Tuesday, December 06, 2016


A Fable for Our Time

Phaedrus 4.20 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
He who brings aid to the wicked afterwards suffers for it.
A man picked up a venomous serpent benumbed by the cold
and warmed it in his bosom, showing pity to his own cost;
for when the serpent revived he immediately killed the man.
When another serpent asked him why he did this,        5
he replied: "To teach men not to be good to those who are no good."

Qui fert malis auxilium, post tempus dolet.
Gelu rigentem quidam colubram sustulit
sinuque fovit, contra se ipse misericors;
namque, ut refecta est, necuit hominem protinus.
hanc alia cum rogaret causam facinoris,        5
respondit "Ne quis discat prodesse improbis."
Babrius 143 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
A farmer picked up a viper that was almost dead from the cold, and warmed it. But the viper, after stretching himself out, clung to the man's hand and bit him incurably, thus killing (the very one who wanted to save him). Dying, the man uttered these words, worthy to be remembered: "I suffer what I deserve, for showing pity to the wicked."

Ἔχιν γεωργὸς ἐκπνέοντ᾿ ὑπὸ ψύχους
λαβὼν ἔθαλπεν· ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνος ἡπλώθη
τῇ χειρὶ προσφύς, καὶ δακὼν ἀνιήτως
ἔκτεινεν [αὐτὸν τὸν θέλοντ᾿ ἀνστῆσαι.]†
θνῄσκων δὲ μῦθον εἶπεν ἄξιον μνήμης·        5
"δίκαια πάσχω τὸν πονηρὸν οἰκτείρας."
Aesop 82 Chambry (my translation):
A farmer in winter time found a serpent stiff with cold. After pitying the serpent and picking it up, he placed it beneath his garment's fold. The serpent, warmed up and reverting to its nature, struck and killed its benefactor. As he was dying, the man said, "I'm getting what I deserve for having taken pity on a wicked creature."

Γεωργός τις χειμῶνος ὥρᾳ ὄφιν εὑρὼν ὑπὸ κρύους πεπηγότα, τοῦτον ἐλεήσας καὶ λαβὼν ὑπὸ κόλπον ἔθετο. Θερμανθεὶς δὲ ἐκεῖνος καὶ ἀναλαβὼν τὴν ἰδίαν φύσιν ἔπληξε τὸν εὐεργέτην καὶ ἀνεῖλε· θνῄσκων δὲ ἔλεγε· Δίκαια πάσχω, τὸν πονηρὸν οἰκτείρας.
This is what happens to those who obey Matthew 5.44:
Do good to them that hate you.


What Else Does a Gentleman Need?

Adam Makkai, "Meeting Tibor and the Wlassics Family," In remembrance of Tibor Wlassics, savio gentil (Charlottesville: The Graduate Students of the Department of Italian, University of Virginia, 1999), pp. 1-2 (bracketed material in original):
(7) Just a few weeks before the National Uprising of 1956 his father, Dr. Géza Wlassics, who instilled in Tibor the love of Dante and that of the Italian language, commits suicide in deep depression. We roam the streets of Budapest for many nights reciting poetry to one another and dream of a better world.

(8) Not knowing what happened to him, I stumble across him at midnight in the Stefanskirche in Vienna in early December of 1956. When I ask him what he brought with him, he answers: "One white shirt, and the Dramas of Sophokles [in Hungarian translation by János Arany, Hungary's Goethe (1817-1882)], after all, what else does a gentleman need?" This becomes proverbial among Hungarian literati in the West.
In the title of the Gedenkschrift, the phrase savio gentil comes from the description of Vergil in Dante's Inferno 7.3—quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe (that noble sage, who knew everything).

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Monday, December 05, 2016


De Officiis

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), The Blithedale Romance, chapter XX (Zenobia to Coverdale):
"Oh, this stale excuse of duty!" said Zenobia, in a whisper so full of scorn that it penetrated me like the hiss of a serpent. "I have often heard it before, from those who sought to interfere with me, and I know precisely what it signifies. Bigotry; self-conceit; an insolent curiosity; a meddlesome temper; a cold-blooded criticism, founded on a shallow interpretation of half-perceptions; a monstrous scepticism in regard to any conscience or any wisdom, except one's own; a most irreverent propensity to thrust Providence aside, and substitute one's self in its awful place—out of these, and other motives as miserable as these, comes your idea of duty!"


You Lie!

Dear Mike,

I was reading Hubert Bost and Antony McKenna’s edition of Les “Éclaircissements” de Pierre Bayle (Paris, Champion, 2010) last night. These are the four articles he added to the second edition (1702) of his Dictionnaire historique et critique in response to criticism from the Walloon Church of Rotterdam. His subjects are Atheists, Manicheans, Pyrrhonians and Obscenities. Under Obscenities, Bayle writes:
La perfection d’une histoire est d’être desagréable à toutes les sectes & à toutes les nations: car c’est une preuve que l’auteur ne flate ni les unes ni les autres, & qu’il a dit à chacune ses véritez. Il y a beaucoup de lecteurs qui se fâchent à un tel point lorsqu’ils rencontrent certaines choses, qu’ils déchirent le feuillet ou qu’ils écrivent à la marge tu as menti, coquin, & tu meriterois les étrivieres. (Bost & McKenna, p. 101).

An historical work attains perfection when it manages to annoy every sect and every nation: for that proves that the author has flattered neither side, and has told home truths to each. There are many readers who become so annoyed when they read certain remarks that they tear out the page or write in the margin you have lied, you rogue, and deserve a thrashing.
He adds a footnote to that last sentence:
J’ai vu de telles choses écrites à la main à la marge de quelques livres.

I have seen such things written by hand in the margins of some books.
I need hardly tell you that “You are lying” is an essential element in the vocabulary of Odium Theologicum. A heresiarch is not merely carelessly and innocently mistaken in his views, but willfully and sinfully leading the faithful into error. My rough sense is that Odium Philologicum, as practiced by the “the gladiators of literature” in the 16th and 17th century, was more inclined to apply the verb “lie” to a scholar’s personal conduct rather than to his philological errors, at least in classical philology — sacred philology was naturally quite another matter.

Since the days of Bentley (and Bayle) there has been no finer exponent of Odium Philologicum than Housman. I do not suggest that he ever read Bayle’s Éclaircissements, but he was certainly familiar with old editions of the classics, and may well have come across contemporary marginalia similar to those recorded by Bayle, found their style and sentiments congenial, and not bothered to reflect on how appropriate they might be for revival two centuries later.

“You lie” appears, on the evidence of the surviving annotated books, to have been Housman’s favorite marginal excoriation, followed closely by “liar”. By Paul Naiditch’s count, “you lie” occurs 273 times merely in the books from Housman’s library published during his Cambridge career. He gives a list of the appearances of “you lie” and “liar” in an appendix to Additional Problems in the Life and Writings of A. E. Housman (Los Angeles, Sam: Johnson’s, 2005), pp. 174-9, along with such variants as “impudent liar”, “you liar” and “damned liar”. Naiditch adds:
The words “you lie” are extremely harsh; they were one of Housman’s favourite censures; psychologically, since he employed the word “lie” at times when a simple “false” would have sufficed, his use is of considerable importance; for to affirm that one lies is to attack morality, where to say that one is mistaken is to attack competence. (Additional Problems, p. 63).
As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

Sunday, December 04, 2016


For All Things Merry, Quaint and Strange

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), "Hymn in Contemplation of Sudden Death," Op. I (Oxford: Blackwell, 1916), pp. 39-40:
Lord, if this night my journey end,
I thank Thee first for many a friend,
The sturdy and unquestioned piers
That run beneath my bridge of years.

And next, for all the love I gave
To things and men this side the grave,
Wisely or not, since I can prove
There always is much good in love.

Next, for the power thou gavest me
To view the whole world mirthfully,
For laughter, paraclete of pain,
Like April suns across the rain.

Also that, being not too wise
To do things foolish in men's eyes,
I gained experience by this,
And saw life somewhat as it is.

Next, for the joy of labour done
And burdens shouldered in the sun;
Nor less, for shame of labour lost,
And meekness born of a barren boast.

For every fair and useless thing
That bids men pause from labouring
To look and find the larkspur blue
And marigolds of a different hue;

For eyes to see and ears to hear,
For tongue to speak and thews to bear,
For hands to handle, feet to go,
For life, I give Thee thanks also.

For all things merry, quaint and strange,
For sound and silence, strength, and change,
And last, for death, which only gives
Value to every thing that lives;

For these, good Lord that madest me,
I praise Thy name; since, verily,
I of my joy have had no dearth
Though this night were my last on earth.
To be read at my memorial service.


A German Folksong

J.K. Annand (1908-1993), "Snaw," Selected Poems 1925-1990 (Edinburgh: James Thin / The Mercat Press, 1992), p. 52:
Es ist ein Schnee gefallen Anon. 16th century

It's snawin cats and dugs,
Winter's owre early,
Hailstanes blatter my lugs
The road is smoorit fairly.

My gavel-end is sindert
My hous has growne auld
My ruif-tree is nou flindert
My room is owre cauld.

Ach lassie, show some pitie,
I'm dowie, and I pyne.
Tak me to your hert
And fleg the winter hyne.
This is a translation of the first three stanzas of a lyric from the song book of Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), now in the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München (Cgm 810, f. 146r). For the collection see Martin Kirnbauer, "Liederbuch des Hartmann Schedel," Historisches Lexikon Bayerns.

The German, from Rochus von Liliencron, ed., Deutsches Leben im Volkslied um 1530 (Berlin: W. Spemann, [1885] = Deutsche National-Litteratur, Bd. 13), p. 209 (# 64):
Es ist ein schne gefallen
und ist es doch nit zeit,
man wirft mich mit den pallen,
der weg ist mir verschneit.

Mein haus hat keinen gibel
es ist mir worden alt,
zerbrochen sind die rigel,
mein stüblein ist mir kalt.

Ach lieb, laß dichs erparmen
daß ich so elend pin,
und schleuß mich in dein arme!
so vert der winter hin.
Here is an image of the manuscript page, from http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/bsb00079055/image_299:

For a discussion of the folksong see Lucia Mor, "...Und ist es doch nit czeit: La percezione dell'individualità in un Volkslied del XV secolo," Aevum 72.3 (Settembre-Dicembre 1998) 671-684.

The German folksong reminds me of a famous English one (British Museum, Royal Appendix MS. 58, fol. 5):
Westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can Rayne
Cryst yf my love were in my Armys
And I yn my bed Agayne.
Thanks to Ian Jackson for introducing me to J.K. Annand.

Related post: The Old Sappho.


Forsaking One's Native Language

Helen B. Cruickshank (1886-1975), "To An Aberdeen Poet Who Writes Solely In English," in David McCordick, ed., Scottish Literature in the Twentieth Century: An Anthology (Dalkeith: Scottish Cultural Press, 2002), pp. 252-253 (line numbers added):
What ails ye at yer mither tongue?
Hae ye forgot the tang o' it?
The gurly guttrals, malmy soonds,
The dirly words, the sang o' it?
An wad ye cuist it a awa,        5
Like bauchles on a midden-heid?
Man, think agen afore ye sell
Yer saul tae saft-like English leid.

Wad ye forget the ballad-speik,
Melodeon's chord and fiddle's clink,        10
Forsweir yer grandad's wey o' life,
Swap uisge-beatha for Kola drink?
Say 'Shinty is too rough a game
And cricket's more my cup of tea.'
Weel, hyne awa fae Aiberdeen,        15
For feich, ye'e owre genteel for me!
The "wey o' life" and language of my Scottish ancestors are too distant and mysterious for me to understand at first sight, so I need some notes:
3 gurly: rough; malmy: soft, mellow
4 dirly: thrilling?
6 bauchles: old shoes
8 leid: language
16 feich: exclamation of disgust, cf. faugh
Related posts:

Saturday, December 03, 2016


Xenophon's Anabasis

Hartmut Erbse (1915-2004), "Xenophon's Anabasis," in Vivienne J. Gray, ed., Xenophon: Oxford Readings in Classical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 476-501 (at 476-477):
Whoever sets out to speak about Xenophon's Anabasis runs the risk of arousing unpleasant memories in the audience. The very fact that each of them had to cover every parasang of Cyrus the Younger's march through the rocky mountain ranges and desert plains of the Near East as a student in high school means that they do not think back with fondness on the prosaic chronicle of an unsuccessful incident of minor historical importance. The stereotypical sentence beginning ἐντεῦθεν ἐξελαύνει ['thence he marched'], which is engraved on every reader's memory, appropriately heralds the dryness of an account which may well be conducive to the acquisition of Greek syntax, but which excludes from the outset any of the stirring of enthusiasm or feelings of engagement that are aroused through contact with the great works of world literature in a receptive heart. This disfavour also predominates in academia: Xenophon's works, and not least the Anabasis, are believed to have been well enough studied in one's school years and so, being apparently unproblematic and unimaginative, are left, without reluctance, to the care of school-teachers. Those who discard this learned view however, and reread the short work in their later years will be somewhat surprised. As long as the old prejudices have been shed, they will immediately realize that a rather special side of the Greek character is being revealed here, an aspect that should seize our interest due to its very one-sidedness.
Related posts:


Modern Obsessions

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), Introduction to The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine, Cantica II: Purgatory (1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 29:
Every generation of readers is liable to fasten upon the poet of another age its own peculiar associative obsessions; and there are nearly always hooks in his work on which such associations can plausibly be hung.



John Betjeman (1906-1984), "Saint Cadoc," second stanza:
Somewhere the tree, the yellowing oak,
Is waiting for the woodman's stroke,
Waits for the chisel saw and plane
To prime it for the earth again
    And in the earth, for me inside,
    The generous oak tree will have died.

Friday, December 02, 2016



H.G. Wells (1866-1946), Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, Book I, Chapter II, §4:
Dimly he perceived the thing that had happened to him — how the great, stupid machine of retail trade had caught his life into its wheels, a vast, irresistible force which he had neither strength of will nor knowledge to escape. This was to be his life until his days should end. No adventures, no glory, no change, no freedom.


The Word Sincere

Essays and Tales, by John Sterling, Collected and Edited, with a Memoir of His Life, by Julius Charles Hare, Vol. I (London: John W. Parker, 1848), p. v (from Hare's "Sketch of the Author's Life"):
He used to relate that, when he was about nine years old, he was much struck by his master's telling him that the word sincere was derived from the practice of filling up flaws in furniture with wax, whence sine cera came to mean pure, not vampt up. This explanation, he said, gave him great pleasure, and abode in his memory, as having first shown him that there is a reason in words as well as in other things: nor was it the worse for this purpose from having been drawn from the practice of Monmouth Street, rather than of the primeval upholsterers of ancient Italy.
The etymology is bogus. See Alfred Ernout and Alfred Meillet, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Latine. Histoire des Mots, 4th ed. (Paris: Klincksieck, 2001), p. 627, and Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), p. 565.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


A Toast

Letter by John Sterling, quoted in Essays and Tales, by John Sterling, Collected and Edited, with a Memoir of His Life, by Julius Charles Hare, Vol. I (London: John W. Parker, 1848), pp. ccii-cciii (an anecdote about the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen):
Did you ever hear the story of his being at a party at Bunsen's, whose house was on the Capitoline Hill, on the site of the Temple of Olympian Jove, and where the conversation, as often under Bunsen's guidance, took a very Christian turn, till Thorwaldsen remarked through the window, commanding a noble prospect of Rome, the modern city, the planet Jupiter in great glory, and filling his glass exclaimed: Well! Here's in honour of the ancient Gods.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Where to Read the Copa

Tenney Frank (1876-1939), Vergil: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1922), p. 156 (footnote omitted):
The Copa should be read in the arbor of an osteria at Sorrento or Capri to the rhythm of the tarantella where the modern offspring of Vergil's tavern-maid are still plying the arts of song and dance upon the passerby.
Related posts:


Well Known for His Lively Hat-Wear

Wikipedia article on Hartmut Erbse:
The son of a dentist from Thüringen, Erbse studied classical philology in Hamburg, where he was well known for his lively hat-wear and received his doctorate in 1940.


E.C. Marchant

There is no entry for E.C. Marchant (1874-1960) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and so far as I can tell there was no necrology for him in any of the classical periodicals. Thanks very much to Alan Crease, who sent me Marchant's obituary from the Times (June 20, 1960):
Mr. E. C. Marchant, for many years Sub-Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and a well-known classical scholar, died yesterday at his home at Oxford at the age of 95. He was a man of vigorous mind, unmethodical as an administrator (though with a gift for rapid improvisation), with a lively humour, a shrewd appreciation of human nature, and a devotion to the classics which made him in his day a notable Oxford personality. His keenness of mind remained with him well after his ninetieth birthday.

It was a delight to his friends when visiting the shrunken figure, huddled in shawls, to observe the bright eyes and darting comments which showed how close was the touch he still kept with the affairs of his college and university. Edgar Cardew Marchant was born in 1864, the son of John Marchant, solicitor, and from Christ's Hospital went up to Peterhouse, Cambridge.

He was an assistant master at St. Paul's School from 1887 to 1891, in the great days of Dr. Walker's High Mastership, and after a brief return to Peterhouse with a fellowship he took over in 1894 part of the classical work of the upper eighth at St. Paul's. The single-minded ruthlessness of a regime designed to produce first-class classical scholars was something which, like others subjected to it, he admired without being blinded to its defects. Injuries received in a riding accident forced him to resign in 1899, but he became a fellow of Lincoln in 1901 and was sub-rector from 1907 to 1937, returning again to the sub-rectorship from 1942 to 1947.

During all these years he worked tirelessly, particularly on Xenophon (of whose works he edited the Oxford Classical Text), on Thucydides, and on his teaching. He examined frequently in the public schools where he made the first contacts with some of his ablest pupils. In 1914 he married Miss Ethel Winifred Mallet, and moving out of college he began to develop the interest in gardening that was to become his chief hobby in later life. He sometimes took a despondent view of classical studies when he saw the decline from those standards that had been reached at St. Paul's in the last decade of the nineteenth century. But he battled vigorously in their cause, and his teaching had an accuracy, lucidity, and simplicity which made it a model of its kind.

His temperament was mercurial, but company infallibly revived him and he had a buoyancy and vivacity which made him an entertaining companion. And beneath his gaiety there was a true human understanding and a practical sympathy to which his pupils owed much. One of his gifts was an alto voice which made him in great demand for many years at concerts at school or college, and a telegram received from Wells Cathedral Choir on his ninetieth birthday gave him special pleasure.


Are You Serious?

Homer, Iliad 12.233-234 (Hector to Polydamas; tr. A.T. Murray, rev. William F. Wyatt):
But if you are really saying this in earnest,
then indeed the gods themselves have surely destroyed your senses...

εἰ δ᾿ ἐτεὸν δὴ τοῦτον ἀπὸ σπουδῆς ἀγορεύεις,
ἐξ ἄρα δή τοι ἔπειτα θεοὶ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Cleansing the City

Aristophanes, Lysistrata 574-578 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Imagine the polis as a fleece just shorn. First, put it in a bath and wash out all the sheep dung; spread it on a bed and beat out the riff-raff with a stick, and pluck out the thorns; as for those who clump and knot themselves together to snag government positions, card them out and pluck off their heads.

πρῶτον μὲν ἐχρῆν, ὥσπερ πόκον, ἐν βαλανείῳ
ἐκπλύναντας τὴν οἰσπώτην ἐκ τῆς πόλεως, ἐπὶ κλίνης        575
ἐκραβδίζειν τοὺς μοχθηροὺς καὶ τοὺς τριβόλους ἀπολέξαι,
καὶ τούς γε συνισταμένους τούτους καὶ τοὺς πιλοῦντας ἑαυτοὺς
ἐπὶ ταῖς ἀρχαῖσι διαξῆναι καὶ τὰς κεφαλὰς ἀποτῖλαι.


In You

Dante, Purgatorio 16.82-83 (tr. Thomas Okey):
Therefore, if the world to-day goeth astray,
in you is the cause, in you be it sought...

Però, se 'l mondo presente disvia,
in voi è la cagione, in voi si cheggia...
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, I.4 (tr. Thomas P. Whitney):
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?