man in front. Devils with faces full of horrible mirth lift up men and women on their shoulders, and stamp them down into a boiling cauldron; you see the flames underneath, and two devils blowing the bellows. Two toads climb up outside the cauldron; one is in the act of crawling into the mouth of a man, while the other sucks at the breast of a woman. There is a kind of cheerful horror in all these figures in pain; they are rendered calmly, without emotion, without pity.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Duty of a Commentator
There are countless things in his commentaries which I thought were paltry. His style, to be sure, is well-ordered and fluent in the high Gallic manner: but what has style to do with a commentator, whose business is not how to make himself appear eloquent, but rather how to make the prospective reader understand the intended meaning of the original writer.Jerome, Letters 49(48).17.7 (to Pammachius; tr. W.H. Fremantle et al.):
innumerabilia sunt, quae in illius mihi commentariis sordere visa sunt. est sermo quidem conpositus et Gallicano coturno fluens: sed quid ad interpretem, cuius professio est non, quomodo ipse disertus appareat, sed quomodo eum, qui lecturus est, sic faciat intellegere, quomodo intellexit ille, qui scripsit?
A commentator has no business to dilate on his own views; his duty is to make plain the meaning of the author whom he professes to interpret.
commentatoris officium est, non quod ipse velit, sed, quid senitat ille, quem interpretatur, exponere.
Such men think of nothing but their dress; they use perfumes freely, and see that there are no creases in their leather shoes. Their curling hair shows traces of the tongs; their fingers glisten with rings; they walk on tiptoe across a damp road, not to splash their feet.
omnis his cura de vestibus, si bene oleant, si pes laxa pelle non folleat. crines calamistri vestigio rotantur, digiti de anulis radiant et, ne plantas umidior via spargat, vix imprimunt summa vestigia.
A College Dorm Room
—Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi.—VIRG.This appears in The Poems of Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), pp. 242-243, as part of Appendix III ("Poems of Doubtful Attribution") but I don't own the book and only p. 242 (the first 28 lines) is visible to me on Google Books. It used to be printed among Swift's poems. Some notes:
Imprimis, there's a table blotted,
A tatter'd hanging all bespotted.
A bed of flocks, as I may rank it,
Reduced to rug and half a blanket.
A tinder-box without a flint, 5
An oaken desk with nothing in't.
A pair of tongs bought from a broker,
A fender and a rusty poker;
A penny pot and basin—this
Design'd for water, that for piss— 10
A broken-winded pair of bellows,
Two knives and forks, but neither fellows;
Item, a surplice, not unmeeting
Either for table cloth or sheeting;
There is likewise a pair of breeches, 15
But patched, and fallen in the stitches,
Hung up in study very little,
Plastered with cobweb and spittle,
An airy prospect all so pleasing,
From my light window without glazing. 20
A trencher and a college bottle,
Piled up on Locke and Aristotle.
A prayer-book which he seldom handles,
A save-all and two farthing candles.
A smutty ballad, musty libel, 25
A Burgersdicius and a Bible.
The C———— Seasons and the Senses
By Overton, to save expenses.
Item, (if I am not much mistaken,)
A mouse-trap with a bit of bacon. 30
A candlestick without a snuffer,
Whereby his fingers often suffer.
Two odd old shoes I should not skip here,
Each strapless serves instead of slippers.
And chairs a couple, I forgot 'em, 35
But each of them without a bottom.
Thus I in rhyme have comprehended
His goods, and so my schedule's ended.
T.C.D.: Trinity College, Dublin
Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi: Vergil, Aeneid 2.5 (and which most wretched things I myself witnessed)
1 blotted: ink-stained
2 hanging: tapestry
bespotted: some editions have besnotted
3 flocks: "A material consisting of the coarse tufts and refuse of wool or cotton, or of cloth torn to pieces by machinery, used for quilting garments, and stuffing beds, cushions, mattresses, etc." (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. flock, sense 2.a)
8 fender: "A metal frame placed in front of a fire to keep falling coals from rolling out into the room" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 3.a)
13 unmeeting: unfit, unsuitable
17 study: closet, cupboard
21 trencher: plate
24 save-all: "A holder or fitting in which the last of a candle may be burnt to the end, typically consisting of a small pan with a projecting spike on which to fix the candle" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 1.b)
26 Burgersdicius: Franciscus Burgersdicius (1590-1635), whose Institutionum logicarum libri duo was a college textbook
30 Overton: John Overton (1640-1708), seller of mezzotints
I have always written for a general audience interested in ideas. I believe culture critics should address the reader in a lucid, vivid and engaging manner. In college, I was very drawn to the lively, transparent writing style of early 20th-century British classicists like Gilbert Murray and C.M. Bowra. Academic writing needs to purge itself of its present provincialism, insularity and pseudo-French preciocity and recover the colloquial robustness and earthy rhythms of natural English.Id.:
Following my culture-hero, Oscar Wilde, I do not subscribe to the implicitly moralistic assumption that literature or art "teaches" us anything. It simply opens up our vision to a larger world—or allows us to see that world through a different lens. Greco-Roman culture, which is fast receding in American higher education, is one of the two foundational traditions of Western civilization, the other being the Judeo-Christian. These traditions twined about and influenced each other for centuries and produced the titanic complexity of the West, for good and ill. To ignore or minimize the Greco-Roman past is to put intellectual blinders on—but that is exactly what has been happening as colleges are gradually abandoning the big, chronological, two-semester freshman survey courses that once heavily emphasized classical antiquity. The trajectory is toward "presentism," a myopic concentration on society since the Renaissance—a noble, humanistic term, by the way, that is being ruthlessly discarded for the blobby new Marxist entity, "Early Modern."Hat tip: Daniel Orazio.