Thursday, September 03, 2015


The Gods of Ancient Greece

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), "Die Götter Griechenlands," lines 67-84 (tr. Peter Branscombe, slightly altered; the Greek gods are imagined as clouds seen at night):
But holy compassion and awful pity
flow into my heart
when I see you up there now,
abandoned Gods,        70
dead shades, wandering at night
as insubstantial as mists which the wind disperses —
and when I reflect how cowardly and heedless
the gods are who defeated you,
the new, ruling, sad gods —        75
malicious ones in the sheep's skin of humility —
ah, then dark resentment comes over me,
and I should like to break the new temples
and fight for you, old Gods,
for you and your good, ambrosial rights;        80
and before your high altars,
rebuilt and steaming with sacrificial offerings.
I myself should like to kneel and pray,
and raise my arms in supplication...

Doch heil'ges Erbarmen und schauriges Mitleid
Durchströmt mein Herz,
Wenn ich Euch jetzt da droben schaue,
Verlassene Götter,        70
Todte, nachtwandelnde Schatten,
Nebelschwache, die der Wind verscheucht —
Und wenn ich bedenke, wie feig und windig
Die Götter sind, die Euch besiegten,
Die neuen, herrschenden, tristen Götter,        75
Die schadenfrohen im Schafspelz der Demuth —
O, da faßt mich ein düsterer Groll,
Und brechen möcht' ich die neuen Tempel,
Und kämpfen für Euch, Ihr alten Götter,
Für Euch und Eu'r gutes, ambrosisches Recht,        80
Und vor Euren hohen Altären,
Den wiedergebauten, den opferdampfenden,
Möcht' ich selber knieen und beten,
Und flehend die Arme erheben...
Another translation, by Charles G. Leland:
But holy compassion and shuddering pity
Stream through my soul
As I now gaze upon ye, yonder,
Gods long neglected,        70
Death-like, night-wandering shadows,
Weak and fading, scattered by the wind;
And when I remember how weak and windy
The gods now are who o'er you triumphed, —
The new and the sorrowful gods now ruling,        75
The joy-destroyers in lamb-robes of meekness, —
Then there comes o'er me gloomiest rage;
Fain would I shatter the modern temples,
And battle for ye, ye ancient immortals,
For ye and your good old ambrosial right,        80
And before your lofty altars,
Once more erected, with incense sweet smoking,
Would I once more, kneeling, adoring,
Raise up my arms to you in prayer...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Men of Taste versus Barbarians

All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis, 1922-1927, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1991), pp. 444-445 (diary entry for February 1, 1927; footnote omitted):
Went to Peacock's room at Oriel afterwards to the Mermaids. I don't know why I am in this society. They are all (except Brett-Smith) rather vulgar and strident young men, who guffawed so at every suggestion of obscenity in the White Divel wh. we were reading as to ruin the tragic scene. There's no doubt at all when one passes from the Greats to the English crowd, one leaves the χαριέντες for the τυχουτες, the men of taste and wit and humanity for a mere collection of barbarians.
I doubt that Lewis wrote the nonsensical τυχουτες, and if the manuscript of his diary shows that he did, the editor should have corrected it. Surely what Lewis wrote or meant to write was τυχόντες (Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. τυγχάνω, sense A.2.b: "everyday men, the vulgar").



A Monstrosity

Montaigne, Essays 3.11 (tr. E.J. Trechmann):
I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself. By use and time one becomes familiar with all things strange; but the more I associate with and know myself the more does my deformity astonish me and the less do I understand myself.

Je n'ay veu monstre et miracle au monde plus expres que moy-mesme. On s'apprivoise à toute estrangeté par l'usage et le temps; mais plus je me hante et me connois, plus ma difformité m'estonne, moins je m'entens en moy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


No Shit

April D. DeConick, "The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions," Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003) 307-342 (at 313, quoting Valentinus ap. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata):
"Enduring all things, Jesus was self-controlled (ἐγκρατὴς ἦν); Jesus worked for a divine nature; he ate and drank in a unique way, without excreting his solids. Such was the power of his self-control (ἐγκρατείας) that food was not corrupted within him; for he himself did not experience corruption" (Valentinus, Letter to Agathopus, in Strom. 3.59)23
It appears from this fragment that, like Clement, Valentinus had an inclusive notion of enkrateia. For Valentinus, Jesus was the epitomy [sic] of self-control because his body did not defecate normally. In some way, his enkrateia had worked to physically transform his body so that food did not pass out of him as excrement.

23 Stählin, p. 223.
Id. (at 314-315):
Certainly this view of physiology was influential in the theological discussions about the nature of "perfect" primordial body of Adam and living the life of angels.28 Some sources suggest that this body was understood to be the human body on idle, a body not fueled by indulging the passions, gluttony at the top of the list (cf. Tert., De Ieiunio 5). It was a body that had no need for food or defecation since it was characterized by a passionless state.29

28 For this theme in early monasticism, refer to P. Suso Frank, Angelikos Bios, Beiträge zur Geschichte des alten Mönchtums und des Benediktinerordens 26 (Munich: Aschendorff, 1964); Shaw, Burden, pp. 161-219.

29It is interesting that Dicaearchus refers to Hesiod's golden race when humans were like the gods as a time when no one suffered disease nor defecated because their bodies were always kept pure (Porphyry, De abst. 4.2).
Id. (at 315)
This type of understanding of physiology not only makes Valentinus' statement about Jesus sensible, but also the stories of certain medieval women like the one mentioned by James of Vitry. He refers to a woman recluse who for many years "ate and drank nothing, nor from her mouth nor from any of the other natural organs did anything go out."30 Roger Bacon tells about a woman who
did not eat for twenty years; and she was fat and of good stature, emitting no excretion from her body, as the bishop proved by careful examination. Nor was this miraculous but, rather, a work of nature, for some balance [constellatio] was at that time able to reduce to a state of almost complete equilibrium the elements that were before that in her body; and because their mixture was from their proper nature suitable to a balance not found in other makeups, their alteration happened in her body as it does not in others.31
30 Historia occidentalis, ed., Hinnebusch, pp. 87-88.

31 Opus minus, in Fr. Rogeri Bacon opera quaedam hactenus inedita, J.S. Brewer (ed.), vol. 1 (London: Longman, Green and Roberts, 1859) pp. 373-374.



A Latin Hexameter Consisting of Adjectives in Asyndeton

Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art (London: Nelson, 1964; rpt. Nendeln: Kraus, 1979), p. 193, quotes the beginning of a medieval Latin poem on the planets:
Annis viginti currit bis quinque Saturnus,
et homo, qui nascitur, dum Saturnus dominatur,
audax, urbanus, malus, antiquus, fur, avarus,
perfidus, ignarus, iracundus, nequitiosus.
The fourth line is a hexameter consisting entirely of adjectives in asyndeton. Since the third line contains a noun (fur) mixed in with adjectives, I don't include it in my collecton of examples of this phenomenon:
Other versions of this poem don't seem to include the first or fourth lines. See e.g. Marijke Gumbert-Hepp, Computus Magistri Jacobi: Een schoolboek voor tijdrekenkunde uit 1436 (Hilversum: Verloren, 1987), pp. 170, 172, and Josep Perarnau i Espelt, "Nous autors i textos catalans antics: Pere de Puigdorfila, Fogatges, Guillem Aldomar, Pere Ramon," Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics 17 (1998) 540-569 (at 569).

Sunday, August 30, 2015


An Example of Epipompē in Ronsard

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), "Les Daimons," lines 309-316 (tr. Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock):
O Eternal Lord in whom alone resides my faith, for the glory of thy name, by thy grace grant me, grant me this: that I may never encounter in my way these panic terrors, but, O Lord, send these Larvae, these Daemons, these Lares and Lemures far away from Christendom into the lands of the Turks, or upon the heads of those who dare to speak ill of the songs that I set to the music of my new lyre.

Ô Seigneur Eternel en qui seul gist ma foy,
Pour l'honneur de ton nom, de grace donne moy,
Donne moy que jamais je ne trouve en ma voye
Ces paniques terreurs: mais ô Seigneur envoye
Loin de la Chrestienté dans le pays des Turcs
Ces Larves ces Daimons ces Lares et Lemurs,
Ou sur le chef de ceux qui oseront mesdire
Des chansons que j'accorde à ma nouvelle lyre.
Richard Wünsch (1869-1915) first used the terms apopompē (ἀποπομπή) and epipompē (ἐπιπομπή) to describe two different ways of banishing evil. See his "Zur Geisterbannung im Altertum," Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der Universität zu Breslau = Mitteilungen der Schlesischen Gesellschaft für Volkskunde 13/14 (1911) 9-32. Wünsch used apopompē to mean simply driving away evil, epipompē to mean driving away evil onto someone or something else or to some other specific location. In these lines by Ronsard we see an example of epipompē.


Mere Philologists

John Churton Collins (1848-1908), The Study of English Literature: A Plea for Its Recognition and Organization at the Universities (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), pp. 65-66 ("it" = philology; footnotes omitted):
As an instrument of culture it ranks—it surely ranks—very low indeed. It certainly contributes nothing to the cultivation of the taste. It as certainly contributes nothing to the education of the emotions. The mind it neither enlarges, stimulates, nor refines. On the contrary, it too often induces or confirms that peculiar woodenness and opacity, that singular coarseness of feeling and purblindness of moral and intellectual vision, which has in all ages been characteristic of mere philologists, and of which we have appalling illustrations in such a work as Bentley's Milton. Nor is this all. Instead of encouraging communion with the nobler manifestations of human energy, with the great deeds of history, or with the masterpieces of art and letters, it tends, as Bacon remarks, to create habits of unintelligent curiosity about trifles. It too often resembles that rustic who, after listening for several hours to Cicero's most brilliant conversation, noticed nothing and remembered nothing but the wart on the great orator's nose.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


All the Things I Shall Not Do

Charles Tomlinson (1927-2015), Selected Poems 1955-1997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) pp. 221-222:
                 to my wife

I see now all the things I shall not do—
Read the whole of À la Recherche to you,
Learn Greek enough to tackle Sophocles
No longer fog-bound in translatorese.
It's difficult enough to keep in trim
Italian, stop French from going dim,
See that my German doesn't wholly vanish,
Or speaking Tuscan strangulate my Spanish.
So, Sophocles, farewell. I still can pace
On uncertain feet the labyrinths of Horace—
Helped by that crib of Smart's that I once found,
Dusted and bought for far less than one pound.
That was before all selling became dealing
And profit just another word for stealing.
Go south, young man! Yet now I'm far too old
To join the other poets in that fold
Where puffs and prizes 're handled by a clique
Who haunt each other's parties week by week.
Now critics will grow kinder to my verse,
Since they can see the shadow of the hearse
Creeping across my pages. Youth, farewell,
Though not without that retrospective swell
Stretching the sails of age's caravel.
Happy those early days when we supposed
Verse either good or bad, the same as prose.
What culpable innocence, for now we see
The point is poetry's unreadability
Where unintentions couple and produce
Meanings unmeant and monsters on the loose
Less rational than that of Frankenstein
Who wished to be understood. That wish is mine.
I lived for art, as Tosca says, harmed none,
Suffered to see harms casually done;
I lived for you and friendship, made my verse
Out of that daily mutual universe
Surrounding us whichever way we look,
A plenitude to overflow each book.
And so my birthday, brief day, 's come and gone:
What solemn music shall we play it out on?
Not Götterdämmerung—the gods have died
But we remain, so why not take the tide
With Nielsen's Inextinguishable? I think
The January sun about to sink
ls all the Untergang we need tonight.
Short as the day is, yet a lingering light
Tells us the shortest day of all has been,
And leaves us now this dubious in-between,
While the year prepares to make itself anew,
As chrysalises, trees and poets do.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


A Job for Which I'm Qualified

François Rabelais (1494-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book II, Chapter XXXII (tr. Thomas Urquhart):
Then (after a little further travelling) I fell upon a pretty village (truly I have forgot the name of it) where I was yet merrier than ever, and got some certain money to live by. Can you tell how? by sleeping; for there they hire men by the day to sleep, and they get by it sixpence a day; but they that can snore hard, get at least nine-pence.

Puis trouvay une petite bourgade à la devallée (j'ay oublié son nom), où je feiz encore meilleure chere que jamais, et gaignay quelque peu d'argent pour vivre. Sçavez-vous comment? A dormir, car l'on loue les gens à journée pour dormir, et gaignent cinq et six solz par jour; mais ceux qui ronflent bien fort gaignent bien sept solx et demy.

Friday, August 28, 2015



Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Little Dorrit, Book I, Chapter XXV:
In the first place, they were vaguely persuaded that every foreigner had a knife about him; in the second, they held it to be a sound constitutional national axiom that he ought to go home to his own country. They never thought of inquiring how many of their own countrymen would be returned upon their hands from divers parts of the world, if the principle were generally recognised; they considered it practically and peculiarly British. In the third place, they had a notion that it was a sort of Divine visitation upon a foreigner that he was not an Englishman, and that all kinds of calamities happened to his country because it did things that England did not, and did not do things that England did.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Holy, Holy, Holy

Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946), Griechischer Frühling (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1908), pp. 84-85 (tr. W. A. Oldfather, slightly altered):
Why are we afraid and despise as trivial to sing of our native landscapes, mountains, rivers, and valleys, yes, even to mention their names except in poetical images? Because all these things, which, as being Nature, have been regarded as works of the devil for a thousand years, have never truly been reconsecrated. But here gods and demigods wedded with every white mountain-peak, every vale and valley, every tree and shrub, every river and spring, have made everything holy. Holy was all that is above and on and in the earth. And round about her the sea was likewise holy. And so complete was this hallowing, that the lateborn, millennia too late, the barbarian still today — and even in a railway coach — is permeated in profoundest wise therewith.

You must look for trees where trees grow; for gods not in a godless land, on godless ground. Here gods and heroes are products of the soil.

Warum scheuen wir uns und erachten für trivial, unsere heimischen Gegenden, Berge, Flüsse, Täler zu besingen, ja, ihre Namen nur zu erwähnen in Gebilden der Poesie? Weil alle diese Dinge, die als Natur jahrtausendelang für teuflisch erklärt, nie wahrhaft wieder geheiligt worden sind. Hier aber haben Götter und Halbgötter, mit jedem weißen Berggipfel, jedem Tal und Tälchen, jedem Baum und Bäumchen, jedem Fluß und Quell vermählt, alles geheiligt. Geheiligt war das, was über der Erde, auf ihr und in ihr ist. Und rings um sie her, das Meer, war geheiligt. Und so vollkommen war diese Heiligung, daß der Spätgeborene, um Jahrtausende Verspätete, daß der Barbar noch heut — und sogar in einem Bahncoupe — von ihr im tiefsten Wesen durchdrungen wird.

Man muß die Bäume dort suchen, wo sie wachsen, die Götter nicht in einem gottlosen Lande, auf einem gottlosen Boden. Hier aber sind Götter und Helden Landesprodukte.


Wine and Song

Horace, Epodes 13.17-18 (Chiron to Achilles; tr. Niall Rudd, with his note):
Lighten all your woes with wine and song,22 those sweet assuagers of horrid despair.

22 In Iliad 9.186ff. Achilles in his tent is found singing to the lyre; he greets his visitors with wine.

omne malum vino cantuque levato,
    deformis aegrimoniae dulcibus alloquiis.
Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (1957; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 65, called the 13th Epode "a perfect poem."


Petitionary Prayer in the Chapel of Ease

Dear Mike,

This would be my inscription for a privy, from the lost Pervigilium Cloacinae:
Cras cacet qui nunquam bene cacavit; quique cacavit cras cacet.
The version in the Pervigilium Veneris doesn't quite have the same ... well, assonance let's say.

Apropos of petitionary prayer in the chapel of ease, see Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pp. 113-114 (footnotes omitted):
In the toilet of the Suburban Baths [Pompeii], the nail holes in the plaster are visible on each side of the painted garland. Very likely, real flowers were at least occasionally hung there there both to honor the goddess and perhaps also to diminish the powerful smells from the toilet drains. Fortuna is not only in the central position of the toilet decoration (as she is in others), but in the toilet of the Suburban Baths she looks directly at the toilet users, as they must have looked at her, and it appears she was actually worshipped in these settings. An altar is present, if only painted; there are garlands (painted but there is evidence of fresh garlands, with the nail holes); and a sacrificial fire is represented in the paintings as well. Perhaps toilet users could ask Fortuna for a satisfactory bowel movement, the favor of finding no blood in one's stool, the favor of escaping the toilet unharmed.
Unharmed in the nether regions by explosions of trapped methane, or Aelian and Pliny the Elder's octopus in the sewer* or, less fancifully, rats and insects (p. 114).

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

* Camilla Asplund Ingemark, "The Octopus in the Sewers: An Ancient Legend Analogue," Journal of Folklore Research 45.2 (May-August, 2008) 145-170.



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